The day before Eid, my friends and I found ourselves in Bardhaman, my hometown. A district in West Bengal, Bardhaman, geographically, is a conversion zone between the Chhotanagpur plateau region and the Ganga-Brahmaputra alluvial plains. Historically, the city is equally unique, with plenty of terracotta temples, tombs and dargahs; a testament to the city’s multicultural heritage. One such example is the Nawab Bari.
Khwaja Anwar was the chief Amir of Bengal Governor Azim-us-Shan. In honour of the warrior, who was killed in an ambush in 1698, the Emperor granted a huge amount of money for his burial. Later in 1715, Emperor Farrukhsiyar built a tomb over his remains and granted five mauzas for the purpose of maintaining the tomb to Khwaja Anwar-i Shahid’s family. The tomb complex is a remarkable representation of Mughal architecture, and is popularly known as the Nawab Bari.
With the whole city wrapped up in festivities, our drive to Nawab Bari was snail-paced due to the crowds near Curzon Gate. People thronged to streets lined with clothes, shoes, electronics, ittar, and lachha, the primary ingredient for seviyan, payesh and halwa.
We weaved through Curzon Gate, passing by the 136-year-old Burdwan Municipal High School and other landmarks that make the city. Our rickshaw trundled in labyrinths until we heard the azaan of Asr. Then, the proud gateway of Nawab Bari greeted us. The building was a perfect blend of Bengali Mughal-style architecture with an area of about 10 bighas, all within a walled enclosure. With such a structure in front of us, we were disappointed to know that photography wasn’t allowed on the premises without prior permission.
But luck was favouring us, and before we entered the premises, I started a conversation with a friendly passerby, who introduced us to a man with all the right connections. He granted us some special access and even allowed us to take photos with our phones. We crossed the beautiful arches of the gate, covered in rickety bricks jutting from the walls and entered the large concrete courtyard. In the centre, a large dead tank with a pavilion was flanked by an arched causeway that pulled our attention. Popularly known as the Hawa Mahal, it is quite atypical of Bengal, if not India. In its heyday, it was a symbol of cultural assimilation; now, it serves as a playground for children.
On the western side of the tomb complex, we found a mosque, the architecture of which was unprecedented in any 17th- or early-18th-century mosques of Bengal. Even with the plaster peeling off, the ornate structure made for a beautiful sight. Unable to resist, I peeped into the mosque where people still offered namaz. The interiors were an inspiration to many 18th-century mosques including the seven-bayed Chowk Mosque in Murshidabad.
The stucco ornamentation in Bengali-Mughal architecture was punctuated with a three-bayed structure and cusped niches, a rarely seen sight for the time it was constructed in. Perhaps it was influenced by Aurangzeb’s Badshahi Mosque in Lahore?
Khwaja Anwar’s tomb was at the northern end of the complex. Half covered in overgrown foliage, the structure was a mere shadow of what it once was. Yet, it stood in its grandeur, instilling awe and pride. A single-dome square, it was flanked by two rectangular structures and crowned with pitched do-chala roofs. These steep structures resembled Bengali temples and the contemporary tomb of Fateh Khan in Gaur, Malda. The plastered façade of the tomb was deeply incised and formed geometric patterns all over the structure.
A caretaker opened the lock and we entered the mausoleum. Here too, the stucco ornamentation impressed us. On the other side, the mausoleum faced the graveyard. From the roof, glass lanterns and chandeliers hung in silence.
There are many rumours lurking around the tomb complex. One popular conviction was the existence of a large, egg-shaped sculpture inside the tomb, believed to be the egg of the magical Bangoma and Bongomi birds. We surely didn’t find anything of that sort.
The caretaker told us that we must visit the tomb on the occasion of the holy bath on the first day of Magha (a month of the Hindu calendar) when hundreds of visitors come to visit the tomb.
Walking around the tomb complex, I recalled what I knew of this Mughal warrior. I had recently read Riyazu-S-Salatin by Ghulam Husain Salim and Bengal District Gazetteers: Burdwan by J. C. K. Peterson. Alarmed at the progress of the rebellions by Subha Singh and Rahim Khan, Emperor Aurangzeb had appointed his own grandson Azim-us-Shan as a viceroy of Bengal Subah, Bihar and Odisha in 1697. Prince Azim-us-Shan had vainly tried to pacify Rahim Khan through negotiations, but treachery on the latter’s part had led to the death of the Mughal commander, Khwaja Anwar. While one of us took to sketching the complex, the rest couldn’t help but notice its dilapidated state. It made me hope for diligent restorations in the future. A symbol of war, loyalty and folklore, the tomb is a reminder of assimilation of different architecture styles. If nothing, we are indebted to history to preserve such beauty.
Bardhaman is roughly 100 kilometres from Kolkata and can be reached by rail and road. The nearest railway junction is Bardhaman Station which is well connected from Howrah Junction. The train journey takes an hour. Alternatively, government and private AC and non-AC buses take about two hours.
WHERE TO STAY
>Sinclairs Burdwan (from INR 5,300; sinclairshotels.com) serves as a luxurious getaway option. The property boasts of a swimming pool, a library, and badminton and squash courts.
WHAT TO SEE & DO
Apart from the tomb of Khwaja Anwar-i Shahid, there are many attractions in Bardhaman.
>Burdwan Raj Bari Palacesand Curzon Gate.
>The 108 shiva temples, Sarbamangala temple and Bardhamaneswar shiva temple.
>The tomb of Pir Baharam Sakka, the tomb of Mughal emperor Akbar’s subedar Sher Afgan, and the tomb of Nawab Qutabuddin Khan Koka.
>You can’t leave without trying Ganesh Mistanna Bhandar or Soudamini Mistanna Bhandar’s sitabhog and mihidana, the city’s famous sweet treats