Islamic architecture in Burdwan: Stories, Legends, and Nostalgia





This is the famous gate at the center of Burdwan (West Bengal, India) town. This gate was made by Burdwan Maharaja to welcome Lord Curzon.
 
Burdwan or more popularly known as Bardhhaman is home to one of the finest Islamic structures to be ever made. I personally had always a keen interest towards the Islamic structures and their backgrounds. There is always a beautiful and fascinating backstory about all these structures that are spread throughout the country. In the layman’s instance, consider the beautiful Taj Mahal and its chilling back story.
 
Fun fact for me was, the history of Bardhhaman also grew from the Mughal era as well. It is located on the banks of river Damodar which more or less spoke for itself about what kind of importance it held. It was not a shock for me to find out that a place like Bardhhaman is said to be a communication center. The town is as fascinating as the architectural excellence, being the district headquarters.
Okay, now coming to the biggest fact finding that I came across. Bardhhaman is actually named after the 24th Jain Monk called Tirthankar Mahavir Bardhhaman. During the time of Mughal rule, Bardhhaman was known as Sharifabad.
 
 
Burdwan Rajbari in Burdwan west Bengal India is one of the oldest Mahal of west Bengal. This place is given in rent for many shooting parties.
 
 
 
The calligraphy in the mansion has many stone carvings and abstract designs covering every inch of the exterior, with enormous rooms
 
 
A place which is called “Antara Door” which resembles front portion of Mahal
 
 
The Tomb of Sher Afghan, the last of the Afghan jaghirdars in Bardhhaman
 
Between the times of 17th century to the 18th century, a man named Krishnaram Ray who belonged to a merchant house hailing from Punjab issued a zamindari of Bardhhaman with the association of the Mughal Emperor of that time Aurangzeb. It went on to be highly influential and the family of Ray ruled the place until the end of 1955. This was the point where the Islamic architecture was continued to remain in its glory because of the Mughal influence. Now, the things that fascinated me and briefed the fundamental history were from the Gupta age. As I have already explained how Burdwan was an important part of the administration, most of the rulers and influential people had a lot of influence on this place all the while. During the rule of the Sena kings, the major establishment of the Bardhhaman you see these days is carried out. However, I would explain that within the purview of my visit to this place.
 
 
 
The KUTAB-UDDIN Buried here, along with Sher Afgan
 
All these was back stories and facts that you can obtain from any book or internet blog. Now the real charm of Bardhhaman can only be webbed into words by someone who has actually been there. As a Kolkata resident, it is common weekend destinations for us to visit Burdwan during any long weekend. Although, I had never experienced the charm of Burdwan myself. The most important aspect of planning a trip that is literally of no use is the distance. I believe it is the journey that matters, not the destination. Since we are strictly talking about the destination I would keep it brief. I realized it is not difficult to reach a place like Burdwan from Kolkata. There were cabs available which you can hire for the travel. If that is too expensive or irrational to you, you can go for a bus as well. Buses are abundant to Burdwan. Needless to say, a lot of transport companies offer cheap bus fares for destinations like this. You would be receiving a variety of bus choices for your journey.
 I personally love to travel on a bus, especially these 3 to 4 hours of journeys. This experience can be pretty good if the bus quality is acceptable, so wisely make your move on this one. I have heard many of my relatives showing their disgust over the bus journey. Also, if you want to save time, you can also catch a train to Burdwan. The railways are pretty much manageable, considering the fact that it would take you to the destination in less than 2 hours of time. Bardhhaman junction is where you need to get down. Apart from all these convenient modes of transportation. I chose to engage myself in a road trip since I was going to visit tombs and shrines. I had a map and was acquainted with the roads so I enjoyed every bit of the journey to the fullest. If you are new, you might as well take a guide or someone who is aware of the routes. Although, I was expecting some scenic views as I would be driving for about 100 kilometers but I was not that fascinated by it. The trip had already started to prove me wrong of my belief on the journey more than the destination. After an average driving session, I finally reached the city of Burdwan. Since I had figured out my points of interest in the city, I moved to those places directly.
The Tomb of Sher Afghan
 
I dropped in at the Alamgunge (Pronounced as Alam – Ganj) area of the city of Burdwan where the Tomb of Ali Quli Khan Istajlu is situated. I learned it there as well, that Ali Quli Khan Istajlu is popularly known as Sher Afghan. It is located inside a composed wall structure which also includes the Shrine of Pir Bahram. The two destinations that fascinated me happened to be located at the same place. There are numerous stories revolving around the two tomb and shrine inside the compound. The compound seems to be of simple make, unlike all other architectural masterpieces but there is something about the flat roofed rooms that would fascinate you. It was getting funnier for me to know more about the history of the place as I continued getting into it. There are inscriptions on Marble Slabs which is basically a trademark design for the Mughals. The structures were well defined and clearly mentioned all the basic facts.
 
 
This historical spot is maintained and looked after by the Archaeological survey of India
 
The history of these places in Bardhhaman basically revolves around the collective timelines of activities by the kings and rulers. Of course, it is, how many common man stories have you heard anyway? Well, not getting into the idea of democracy of that period, I got to know more about Sher Afghan from the nearby people and from books. Sher Afghan was a little more than a common man, being a Jagirdar at Burdwan for the Mughals. Now here is the tricky part, how does a simple Jagirdar make it so big at that period of time? The major part of Sher Afghan’s life included one of the most potent women of the 17th century, Mehr-Un-Nissha. This name should strike your memory as the ruling queen of Emperor Jahangir. She got married to Jahangir after the death of Sher Afghan. Not just his marriage but Sher Afghan’s journey to become one of the renowned names in the Mughal Era was remarkable as well.
 
 
                                                   Sher Afghan buried here at 1610AD
 
I read through some of the historian’s note for getting more into the beautiful tomb of Sher Afghan. His life started at a small place in Persia where he worked under Ismail 2 as a table attendant. He faced the death of his master which compelled him to move from Persia and travel all the way to Multan.  He became accomplice with Abdul Rahim Khana who happened to be an influential person in the Mughal Empire. Here Ali Quli Khan Istajlu had to work and he was undertaken in the Mughal army. Here, his brave soul never stood back and he gained recognition in the army very quickly which promoted him to the Royal Courts which is in Lahore at the present time. Because of his bravery and witty approach Ali Quli played an important part at the court of Emperor Akbar. Ali Quli at this point was a close personnel to Akbar’s son Salim. I was shocked to find out about how he got his current name. Salim was once being attacked by a wild tiger, from whom Ali Quli Bravely saved Salim all by himself.
 
 It was then he received the title of Sher Afghan. 1594 was the year when he got married to Mehr-Un-Nissa as you already know about. I have read a lot about this time in the life of Sher Afghan but the history is not that reliable due to lack of sources regarding the marriage. But from my research, I could deduce the fact that Akbar made the marriage happen because young Salim was attracted towards Mirza Ghias Beg’s daughter Mehr-Un-Nissa from a very young age. This is the reason when Salim took over the throne as Emperor Jahangir replacing Emperor Akbar, he still wanted to marry Mehr-Un-Nissa. The reason for Sher Afghan traveling from Lahore to Burdwan is because Emperor Jahangir punished him for not supporting his revolt against Akbar. This was in the year 1606 when he traveled to Burdwan as a Jagirdar. The later story of forming the tomb alongside the shrine of Kutub-Uddin breaks down as a conflict between Sher Afghan and Kutub-Uddin. Sher Afghan was accused of revolting the King and treason and hence, and Kutub-Uddin was asked to produce him in the court. This ended in a battle where both men lost their lives. Emperor Jahangir made the Tomb of the men together because he had a grief for the loss of Kutub-Uddin but he was equally moved by the fact that Sher Afghan saved his life. Coming to the architectural elegance of the tomb, it is hard to describe how the architects and sculptures of the 17th century were able to make something as such. The structures were simple yet beautifully designed which is commendable. This is probably the only place, I repeat, the only place after Delhi where the beauty of the Mughal era is properly defined in the complexes. I was astounded to witness the plethora of architectural masterpieces all around the compound. You can easily spot a lot of cravings of that era on the walls of the structures. However, the archeological department of India has been maintaining these grounds, so there are certain refurbished ingredients in it as well. But all of them define the actual scenario of the detailed background of the place.
The Tomb of Pir Bahram
 
In the same compound lies the tomb of Pir Bahram which is also something that you would not want to miss out on. I was a bit confused with the fact that Pir Bahram is said to be the name of the entire complex, but as I dived more into the background of the place, all these doubts seemed to be transparent. The story of the tomb of Pir Bahram is not as adventurous and dramatic like that of Sher Afghan and Kutub-Uddin’s but it is definitely a beautiful story that generates a sense of humanity. The actual name of the person was Shah-Wardi Bayat. He was from a place called Bukhara and he traveled all the way to the land of the Mughal Emperor Akbar and turned himself into a saint. I could not find the real reason for this significant change in his life, in any books or historical sources because he was not that known back then. In parts of Agra and Delhi, he served drinking water to people for which he got the name of ‘Sakka’. During this time he traveled to Burdwan and continued his good work. He passed away in the year 1563 while still serving the people. In his memory, his tomb was made in Burdwan. I personally think that since this event was before the events of Sher Afghan, which is why many people address it as Pir-Bahram in general. The architecture of the place is comprised of a pond and an Islamic burial ground. The structures are well carved in beautiful designs as well.
However, I found a lot of different versions of this history in the pages of books and internet blogs. My research made me adore the fragments of the compound even more. It was a beautiful experience diving in the sea of history figuring out every bit of incident that is related to it. Along with the fascinating back stories, you would absolutely love the architectural brilliance of the place. The kind of structure they have had built in the 17th century is at par with the structures that we have today in the modern world, which offered me a lot to learn. 

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