Burhanpur is a hidden jewel in the annals of medieval Indian architecture. Today a small town in Madhya Pradesh, barely 10 km from the Maharashtra border, its history is one of battle, conquest and change, interspersed with bursts of peace that allowed for rich aesthetic to flourish.
Burhanpur was founded in c. 1400 AD by the Faruqi king, Nasir Khan, on the northwestern banks of the Tapti. The Faruqis ruled Burhanpur for the next two centuries. In 1600, the Mughal Emperor Akbar captured Burhanpur, and for a century thereafter, until Aurangzeb’s death in 1707, it remained integral to Mughal ambitions in the Deccan. The governor of the City was invariably an individual of elevated rank, often a Mughal prince. Asirgarh Fort, on the outskirts of the town, was known as Dakkhan ka Darwaza or the Gateway to the Deccan.
Burhanpur remains a City of great architectural importance, but its fame rests largely as a pilgrimage for Bohra Muslims as well as for Sikhs.
IN BURHANPUR TOWN
Two of the oldest Faruqi monuments in Burhanpur are Kali Masjid, and the nearby Bibi Ki Masjid, both in a fair state of preservation. The latter, standing in the winding alleys of Itwara mohalla, was built between 1520 and 1540 by Faruqi queen.
Jama Masjid, located at the very centre of town in Gandhi Chowk, was begun by the Faruqi ruler, Adil Shah, and completed by Emperor Akbar. Its symmetrical arches and sparsely decorated pillars create a sense of severe beauty, while the two 36 m high minars (tower) over the mosque’s arched compound.
About 3 km away are tombs of several Faruqi rulers and their queens within a walled enclosure. Most noteworthy of these are tombs of Nadir Shah and Adil Shah with delicately crafted jaali screens.
The Mughals added enormously to Burhanpur’s architectural treasures. The fort, Shahi Qila was further fortified and many structures were added to it. Within the fort, the Diwan-e-Khas and Diwan-e-Aam, maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India, are set in beautifully manicured gardens that come alive in the evenings with families and young couples.
The most striking structure in the Shahi Qila is the Zenana Hammam. Built in combination of Mughal and Persian styles, the baths were once decorated with beautiful frescoes on the ceilings, some of which still survive. Visitors can still clearly see an image of what the local guides claim is an early drawing of the Taj Mahal!
Burhanpur boasts of elaborate systems for transporting water, begun during Akbar’s reign. The underground channels, ‘glorious relics of Mughal engineering ingenuity and skill’, were used to supply water to the town well into 20th century Kundi Bhandara, about 8 kms from Burhanpur. At the complex, a tiny electric lift carries visitors 25 m underground to dark tunnels, their walls gleaming white with limestone that has gathered over centuries, and now covers the original brickwork.
On the northern outskirts of Burhanpur is a beautiful Mughal monument, the Tomb of Shah Nawaz Khan. Inside the tomb, the walls and ceilings are covered with intricate fresco work.
The Tomb of Bilquis Jahan, or Begum Shah Shuja, is barely 2 kms from Shah Nawaz’s tomb. Because of its distinctively shaped dome, the tomb is locally known as Kharboozi (‘melon-like’) Gumbaz. Every niche in the circular wall within is beautifully decorated with floral patterns, and the colors appear as fresh now as they must have been at the time of the tomb’s execution.
Close by, on the banks of the Utaoli River is the dargah of Hazrat Shah Bhikari, also known as Hazrat Shah Nizamuddin. During the annual Urns held in the saint’s memory, the lakhs who gather here often congregate on the river’s dry bed to offer namaz.
About 3 kms from Gandhi Chowk in Burhanpur is the Dargah-e-Hakimi, a most sacred pilgrimage for Dawoodi Bohra. It is mazar of syedi Abdulqadir Hakimuddin. Hakimuddin came to Burhanpur in 1729 to spread the word of the Prophet. The entire complex is so well kept that locals refer to it as chhota Amreeka or ‘little America’.
SIKHISM IN BURHANPUR
The Sikh connection to Burhanpur dates to the early 16th century when Guru Nanak visited the town. His visit is commemorated by the Gurudwara Sangat Rajghat Patshali Pahili. The tenth guru, Guru Gobind Singh, halted at Burhanpur while accompanying the Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah I, to the Deccan in 1708. It is said that the Guru spent 20 days preaching to the sangat. Gurudwara Bari Sangat is built on the site, and enshrines a hand-written copy of the Guru Granth Sahib, with an inscription by Guru Gobind himself.
Beautifully located on the banks of the Badi Utaoli River is Mahal Gulara, a Mughal pleasure retreat, 21 kms from Burhanpur on Amravati Road. When, as a prince, Shah Jahan arrived to govern Burhanpur, he is said named Gulara. Shah Jahan would spend many moonlit nights in this palace as she sang for him. The prince married the singer and named the nearby village after her.
Perched high on the Satpura range, just under 25 kms north of Burhanpur, is Asirgarh, one of the most magnificent forts of India, rivaling even the great Golconda, Asa Aheer, the fort was captured by the Faruqis in 1400. It soon became the region’s most coveted fortification, mainly for its strategic location. Any ruler with ambitions on the Deccan had to first control Asirgarh Indeed, Asirgarh was known as the Dakkhan ka Darwaza or Gateway to the Deccan.
The famous temple of ichhadevi is located 23 kms from Burhanpur. Believed to answer any prayer made to her, the Goddess is much revered by the locals. Though the present structure is fairly recent, the original site is said to be over 450 years old.