In 1937, Time magazine featured the last Nizam of Hyderabad, Mir Osman Ali Khan Bahadur, on its cover as the world's richest person
The vehemence of regality and majesty most often conveyed through monetary wealth. The idea that royals will always be rich has been a perennial one, and a few individuals in history are an explicit node to that.
While some figures through history were rich due to personal wealth itself, others were considered rich due to their imperial possessions and the territory they controlled - the last Nizam of the princely state of Hyderabad, Mir Osman Ali Khan Bahadur, Asaf Jah VII, was both.
Born on 6 April 1886, Mir Osman Ali Khan, Asaf Jah VII, was the last Nizam (ruler) of the Princely State of Hyderabad, the largest princely state in British India. He ascended the throne on 29 August 1911, at the age of 25 and ruled the Kingdom of Hyderabad between 1911 and 1948, until India annexed it. He was styled as His Exalted Highness (HEH) the Nizam of Hyderabad, and was one of the wealthiest individuals of all time. In 1937, Time magazine featured him on its cover as the world's richest person.
The ruler who was the richest in the world
The famous mines of Golconda were the major source of wealth for the Nizams, with the Kingdom of Hyderabad being the only supplier of diamonds for the global market in the 18th century.
Mir Osman Ali Khan Bahadur acceded as the Nizam of Hyderabad upon the death of his father in 1911. The state of Hyderabad was the largest of the princely states in pre-independence India. With an area of 86,000 square miles (223,000 km2), it was roughly the size of the present-day United Kingdom. The Nizam was the highest-ranking prince in India, was one of only five princes entitled to a 21-gun salute, held the unique title of "Nizam", and titled "His Exalted Highness" and "Faithful Ally of the British Crown".
The Nizam was so wealthy that he was portrayed on the cover of Time magazine on 22 February 1937, being described as the world's richest man. At its peak, the wealth of Osman Ali Khan, Asaf Jah VII was worth ₹660 crore ($93 million) - all his conceivable assets combined in the early 1940s, while his entire treasure of jewels, would be worth between $150 million and $500 million variously in today's terms.
He used the Jacob Diamond, a 185-carat diamond that is part of the Nizam's jewellery, as a paperweight. During his days as Nizam, he was reputed to be the richest man in the world, having a fortune estimated at $2 billion in the early 1940s - $236 billion today as per US GDP figures where any monetary number is seen as a proportion of the US GDP. The US GDP was $200 billion in the 1940s. At the exchange rate of Rs3.3 to the US dollar, Nizam's entire fortune including all his land and other assets was Rs660 crores or 1% of the US economy then.
The Nizam's personal fortune was estimated to be roughly $150.4 million, including £54.69 million in gold and jewels - equivalent to $2933537733.42 in 2019.
The Indian government still exhibits the jewellery as the Jewels of the Nizams of Hyderabad. There are 173 jewels, which include emeralds weighing nearly 2,000 carats (0.40 kg), and pearls exceeding 40 thousand chows.
The collection includes gemstones, turban ornaments, necklaces and pendants, belts and buckles, earrings, armbands, bangles and bracelets, anklets, cufflinks and buttons, watch chains, and rings, toe rings, and nose rings.
In 1947, the Nizam made a gift of diamond jewels, including a tiara and necklace, to Queen Elizabeth II on the occasion of her marriage. The brooches and necklace are still worn by the Queen and the necklace is known as the Nizam of Hyderabad necklace.
Heart of diamond
He was reputedly a benevolent ruler who patronised education, science, and development. During his 37-year rule, electricity was introduced, and railways, roads and airports were developed. He was known as the "Architect of modern Hyderabad" and is credited with establishing many public institutions in the city of Hyderabad, including among others: Osmania University, Osmania General Hospital, State Bank of Hyderabad, Begumpet Airport, and the Hyderabad High Court. Two reservoirs, Osman Sagar and Himayat Sagar, were built during his reign, to prevent another great flood in the city.
He was also a philanthropist, donating to various educational and religious institutions across India and towards compiling the Mahabharata. Apart from his wealth, he was known for his eccentricities; he used to knit his own socks and borrow cigarettes from guests.
Even after losing the throne, he continued his efforts to serve the people. In 1951, he not only started the construction of Nizam Orthopedic hospital, which at present is known as Nizam's Institute of Medical Sciences (NIMS) and gave it to the government on a 99-year lease for a monthly rent of just Rs1 he also donated 14,000 acres of land from his personal estate to Vinobha Bhave's Bhoodan movement for re-distribution among landless farmers.
A new country and the death of an old kingdom
The Nizam originally wanted to join India, but after its independence in 1947, he did not wish to accede his state to the newly formed nation. By then, his power had weakened because of the Telangana movement and the rise of a radical militia known as the Razakars whom he could not put down.
In 1948, the Indian Army invaded and annexed Hyderabad State, and the Nizam had to surrender. Post-independence, he became the Rajpramukh of Hyderabad State between 1950 and 1956, after which the state was partitioned and became part of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra. The Nizam had 149 children.
The Nizam continued to stay at the King Kothi Palace until his death. He used to issue firmans on inconsequential matters in his newspaper, the Nizam Gazette.
Mir Osman Ali Khan died on Friday, 24 February 1967. In his will, he asked to be buried in Masjid-e Judi, a mosque where his mother was buried, that faced King Kothi Palace.
The Indian government declared state mourning on 25 February 1967, the day when he was buried. State government offices remained closed as a mark of respect while the National Flag of India was flown at half-mast on all the government buildings throughout the state.
The Nizam Museum documents state:"The streets and pavements of the city were littered with the pieces of broken glass bangles as an incalculable number of women broke their bangles in mourning, which Telangana women usually do as per Indian customs on the death of a close relative."
"The Nizam's funeral procession was the biggest non-religious, non-political meeting of people in the history of India till that date."
Millions of people of all religions from different parts of the state entered Hyderabad in trains, buses and bullocks for a last glimpse of their king in a coffin in the King Kothi Palace Camp in Hyderabad.
The crowd was so uncontrollable that barricades were installed alongside the road to enable people to move in a queue. D Bhaskara Rao, chief curator, of the Nizam's Museum stated that an estimated one million people were part of the procession.