History & Culture

Elegant tombs, unkempt greens

Historic testimony: Nithar Begum's (left) and Khusrau's tombs bask in their grandeur. Photo: Omar Rashid  

To prove that their amazing escapade in Kafiristan was true, Peachey shows Rudyard Kipling, who was seated in his Pioneer newspaper office in Allahabad, his friend Dravot’s head, still wearing the golden crown.

This epic scene based on Kipling’s audacious novella The Man Who Would Be King fairly evokes the tragedy of Khusrau Mirza.

Like Dravot, Khusrau, the eldest son of Salim (later Emperor Jahangir) and the grandson of Emperor Akbar was the man who would be the king. However, fate meant that he died young, isolated to an insignificant corner of history.

Distraught over Salim’s indulgence in wine and opium, Akbar had considered the unlikely option of entrusting the amiable Khusrau with his throne. And when Prince Salim revolted and started holding court in Allahabad in 1599, Khusrau was driven into an incongruous conflict with his father to be Akbar's successor.

Soon after and shortly before Akbar’s death, Salim was made Emperor and Khusrau was placed under strict surveillance at Agra. He escaped from there with 350 horsemen, eventually to be captured on April 27, 1606.

In his biography, Jahangir notes: “Kingship regards neither son nor son-in-law. No one is a relation to a king.” Following a futile attempt to escape, Khusrau was blinded, consequently disqualifying him from the throne. He was then transferred to the custody of Asaf Khan, brother of Nur Jahan and father-in-law of Prince Khurram (later Emperor Shah Jahan), the third son of Jahangir. In 1622, Khurram had Khusrau killed.

His body was brought to Allahabad and placed in a sandstone tomb, in a large quadrangle garden — Khusrau Bagh, enclosed by a high masonry wall and a labyrinth of evergreens.

Two other tombs were later built — one belonging to his mother Shah Begum, while the other was made at the instructions of his sister Nithar Begum, but never to be used as a cenotaph.

At first sight, the three tombs appear identical. But after readjusting your lenses, you will observe the major and minor differences, and that flawless Mughal symmetry.

A Hindu princess, Shah Begum (originally Man Bai), was the daughter of Raja Bhagvan Das of Amber. Troubled by the bitterness between Salim and Khusrau, she committed suicide by swallowing tiryaq (opium). Her tomb, designed in 1606 by Jahangir’s chief artist Aqa Reza, has a three-storied terrace plinth but is without a main mound. Experts have compared it to the construction in Fatehpur Sikri.

The Begum’s cenotaph stands under a large chahtri, which is surmounted on the plinth. The floral Arabesque inscriptions on the tomb were carved by Jahangir's greatest calligrapher Mir Abdullah Mushkin Qalam.

Next to her tomb is Nithar’s tomb, architecturally the most elaborate and vivid among the three. It stands on a high platform, adorned with panels containing a scalloped arch motif. Inside the plinth, there is a small room whose ceiling is painted vividly with stars arranged in concentric circles. This decoration is repeated on the ceiling of the central room while the walls are painted with Persian cypress style plants and flowers.

The third in line and relegated to a corner is the tomb of Khusrau himself. The mausoleum has some high quality fretwork windows. The tomb of his mare gives him company.

Apart from the elegant tombs, the bagh is lacking in the grandeur one would associate with a Mughal garden. The greens outside the tomb area look no better than unkempt hair on an anxious head. The tall palm trees do little to fill that void. This can be attributed, to some extent, to the low footfall as visitors prefer the livelier Chandra Shekhar Azad Park and Anand Bhavan. A spontaneous survey of the bagh revealed five types of visitors; the list is not exhaustive, however.

First are those who consider the tombs just “too pretty to let go” without clicking a portrait. The second is a clan of students, who find solace and good study atmosphere under the palm trees. The third and the least interested in architecture are couples seeking privacy in some corner of the bagh.

The fourth lot are those suffering from indolence; those for whom the large structures provide ample shade for an afternoon nap on a sultry day, especially after a good quantity of litti. The final and the largest category consist of those who confuse Khusrau with the Sufi great Amir Khusro.

And if locals are to be believed, vagabonds make up the sixth category.

Taking view of the neglect and to give the bagh a greener look, district authorities recently announced that it would plant more than 50 bottle palm saplings, among other things to convert the bagh into a National Eco-Knowledge Park.

Drip irrigation system would also be introduced to provide optimum water supply, especially since the famous Allahabadi red guava is cultivated here. While efforts are being made to improve the bagh’s appeal, its relevance in the Indian freedom movement is also not so well-known.

During the First War of Independence or the Revolt of 1857, when several battalions revolted against the British, Maulvi Liyakat Ali took over charge as the Governor of independent Allahabad and made Khusrau Bagh his headquarters. The bagh, however, was recaptured within two weeks.

As for Prince Khusrau, remove the beautiful tomb and the huge garden, and he will be just a man who was blinded by his father and killed by his brother.

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Printable version | Jan 27, 2021 12:01:35 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/history-and-culture/elegant-tombs-unkempt-greens/article3922845.ece

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