BIJAPUR: Saat Kabar silently bears the dark saga of 60 wives dying at the hands of a possessive army chief-husband
My last halt in Bijapur turns out to be a bit of a grave destination and the setting of a cold-blooded tale. It is well past five in the evening, and I have been on a whirlwind tour of the heritage town where almost every monument is a mahal or a mosque or a mausoleum. But I have not had my fill yet.
The auto driver is a bit skeptical when I tell him I want to head to Saat Kabar. He tries to dissuade me. “There is no road. You may have to walk. The auto cannot go there,” he says. He warns me it is rather isolated and there will be no one around. But I refuse to give up. We drive down, leaving the dusty town and hit the highway. A detour takes us across a few scattered homes as we watch some boys play cricket on grounds. The auto stops at a dead-end. All I see in front of me are just a bit of dense undergrowth and a clump of bushes. There is no path. I walk behind the auto driver looking out for snakes. On one side is sheer wilderness and on the other, lush fields.
We keep walking and suddenly I spy the outline of a monument peeping at us through the trees. Brick red, it seems to be on the other side of a high compound wall with no access. I stop and look at it towering in front of me, the unkempt branches of the trees snaking towards it, shrouding it from public view.
It is eerie, as I wonder if this is the Saat Kabar or the 60 graves of the murdered wives of Afzal Khan, the army chief of Adil Shahi II. The graves narrate the gruesome fate of these women who were killed by their own husband. The tragic story is set in the 17th Century, when Chatrapathi Shivaji wages war against Adil Shah II. Afzal Khan leads the forces, but is distracted by an astrologer who tells him he will not survive the battle. The jealous and possessive commander decides to kill all his 60 wives lest they remarry after the war. So, he beckons them to an isolated spot and pushes them into a well. One of them tries to escape, but is captured and killed as well. And, I’m standing in the middle of nowhere looking for those 60 graves.
Suddenly, my auto driver calls out to me. He is ahead of me, near a clearing, and I make my way through the shrubs only to see a vast open space. There lie several graves, made of black stone, arranged neatly in rows. Some of these stones are broken, open to the skies. Afzal Khan apparently wanted to be buried near his wives as well, but he never returned from the battlefield.
The silence is ominous here, almost echoing the last cries of the women who were pushed to their death. I feel a shiver, and hurry back to the safe confines of civilisation.