Burhanpur – Forgotten Glory

As promised in the earlier post on Asirgarh, i am back with more goodies, this time from in and around Burhanpur. For those who are joining us here, i was in Burhanpur earlier this month on office work. Its a piddly hick town in southern Madhya Pradesh near the border with Maharashtra.

I have, in the last post established that Burhanpur today is most famous for its Isabgol plant. However some centuries ago, it was a major contender for the site of the Taj Mahal. Had it won the race, the realities would have been different. But then again, who really knows!

Mumtaz died in Burhanpur giving birth to her fourteenth child, Gauhar Begum and was buried here for the next 23 years waiting the completion of her famed tomb, halfway up the country at Agra.

Is it not appropriate then, to begin this post with a photograph of Mumtaz’s hammam?

Paintings on the hammam walls

The hammam was beautifully painted, most of which has survived to this date. It is located in the Badshahi Qila or the city fort, which is the primary attraction in Burhanpur town.

Badshahi Qila

Standing on the banks of the Tapti, the Badshahi Qila is a remarkable structure. The six storeyed structure rises over 175 feet from the river beds and housed over 4,00,000 soldiers. The palaces – Diwan-i-Aam and Diwan-i-Khas were built on the terrace of the structure. The Raj Ghat, that you see in the foreground of the picture above was used as a base for the boats used by the members of the royal family.

Elephant in the water!

Just off the ghats in the middle of the Tapti is a strange rock in the shape of an elephant. To heighten the effect, the locals have even painted it in bright colours. It is said that on moonlit nights, Shah Jahan would take Mumtaz Mahal out on a boat and both of them would then sit on the elephant rock and enjoy the beauty of the night!

Badshahi Qila, again

Long after the Mughals, the Holkar Queen, Ahilya Bai, built numerous temples on the ghats, one of them dedicated to the goddess Tapti.

Raj Ghat
Life on the ghats
Life on the ghats
Life on the ghats

Burhanpur today, is a veritable necropolis. Of the monuments in and around the town, the majority are tombs. Apart from Mumtaz, Burhanpur boasts (!!) of a number of historical notables who have breathed their last here, including Nizam-ul-mulk, the first of the Asaf Jahi Nizams of Hyderabad and Sawai Jai Singh of Amber. After the tombs, the most numerous are the mosques. Lets start off on the grim note of death and the consequent monuments built to commemorate it, The following photographs belong to a complex of tombs on the banks of the Tapti. The two main mausoleums are of the Farooqui kings, Aadil Shah and Nadir Shah.

Twin TombsThe mausoleums house more than one grave. The largest of them belong to the emperor while the smaller ones are those of his wives, children, courtiers, servants, etc. Inside Nadir Shah’s tomb

One of the bona-fide gems of Burhanpur is Bilquis Begum’s Tomb. However, the locals know it as Shah Shuja’s Tomb. In reality, it was Shah Shuja (son of Shah Jahan) who built this tomb for his wife Bilqis Begum. From the outside, the dome of the structure is somewhat melon shaped. On that cue the people of Burhanpur also refer to it as the kharbooji gumbad!

Bilqis Begum’s tomb

The urge to built mausoleums for dead wives seems to have passed on from Shah Jahan to Shah Shuja. Though clearly nowhere comparable to the Taj Mahal, Bailquis Begum’s tomb has a charm of its own. The inside walls are embellished with paintings that even five centuries later continue to mesmerise and dazzle the visitor. Here, i must also thank the Archaeological Survey of India for the great job they are doing with the monuments of Burhanpur.

Details of paintings from Bilquis’ tomb!

Jai Singh of Amber (1611-1666) was one of the most trusted generals of Aurangzeb. After concluding the treaty of Purandar with Shivaji and Co, Jai Singh was on his way back to Jaipur when he mysteriously died in Burhanpur. Some say he was poisoned by Aurangzeb himself, others feel that he died of excessive drinking. I feel that he died of excessive drinking on the wine given by Aurangzeb. Makes no sense? Well, thats historical conjecture!

So after his death, he was cremated on a lovely spot on the Tapti, 20 kms south of Burhanpur. Aurangzeb later erected a simple but beautiful chhatri on this spot. It is today popularly known as Raja ki Chhatri.

Raja ki Chhatri

The most dramatic of Deaths in Burhanpur was that of Mumtaz Mahal in 1631. She was initially buries in the king;s hunting lodge on the other side of the river from Burhanpur. Ahukhana, as the building is better known, stands to this day and perhaps as fate would have it, is the favourite haunts of the city’s love-lorn couples.


From the house of the mortals we now move to the realm of God. Generation upon generation of Islamic rulers have resulted in the cityscape of Burhanpur being dominated by many a soaring mosque minar. The most prominent however is the town’s Jami Masjid. Also one of the oldest in the city, the Jami Masjid is located in Gandhi Chowk, at the very heart if the old town.

Has there ever been a better place to sleep?

It was in fact the first place we visited in Burhanpur after we had dumped our sacks in the hotel. It was a lazy afternoon and the mosque was quiet. A number of people were actually asleep in the sanctuary. Had work not being pressing on me, i would have considered a little nap myself!

It is easy to get lost in Burhanpur, a veritable city of mosques. Everybody who was anybody, anytime in the long history of this town, has left behind a mosque. Finding them in the present cityscape is a different adventure altogether. You have to get lost and wander in its labirynthine alleyways before you stand face to mace with a medieval mosque.

Beautifully sculpted mihrab at the Jama Masjid
A minar of the Tana Gujri Masjid, reflected in the waters of its hauz
Crumbling ruins of the once splendid Biwi ka Masjid
Close up of the love extant minar of Biwi ka Masjid
Remains of a sarai just outside of Burhanpur, at Zainabad
Perforated domes of the public hammam near the Anda Bazaar Chowk.
Bangles for sale outside the Iccha Devi Temple, 25 kms from Burhanpur
The delightful pleasure palace of Mahal Gulara
A solitary cupola on the roof of Mahal Gulara
Picknicking children invent a game at Moti Mahal, Asirgarh

Well, people, that was as much of Burhanpur’s secret as i could divulge. Needless to say, i could have gone on with the picture-play a bit longer but i feel that some of the intrigue should be left from the book.

Next up, is a multi-part series on Assam. So, watch this space for more.

[PS: I will have to admit that pressing schedules at work and at home has forced me to assemble this blog piece over a three week period. I would not be surprised if some of you find it a bit disjunctive and jumpy at times. Apologies!]