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The three tombs of Khusrau Bagh

In Tuzk-e-Jahangiri, Mughal emperor Jahangir says of his son Khusrau Mirza who rebelled against him: “Who thought that this boy of few years/ Would behave so badly to his sire?”

I knew that the ill-fated Prince Khusrau (1587-1622) was buried in a garden named after him in Allahabad and that the Khusrau Bagh also served as the headquarters for Maulvi Liaqat Ali and his sepoys when they revolted against the British in 1857. However, I was not prepared for the treasures that were hidden there.

The ill-fated prince

But before we travel to Allahabad, a slice of Mughal history. Emperor Akbar and some of his courtiers saw Prince Salim, Akbar’s only surviving son, as indolent and uninterested in the matters of state. But Salim’s eldest son, Khusrau, was not only Akbar’s favourite but also greatly liked by the courtiers and the public. Not surprisingly, Akbar’s trusted general, Man Singh, and his foster brother, Aziz Koka, wanted the popular Khusrau to succeed the emperor. But these plans came to naught when Akbar lay dying on his bed. Salim managed to enter the emperor’s bedchamber (Akbar’s senior wives favoured him) and as Akbar’s gaze fell on his son, he feebly handed over the royal turban and robe to him.

Salim ascended the Mughal throne as Nuruddin Muhammed Jahangir in 1605 and promptly placed Khusrau under house arrest in Agra. Khusrau escaped in April a year later, on the pretext of visiting his grandfather’s tomb in Sikandra. He headed to Lahore to lay siege on the city, but little did he anticipate that his father would act so fast and quell his rebellion. Khusrau was captured by Jahangir’s army and later blinded and imprisoned. He was then transferred to the custody of Asaf Khan, who was the father-in-law of Prince Khurram, the third son of Jahangir. He was finally killed by Prince Khurram (later known as Shah Jahan). His mortal remains were sent from Burhanpur to Allahabad, where his sister, Nisar Begum, built a grand tomb for him, which today is the last of the three tombs in Khusrau Bagh.

Originally a wooden canopy covered Khusrau’s tomb. The prince’s personal copy of the Koran was kept beside him. The tomb must have been beautiful when it was constructed, as it is painted with cypress (a symbol of mourning) and flowers. Now it seems rather neglected. The paintings in the niches have been destroyed, but there are remnants of a splendour long gone. The tomb has beautiful stone jaalis as light (nur) was an important aspect of Islam and it was essential that light fall on a grave. The Persian verses inscribed on the doorways reflect the tragedy of Khusrau Mirza’s life.

A woman caught in between

The first tomb is that of Salim’s wife Man Bai, a Kachwaha princess who was the daughter of the ruler of Amber, Raja Bhagwant Das. Salim christened her Shah Begum on the birth of Khusrau Mirza. Man Bai was never able to reconcile with the rift between her husband and son. As Jahangir writes in his memoir: “At a time when I had gone hunting, on Zī-l-ḥijja 26th, 1013 (May 6, 1605), she, in her agitation, swallowed a quantity of opium, and quickly passed away. It was as if she had foreseen this behaviour of her unworthy son.”

Man Bai’s tomb was built in the Memepur garden in Allahabad. Maybe because she was of Rajput lineage, the tomb style seemed to me very similar to Panch Mahal in Fatehpur Sikri. It is made of Chunar stone and was designed in 1606 by Aqa Reza, who was Jahangir’s chief architect. It is a three-storied terrace plinth. There is a delicate marble cenotaph on top, which is adorned by arabesque inscriptions designed by Mir Abdullah Mushkin Qalam, who was Jahangir’s chief calligrapher.

The best-preserved tomb

The most beautiful of the three tombs is that of Jahangir’s daughter, Nisar Begum, located in the middle. Persian verses on the gate invoke god as the sole refuge, and there are paintings of the angels who will present the register of good and bad deeds of the soul to god.

The inside of the tomb resembles a jewel box. The ceiling, conceptualised as heaven, is filled with concentric stars within a net-like vault. The original colours of yellow and white are beautifully preserved. It is easily one of the best-preserved tombs I have seen anywhere in India from this period. The crypt where the grave is located also has the same pattern of net vaulting and stars. However, according to the caretaker, Nisar Begum was not buried in it and the crypt chamber is empty.

Today this garden, a reminder of tragedy and sorrow, is popular with children who play cricket and with walkers.

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Printable version | Jan 16, 2021 9:51:21 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/the-three-tombs-of-khusrau-bagh/article23713438.ece

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