Hyderabad’s Grand MJ Market Regains its Glory
From apples to raisins, guns to bullets, and everything in between. You can buy almost anything under one roof at the Moazzam Jahi Market, in the heart of Hyderabad city. That’s how the seventh and last Nizam of Hyderabad, Mir Osman Ali Khan, had envisioned it. That’s how it still is.
Eighty-five years on, the Nizam’s dream super-bazaar hit a fresh milestone on August 15, after a two-year restoration project came to a close. A magnificent Grade II B heritage structure, it has retained its classic look and feel but has incorporated modern amenities and infrastructure, thanks to the Rs 15-crore project undertaken by the Telangana government’s Municipal Administration and Urban Development Department (MA&UD).
“Conservation architects and engineering firms dealing with heritage conservation were roped in,” says Arvind Kumar, Principal Secretary, MA&UD, who spearheaded the project, which was undertaken at the behest of MA&UD Minister K T Rama Rao.
Built in 1935, the market is named after the Nizam’s second son, Prince Moazzam Jah Bahadur. Spread across 1.77 acres, the grand structure, in Hyderabad’s Abids locality, is owned by the municipal corporation and is built to a triangular plan with an elegant clock tower at its entrance.
The arcades, which accommodate around 100 shops and stalls, are topped with a flat, terraced roof supported by jack arches. The terrace can be accessed by spiral staircases. Built from granite and embellished with beautiful decorative elements in stone, the market has a large, open courtyard in the middle, which is embraced by the generous, semi-circular arms of the arcades. The courtyard originally had a fountain in the middle, which used to act as a natural cooling system.
Over the years, the Moazzam Jahi Market, popularly called ‘M J Market’, had fallen into disrepair and was in a pitiable state before it was taken up for restoration. And the timing couldn’t have been better for the state government. This project is a sort of heritage healing at a time when the government is under fire from historians and activists for its ‘attack’ on landmark heritage structures.
In July this year, the government razed the Asaf Jahi-era Saifabad Palace that housed the Old Secretariat — the seat of administration in the Nizam and post-Nizam eras. Even before the dust from the debris had settled, the government kicked up another storm by ordering the closure of the iconic, century-old Osmania General Hospital. This led to apprehensions that the government may pull down the hospital, a reminder of a glorious chapter in Hyderabad’s medical history.
So, for historians and old-timers, the restoration of the Moazzam Jahi Market is some consolation. “It is a huge moment,” says Hyderabad-based research scholar, Syed Inamur Rahman. “The market was not just a place to shop, it evoked a sense of belonging. Structurally, the market is distinct from the other markets in India from those days. It was built on the lines of Turkish and Egyptian bazaars.”
Moazzam Jahi Market was built by the City Improvement Board (CIB) established in 1912 by Mir Osman Ali Khan. The Board was set up to improve the living conditions of citizens and to reshape the city of Hyderabad, with slums making way for housing complexes and gardens. Since the CIB was headed by the Nizam’s second son, Moazzam Jah, the market was named after him.
The CIB was equivalent to the present-day Hyderabad Urban Development Authority, the urban planning agency of the city, and it spent the massive sum of Rs 4 lakh to construct the Moazzam Jahi Market. But it fulfilled a dire need as it helped decongest the other three markets — Mehboob Chowk Bazaar, Residency Bazaar and Begum Bazaar.
Moazzam Jahi Market was carefully conceived and was meant to offer a pleasant shopping experience. It was also meant to serve as a one-stop shop. Originally a fruit market, it soon began to sell almost everything under the sun —vegetables, flowers, earthen pots, dry fruit, ice-cream, and even arms and ammunition.
Rahman says, “In those days, arms and ammunition were a daily requirement because hunting used to be a favourite pastime. So, a gun shop alongside fruits and vegetable stores wasn’t out of place. The clientele at the gun shop was the same as those who visited the market to buy fruits, dry fruit, or vegetables. The arms shop was just another stop for them.”
P Anuradha Reddy, convenor of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), Hyderabad, says the market was the first-of-its-kind concept of a shopping arcade in Hyderabad, where people could buy anything under one roof, in shaded comfort. “It was a visionary approach. I have been visiting the market for decades. I used to go there with my grandfather and father. One of the oldest shops was Shivram Peshawari, which to date stocks the best dry fruits in Hyderabad. We used to buy guchchi, or Kashmiri mushrooms from there. It was a great delicacy. People used to head to Moazzam Jahi Market to buy the best stuff, whether fruit, vegetables or meat,” said Reddy.
Returning its Charm
Back in the day, the Moazzam Jahi Market was a mandatory stop for visitors to the Charminar, given the proximity between these two iconic venues. However, neglect caused extensive damage to the market over time. The arches were decaying, lime mortar in the roof had peeled, the ceiling was leaking, and vegetation growing in cracks had caused structural dislocation. Moreover, the lack of a sewerage line resulted in drainage overflow every year.
So the restoration project came not a moment too soon. Detailing the work done, Arvind Kumar says, “We replaced the entire roof because the iron bars had rusted and were in a state of near-collapse. Likewise, all the tiles on the roof needed to be replaced as the existing ones had become porous, causing water seepage. We also laid a new, underground storm water drain and a sewage drain. For the first time in many years, there was no waterlogging on the market premises. We also undertook lighting work in the entire market. Encroachments were removed and the main carriageway reclaimed and restored after decades.”
Vijay Grover, the third-generation owner of the market’s legendary Shivram Peshawari & Sons, dealers in dry fruits and fresh fruits, says the restoration has been “very well done”. “The ceiling does not leak now and there is no waterlogging. Water connections inside the market are working again and the taps don’t run dry any longer. The clock has been restored, encroachments have been removed, and the market is now well-lit,” says Grover, whose grandfather had set up the store in the market when it was built in 1935.
Complimenting the work undertaken by 300 skilled workers, Kumar says they even worked during the Covid19 lockdown by complying with all safety protocols. “They worked on the jack arches, restored the dome finials, engaged in wrought-iron work and carpentry. Artisans were hired to carry out work on the ornamental brackets.”
He also has a word of praise for the traders in the market, saying their support and cooperation was immense. “While we carried out restoration work, the traders continued to go about their business. Their cooperation was 100 per cent as they realised that the work would benefit them. The market is fire-safety compliant too,” Kumar says.
Old-Timers Look Back
While growing up, Grover says he had heard stories about the 1930s, when his grandfather, his elder brother and their family had migrated from Peshawar (in present-day Pakistan) to Hyderabad, and opened the fruit store in the market. “We used to supply fruits to the Nizam’s family, all the palaces in the city, including Falaknuma, Jagirdar’s College (now Hyderabad Public School) and to the households of other well-known and affluent people in Hyderabad. Moazzam Jah was a very good friend of my grandfather. He would often come to our store and chat with my grandfather.”
Rahman narrates an anecdote he had heard from a few people who had attended the market’s inauguration in the 1930s. “When Moazzam Jahi Market was commissioned, it was to be inaugurated by Moazzam Jah in his capacity as head of the CIB. He was third in the royal hierarchy, after the Nizam and the elder prince. On the day of the inauguration, the entire nobility and bureaucracy were present at the market, waiting for the prince to cut the ribbon.
But the prince was a little late. The Nizam gave him a stern look and, as soon as the prince cut the ribbon, the Nizam ordered him to leave as punishment for arriving late. It was a public reprimand to his own son and chairman of the CIB, thereby setting a precedent that punctuality was sacrosanct. Royalty was not all about shikaar, music and dance. It came with responsibility!”
In the eight decades since it was built, the city has closed in on it and a flyover now swoops past this grand Nizam-era market. But none of these present-day edifices or even engineering marvels can outdo the magnificence and charm of his precious Hyderabad landmark.
– ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Aveek Bhowmik is an independent journalist with over 18 years’ experience. He is an avid traveller and a passionate storyteller, who likes to write about heritage, lost traditions, local communities, sports and food.