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Notes on the Geography of Pakistan: Jahangir's Tomb

India has several tombs of the Mughals, including those of Akbar and Shah Jahan.  Pakistan has Jahangir's, which has been defaced but is still remarkable.

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Pakistan: Jahangir's Tomb picture 1

Hold on to your horses: we're not at the tomb yet. The lawn in the foreground is part of a 12-acre rectangular area known misleadingly as the Akbari Serai. (Misleading because it never was a serai of Akbar's or anyone else's but was built as part of a place where visitors to Jahangir's tomb could stay in the peripheral cells. For a while in the 19th century, it was used for railway-equipment storage.) The building here is a mosque and, just behind it, the once-glorious domed tomb of Asaf Khan, Jahangir's brother-in-law and Shah Jahan's father-in-law. (Yes, he was the father of the woman buried in the Taj Mahal).

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Asaf Khan died in 1641. Shah Jahan ordered construction of a tomb for him, but the marble covering was subsequently stripped by the Bhangi Sikh sardars and the builders working for Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

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Asaf Khan's tomb sits in a large enclosure, once presumably better tended.

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Inside, the richly inlaid cenotaph.

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The inscription is from the Qur'an and begins, "I commence in the name of the God the Merciful and Gracious. He forgiveth all sins."

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A few parts of the decoration have been tentatively restored.

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The path looking back to the mosque.

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On the back of the mosque there are surviving bits of decorative tile.

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We're back in the serai and looking in the opposite direction toward the gateway leading to the enclosure around Jahangir's tomb.

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We've climbed up to the top of the gateway.

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The view back to the mosque.

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Rotating 180 degrees, we're looking at Jahangir's tomb, in its own 55-acre gridded garden, or char bagh. What do you think of the building? Nowadays, ideas of tact and sensitivity preclude critical judgments about buildings like this one, which happens to appear on Pakistan's 100-rupee note, but in the past authors spoke their minds.

Here's Percy Brown in the 1930s: "It is true that some appearance of height is obtained by a handsome minaret rising from each corner, and there was originally a marble pavilion placed in the middle of the platform above, which, when in situ, would have offered a central point of interest. Now short of this feature, which was removed during the Sikh supremacy, the whole composition is singularly ineffective. Efforts were made to improve its appearance by the lavish application of inlaid marbles, glazed tiles, and painted patterns, some of which are remarkably good examples of mural decoration, but no amount of embellishment of this nature can redeem its obvious architectural defects." (Percy Brown, "Monuments of the Mughal Period," Chapter XVIII of The Cambridge History of India, vol. 4, 1938, p. 551.)

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The tomb was commissioned by Shah Jahan, who seems to have had little interest in it, perhaps because he was none too overwrought by the death of his father. But the now-vanished upper level impressed early European visitors. Baron Charles Hugel came by in 1836 and wrote, "there is nothing of its kind in India more elegant, than the terrace which runs round the roof of the building, formed entirely of pietra dura, and having an open balustrade of marble." (C. Hugel, Travels in Kashjmir and the Panjab, 1845, quoted in F.S. Aijazuddin's Lahore: Illustrated Views of the 19th Century, 1991, p. 33.)

Two years later, Fanny Eden came by and wrote that "the tomb has fine minarets and inside and outside is inlaid with coloured stones in small patterns. It covers an enormous space of ground but like all fine buildings in this country is going fast to decay." (Aijazuddin, p. 34, quoting a manuscript letter in the India Office Library, London.)

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Do the chevrons on the minaret seem odd, even unattractive? No wonder! Syad Muhammad Latif, in Lahore: Its History, Architectural Remains and Antiquities.... (1892), writes that "the elegant marble fret-work surrounding the galleries of the minarets, which imparted a lightness to the structure, were removed by Ranjit Singh, who replaced them with masonry work. The marble fretwork of the uppermost story has been recently restored by the British Government."

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Jahangir's cenotaph survives, with the 99 names or attributes of God carved on the two long sides. The inscription on this narrow end of the tomb, in Persian, reads: "The illuminated resting place of His Majesty, the asylum of pardon, Nur-al-Din Muhammad Jahangir Badshah, A.H. 1037 [1627]." (Jehangir's formal name was "Jannat Makani [he whose place is in the heavenly garden], the Emperor Nur al-Din Muhammad Jahangir.")

Like all the Mughals, Jahangir traced his ancestry back to Timur and also carried the titles of Great Lord and Universal Conqueror, Pillar of the World and Religion, Emperor Amir Timur Gurgan, and first Sahib-i-Qiran [Lord of the Auspicious Planetary Conjunction].

There once a cenotaph on the upper terrace, but like the terrace it's long gone.


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The English were coming here in force by the 1850s. The Reverend James Coley, a chaplain working for the East India Company, visited in 1847 and wrote: "I was struck with surprise at not being asked to take off my boots; I enquired the reason, and the men in charge replied that the Sahib log would not take off their boots, and therefore they had given up asking them." (J. Coley, Journal of the Sutlej Campaign of 1845-6, quoted by Aijazuddin, 1991, p. 38.)

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A detail.

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The side of the cenotaph.

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The pedestal.

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The roof of the tomb chamber.

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Mid-19th century photographs show a jungle where today there's lawn. But other uses were made of this ground: T.H. Thornton and Lockwood Kipling (Rudyard's father) published a Lahore guidebook in 1876, and in it they wrote that "the garden has for a long time been in the hands of cultivators." (Aijazuddin, 1991, p. 36.)

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Water once babbled over this sloping stone. (For a glimpse of what it looked like, see the rainy-day pictures of Akbar's tomb at Sikandra, near Agra.)

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Brickwork over the channel.

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Wonder where the water came from? Here's the answer. It was raised by a Persian wheel.

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Remember coming up earlier to the top of the gateway? You see it in the distance, but in the foreground, running along the top of the row of cells rimming the serai is the water channel that carried water lifted from the well. It was from here that the channels spread water through the gardens.

Pakistan: Jahangir's Tomb picture 27

Like this.

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A mile away, the tomb of Nur Jahan, "the Light of the World." She was the sister of Asaf Jah and became Jahangir's most important wife and, in the later years of his reign (say, from about 1622 to his death in 1627) the empire's effective ruler. Like the tombs of Jahangir and Akbar, this one had a second tier, with a screened cenotaph. Where did it go? S.M. Latif, in Lahore: Its History, Architectural Remains and Antiquities, 1892, says (p. 109) that the marble was taken for the Sikh's Golden Temple at Amritsar.

Even so, the tomb is in better shape now than when Henry Hardinge saw it in 1846. From a letter he sent at that time: "...Nurjehan, once the handsomest woman in the East, is buried near him; but the only remains of her tomb are a few crumbling arches, which are surrounded by some tall palms tapering to the skies, which give a melancholy appearance to what was once a building of some size and importance." (From Hardinge's Recollections of India, published in 1847 and quoted in F.S. Aijazuddin, 1991, p. 27.)

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The cenotaph. The real tomb is down below. The companion is her daughter, Ladli Begum.

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We're underground now. The coffin was reportedly buried here by the Sikhs, who removed it from its original position, hanging on iron swings.

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The guard insists that secret tunnels lead from here all the way to Delhi. "Do you really believe that?" "Yes."

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