03 April, 2017

Hidden Jewels of Lahore - II

Sunday being a regular ‘working’ day for our cycling group of young professionals – with this abe old hand alongside – we proceeded on our second tour to discover some lesser known monuments of the Mughal era.   This time the destination was Mughalpura, a locale that carries its name after the Mughal nobility and aristocracy of Lahore which had set up an exclusive residential estate, replete with gardens, mosques and tombs.  We shall use the GT Road as a loose dividing line between Begumpura in the north, and Mughalpura to the south, to differentiate between the two locales

Enigma of a Strange Tomb

Starting from the Shalimar Link Road intersection with the GT Road, and heading west, we stopped after exactly 2.6-km and easily spotted a domed tomb just south of the road, inside a fenced enclosure. The dilapidated state of the tomb was deplorable, though the fascinating architectural elements of what remained were worth a brief scrutiny.  But first, we had to settle who is the actual occupant of the tomb.

That the mandarins at the Department of Archaeology are clueless, can be confirmed by the display of two conflicting information boards at the entrance. One of them claims it to be the tomb of Buddhu, a brick-maker who lived in the mid-seventeenth century; the other board says that it is the resting place of the wife of Khan-e-Dauran Bahadur Nusrat Jang, a favoured noble of Emperor Shah Jahan.  For want of her maiden name, we shall call the lady Nusrat Begum for this discourse.

While Buddhu’s influence to be able to muster a plot of land amidst the prized estates of the Mughal nobility must seem outlandish, his having left a fortune for the construction of a grandiose tomb is equally incredible. His nearby brick kiln (Buddhu ka ava), whose remains can still be seen, could have led to the erroneous association with ‘Buddhu’s tomb’.

Khan-e-Dauran Bahadur Nusrat Jang was a favourite amir in Shah Jahan’s court, having gained the goodwill of the emperor for suppressing a rebellion in Deccan. He died in 1659 and was buried in a tomb which lies 1.5-km to the south-east of his wife’s tomb.  Since his own tomb lies squarely in Pakistan Railways lands and is not accessible to the public, some people have further added to the mystery by assuming Nusrat Begum’s tomb to be that of her husband’s.  Intriguingly, a second grave in the begum’s tomb brings this riddle to a head. Not yet done, the enigma gets really knotty when we learn that Khan-e-Dauran’s own tomb has been re-purposed as a mosque and a shrine by employees of the Railways under the name of Khawaja Hasan’s, though the Khan’s real name was Khawaja Sabir.  One wouldn’t be surprised if the Railways employees yet again re-purpose the tomb-shrine in the name of one more Khawaja!

The much ado about Nusrat Begum’s tomb occupancy is less significant, I thought, than its architectural composition which needs attention.  Square in shape, the main chamber is constructed in massive brick masonry, with an arched opening flanked by two recessed arched panels on all four sides, creating a baradari effect.  The low dome rests on a high circular drum, which in turn rests on a short octagonal base, resulting in a gradual ‘smoothening over’ from the main square structure upwards. On the whole, the tomb has an overbearing appearance, which must have been softened somewhat by Kashi-kari mosaic tiles, remnants of which are visible in some portions of the dome.  

Ali Mardan Khan’s Tomb

Backtracking about one kilometre from Nusrat Begum’s tomb, we turned right, heading south on Wheatman Road (corrupted to ‘Wehtmun’ by the Punjabis). After about half a kilometre, we came across two boards alongside a wall, indicating Ali Mardan Khan’s tomb and the nearby Hamid Shah Qari’s shrine. A steel gate opened into a strange narrow vestibule with an iron lattice for a roof, all 400 metres of the way. A chowkidar, who had done us a special favour to let us in on a Sunday (closed to public), welcomed us heartily, for we had coordinated earlier and had promised to be good to him.

Ali Mardan Khan was a Persian Governor of Kandahar who became a turncoat to his master, Shah Safi I  of Persia, after having been bribed handsomely by Emperor Shah Jahan in 1638.  Ali Mardan quickly found favour in the new court as Amir-al-Umara, and was granted governorship of Kashmir and Punjab.  He is best known for his engineering skills in various public works, including a canal running from River Ravi to Shalimar Gardens, and a similar canal in Shahjahanabad, Delhi. He died in 1657 and was buried in the tomb that he had built for his mother.

The tomb is an imposing structure, with an octagonal main chamber, with eight arched, deep-set alcoves, all opening to the interior.  Atop the corners of the octagon once stood Rajasthani chhatris, of which only two survive. The dome stands on a high drum in Timurid style. We discovered a remarkable double-shelled feature of the dome when one of the youngsters called us from somewhere above.  We followed his calls, climbing up a special stairway, which took us to the top of the inner dome. There we stood in the dark and dingy gap between the two domes, much like school children who had discovered a secret passage to a treasure trove.  We were surprised to see candles, a prayer mat, and knotted ribbons on a streamer, and wondered if these were signs of transition to a shrine. Indeed, the subterranean chamber of the tomb which houses the grave, had been treated as a shrine – as well as a pot-smoking den – by unscrupulous characters, the chowkidar revealed, which is why entry to the public has been restricted.

Keen to know more about double-shelled domes, I later learnt that these were a construction compulsion for large domes, in which the inner dome was constructed first, allowing the supporting framework and trusses to be placed on top of it. Thus supported, the bigger outer dome could be built with ease.  Better acoustics (for mosques and cathedrals) was an added bonus. The smaller and relatively flatter inner dome also simplified ceiling artwork.

About a hundred metres north of the tomb is an utterly dilapidated gateway to the funerary garden, that once existed. It has remnants of Kashi-kari mosaic work, and is quite similar to the one at the Gulabi Bagh Gateway in Begumpura. The designer of the ‘Versailles of Punjab’ as Shalimar Gardens have been called, deserved a better-kept tomb complex, we thought.

Nawab Bahadur Khan Kokaltash's Tomb

Going along the Canal Bank Road, past Zaman Park and Royal Palm Golf Course, when a road from Garhi Shahu (left side) is intercepted, a large domed structure can be picked up over the left shoulder.  A simpler map location would place it just outside the Railways Carriage Factory, at the southern limit of Mughalpura.

Arriving at our destination in a swarm of over a score cyclists, and with the neighbourhood in complete awe, we went through our usual motions of photography and a bit of adventure. Some clambered up secret staircases and discovered another double-shelled dome, while others explored the upper floor galleries full of graffiti that Pakistanis must always bless their imaginary beloveds with.

The occupant of the tomb carries a long-winded title viz, Khan-e-Jahan Nawab Bahadur Zafar Jang Kokaltash. He found favour with Emperor Aurangzeb for capturing his recalcitrant brother Prince Dara Shikoh, who was promptly executed for heresy.  Bahadur Khan was then put in charge of Deccan to bring matters under control there.  He also served as Governor of Punjab. He died in 1697.  He is often confused with another Khan-e-Jahan, a nobleman in Emperor Akbar’s court.

The tomb is octagonal in shape, with eight deep-set alcoves, each having an entrance arch at the ground level, and another arched opening at the upper level. The brick tomb is bereft of any outward embellishment, though pigeon holes all over the building suggest a marble facing, since removed by, who else but, the Sikhs! The dome is slightly higher pitched, with an inverted lotus finial on top, giving it a more sinuous appearance than the classic Timurid ones that we had seen earlier. The historian S M Latif wrote in 1892, that the tomb was “surmounted by turrets with cupolas”, none of which exist today. He also mentions that the tomb was used as a theatre for the British military officers, when the adjacent Mian Mir locale was established as a cantonment.

We noted that the two noblemen Khan-e-Dauran and Khan-e-Jahan were essentially loyalists to their emperors, while Ali Mardan Khan did great public service to the Lahorites. In a fund-constrained regime, it is the latter whose tomb deserves major renovation, while the other two tombs could do with simple preservation, for the time being.

© KAISER TUFAIL. This is an open-access article published under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution Licence, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
This article was published in the daily newspaper The News International on 1 Feb, 2015

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