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  • Print publication year: 2013
  • Online publication date: January 2014

1 - At Empire's End: The Nizam, Hyderabad and Eighteenth-century India



In May 1748, Nizam-ul-Mulk Asaf Jah arrived in the central Indian city of Burhanpur. He was seventy seven years old and exhausted after undertaking an extensive tour of his dominion. While in Burhanpur, the Nizam caught a cold that caused his health to swiftly deteriorate. Sensing death upon him, the Nizam called a gathering of close confidants and family. The atmosphere was intimate and sad. Among other matters, the Nizam dictated his last testament (wasiyyatnama). Spanning seventeen clauses, this testament was intended to provide insights into a lifetime of almost unparalleled success in statecraft and a template of how to govern Hyderabad, the nascent state founded by him in the early 1720s in south-central India. Although the tone and content of the will suggest the Nizam is worried about the future of Hyderabad, he also seems concerned to shape his own historical legacy. There is little doubt that the Nizam wished to be remembered as the most successful politician, general and administrator among the post-Mughal rulers. The will is occasionally pontificatory and self-aggrandizing, yet there can be no disagreeing with the Nizam's own conclusion that he had lived a blessed life. Here, after all, was a man who had not only survived, but also thrived amidst the uncertainty accompanying the collapse of the Mughal Empire during the first decades of the eighteenth century.