Hyderabad’s ‘posh’ Banjara Hills is named after a Rajasthani tribe

By Mohd. Sibghatullah

Hyderabad: The Banjara tribe (also known as Lambadas) migrated to the Deccan from Rajasthan during Mughal emperor Shah Jahan’s reign around 1630 CE (common era). The Banjaras served as grain carriers of the Mughal Army who waged numerous wars in the Deccan during the 17th century, when the Golconda kingdom (1518-1687) was ruled by the Qutb Shahi dynasty.

The Golconda dynasty ended in 1687 after Mughal emperor Aurangzeb finally managed to capture Hyderabad after defeating the last Qutb Shahi or Golconda king, Sultan Abul Hasan Tana Shah, after an eight long battle After that, the Golconda kingdom, along with the remainder of the Deccan areas, became part of the Mughal empire. The Mughals appointed governors in Aurangabad to administer the Deccan region, of which the Asaf Jahi Nizams got hold of in 1724.

Mir Kamuddin Khan (Asaf Jah – 1), became the first Nizam in 1724. He came down to Aurangabad from Delhi, and many others followed him. Bhangi and Jhangi Naiks followed Asaf Jah I to Golconda kingdom with 1,80,000 bullocks says Haimendorf, the Austrian anthropologist. When the Bhangi and Jangi Naiks could not look after their cattle and their needs after the annexation of Golconda into the Mughal Empire, Asaf Jah had assured the Banjaras that their cattle would be looked after.

An engraving in copper reads as follows:

Ranjan ka paani
Chappar ka Ghas
Dinka Tin Khun Maaf
Aur Jahan Asaf Jahan ka Ghoda
Wahan Bhangi Jhangi ke Bail

(The meaning of the inscription seems to be if you cannot get
water elsewhere, you may even take it from the pots. If you
commit three murders a day, I will even pardon thus provided
that where I find my cavalry I can always find Bhangi Jhangis

In Hyderabad State (1724-1948), ruled by the Nizams for 224 years, the Banjara Hills was one of the largest settlements spread over five main ‘Thandas’ (community of Banjaras) called Erna Thanda, Seethya Thanda, Bhukya Thanda, Amarish Thanda and Ajmeri Thanda. Additionally there was a Jangi (warfare) Thanda.

One of the doors of the Golconda Fort is named after the tribe as it faces the hills that these Banjaras inhabited. The Banjaras carried grains to battle and set up ration camps for the Nizam’s armies. After the introduction of railways, the Banjaras lost much of their trade and had to look for alternate sources of livelihood like agriculture.┬áMehdi Nawaz Jung, the Secretary to the Executive Council of the last Nizam, Osman Ali Khan (1911-48), was responsible for the emergence of residential colonies in the barren rocky outcrops of Banjara Hills, displacing the tribal Banjaras.

The Census of India 1961 says the Banjaras also provided commissionerate services to the Nizam armies. The Banjara settlements can be found across the erstwhile Hyderabad State, with their villages named as “thanda”s. In most of the Telugu districts, the Banjaras settled in their villages are farmers and cattle breeders. That’s how Banjara Hills got its name.

(The author is a Hyderabad-based architecture student who researches and writes on Deccan history. He also runs Deccan Archive, an Instagram page, along with his peers.)