No entrance ticket, no guide, no literature, no maintenance… Why has the Gujarat Archaeological Department chosen to forget the spectacular monuments in Junagadh’s Mahabat Maqbara complex?
Histories are written, documented, rigged and forgotten. At times, they turn into exaggerated myths; at others, they vanish unnoticed, eaten away by termites, neglect or wrong intentions. On the other hand, monuments — reminders of history — can’t be wished away unless demolished by angry mobs driven by political will. Of course, they can also be left unattended to wither and die.
The showcasing of Gir in the Gujarat tourism campaign by Amitabh Bachchan rekindled our desire to see the wild Asiatic Lion. We drove down the flat and rusty countryside, reached Gir and stayed in the forest guesthouse near the well-managed Gir National Park.
On our way back, early in the morning, we passed Junagarh, grey and bleak in the early morning hours. There was no traffic and we were glad to be crossing what would likely be the most congested areas later in the day while the city was still sleeping. Suddenly, a jaw-dropping sight, right in the middle of the city, compelled us to stop and get down for a closer look.
On our left stood a monument facing the main road, the likes of which we’d never seen before. Vaguely resembling the Taj, yet matchless, it stood desolate and grand. It had beautiful minarets, spiralled in opposite directions, and an air of fallen glory evident in its un-glorified decay. We couldn’t see any nameplate from where we stood. Some broken spotlights serving as home for spiders.
We took a few snaps, uploaded it on social media, got comments like “Is this monument in Europe?” and forgot all about it. Last month, our uncle’s family made a trip to Gir and decided to explore Junagarh. They went to the same place, which we then learnt is called Bahauddin ka Maqbara. No entrance ticket, no guide, no literature, no maintenance. An old board gave a name and forgotten past. This re-kindled our interest in the wonder we’d fleetingly seen and we began to gather information
Bahauddin ka Maqbara is the mausoleum of the Vazir of Junagarh, sharing the compound with Mahabat Maqbara. A fine piece of 19th century architecture, the Mahabat Maqbara was built in 1892 over the grave of Nawab Mahabat Khan II. This compound houses the mausoleums of both the Vazir and the Nawab.
Junagarh, literally ‘Old Fort’, has its share of forts, monuments and architecture built by the erstwhile Nawabs in the 18th and 19th centuries. But the stunner is the Mahabat Maqbara complex, with its fusion of Indo-Islamic-Gothic architecture, marble tracery work on the French windows, marble jalis (most of which are missing), onion-shaped dome, minarets with winding staircases around them, elaborate carvings and silver-tinged fawn body of the mausoleum.
The Maqbara, generally kept under lock and key, can be seen from inside by fetching the keys from the adjoining Jami Masjid. A flood of humanity flows around the tomb in the day with the High Court building, originally the Nawab’s residence, opposite the compound and a busy road right ahead.
While researching about the Mahabat Maqbara, I came across a few blogs. One says, “Unfortunately, it is right in the centre of a very crowded and congested area of Junagarh … On entering the compound that encompassed the monument, we were appalled to see how badly maintained the area was. School children on a break were running around unrestrained; while there was litter everywhere... It was saddening to see such fine architecture ignored by the state government.” Another comments, “Children play cricket on the premises, goats nuzzle around for whatever little vegetation is there and the fakirs and the homeless sit in the shade of the building.” A few point out that the long neglect of the Maqbara may be because the Nawab refused to merge with the Republic of India after independence and fled to Pakistan. That was more than six decades ago. How many decades do we need to clear confusion, if there was any?
A board by the Department of Archaeology, Government of Gujarat, says it is protected under Gujarat Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1965 (Gujarat Act No.65 of 1965) and warns that anyone defacing, destroying, or removing any part of it, or imperilling it in any manner will be liable to a punishment with a fine up to Rs.5000, or imprisonment up to three months, or both.
Clearly, this warning hasn’t been able to scare away either the goats or the children or the beggars and loiters. Why has the Gujarat Archaeological Department chosen to forget the exceptional and spectacular monuments, which attract so many tourists, in spite of being ill maintained? Why isn’t it part of the hard-selling Gujarat tourism campaign? Why is there no entrance fee, maintenance, guides in the complex, advertisement or buzz about it, when it can generate livelihood and make the place self-sustainable? Does the answer lie in the secular credentials of the Gujarat government?
What it needs is a public campaign or perhaps just a word to the government from the famed brand ambassador of Gujarat Tourism might suffice. This piece of heritage is prepared for an unlamented death; it is up to us if we want to see its last rites or revival.