Down Memory Lane History & Culture

In the light of the moon

How two very different marble buildings have a common inheritance, not known to most

It is remarkable how often monuments spring up at places associated with great personages. Take the Mata Sundari Gurdwara near Rouse Avenue in New Delhi. It marks the site of the house where Guru Gobind Singh lived in the 18th century. Mata Sundari, the guru’s wife and Mata Sahib Devi, considered the Mother of the Khalsa, survived the 10th and last guru. They also resided for some time near Ajmeri Gate in Kucha Diwali Singhan during the decadent years of the Mughal empire, when Mohammad Shah was on the throne, but luckily did not live to see the sack of Delhi by Nadir Shah.

After the death of Aurangzeb, when the war of succession broke out between Prince Muazzam and Prince Azam, the former sought the help of Gobind Singh who sent a token force to help his friend at the Battle of Jajua, near Agra, in June 1707. But the guru camped nearby and when the need arose for reinforcements, he rushed in to Muazzam’s aid. Azam was fatally wounded and his elder brother ascended the throne as Shah Alam, Bahadur Shah I.

When Guru Gobind Singh wanted to felicitate the emperor, he shot an arrow into the walls of the Red Fort and Bahadur Shah knew that his friend had arrived. After the death of the guru and successive rulers came and went, Mata Sundari and Mata Sahib Devi were not unduly disturbed, except when the heroic Sikh warrior Banda Singh Bahadur was executed in 1716 and then in June 1725 when they had to leave Delhi and live in Mathura for two years.

They continued to guide the panth (community) from Mata Sundari haveli, sending hukumnamas (encyclicals) to followers as far away as Kabul in the north and Dhaka in the east, rallying the Sikhs and prevailing upon them not to accept those who were trying to set up an 11th guru.

Their abode, built in 1727, is now a gurdwara, and there is a college and road too named after Mata Sundari. Those who come to worship at this shrine remember the venerable ladies who, despite the loss of four sons early in life, left an indelible mark on Delhi when it was passing through some of its most troublesome times. The two travelled on camel carts, bullock carts and in palanquins to propagate the message they had imbibed.

Not far from Mata Sundari Gurdwara is what was once the bungalow of Mirza Raja Jai Singh of Amber and has, over the centuries, become the Gurdwara Bangla Sahib. The Delhi palace of Jai Singh, General of Emperor Aurangzeb, was surrounded by a beautiful garden with pleasure walks and a sarovar (pool) in the centre. During Diwali the bungalow used to glitter in the light of thousands of lamps.

Raja Jai Singh was a man of taste, even though he was one of the greatest warlords of his time. He owned some of the best horses and his armoury was the envy of every man who wielded the sword. He was a busy man who did not stay put in Delhi. Most of the time he was fighting wars at the head of the Mughal army or quelling rebellions. It was his help that Aurangzeb took in dealing with the Marathas and the Sikhs, both of whom had been alienated by the emperor.

Even a peaceful Guru like Har Rai, who had succeeded Guru Hargovind, drew the emperor’s ire for the alleged help he gave to the fugitive Dara Shikoh during the war of succession that followed Shah Jahan’s illness. Guru Har Rai sent his elder son Ram Rai to talk things over with the emperor and later his younger son, Harkrishan, brought to the court with the help of Jai Singh.

Harkrishan, who had succeeded his father as the child Guru, lived at the palace of Jai Singh about the year 1664 and held discussions there with the Mughal heir apparent, Prince Muazzam (later Bahadur Shah I). But the Guru died soon after under mysterious circumstances. Some say he was a victim of smallpox, but the general belief is that he was done away with on the orders of Aurangzeb.

The palace of Jai Singh became the headquarters of his descendant, Jai Singh II, while the latter was building the Jantar Manter (1724-25). It was eventually acquired by the Sikh panth and converted into a gurdwara.

The building which has come up as Bangla Sahib makes one wonder how history repeats itself. It was at the site of the pleasure garden of Raja Man Singh, Akbar’s general, passed on to Raja Jai Singh, that the Taj Mahal was built because it was found to be the most suitable place in Agra.

The Rajput connection links the Taj Mahal and the Bangla Sahib as the full moon sheds its lustre on them on purnima (full moon) nights.

The writer is a veteran chronicler of Delhi

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Printable version | Apr 1, 2020 11:25:11 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/in-the-light-of-the-moon/article30741302.ece

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