6th May, 2003


Would you believe if one were to tell you that India is the proud home of not one but two Taj Mahals? Probably not!

But it is a fact that a monument identical to the Taj stands in Aurangabad in Maharashtra and it is lovingly called the Mini Taj of the Deccan. The monument is Bibi Ka Maqbara built by Aurangzebís son, Azam Shah, in 1660 as a loving tribute to his mother, Dilras Bano Begam. Interestingly, while the Begum nestles in the magnificent structure, the austere Moghal emperor chose to be laid in and commemorated with touching simplicity. Aurangzebís tomb is also in Aurangabad at Khuldabad en route Daulatabad Fort. It is a simple latticed enclosure with whitewashed walls, a small marble railing, erected 200 years later, and a tomb marked by the white cotton sheet spread over it to delimit the modesty of his desires.

Bibi Ka Maqbara is an architectural wonder with intricate designs, carved motifs, imposing structure and beautifully landscaped Moghal-style garden. The walk from the entrance to the monument is dotted with lush lawns, deep green cypresses and gurgling fountains. The pavements leading to the mausoleum are flanked by oblong reservoirs. The ambience is overwhelmingly that of the Taj. On close encounter, however, one realizes that while the Taj is pure white with the coolness and smoothness of the Rajasthan marble, the walls of the Maqbara are a little dusky by contrast. They lack the sheen of marble. In fact, the dome and some parts of the main building are made of marble, the rest is plastered with Eastco plaster, a kind of high quality cement which gives marble-like look and strength to the walls. That is the reason why the Maqbara looks a little dull compared to the Taj. That is also probably one reason why it is often referred to as the "poor manís Taj". The epithet is, however, unjust as the Maqbara has its own splendour and grace and by no standards can it be called poor.

Historians record that initially Aurangzeb was not in favour of building a monument as lavish as the Taj. He blocked the movement of marble from Rajasthan and various other parts of the Moghal empire, an ordinary structure was to be planned but Alam Shah was determined to have a monument to his mother that might vie with the Taj. Somehow, Alam Shah prevailed upon his father who eventually relented. Thus, only the onion dome was built with marble. The rest is of plaster. The French traveller, Tavernier, also records that in 1653 while crossing the present Aurangabad, now Sambhaji Nagar area, he spotted around 300 bullock carts loaded with huge marble slabs. On enquiry, he was told that they were for the Maqbara. The work was completed in six years and it cost six-and-a half lakh rupees as compared to the 22 lakh and 22 years that the Taj took.

The main onion dome of the Maqbara is smaller than the dome of the Taj. Square in shape, the Maqbara has four octagonal minarets. These are shorter than the main structure. There is only one mosque on the main plinth of the Maqbara while there are two mosques on either side of the Taj, giving it symmetry. The mosque, it is said, is a later addition. It was not in the main plan.

Legend has it that in 1803, Nizam Sikander Jahan was so captivated by the Maqbara that when Aurangabad and the Marathwada area were annexed to his kingdom he planned to shift the Maqbara to his capital, Hyderabad. He even ordered dismantling of the structure, slab by slab. But, somehow, he had a premonition of some disaster which might befall him were he to harm the existing structure. He stopped the work and as a penance got the mosque built.

Bibi Ka Maqbara, a "travesty of the Taj," has a charm and grandeur of its own. It has its own personality, so to say its own identity. It may be like the Taj but it is not its exact replica. At the backdrop of the Maqbara stands the rugged Deccan terrain back, rocky and infinitely lonely. The off-white structure, latticed with colourful motifs and intricate patterns, stands as a befitting tribute to the fourth wife of an austere emperor. She is laid there alone while in the Taj the lovers are laid side by side. The Bibiís tomb is decorated moderately. The atmosphere is serene but is laden with the eternal sadness of the ultimate finality. You come out, throw a departing glance at the monument and bid goodbye to the mini Taj as the guide whisks you to the nearby Panchakki, built in 1624 to commemorate a Muslim saint, Baba Shah Muzaffar. If the Maqbara speaks of manís architectural ingenuity, the Panchakki is a wonder of nature.

*Text and Photographs from Usha Bande, Freelance Writer, Shimla

**Photographs can be downloaded from www.pib.nic.in


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