Imaarat: Where walls tell tales

The exquisite Mughal architecture of Khusrau Bagh in Allahabad has a lot to offer the heritage tourist in you

The history of the Mughals is replete with stories of palace intrigues resulting in conflicts where fathers fight with sons, and brothers with brothers. The stakes were high — the throne of the Mughal empire. Khusrau Bagh in Allahabad that houses the tomb of prince Khusrau, grandson of emperor Akbar and son of emperor Jehangir is no exception either. He was blinded by his father and killed by his brother, Khurram, better known as Shah Jahan.

Reportedly, because of Jehangir’s waywardness and fondness for wine and opium, his father, Akbar, had considered Jehangir’s son, Khusrau, for the throne. This was obviously unacceptable to Jehangir who revolted against his father. Shortly before Akbar’s death, Jehangir became the emperor and Khusrau was confined to a palace in Agra. But he escaped from there with 350 horsemen, eventually to be captured, blinded and confined again, under the custody of Asaf Khan, father-in-law of his younger brother, Khurram, who later became emperor Shah Jahan. It was only matter of time before Khusrau was killed by Shah Jahan to remove any possibility of competition for the throne.

Khusrau’s body was brought to Allahabad and buried in a tomb constructed in a large quadranglar garden enclosed by a high wall and a labyrinth of evergreens.

Constructed in 1622 by Shah Jahan, the tomb is made of sandstone and has ornate carvings beautiful fretwork windows. It gets its name from the beautifully laid out garden, although in need of maintenance, built around the tomb.

Located close to Allahabad railway station, this heritage monument is among the city’s important tourist attractions. Besides Khusrau’s mausoleum, there are two other structures as well. These include the tombs of his mother, Shah Begum, and his sister, Sultan Nithar Begum.

Shah Begum was Khusrau’s mother and Jehangir’s first wife, who died in 1604 — she is said to have committed suicide when Khusrau revolted against his father. Shah Begum was a Rajput princess originally Man Bai, the daughter of Raja Bhagvan Das of Amber.

The tombs are fine examples of Mughal architecture. The design of the main entrance to the garden, the tomb of Shah Begum and the surrounding gardens are attributed to Aqa Reza, Jehangir’s most trusted artist. It has a three-storeyed terrace plinth, but is without a main mound. Experts have compared it 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 Jehangir’s greatest calligrapher Mir Abdullah Mushkin Qalam.

Next to her tomb is Sultan Nithar Begum’s mausoleum. 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.

Although all three tombs appear identical, on closer scrutiny, one can spot the differences. Also, in spite of the bloody animosity between siblings, it is obvious that death, even if by murder, is given its due. No effort is spared in creating architectural marvels for the family. By the way, Khusrau Bagh is also well-known for its famous Allahabadi red guavas.

(GM Kapur is convener of the West Bengal chapter of Intach)

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