Monday, 11 April 2016

Aurangzeb's Tomb, Khuldabad

Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb’s tomb in the little town of Khuldabad, near Aurangabad in the Indian state of Maharashtra, is the first Mughal tomb I ever visited, and it is starkly different from any other Mughal tomb. No grand Taj Mahal like structures here. The Emperor was a pious man of austere habits and hated ostentation. His simple tomb, open to the sky, is a lesson in humility. But how did that the richest, most powerful man in the world come to be buried in an open, unmarked grave?

Aurangzeb's Tomb - note marble "jaali" screen placed by Nizam of Hyderabad


By the end of his life, Aurangzeb had expanded the Mughal empire to its greatest ever size. However, conquering territory and holding on to it, are two different things. While he had successfully defeated the Bijapur Sultanate, the Marathas continued to harass him and minor rebellions kept breaking out all over the empire. His Deccan campaign had exhausted the treasury and all his old and faithful chiefs had been killed in his campaigns. His most beloved wife, Rabia-ud-Daurani had died fifty years ago. There had been many others since, but no one quite like her. On his way back from conquering a minor fort called Wagingera in the Deccan, the Emperor fell violently ill. He was now old, exhausted and utterly alone. The last of his sisters, Gauharara Begum had died in 1704 and he was now accompanied only by his daughter Zinat-un-Nissa and the last of his wives, Udipuri Mahal, a Georgian slave originally part of his brother Dara’s harem who was now a violent alcoholic.

Entrance to Aurangzeb's tomb

Primogeniture was not prevalent among the Mughals, and when the Emperor died a war of succession would almost certainly break out. Aurangzeb had tried to avoid this as best he could, by sending his sons off as governors to the distant corners of his empire, but now that they knew the end was near, the intrigues had begun. On the 20th January 1706, the Emperor arrived in Ahmadnagar, wasted with illness. He would spend the last year of his life in this city. On Friday, the 4th of March, 1707, at 8 a.m., in the fiftieth year of his reign, Aurangzeb died after performing morning prayers. He was 89 years old and a deeply pious man. Unlike all his predecessors, he believed that the state treasury was not his personal property and stitched caps and copied Qur’ans which were sold to earn him the money he needed to buy the plot of land for his grave. This was to be in the little town of Khuldabad, also known as Roza or Rauza, meaning “garden of paradise”. Many years ago, the Turkic Sultan of Delhi, Muhammad Bin Tughlaq had made the rash decision of shifting his capital to Daultabad, near Khuldabad. It was made worse by the fact that he ordered Delhi’s population to move with him. 8 years later when he decided to move back, many refused. Among them were a large number of Sufi saints, more than a thousand of whom now lie buried in this little town. It was therefore considered especially auspicious as a final resting place.

Mosque within the Dargah complex

The emperor had made all the arrangements for his burial during his lifetime. His deep-rooted faith in Islam meant that he would not allow any grand mausoleum to be constructed above his grave. A simple red stone slab, three yards long, two yards wide, a few inches deep with a hollowed out centre marks the spot. The slab itself bears no inscription whatsoever, allowing a small portion of the grave to remain open to the sky. Here a small “sabza” shrub grows. The grave is inside the “Dargah” or tomb complex, of Sheikh Zainuddin Shirazi, a Sufi saint of the Chishti order, who it is said, Aurangzeb felt deeply inspired by. The cost of the tomb is said to have been only 14 rupees and 12 annas.

Southern gate to Khuldabad


Located about 8 kilometres away from the fortress of Daulatabad, Khuldabad may be reached in under an hour by car from Aurangabad on National Highway 211, which stretches North West of the Bibi ka Maqbara. On the way, you will pass the “Pariyon ka Talab” or Tank of the Fairies and the attached Dargah of Sheikh Shah Jalaluddin. Like Aurangabad, Khuldabad is a walled city and has 7 gates. If you’re coming from Aurangabad, you will enter the town through the Southern gate and midway between the Northern and Southern gates, on the Eastern side of the road is the Dargah of Sheikh Zainuddin Shirazi (full name Dargah Hazrat Khwaja Makhdum Syed Shah Zainuddin Dawood Hussain Shirazi), inside which is lies the Emperor. “An ascent of 30 yds. leads to a domed porch and gateway, erected about 1760 by a celebrated dancing-girl of Aurangabad”, says Murray’s Handbook. Through the gate, one enters a large open courtyard, surrounded by a number of buildings on all four sides. In the centre of the Southern side is an exquisite little “nakkar khana” from where music used to be played during festivals back in the day. The Western side is occupied by a mosque with one central dome painted gold and four minarets on four corners. On the Northern side are a series of scalloped arches. Among these arches is a small opening leading to Aurangzeb’s tomb.

Scalloped arches on the Northern side of the courtyard


The tomb is now surrounded by a perforated marble “jaali” screen. This was placed here in 1921 by the Nizam of Hyderabad at the suggestion of the erstwhile British Viceroy, Lord Curzon. Inside, the tomb is spotless, covered in a white cloth with an opening in the middle. In one corner is a large marble tablet, also placed here by the Nizam of Hyderabad. The Nizams ruled over central India, including Khuldabad from 1748 to 1948. The tablet spells out the full royal title of Aurangzeb. It reads “Al-Sultan al-Azam wal Khaqan al-Mukarram Hazrat Abul Muzaffar Muhy-ud-Din Muhammad Aurangzeb Bahadur Alamgir I, Badshah Ghazi, Shahanshah-e-Sultanat-ul-Hindiya Wal Mughaliya”. Opposite the entrance to Aurangzeb’s tomb is a small shop selling knick-knacks and books of Urdu poetry.

Shop opposite Aurangzeb's tomb

A different opening within the scalloped arches affords access to the other tombs within the complex. In the centre of the complex is the tomb of Sheikh Zainuddin Shirazi. Born in Shiraz, in modern day Iran (hence, Zainuddin Shirazi means Zainuddin of Shiraz) in 701 as per the Hijri calendar, or 1301 C.E., Zainuddin arrived in Delhi via Mecca and ultimately came to Khuldabad where he would become a “Qazi”. He was a contemporary of Burhanuddin Gharib, another saint, whose Dargah lies on the opposite side of the road. He died in 1369.

Tomb of Sheikh Zainuddin Shirazi

On the South Eastern corner of the courtyard within a marble-walled enclosure are 3 more graves. Two of these are close together and have marble headstones. These are of Aurangzeb’s son Azam Shah and his wife. It had been the Emperor’s hot-headed son Azam and not his favourite Kam Baksh who had brought his body to Khuldabad. To try and save his favourite Kam Baksh, Aurangzeb had ordered Azam to Malwa in his final days, far away from Kam Baksh in Bijapur. But the cunning Azam had set off at an exceedingly slow pace and rushed back to Ahmadnagar as soon as news of his father’s death reached him. Barely a month after his father’s death, Azam proclaimed himself Emperor, but his reign was a short one. He died on 20th June 1707 on the battlefield of Jajau near Agra, at the hands of his brother, Mu'azzam, who would ascend the throne as Bahadur Shah I. The third grave in the enclosure is supposed to be that of a minor Muslim saint, although some sources say it is Zainuddin’s daughter.

Azam Shah's grave

The Prophet's cloak is behind this door
On the north-eastern corner is a green domed structure. Within it is a very precious relic of Islam. Zainuddin had brought with him from Iran a cloak belonging to the Prophet (S.A.W.). This is carefully preserved inside and shown to visitors every year on the 12th Rabi-ul-awal (the third month of the Islamic Hijri calendar). Also displayed inside is the story of how the relic came to Khuldabad and the complete list of names of all those who have had it in their possession.


Since it is a Dargah, there are no entrance charges or tickets, but there is a catch. Muslim Dargahs and Hindu Temples have one thing in common – they are money-making machines. You will find a “daan peti” or donation box everywhere you go. There are also no official guides, but the keepers of the shrine will offer to show you around, in exchange for “baksheesh” or tips. They speak only Hindi and Urdu. The caretakers told me I could put some money in the donation box if I wished to, but their facial expressions and body language seemed to suggest that it wasn’t really a matter of choice. While I don’t mind giving a 50 or even a 100 to a guy who has just spent 20 minutes showing me around in the heat and telling me stories, I am deeply suspicious of that “daan peti”. I don’t remember hearing of a temple or a dargah being audited, so who knows where that money is going? Although in this case, at least, some money must be going to the right place, since the maintenance is pretty good. If you are going, I suggest you keep some 10 rupee notes handy for the ubiquitous donation box. Tip the guide well if you must.

Entrance to the Dargah of Sheikh Zainuddin Shirazi

For photographers, I suggest a wide angle lens. The interiors of the complex are not very large, and I found my Canon EF 10-22mm for my Canon 70D to be extremely useful. A cheaper option would be the EF 10-18. I had visited the complex in November, and as you can see, the light was good and the skies were a beautiful blue. There are no restrictions on photography, except inside the actual mausoleum of Zainuddin Shirazi. To avoid problems, ask for permission. A smile, a handshake and a touch of sincerity in your voice will open many doors. There are a large number of Sufi dargahs in and around Khuldabad, so take some time out to explore the town. There are some basic shops in the town selling snacks etc, but no proper restaurants. Apart from the Dargahs, the garden of Jahan Banu Begum, daughter-in-law of Aurangzeb, and the tomb of Malik Ambar, the African slave who founded Aurangabad, are also worth a visit.

-          By Deepanjan Ghosh




Sohoni, Pushkar – Aurangabad With Daulatabad, Khuldabad And Ahmadnagar
Lane-Poole, Stanley - Rulers Of India : Aurangzeb, Emperor of Hindustan, 1618-1707
Balabanlilar, Lisa - Imperial Identity in Mughal Empire: Memory and Dynastic Politics in Early ...
Asher, Catherine Blanshard  - Architecture of Mughal India, Part 1, Volume 4
Michell, George/ Zebrowski, Mark - Architecture and Art of the Deccan Sultanates, Part 1, Volume 7
Gazetter of Aurangabad - H. H. The Nizam's Government 1884
Hansen, Waldemar – The Peacock Throne: The Drama of Mogul India
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