Aurangabad is the city Aurangzeb built in the dusk of an empire. This is the city to which Muhammad bin Tughlaq, acting in either a manic fit or an impulse of undiluted evil, dragged his court and his people, marching them from Delhi and thereby killing a large majority.
This was also a city known as Shambhajinagar, although if you refer to it in that manner, everyone looks faintly puzzled. This was once called Khadke, the city founded on the site of a village named Khirki by Malik Amber, an Abyssinian slave who became its Wazir. His son and successor Fateh Khan named it Fatehnagar.
Aurangzeb arrived towards the mid-17th century as Viceroy of the Deccan and turned it into Aurangabad. It’s a fairly clean city (your pictures will come out without any of that peculiar orange haze) and the Aurangabadis are courteous and polite. They make a point of their Nizami inheritance, so even touts and rickshaw drivers try to be pleasant. And it is the place from which you can visit two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the rock-cut splendours of the temples at Ellora and the quiet beauty of the painted walls of Ajanta.
Aurangabad rose to great prominence under Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, who gifted the city impressive walls and gates. The emperor also gave the city a Mughal feel, with a new citadel and a mausoleum for his wife. But for all its varied and rich history, and despite having attractions of its own, Aurangabad has been thrown into the shade by the undisputed brilliance of the wonders at Ajanta and Ellora.
THINGS TO SEE AND DO
Bibi Ka Maqbara
Modelled on the Taj Mahal in Agra, built 25 years earlier, the Maqbara (built 1650-57) has been at the receiving end of criticism for its shoddy construction, flaking plaster and very little marble. Built by Prince Azam Shah in memory of his mother and Aurangzeb’s wife, Begum Rabia Daurani, this poor man’s Taj Mahal lacks the grandeur, scale and perfect proportions of the original. Its architects wanted it to rival the Taj Mahal, but fell short of funds. The comparative poverty of the finish is obvious.
The entrance to the tomb has a huge brass inlaid door with an inscription around its edges naming the maker. For all its flaws, the tomb is still an impressive structure and is floodlit at night. There’s a small State Museum close by.
Near here is one of the sights that you can miss if you’re in a hurry. Located next to the Ghati Government Hospital near the central bus stand, the water driven mill was built in 1695 for Baba Shah Musafir, Aurangzeb’s favourite saint. It’s fed by a lake some 10 km away. If you hire a guide, he will get the water flowing and demonstrate the way in which flour was ground in days of yore. You can also feed the fish and watch the frenzy.
The Aurangabad Caves
Though not half as spectacular as the ones in Ajanta and Ellora, the Aurangabad Caves provide a good introduction to rock-cut architecture. Carved out of a steep spur of the Sahyadri Range just north of the city, the caves date back to the Vakatakas (4th and 5th century CE) and the succeeding Kalachuri dynasties (6th to 8th centuries CE) though the older Hinayana cave (Cave 4) is said to date back to at least the 1st century CE, if not earlier. The location is tranquil and offers great city views.
Caves 1-5, the western caves, can be reached via a long flight of stairs from the main road. Cave 2 is a 6th-century vihara with a columned verandah. Intricately carved panels include a depiction of a seated Buddha. The larger Cave 3 has vivid friezes depicting scenes from the Buddha’s life in the main chamber. Cave 4 is the oldest chaitya dating to 1st century CE – a more austere Hinayana phase of architecture.
The eastern caves, Caves 6-10, are about a kilometre along the hillside. They contain some finely carved Bodhisattvas and sculptures of women with interesting ornaments and exotic coifs. Cave 7 is the high point with columned shrines on either side of the verandah. The panel to the left of the doorway shows Avalokitesvara (the Buddha of Compassion) surrounded by eight mortal fears: fire, sword, chains, shipwreck, lions, snakes, rampaging elephants and demon of death. The sculptures of bejewelled women show the increasing interest in the female form and female creative energy, Shakti. Aurangabad’s most celebrated panel can be seen in this cave as well: a frieze showing a dancer in a classical pose with six female musicians.
An unnumbered cave next to Cave 6 was discovered in 1961 and has puzzled archaeologists since. Ganesh is the central deity while the mural to its right has an image of the Buddha.
Dr Shantilal Shankarlal Purwar’s fascinating personal collection, on display since 1970, includes a 500-year-old chain mail suit, an 800-year-old Paithani sari and a copy of a Koran, handwritten by Aurangzeb. This lovely old haveli is situated near Sharafa Bazaar just next to Mohan Talkies.
Aurangabad is famous for its brocades. The Himroo weave is a type of brocade in which both silk and cotton threads are used. The actual ornamental design is formed on the principle of extra weft figuring. Because of this extra layer of loose silk weft, Himroo shawls are soft, and almost feel like silk. It is believed that Tughlaq re-settled weavers from Ahmedabad, Banaras and Gujarat to Aurangabad, which led to the start of the Himroo industry. They cost between â‚¹ 300 and 2,500. The only Himroo factory where hand-wovens hawls are still made is in the old town near Zafar Gate. Most rickshaw-wallahs know the place.
At the entrance to Ajanta and Ellora, you can buy pretty agates and other crystals. And there’s bidriware, smooth dark brass work with intricate designs inlaid on its glossy surface. The State Weaving Centre at Paithan (52 km) has some exquisite but expensive Paithani saris and some very nice Paithani wall pieces. Aurangabad takes Mondays off.
The nearest airport is Chikalthana Airport, Aurangabad, connected with Mumbai, Delhi and Hyderabad. The nearest railhead is Aurangabad station, with direct trains to Mumbai, Delhi, Pune, Hyderabad and many other cities. From Mumbai, there are two routes to Aurangabad, via Nashik and via Pune. The latter is longer but faster. Bus There are regular ST buses from Pune and Nashik and overnight services from Indore and Mumbai. MSRTC and private operators also offer luxury overnight buses from Mumbai
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