Tracing the life and legacy of Hyderabad's last Nizam, who died 50 years ago

Known as the ‘Architect of modern Hyderabad’, the Nizam gave Hyderabad electricity, the railways and Begumpet airport.
Tracing the life and legacy of Hyderabad's last Nizam, who died 50 years ago
Tracing the life and legacy of Hyderabad's last Nizam, who died 50 years ago
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Nawab Mir Osman Ali Khan Bahadur may be quietly resting in his grave at Judi mosque in Hyderabad today, but his death, exactly 50 years ago, shut down the entire city, which witnessed almost a million people on the streets.

The 81-year-old had died on February 24, 1967.

Born on April 6, 1886, Osman Ali Khan was the last ruler of princely State of Hyderabad, from 1911 to 1948.

Though he had held many official titles by the time he died, from 'His Exalted Highness H.E.H The Nizam of Hyderabad', to 'Rajpramukh of Hyderabad State', it is perhaps his unofficial title that sticks even today. 

The Nizam is often referred to as the 'Architect of modern Hyderabad'.

Many buildings established during his period have stood the test of time, and are still considered part of the city's rich heritage.


Mir Osman Ali Khan ascended the throne on August 11, 1911, after the death of his father and the sixth Nizam of Hyderabad Mir Mahbub Ali Khan. He was 25 at the time.

His first Royal Decree, stated: “In every way, I will do my best to do good to my people and my State”.

It was also stated that the first thing he did after taking power, was abolish the death penalty, which was not part of the penal code throughout his reign.

When the Nizam ascended the throne, it had just been three years since the Musi flood of 1908, and the city was in dire need of restoration.

Instead of viewing this as a challenge, the Nizam is said to have taken it up as an opportunity.

Besides being described as 'kind and just', the Nizam was also known to be an extremely efficient administrator.

Understanding the need for public spaces like parks, lakes and gardens in the city, the Nizam invited several engineers, and sanctioned a slew of construction projects, within a span of one or two decades.

By the time he was done, Hyderabad had a High Court, the Osmania University, the Osmania General Hospital, the Moazzam Jahi Market, a Town Hall (now the legislative assembly building) and the  Hyderabad Museum (now the Telangana State Archaeology Museum).

He was also instrumental in bringing the Railways and electricity to his state.

During the latter part of his reign, he also established airways, with the Begumpet airport.

Osman Ali Khan was part of the Asif Jahi dynasty, which initially followed administrative practices similar to that of the Mughals, when it came to appointing public servants.

However, things began changing with the sixth Nizam, as his Prime Minister, Sir Salar Jung, created the Hyderabad Civil Service.

It was under the rule of Osman Ali Khan in 1919, that  a Cabinet Council, and the Executive Council (1919) framed rules and regulations, thus institutionalising the modern Civil Service.


While there are many tales to tell about the Nizam where his administrative activities were concerned, none of the stories beat the sheer wealth that the Nizam had.

On February 22, 1937, the Nizam even made it to the front cover of TIME magazine, which called him "The Richest Man in the World."

Noting that he was at least worth $2 billion at the time, which would easily be over $30 billion today, the TIME reporter also stated that diamonds, rubies, sapphires, pearls and gems at the Nizam's palace were stored in "$3 steel trunks fastened with padlocks."

There have also been several accounts of how the Nizam would use the large 185-carat Jacob diamond, as a paperweight. 

The Nizam also had a personalised Rolls Royce Silver Ghost car, which was used as a state limousine, and only ran 356 miles during its lifespan.

Besides the personalised Ghost, the Nizam was also reported to have a fleet of around 50 Rolls Royce cars.

Despite all the wealth, the Nizam remained humble.

The article in TIME noted:

Some Indian sovereigns are lecherous, champagne-quaffing wastrels with a taste for French women and English horses which they spectacularly gratify from Monte Carlo to Epsom Downs and Hollywood, but decidedly the Nizam is different, and by an honored Hyderabad tradition no Nizam has ever left India no matter how good a reason might exist for doing so.

Other stories include one winter evening, when the Nizam tasked a helper to buy him a blanket within Rs 25. When the worker came back and told the Nizam that the cheapest blanket was Rs 35, Osman Ali Khan decided to use his old blanket. 

However, that same night, within a few hours, he is said to have donated Rs 1 lakh to the Benaras Hindu University on the request of the Maharaja of Bikaner.

In 1965, the Nizam donated 5,000 kg of gold to the National Defence Fund, which remains the biggest contribution till date.

However, even then he is reported to have remarked, “I am donating the gold and not the iron boxes. Do not forget to return them.”

Operation Polo

The Nizam finally lost power after a five-day military operation in 1948, when the Indian Armed Forces invaded Hyderabad State, to annex it into India.

Following the partition in 1947, princely states either sided with India or Pakistan. However, Osman Ali Khan wanted to stay independent, and form his own union. 

When the British rejected that proposal, several diplomatic talks were held between India and Hyderabad.

Ahead of the invasion, it was also alleged that the Muslim Nizam, who was ruling over a Hindu majority state, also turned a blind eye to atrocities committed by the Razakars.

The Razakars were a private militia that sided with the Nizam during Operation Polo.

They sought the Nizam to join Pakistan over India, and were also alleged to have practiced large-scale violence against the Hindus. 

After talks failed, the Armed Forces invaded the state, resulting in a bloody massacre.

The Sunderlal report estimated that between 27,000 to 40,000 people died in the five days, while many say that the figure his much higher.


The Nizam then became a recluse, living a relatively quiet life in Hyderabad, until his death on February 24, 1967 at the age of 81.

A massive sea of people came out onto the streets, to pay their last respects to the ruler. Some estimates put the number of people at one million.

Following the last Nizam's demise, the then Andhra Pradesh government remembered him by issuing an extraordinary gazette.

The government declared state mourning on February 25, 1967, the day when he was buried. 

State government offices remained closed as a mark of respect while the national flag was flown at half-mast on all government buildings throughout the state.

It was also reported that the streets and pavements of Hyderabad were littered with pieces of broken glass bangles as an incalculable number of women broke their bangles in mourning, in line with the Telangana custom, on the death of a close relative.

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