Hyderabad observes 100 years of great Musi floods

September 28th, 2008 - 10:05 pm ICT by IANS  

Hyderabad, Sep 28 (IANS) With exhibitions and a poetry reading under a historic tamarind tree, Hyderabadis Sunday observed the 100th anniversary of the great Musi floods that had left a trail of death and destruction and shaped the city as it is today.It was on this day in 1908 that the Musi river, which is now reduced to an open sewer, overflowed following heavy rains in and around the city. Such was the river’s fury that many buildings, including two hospitals on its banks and hundreds of houses, were submerged.

An exhibition of rare photographs depicting the devastation and a meeting to pay homage to the victims marked the day.

A group of historians, concerned citizens and nature lovers also celebrated a tree which had saved several lives during the deluge.

Different organisations of historians, concerned citizens, activists and environmentalists came together to organise a meeting under the tamarind tree at the Osmania General Hospital. Over 150 people had climbed the tree to save themselves.

The state forest department issued a commemorative cover on the tree on the occasion. “This is the first time we have issued a cover on an individual tree,” said Chief Conservator of Forests Prasad Reddy.

Viresh Babu, a photographer, also organized an exhibition with a focus on the tree. Poems in Urdu, Telugu and English describing the death and destruction caused by the floods were read out at a gathering under the dense shadow of the tall tree.

The participants voiced concern over the attempts of municipal authorities to axe the tree and demanded that it should be protected and given heritage status. They also demanded heritage status for plaques fixed on buildings and monuments recording the high flood level (HFL) marks.

According to historians, 15,000 people were killed and over 80,000 were rendered homeless in the Musi floods. As many as 600,000 people were affected by the river’s fury. The deluge washed away part of a bridge built on the river and caused widespread devastation.

The river, which bisects the city, had turned a monster overnight. “Though there were 18 floods recorded before Sep 28, 1908, this was the mother of all floods,” said M.A. Qaiyum, former director, archaeology and museums.

Urdu poet Amjad Hyderabadi, who saw his mother, wife and daughter being drowned, penned some heart-rending poems on the floods. The poet, who clung on to a tree branch, was rescued by some people.

The water level in localities abutting the river was 15 to 20 feet. A maternity hospital, the Darulshifa hospital and several other buildings on the banks of the river were obliterated. Over 400 people were killed in the maternity hospital alone.

Such was the enormity of the devastation that sixth Nizam Mir Mahboob Ali Khan, then ruler of Hyderabad State, threw open the gates of his palaces to shelter the victims. The kitchens in the palaces worked overtime to feed about 600,000 people for 15 days.

The floods, a landmark event in the over 400-year-old history of the city, shaped Hyderabad as it is today. The nature’s fury devastated one fourth of the city founded by Mohammed Quli Qutub Shah on the southern banks of Musi in 1591.

After the floods, then ruler of Hyderabad State shifted many of the government offices across the river. This was the beginning of the neglect of area on the southern side, which is today called the old city.

After the floods, Nizam began efforts to prevent further floods in the Musi. Mokshgundam Visvesvarayya, a renowned city planner from the neighbouring Mysore State, was asked to prepare a prevention plan.

As Mahboob Ali Pasha passed away in 1911, his successor Mir Osman Ali Khan implemented the plan and built two reservoirs, Osmansagar and Himayatsagar, to control floods and provide drinking water to the city.

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