down memory lane History & Culture

Mystery of a grave

ETERNAL PEACE The grave of Razia Sultan

ETERNAL PEACE The grave of Razia Sultan   | Photo Credit: 10dmcrazia


Remembering Razia Sultan, who held sway over Delhi for a brief while

Whose is the mystery grave next to the one of Razia Sultan? Various conjectures have been made by historians and visitors. According to Gaynor Barton who, along with another Englishwoman, Laurraine Malone, wrote a book, “Old-Delhi-Ten Easy Walks”, Razia was murdered by robbers while resting under a tree in presumably present-day Haryana. Dr Ishwari Prasad, the noted historian, however states that it was not robbers but some villagers who killed her and her lover, Altunia, probably to find favour with her jealous siblings. How did she then come to be buried behind the tomb of Hazrat Turkman Bayabani? Who brought her body there and what happened to the body of Altunia?

She should actually have been buried in Mehrauli near the grave of her father, Iltutmish. But Gaynor suggests that the reason was that her opponents, which included her brothers, didn’t want her to share the limelight of the dynasty even in death and draw the sympathy of the high and mighty and of the common people who had taken her to heart. But then what about the other grave, which is believed to be that of her sister, Sazia? How did her body end up there and how did she die?

The conjecture is that Razia and Sazia shared a close relationship — as was natural for siblings. Since her sympathies lay with her elder sister, she probably willed that her last resting place should be beside her. Another reason could have been that her surviving brother, Bahram Shah who later became Sultan, wanted her also to be away from the limelight so that the hoi polloi was not reminded of the tragedy of Razia.

In those days when there was no Turkman Gate and no Shahjahanabad either, the only known place of importance in the wilderness was the abode of Hazrat Bayabani, who also died the same year as Razia (AD 1240). Her father was a mureed (devotee) of the saint and hence the location of Razia’s grave there and also of Sazia. But why aren’t any inscriptions on them? Probably because of the hostility of Bahram, who ousted her, or due to the Islamic injunction of burial in anonymity.

Some more imaginative think that the second grave is not of Sazia but of a faithful maid who sacrificed her life for her mistress. Yet another conjecture is that it is probably of her lover Altunia since they died together, they were buried side by side anonymously. But none of these suggestions seems plausible. Tradition is strong on the point that the grave is of her sibling whose name also rhymes with hers. This is incidentally what this scribe wrote about the two graves when he came to Delhi some 60 years ago, long before Gaynor Barton and Laurraine Malone published their book in 1988 while connected with the British diplomatic circle:

Behind the hallowed shrine of Baba Turkman Bayabani is Bulbulikhana where rest the famous Razia Sultan and her little known sister, Sazia, daughters of Sultan Iltutmish. Legend and antiquity have lent to Razia a halo of strength and beauty few other queens in Indian history can boast of. She was like Boadicea, and like that queen of Britain she led her troops, sword in hand, not mounted on a chariot, but on a horse, which a latter-day Jhansi-ki-Rani emulated in 1857.

‘Bulbuls’ rest here

Razia was known not as Sultana but as Sultan because in those days the orthodox courtiers of her father would not have willingly followed one who manifested her womanhood in an all-male preserve. She gave no quarter to her enemies, including her brothers, Ruknuddin, debauchee among them. Like Antony, making his oration at Caesar’s funeral and inciting the Romans against the conspirators of the great conqueror, Razia, dressed in the robes of a mystic, addressed the citizens of Delhi, asking them to avenge the death of her slain younger brother, Muizuddin. The mob did just what it was supposed to do and Razia ascended the throne. But her reign of three years was short and tragic, even though she turned her defeat at the hands of the powerful Governor of Lahore into a personal victory by winning his hand, just as she had earlier gained the support of the Abyssinian master of the stable, Yaqut. But both she and the Turkish Altunia were defeated and later put to death by a hostile mob in 1240 AD. That in brief is the history of the woman who lies under a shabby tomb. Few people in the neighbourhood know its relevance, though there is a grave in Karnal also said to be hers.

So the sisters are confined to the inconspicuous Bulbulikhana. The name, it is conjectured, is derived from a locality which housed the choice bulbuls of a medieval king, but there are various other theories as to its identity and some even believe that the bulbuls were not birds but a harem of begums. Be that as it may, controversy dogged Razia all her life and even her place of repose is not immune to it.

Next time you pass by Turkman Gate spare a sigh for the two bulbuls buried behind its precincts — the one with a heroic soul was Razia, and the other her sister in distress, Sazia.

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Printable version | Jun 25, 2019 10:16:04 AM |

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