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Aurangzeb and the thieves

R.V. SMITH
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HISTORY Shrine Qadam Sharif bears testimony to the fact that Emperor Aurangzeb came down heavily on thieves, says R.V. SMITH

Agroup of Heritage walkers exploring old Delhi visited the Qadam Sharif shrine in Qutab Road, Paharganj this past week. It was at Qadam Sharif that the group learnt about Aurangzeb's order to suppress thieves and other anti-social elements. The Moghul emperors' love for Delhi was great and Aurangzeb was no exception, for after Agra, where his mother lay buried, he liked this city even more than Aurangabad, where his wife died and was interred in a tomb that came to be known as the Maqbara of Bibi Aurangabadi.

A much maligned emperor in history, he was not all that bad. According to a Western visitor to his court, the emperor was a “pious man” who made copies of the Quran and had them sold for his personal expenses.

Such a man was particularly hard on thugs, thieve and dacoits. It is recorded that 500 thieves were brought before the walls of Qadam Sharif (the Shrine of the Holy Footprint of Prophet Mohammed). “The Shrine was a fitting location for Aurangzeb to underscore in copious blood his understanding of the connection between imperial power and divine law”. Stephen P. Blake in his “Sovereign Shahajanabad, The Sovereign city in Mughal India, 1639-1739” goes on to give more information about this shrine. The most important religious celebration in Shahjahanabad in early 18th Century and probably the most popular festival of any kind was held at the Qadam Sharif. This marks a difference between Shahjahanabad of his period and Delhi of the 12th and 14th centuries, when the urs at the tombs of Bakhtiyar Kaki and Nizamuddin were the most popular.

Enclosed tomb

The Qadam Sharif was an enclosed tomb, built by Firoz Shah Tughlaq (1351-88) for himself but finally used for his son, Fatah Khan who unexpectedly died before him. On Thursday in the month of Rabi I, a great throng gathered. According to Dargah Quli, people were healed by drinking water from the tank in the courtyard. At the time of the urs people circumambulated the tomb and offered prayers. Miraculous healing took place and prayers of the faithful were answered. On the 12th of Muharram there was a great pilgrimage to commemorate the deaths of Hussain and Abbas, the sons of Ali, and women wanting sons came for blessings.

“The Hindu spring festival, Basant was also celebrated in Shahjahanabad with a round of pilgrimages to the most popular tombs of this area. In each of the spring months there was a seven-day festival. On the first day a great crowed gathered at Qadam Sharif. Merchants, storytellers, singers, dancers and musicians were everywhere. On other days they moved to the tomb of Qutub Sahib and Nizamuddin Auliya.”

We are informed that many Muslims, especially in South Asia, believe that whenever Mohammad trod on a rock his foot left an imprint. Some pilgrims to Mecca in Saudi Arabia have recovered stones believed to bear such an imprint. There are numerous Qadam Rasul shrines in India located in Delhi, Bahraich, Ahmedabad and in Cuttack. According to H.C.Fanshawe, “The tomb enclosure is surrounded by a citadel wall, like the tomb of Tughlak Shah, constructed, no doubt, to protect it against attacks of the Mongols as it lay of course, outside the city of Firozabad. The shrine is approached by fine outer gateways and consists of a quaint arched enclosure round the grave of the prince, over which the sacred imprint sent by the Khalifa of Baghdad to Firoz Shah is placed in a trough of water. South of the outermost gate of the outer walls is a fine stone tank and on this side is situated the principal Mohammadan cemetery of Delhi, unhappily much neglected.

The shrine is still a picture of negligence but a reminder of fatherly love and also Aurangzeb's resolve to rid Delhi of thieves, despite the fact that the emperor himself behaved like one of them by exploiting state treasure for military campaigns.

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