“When beggars die there are no comets seen; The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.” Julius Caesar
You wouldn’t think that this tomb was that of a prince, much less a king and — by no stretch of your imagination – that it belonged to a great emperor who ruled the Indian sub-continent for the longest period of 49 years. But the tomb, situated off a dirty street, on the rural outskirts of down-trodden Aurangabad in Maharashtra, India, is indeed the final resting place of Aurangzeb, the Mughal emperor. The third son and sixth child of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal, for whom the Taj Mahal was built, was buried here as per his wishes in a simple manner. He was one of the wealthiest of the Mughal rulers but his riches are not on display at the tomb. (The Viceroy made the site a bit more attractive by decorating it with marble tiles). No doubt that if he wanted he could have got something more elaborate done, like the Taj Mahal which was made for his mother.
He did after all fund a similar memorial site for his begum (queen). She lies not far away (a distance of some 20 kms separating the two sites) from him but has been given a farewell befitting a queen. Unlike the Taj Mahal, which was built for Mumtaz by her husband, the magnificent and no-less opulent Bibi-ka-Maqbara (meaning ‘Tomb of the Lady’) was built by Aurangzeb’s son, Prince Azam Shah, for his mother. The Dakkhani Taj (Taj of the Deccan) – as it’s sometimes called — was built around 1651-1661 A.D. which was just about the time that the Taj Mahal was being completed in Agra. The queen’s name, which history has forgotten – just as the tourists have forgotten this monument – was Rabia-ul- Durrani alias Dilras Banu Begum.
So what is lacking here that the world takes no notice of such a spectacular site? To start with, though the dome is topped with marble, the walls are made of plaster – and can be seen peeling off with apparently no alarm being caused to the authorities responsible for its maintenance. The four minarets in the corners surrounding the mausoleum are made from limestone and other ordinary material, which are also crumbling and in a state of disrepair Also, though in its outward appearance it has the similar grace and style of the Taj Mahal, its interiors are not as fancifully decorated. Apparently, budgetary constraints limited the expenses on craftsmen and material that would have been necessary for it to be built exactly like the Taj. If you were to go purely by the budgets as an indication of eternal love, Shah Jahan did beat Aurangzeb hands down! But the most important reason for its obscurity could be the fact that it is a copy – a fake Taj Mahal of sorts! In life and death it’s obviously important to come first because nobody about who was second. And that’s why not many of the flocks of tourists, who descend on Aurangabad to go out to Ajanta and Ellora caves, may be seen visiting the burial sites of either Aurangzeb or his queen.
So is it really worth a visit to these sites? Absolutely. One would not have to brave the crushing crowds at the Taj Mahal to savor a monument that is quite identical. If it weren’t for the fact that the Taj exists, Aurangzeb’s begum would surely have had her resting place on the global tourism map too – because aesthetically it’s as perfect-looking. No queen could have asked for more that this – that’s for sure! And many visitors to Bibi-ka-Maqbara will surely discover something magnificent that exists in our world and which will hopefully last for many centuries to come.
One more plus point here is that in its backdrop one can see rolling hills and pristine nature, which is a far cry from the claustrophobic filth that goes by the name of Agra. The compound itself has a Mughal garden with mango trees — the varieties in Maharashtra are rightly called the king of fruits – amid a superb water system with many fountains, just like those at the Taj Mahal.
So here we are, ultimately, in a land where a king and his queen have been divided in death and by the legacy of the Taj Mahal, which had undoubtedly inspired their son to immortalize at least one of his then famous parents. Whom do we salute – the simplicity of Aurangzeb;s resting place or the grandeur and artistry of his queen’s? You will have to visit these places to find out!
Unbeatable offer to visit: Entry fee is only Rs. 5 and on Fridays it’s completely free!
Timing: 6 am to 8.30 pm