Hyderabad’s first hospital built in 1595, Dar-ul-Shifa, still standing

Yunus Y. Lasania

Hyderabad: With the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic raging and the Osmania General Hospital’s (OGH) heritage structure facing an existential crisis, the focus has been on Hyderabad’s medical facilities and public health infrastructure. What many of us perhaps don’t realise is that the city, right from its foundations in 1591, had a public hospital, which also doubled up as a medical college, called Dar-ul-Shifa.

The Dar-ul-Shifa, built by Hyderabad’s founder Mohammed Quli Qutb Shah, is not a functional hospital anymore, but houses the ‘Alawa-e-Sartauk’ Ashurkhana and a modern school today. Dar-ul-Shifa was constructed in 1595, and was built as a secular architecture in the Deccan, according to historian H. K. Sherwani, who wrote a book on the city and its founder titled ‘Mohammad Quli Qutb Shah – The Founder of Hyderabad’.

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When Dar-ul-Shifa was constructed, it was done so to serve the medical needs of Hyderabad’s population. Built on an area of 25,000 square feet originally, it is a double-storied structure, which had rooms on the eastern, western and southern wings. The structure was built with stairs leading to the top of the building, which would allow patients to get fresh air. It was a medical college and hospital where Unani medicine was practiced.

The old hospital also houses the ‘Alawa-e-Sartauk’, where it is believed that a part of the fetters (a chain or manacle used to restrain a prisoner) from the fourth Shia Imam Zain-ul-Abidin have been kept as an ‘Alam’, which was supposedly brought to the city in the 17th century under the Qutb Shahi period (1518-1687).

However, while most of Dar-ul-Shifa’s original walls still stand today the entire place is in a disreputable condition, as parts of it have been encroached upon by locals, aside from the school which also functions inside it.

“There is a lot of damage to the building due to modern interventions. The fact that it is still standing is a miracle, and shows how advanced the Qutb Shahis were in terms of architecture. If the government does not intervene and at least carry out repairs, then it will further deteriorate,” said Hyder Rizvi, a local who stays near the Dar-ul-Shifa.

More interestingly, it is also written by historians that Dar-ul-Shifa in fact functioned as an advanced medical centre, where highly experienced and learned Hakims (physician) would specialise in various diseases. The Qutb Shahi period hospital in fact had two departments, namely the proper college and the hospital itself. Today, however, it is not even a shadow of what it was. It comes alive every year during the Islamic month of Muḥarram when believers throng the place to mourn.

Background of our founders

The Qutb Shahi (Golconda) kings had initially ruled from the Golconda fort, until Mohammed Quli Qutb Shah decided to build a new city in 1591. His grandfather, Sultan Quli, had founded the kingdom in 1518. He had come from Persia. The rulers were orthodox Shia Muslims and built many Ashurkhanas, where Shia Muslims observe the mourning (before and) in memory of Imam Hussain, one of Prophet Muhammad’s grandson.

The writer is a Hyderabad-based journalist who has worked with The New Indian Express, The Hindu and Mint in the past.

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