During the Asaf Jahi period, when the city of Hyderabad served as the capital of the Nizam’s Dominions (or Hyderabad State), Wanaparthy was the capital of a samasthan by the same name. A samasthan was a geographically contiguous domain with a hereditary royal head or chief. Wanaparthy and the fourteen other samasthans within Hyderabad State were on the margins of the daily workings of the Nizam’s Government in Hyderabad; yet they played an important role in the state as the oldest members of its political composition.
This collection of letters and papers from Wanaparthy—covering the reigns of the last four Nizams—brings to light the relationship between the urban centre of Hyderabad and the peripheral country capital of Wanaparthy. The samasthan was unique in that it maintained almost complete autonomy throughout, and it served others by the choice of its leaders, not by compulsion or force. The letters reveal how the rulers of Wanaparthy—which included women—organised their domain, complete with armed forces and revenue collection, how the Nizam’s Dominions organised its supporters, and how the two centres of power functioned within the larger context of nineteenth-century colonial India.
While much is known about the Nizams, their prime ministers, and key political participants in Hyderabad city, including the nobles and the British Resident, this rare collection of documents provides a glimpse of the intimate and everyday workings of a ‘little kingdom’ in the countryside.
A rich and fascinating archive, this collection will be invaluable to both historians and social scientists interested in Hyderabad State, Telangana, and colonial India.
Benjamin B. Cohen is Professor and Chair, Department of History, University of Utah, USA. He teaches South Asian and Asian history.