Sunday, Apr 02, 2023

Poetry In Stone

Poetry In Stone

Mir Mohammad Aliwal Khan designed the tomb, which was completed between 1540 and 1545. At 122 feet, it is taller than the Taj Mahal. As part of our OTReadersWrite series, Tanya Shree writes about her enduring love for the structure

The red sandstone structure stands in the middle of an artificial lake
The red sandstone structure stands in the middle of an artificial lake Tanya Shree

I vaguely remember seeing Sher Shah Suri's Tomb for the first time. I would have been about five or six. It was summer vacation time and I was at my Nani's house in Sasaram, Bihar. One wonderful evening, Mumma, Masi, and I decided to go see this gorgeous hidden gem in our town. I recall that we all wore blue outfits. I am not sure why. Perhaps it was to tell everyone - "Hey see! We are a family!"

Jokes apart, I remember being awestruck when I first caught sight of this massive structure. It was unlike anything I'd ever seen before.

Unfortunately we could not go inside that day as it was closed, much to our disappointment. I was quite heartbroken, and spent many years longing to return to the place.

My second encounter happened in 2008 when we moved to Sasaram, and I was reunited with a long-lost love. I went back to the tomb - with Papa and bhaiya this time. The cost of a ticket was only Rs 5. I was on cloud nine that day, wandering around aimlessly, shouting and hearing my voice echo, watching birds fly, and fish swim in the lake. That was the first time that I felt happy after moving from Daltonganj in Jharkhand, where I was born.

Years passed, and I became preoccupied with other things, losing touch with this gorgeous structure.

I made a visit recenty because of a photography project and was reunited with the tomb, its environs, and the peace surrounding it. I was wandering around looking for ideas for my project, and I thought "Why not capture this beauty and let people know about it?" This tomb is like a secret gem - not many know about it.

The mausoleum reflected in the lake
The mausoleum reflected in the lake Tanya Shree

Every monument tells a tale about our country's illustrious past. Sher Shah Suri's tomb is a living illustration of one such tale. Unfortunately, few people are aware of India's rich cultural past. Sher Shah Suri's tomb was built in honour of the founder of the Suri Empire in northern India - emperor Sher Shah Suri. During his reign, he was dubbed 'Sher Khan' (meaning the Lion King) by his followers, and he lived up to the moniker. Not only did he defeat the Mughals, but he also drove Humayun out of India. The tomb is situated on the Emperor's Grand Trunk Road, which was also constructed by him. The GT Road ran from Peshawar in the west to Kolkata in the east.

Pillars along a passageway at the tomb
Pillars along a passageway at the tomb Tanya Shree

During his reign, Suri devoted his time to the construction of his dynasty's infrastructure. He is recognised as one of India's greatest emperors and administrators. The tomb is an example of how he altered India's architectural pattern. This mausoleum is a fine example of Indo-Islamic architecture with a trace of Afghan design.

Mir Mohammad Aliwal Khan designed the tomb which was completed between 1540 and 1545. 'The second Taj Mahal' is another name for the tomb. The monument is made of red sandstone and stands tall in the centre of a square-shaped artificial lake and garden. At 122 feet, it is supposed to be thirteen feet taller than the Taj Mahal.

The pathway that has witnessed, heard, and lived many tales
The pathway that has witnessed, heard, and lived many tales Tanya Shree

It is built on a 300-foot-wide tiered platform that rises to almost 30 feet in height. To get to the main tomb, one must first pass through the guardroom - the two are connected by a passageway. The tomb's primary construction is octagonal - each of the tomb's four corners have identical structures known as chhatris. The structure is capped by a dome with a 22-metre span. A verandah surrounds the main tomb, which is enclosed by 24 tiny domes. The interiors of the dome and the walls are etched with Quranic texts. The lyrics are accompanied by beautiful and elegant floral patterns.

Inside the tomb, large windows on the walls provide adequate lighting and ventilation. Sher Shah Suri's grave can be found inside the tomb chamber. There are stairs leading to the lake on all four sides of the open hallway. The upper chamber of the dome is also accessible through a stairwell. It was, however, shut down for security reasons a few years ago.

The tomb is open to the public seven days a week, and has a nominal admission fee.