Can a person have more than two graves? R. V. SMITH finds out

There’s a mystery of sorts at Turkman Gate where the saint after whom Shah Jahan named one of the 14 gates of Shahjahanabad in 1648, lies buried. Researcher Surekha Narain, who led a heritage walk to the place last week, got confused as to which of the two graves in the area was the one in which Shams-ul-Arifin (sun of knowledge), Hazrat Turkman Bayabani was buried. According to Maulvi Zafar Hasan’s famous compilation on Delhi monuments, quoted by INTACH, the saint is actually buried in Mohalla Qabaristan, also known as Dada Pir Wali Dargah. Close by, in Bulbuli Khana, are buried Razia Sultan and her sister Shazia, both daughters of Sultan Iltutmish, the great ruler of the Slave dynasty. They were both devotees of Shah Turkman Bayabani. According to Sadia Dehlvi, author of “The Dargahs of Delhi”, the saint was a disciple of Sheikh Shahbuddin Suhrawardi of Multan and a contemporary of Hazrat Qutubuddin Bakhtiar Kaki, with whom he used to converse often.

While it is true that Shah Turkman Bayabani’s grave is in Mohalla Qabaristan, the grave near Turkman Gate marked “Shah Bayabani” is puzzling. Was it of another person, probably a devotee? There are some other graves close by too. Prof Aslam Parvaiz, an authority on Delhi’s history, whose family has been living in the area for several centuries, says the grave pointed out to tourists by guides as that of the saint is not the real one. “It’s either that the tourist guides are ignorant or too lazy to go to Mohalla Qabaristan that they do so,” opines Dr Khaliq Anjum, former head of the Anjuman Taraqqi Urdu (Hind), New Delhi. Dr Anjum says for that matter even the shrine known as Matkewala Pir on Mathura Road is regarded by some as a creation of the British for political reasons. It is said to have come up overnight though it is true that the saint it is supposed to honour, Hazrat Azmat Sheikh, was a devout Pir from Tartous who had set up abode in medieval Delhi and was a contemporary of both Shah Bayabani and Hazrat Qutubuddin.

According to INTACH’s account, Shah Bayabani’s tomb is built of white marble and the entrance is “through a cusped arch below street level”. On the south is a mosque and round about other graves too giving the locality its name, Mohalla Qabaristan, where goats are tethered in the winter sunshine. Sadia Dehlvi says that the saint died on Feb 19, 1240 during the reign of Muizuddin Bahram Shah, Razia’s brother and also the one accused of being responsible for her death. Turkman Bayabani was a saint who did not mind interacting with people of all communities, especially those living on the outskirts of the capital of the Delhi Sultanate. He was fond of celebrating Basant, or so it seems, as in earlier times a Basant fair was held at Turkman Gate to herald spring. Among the later saints, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya and Amir Khusrau where also fond of celebrating Basant— and so were the Mughal emperors, specially Mohammad Shah Rangila. People who migrated to Lahore after 1947 still celebrate Basant as the festival of kites, even though the police try to ban the celebration every year.Now to come back to the two — mazar controversy. Even the Taj Mahal has two sets of graves, one in the Cenotaph Chamber and the other set below. There is a belief that actually there are six graves in the Taj. The real ones of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal being kutcha (mud) ones below the Yamuna level, so that the last resting place of the emperor and empress was never desecrated by invaders or others. Babar’s real grave is in Kabul but the original one is at Charbagh in Agra. Bahadur Shah Zafar is buried in Yangon, though the tomb he had planned is in Mehrauli. Yet another interesting example is that of Father Joseph Tieffentaller, an Austrian priest who died at Lucknow on June 5, 1785 but was buried at Agra, where he had first come in 1744. The late historical researcher ‘T.S.’ goes on to point out that surprisingly enough there are tombstones in Lucknow, Mathura and Ajmer also purporting to be the graves of the great mathematician and astronomer, who spoke German, Italian, Spanish, French and Latin and had also acquired a fair knowledge of Urdu, Persian, Arabic and Sanskrit. As a matter of fact, he compiled a Sanskrit—Persian dictionary too.

There are other examples also of people with more than one tombstone, like Gen. David Ochterlony, who is buried in Meerut, but built his “Makbara” in Delhi. And do you know that Akbar’s grave at Sikandra could also be having a twin, re-discovered some 50 years ago by ‘T.S.’? It’s not at ground level but in a secluded top portion of the mausoleum. No wonder then that, in keeping with tradition, Shah Turkman Bayabani too should have an imitation grave or why would somebody be foolhardy enough to have “Turkman Bayabani” inscribed on a mazar on the roadside, near the gate, under a tree?