Tucked away in a corner of Bardhaman (also Burdwan) city in West Bengal is an inconspicuous old burial ground hemmed in by urban development. Right at the entrance is a room containing two graves. Not many visitors come this way. And the few day trippers who do, mostly to pay their respect to the mausoleum of Pir Baharam Sakka, pay a cursory glance at the graves, and continue with their sightseeing spree.
The rare traveller who stops to read the inscriptions on the twin graves leaves in awe.
The Unnoticed Graves
In 1594, a beautiful maiden of 17 years, Mehr un Nissa (the Sun among Women) was married off to a young ‘jagirdar’, Ali Quli Istajlu, who was given the charge of governing the Burdwan province of Bengal by the Mughal court, in the 16th century. It is said that Mughal prince Salim (later Emperor Jahangir) had conferred the title of Sher Afghan Khan on him for an act of bravery.
Mehr un Nissa was the daughter of Mirza Ghiyas Beg, a Persian nobleman who had joined the Mughal court for a living. Beg rose through the ranks and was given the title of ‘Itmad ud Daula’ or Pillar of the State (his tomb is one of the landmarks in Agra).
Although historical records confirm there was a fight between Sher Afghan Khan and Qutubuddin Koka (likely the governor of Bengal or was about to be appointed thus), the reason for it is shrouded in mystery. Some say that Sher Afghan was being rebellious and Koka was to accompany him to the Mughal court; others say Koka was asked to annihilate Khan so that Mehr un Nissa could be part of Jahangir’s harem. While Koka asked his soldiers to arrest Khan, the latter attacked Koka and fatally wounded him; in turn, Koka’s soldiers attacked Khan and killed him. Along with her infant daughter, Mehr un Nissa was sent to Delhi where she was appointed as a lady-in-waiting to late emperor Akbar’s chief wife Ruqaiya Sultan Begum. In 1611, Jahangir married Mehr un Nissa and named her Nur Mahal (Light of the Palace); subsequently she was given the title of Nur Jahan (Light of the World). And the rest as they say is history.
While Nur Jahan went on to become the one with the most influence over Jahangir, people forgot about the empress’s first husband Sher Afghan Khan.
Today Khan and Koka lie side by side, forlorn in their respective tombs, while one is left wondering what if Khan had survived.
How to go
Bardhaman city is a little over 100km from Kolkata by road. You can easily travel by car or train. The best time to visit is in winter. There are several attractions in and around Bardhaman which can be seen on a day trip from Kolkata.