Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Monumental Stillness

Driving back from Aurangabad to Pune, I decided to stop over at Ahmadnagar, better known by its shorter name, just Nagar. It is a town that has seen many a turbulent event that shaped the history of India, particularly in the 16th century. As the Bahamani Sultanate disintegrated, it broke up into four smaller ones. One of them, the Nizamshahi, established itself at Ahmednagar. The town is dotted with several historical monuments. The most prominent among these (due to its location as well as due to what is IS) is the tomb of Salabat Khan. It is popularly (and wrongly!) known to most people including locals as Chand Bibi's palace. It actually has no connection with Chand Bibi at all.

Situated over a small hill about 10 km. out of Nagar, this point offers a birds eyeview of the entire expanse of Nagar. It is a massive three storeyed octagonal building built in black basalt stone. A narrow staircase inside one of the walls takes you upto the 2nd floor.

When I reached there, a picnic of schoolchildren was just leaving. As soon as the bus carrying a load of 50 noisy children left the place, a ghostly silence descended upon the place. As one walks around the monument, the first thing that strikes you is the STILLNESS of the place that seems to pervade your very core. Each silence has its own quality, its voice. It can be the silence of peace, silence of thought, silence of sorrow, and so on. The silence here has an eerie quality to it. The impressive arches that make up each side of this building provide an interesting dance of light and shadow. As I frantically clicked away photographs, I almost expected the ghost of Salabat Khan to step out silently from one of the shadows.

Salabat was a respected minister in the court of Murtaza, the 4th Nizam of Ahmadnagar. The sheer size of his tomb speaks of the imposing presence that he must have had on the polity at that time. Local legend has it that he ended his life by consuming poison and also ordered his two wives to follow suit. One of them obeyed, the other didn't. His faithful dog drank the poison intended for the disobedient one. The legend goes on to say that the two tombs inside are of Salabat and his faithful wife, while the two outside are of the dog and the adamant wife.

Strangely, the monument is known by one and all as Chand Bibi's palace, although nobody seems to know why. One glance at it and anyone can find out that this could NOT have been a palace. Chand Bibi was one of the few women rulers who stand out in a history that is dominated by a long line of Kings, Sultans, Shahs, Nizams and so on. She bravely defended her people and land against the mighty army of Emperor Akbar in 1600 AD.

Nagar has lots of interesting places to see for any discerning tourist, if only one bothers to look beyond Ajanta-Ellora and Tajmahal.

Some other trivia about this town -

Pt. Nehru penned his 'Discovery of India' while he was imprisoned in the fort here by the British

The Royal British army had the base for its Royal Tank Corps here. Today the cantonment houses the Indian Armoured Corps Center and School. There is an interesting Cavalry Tank Museum here that houses several tanks from across the world. A notable exhibit here is one of the first armoured vehicle developed out of a Rolls Royce Silver Ghost. It has seen action in World War I.

Aurangzeb, the last prominent ruler in line of the Mughal kingdom died here on 21 Feb 1707. Although his main tomb is in Khultabad near Aurangabad, there is also a monument here where his dead body was prepared for its last journey.

Next time you are traveling this side, don't just pass through Nagar. Its worth spending time here......

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