Burhanpur Town

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Burhanpur Town

This article has been extracted from



Note: National, provincial and district boundaries have changed considerably since 1908. Typically, old states, ‘divisions’ and districts have been broken into smaller units, and many tahsils upgraded to districts. Some units have since been renamed. Therefore, this article is being posted mainly for its historical value.

Head-quarters of the tasil of the same name, Nimar District, Central Provinces, situated in 21° 18' N. and 76° 14' E., on the Great Indian Peninsula Railway, 310 miles from Bombay, the station being at Lalbagh, a suburb 2 miles distant from the town and not included in the municipality. The town is surrounded by a masonry wall with massive gates on the main roads, and the Tapti river flows along the southern side. The space contained within the walls is two miles in length from north to south, and half a mile in breadth ; but numerous remains outside show that the suburbs must once have been very extensive. The population at the last four enumerations was : (1872) 29,303, (1881) 30,017, (1891) 32,252, and (1901) 33,341, including 21,762 Hindus and 11,253 Muhammadans. Among the Musalmans are a number of Behnas or cotton-cleaners, and there is also a large community of Bohras, a sect of Gujarat! merchants.

Burhanpur was founded about 1400 by Nasir Khan, the first indepen- dent prince of the Faruki dynasty of Khandesh, and called by him after the famous Shaikh, Burhan-ud-din of Daulatabad. Zainabad on the opposite side of the Tapti was founded at the same time, and called after another Shaikh, Zain-ud-dln. Burhanpur was the usual residence of all the later Faruki kings, and it was during their rule of two centuries that the two great mosques called the Jama Masjid and the Bibi Masjid were built. In 1600 Burhanpur, with the kingdom of the Farukis, was annexed by the emperor Akbar. Under Akbar and his successor, Burhanpur was greatly embellished. In the Ain-i-Akbari it is described as a ' large city with many gardens, in some of which is found sandal-wood, inhabited by people of all nations and abounding with handicraftsmen. In the summer the town is covered with" dust, and during the rains the streets are full of mud and stone.' Burhanpur formed the seat of government of the Deccan princes of the empire till 1635, when Aurangabad took its place. After this event, Burhanpur became the capital of the large Subah of Khandesh, usually governed by a prince of the royal blood. The transfer had not occurred at the time when Sir Thomas Roe, Ambassador in 16 14 from James I to the Great Mughal, paid his visit to prince Parvez, son of Jahanglr. Forty- four years after Sir Thomas Roe's visit Tavernier described Burhanpur (or as he wrote it, Brampour), through which he then passed for the second time, as ' a great city very much ruined, the houses being for the most part thatched with straw.' He adds : ' There is also a great castle in the midst of the city, where the governor lives. The government of this province is a very considerable command, only conferred upon the son or uncle of the king. There is a great trade in this city ; and as well in Brampour as over all the Provinces, there is made a prodigious quantity of calicuts, very clear and white, which are transported into Persia, Turkey, and Muscovia, Poland, Arabia, to Grand Cairo, and

other places.' The remains of mosques and other buildings show that, at the height of its prosperity under the Mughals, Burhanpur extended over an area of about five square miles. The city continued to play an important part in the wars of the empire, particularly in the reign of Aurangzeb. It was plundered in 1685 by the Marathas just after the emperor had left it with an enormous army to subjugate the Deccan. Repeated battles were afterwards fought in its neighbourhood, until in 1 7 19 the demands of the Marathas for the chaiith or one-fourth of the revenue was formally conceded. Between 1720 and 1748 Burhanpur was the head-quarters of the Nizam Asaf Jah, who then possessed the government of the Deccan.

It afterwards belonged to the Peshwa and vSindhia, and was taken by General Wellesley's army in 1803, but did not finally become British territory until i860. In 1849 Burhanpur was the scene of a desperate and sanguinary affray between the Muham- madans and Hindus. In 1897 a large part of the town was destroyed by fire, and in 1903 there was a severe outbreak of plague with 1,872 deaths. The Bibl Masjid is now in a bad state of repair ; but the Jama Masjid, which was built by All Khan in 1588 and visited by Akbar twelve years later, is a fine building, decorated with stone carvings executed in perfect taste. Along the river bank the ruins of the fort rise to a great height, and the remains of lofty halls bear testimony to the magnificence of its palace. The tombs in the suburbs include those of Mubarak Shah and Adil Shah, which are under repair.

Burhanpur was created a municipality in 1869. The municipal receipts and expenditure during the decade ending 1901 averaged Rs. 65,000. In 1903-4 the income was Rs. 62,000, including octroi (Rs. 44,000) and conservancy (Rs. 7,000) ; and the principal items of expenditure, out of a total of Rs. 54,000, were sanitation (Rs. 13,000), education (Rs. 6,000), general administration and collection of taxes (Rs. 6,000), and refunds of duty on goods in transit (Rs. 5,000). A system of water-works was completed by the Mughal emperor Jahanglr in the seventeenth century. Several lines of subterranean wells were con- structed to catch the water percolating from the hills to the centre of the valley, and connected by conduits leading into masonry reservoirs.

Eight lines of wells can be traced, but all except two are quite out of repair. From the reservoirs water was distributed to the town by a system of earthenware or stone pipes, furnished at short intervals with tall hollow columns of masonry, which served the purpose of stand- pipes from which the water could be drawn off. The present scheme, which was completed in 1894, involved the construction of masonry channels for the conduits, and the substitution of cast-iron pipes with sluice-valves and stand-posts for the old earthenware and stone channels. The work cost 1-43 lakhs and the annual maintenance charges are Rs. 3,200. No water rate is yet levied except on private connexions.

Burhanpur has a considerable export trade in raw cotton, and the town contains three ginning factories. Two more ginning factories and two presses have been estabUshed at Lalbagh. The principal hand industry of the town is the production of silk cloths embroidered with gold and silver lace, which continues now in the same manner as described by Tavernier. The manufacture of the gold wire is distinct from the weaving industry, and is carried on by a special set of crafts- men. About 2,000 persons were supported in 1901 by the wire- drawing industry, and the same number by silk-weaving. Another small industry is the manufacture of rough globes of coloured and frosted glass for decorative purposes. The construction of the railway has deprived Burhanpur of the favourable position it formerly enjoyed as the main trade centre between Hindustan and the Deccan, while changes in fashion have decreased the demand for its costly embroidered fabrics. The population, however, continues to increase at a slow rate. Burhanpur contains an English middle and girls' school, several branch schools, and a dispensary.

In a state of neglect

Rana Safvi, In neglected Burhanpur, where Mumtaz Mahal once rested, April 2, 2017: The Hindu

Burhanpur, in a state of neclect of administration and renovation, 2017; Rana Safvi, In neglected Burhanpur, where Mumtaz Mahal once rested, April 2, 2017: The Hindu

The site where Mumtaj Mahal's body lay for six months before being taken to Agra is in ruins

Rabindranath Tagore called the Taj Mahal “a teardrop on the cheek of time”. But spare a thought for the neglected land where the initial tears of a grieving husband and children first fell. It was this trail of tears that led me to the small town of Burhanpur in Madhya Pradesh.

When Khan Jahan Lodi rebelled against the Mughal empire, little did he know of its impact on the life of the emperor and eventually India. Shah Jahan moved to Burhanpur to quell the revolt, and as was her norm, Mumtaz Mahal, though pregnant with her fourteenth child, went with him.

She stayed in the Badshahi Qila, which had been built by the Faruqi rulers of Khandesh, who had ruled Burhanpur from the 14th to 16th century. Akbar’s army occupied Burhanpur in 1599 and it became the Mughal capital of Khandesh. Akbar’s son Daniyal was made the Subedar of the new province. The shikaar-loving, pleasure-seeking prince built an Aahukhana, or deer park, opposite the Badshahi Qila in the village of Zainabad on the banks of the river Tapti.

When Shah Jahan was the governor of the Deccan, he added various buildings within the Badshahi Qila, including a once-gorgeous and now deteriorating hammam, for his wife’s relaxation. The hammam is beautifully painted and one of the fading frescoes has a building which looks remarkably like the Taj Mahal. It was in this palace that Mumtaz Mahal died on the night of June 16-17, 1631, after giving birth to Gauhar Ara Begum.

In the middle of nowhere

Shah Jahan had least expected this complication and was inconsolable when his beloved wife left for the next world. Mumtaz Mahal was laid to rest in the Aahukhana. A week later, Shah Jahan came to the Aahukhana and recited the fateha for his wife’s soul and wept over her grave. As long as he stayed in Burhanpur, he came every Friday to recite the fateha.

Locals tell me that Shah Jahan had initially decided to build a grand mausoleum for Mumtaz Mahal on the banks of Tapti, but due to difficulties in transporting marble from Markana, and the composition of the soil which had termites, he selected Agra. One local heritage enthusiast even told me that the image of the mausoleum would not fall on the Tapti, so the idea was abandoned. Unfortunately, logistics stole Burhanpur’s place in history and bestowed it on Agra.

Whatever the reasons for building the Rauza-e-Munawwara (the original name of the Taj Mahal) in Agra, the Aahukhana beckoned me. It seemed like I was in the minority, though, with only a few heritage-lovers, who are fighting to preserve their city’s heritage, for company.

The Aahukhana, where Mumtaz Mahal’s body lay for six months before being transported to Agra, lies in the middle of nowhere with a dirt track leading to it.

The baradari, which by consensus is the original resting place, is within an enclosed compound. Its boundary wall and iron gates are worse for wear, with the walls breaking up in quite a number of places. There is wild overgrown grass and a dirty dry tank, which was once a source of delight to visitors to the garden. The pleasure palace built in front of it is now a place which brings displeasure: it is dirty, dank, smelly and covered with graffiti.

The baradari has long since lost its roof. Its beautiful columns sag under the burden of sorrow. They have been roughly propped up by bricks to prevent further destruction. It is a picture of desolation.

Bemoaning the state of heritage

I was taken by my guides to another ruinous building a little further away from the baradari complex that was also part of the original Aahukhana. It has a small tank and mosque. The guides told me that this was the site where Mumtaz Mahal was given her ritual funeral bath.

Burhanpur heritage enthusiasts claim this is the actual grave. I could not meet Shahzada Asif, a resident who is said to have identified this place and who observes Mumtaz Mahal’s urs, or death anniversary, every year on June 7 in this place, but Hoshang Havaldar, a local hotel owner and heritage enthusiast, told me about it. I stayed in his hotel and we spent the evenings bemoaning the state of Burhanpur’s deteriorating heritage.

This building has no boundary wall and cotton farming is being done on its grounds. A rusted, decrepit board with barely distinguishable letters outside it proclaims in Hindi that this is Begum Mumtaz Mahal ki Qabr.

On December 1, 1631, Mumtaz Mahal’s body was taken out of the baradari and sent in ceremony to Agra accompanied by her son Shah Shuja, her lady-in-waiting Satti-un-Nisa, and Hakim Alimuddin Wazir Khan. They arrived in Agra 20 days later.

There are many theories of how her body was embalmed. Some say it was kept in a sealed lead-and-copper coffin filled with natural embalming herbs as per Unani techniques. Since the coffin was never opened, one doesn’t know the state of decomposition or preservation of the queen’s body.

But whatever state she may be sleeping in her grave in Taj Mahal, I am sure her soul cries at the wilderness and neglect of her original resting place in Burhanpur.

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