It was a small taste of Telangana we were after. A newly formed state, with a
It was a small taste of Telangana we were after. A newly formed state, with afreshly burnished identity…would there be renewed self-awareness? And, for a typical experience of the province, why go further than Medak, a mere two hours from the metropolis of Hyderabad? It had a fort of sorts and tourist guidebooks devoted many pages to a church there. I’ve lived in Hyderabad for most of my life and I had never been. It was about time.
As it happened, I forgot about my quest a few miles out of the city. Beyond that, the baked Telangana landscape was just there, its people restful, its thrum ageless. The only time I remembered the politics of bifurcation was when I stood before a tourist information board. Just one word had been carefully painted over. What had been APTDC had been scrupulously replaced with TSTDC. For the rest, it was all the same.
The excellent NH7 (though maybe we should call it NH44 now) helped us make short work of the distance and soon we pulled up in Medak for precise directions to the church. The sun bore down on us, hot and dry, Telangana-style. We drove up the entrance-way and there it was, the town’s centrepiece. A tall edifice with noble lines, sufficiently aged, properly cherished. A pathway of grey mosaic led to open doors, and inside the cavernous structure, the atmosphere was hushed. I tiptoed inside.
This, properly speaking, is a cathedral since it has a presiding bishop who lives and offers prayers here — a detail which is all that separates a ‘cathedral’ from a regular church. I looked up to a lofty vaulted roof, and circled to see a great bare hall with chairs and pews pushed to the side. We were visiting on a Monday, and the shrine was being cleaned after Sunday Mass. Sweepers had been at work and a man brandished a large, industrial-sized mop, swishing in large swathes as he went. The cathedral is 100ft wide, 200ft long and its bell tower stands at an impressive 175ft. The whole structure was built, a small information board told me, in the Gothic Revival style and could accommodate 5,000 worshippers at once. There was more: for the decorative flooring, mosaic tiles of six different colours were imported from Britain, and were laid by Italian masons. It is an impressive place, but the fact that takes you aback is that Medak is the largest diocese in Asia, and in world listings, stands only behind the diocese of Rome, making it the second largest in the world.
The history is engrossing. It was Methodist priest Reverend Charles Posnett who laid the foundations for this church in 1914. When the province suffered from famine in 1919-1921, Posnett, instead of running a free kitchen, employed the people in constructing the church in a ‘food for work’ programme. The people benefitted from grain, employment and uplifted morale. (That is a curious loop-back because the name Medak is a corruption of ‘methuku’ or cooked rice in Telugu, though why it was called that in the 12th century is a mystery.) Perhaps it is that immense sense of community that went into building it that marks this temple out to be so special. The church was consecrated in 1924, and it became a cathedral church under the Church of South India in 1947.
I moved closer to the nave. A few worshippers kneeled on the step, heads bowed in prayer. An impressive eagle with outstretched wings marked the pulpit and then, I raised my head to the cathedral’s piece de resistance — its stunning stained-glass embellishment. These are gathered in three depictions — scenes from the Nativity adorn the west transept, the Crucifixion is lodged in the east transept and the Ascension soars behind the altar. Designed by English artist Frank Salisbury, who specialised in stained glass, these are intricate works. I was glad of the strong sunlight, because the panels turned lush with colour as the light filtered in. I spied some writing in Hindi (which was put in at the behest of Vijayalakshmi Pandit, Pt. Nehru’s sister); I’m told there is some Telugu as well, though I couldn’t spot it.
The devout trickled in. One group approached the Verger-on-call and told him their troubles. He articulated their prayers in Telugu, asking for relief, interceding for a sick child and requesting general well-being. Wanting to give them their privacy, I walked around and came across a fairly voluminous pipe organ that was dusted off and set up for use again in 2011. It is in working condition, they told me, but alas, there is no one in Medak who can play it.
I sat in contemplation for a little while. The official business of sending up prayers done, the toddler who needed surgery pranced about, her anklets jingling as she approached me with interest and then retreated shyly when I smiled or beckoned. Prayers in this peoples’ church have been heard before, and they may be again.
Medak town is about 100km north of Hyderabad and is reached by the NH7 (now renamed NH44) and the Chegunta road, and a day trip is comfortably doable. Taxis cost around Rs 3,700 for a round trip, and there are regular buses from Hyderabad as well.
Where to stay
The Telangana State Tourism Development Corporation (TSTDC) runs a small hostelry abutting the fort — it uses the structure that used to be known as Mubarak Mahal. Haritha Heritage Hotel (from Rs 1,319; Qila Road, Arab Galli; 9948818822, 8333875695) has four rooms and a restaurant with nice views of the town. This is a comfortable stay if you want to soak in some very laidback heritage punctuated by a walk or two. The Cathedral’s Pilgrim Rest House offers bare rooms from Rs 200 onwards.
What to see & do
The Medak Cathedral is well known and draws pilgrims and tourists from all over. Its lofty proportions draw the eye from every vantage point. Its stained glass panels deserve a lot of attention. The cathedral is open daily from 7am to 6pm for public viewing and silent prayer.
The Medak Fort is a 12th-century erection by the Kakatiya ruler Pratap Rudra I. It was later the command outpost of the Bahmanis and the Qutb Shahis. It is remarkable for its architectural features: three grand gates that you pass through to wind up to the top. It has a few chambers and granaries still standing.
Where to eat & drink
Medak is a small town and doesn’t have too many options. However, apart from the restaurant at Haritha Heritage Hotel, you’ll find decent fare at Swagath Mess & Restaurant, opposite the Bus Depot. The food in this state tends to be spiced with a punch, so keep your cold drinks handy.