India, a country with a rich past. Stories, History, identity, Lifestyles, Cultures, and multiple significance and interpretations of each, in the past and today, leads to itself coining a new identity. Both the relatable and unrelatable heritage offers honour and meaning to India’s existence.
Burhanpur today might not be significant to everyone, but it has its supremacy. From commercial importance, such as the most considerable power loom hub in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, Banana, Sugarcane, and Cotton in the state. The religious venue for Sikhs, with the Badi Sangath Gurudwara, said to have handwritten Guru Granth Sahib by Guru Gobind Singh himself, and the Dargah-e Hakimi, the tomb of spiritual “Masiha “of the Dawoodi Bohra community, who is known to grant all the heartfelt wishes.
The city is full of culture, with temples celebrating the fusion of two rivers, The Tapti and Mohna, to erect a large number of Tazia in “Muharram”. But the natural glory of the city lies in its past.
When under King’s rule, India’s various cities got the chance to get architecturally groomed to embroider their geographic and strategic qualities. One of those fortunate cities in Burhanpur. The earlier part of Khandesh, the second capital of India, has a key location as it commands a pass through the Satpuras connecting the valleys of the Narmada and Tapti rivers, one of the most important routes from northern India to the Deccan; hence, it was known as the “Deccan ka Darwaza” during the Mughal rule. The Asirgarh Fort, 12 km from Burhanpur, had to be the first goal to conquer if any ruler wished to exercise control over Deccan.
Although Asirgarh Fort was built by Asar Asir, it was later conquered by Nasir Shah, and then a number of rulers, set their throne in the city, making it a home, with all the leisure and work amenities.
Apart from the political importance, between 1600 and 1720, also served as the major center for Tarbiyat (Training and education) for the Mughal Prince and princesses and the Farooqui, where they were groomed with Tehzeeb (etiquette), Tameez (manner), Taakat (power), Tareeqa-e-ilmaat (Ways of learning). Among great kings, Shah Jahan spent 40 years in Burhanpur and Aurangzeb spent 44. It was believed, whoever became the governor here shall be destined to greatness. This important role of the city led it to become the second capital, which included parts of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan.
Being the residence city for the prosperous Mughal princes and princesses for a major part of their upbringing, led to its development into this beautiful city, rich with Mughal leisure residences, guest houses, monuments baradaris, and mosques. Enclosed within a fort wall, the city itself is a treat to the eyes, who is fond of stories and experiences.
Among the most exclusive Mughal monuments are, Shahi Quila, Jama Masjid, Aahukhana, Kala Taj Mahal, Raja Jai Singh Chatri, Mahl Gulara, Bilquis Khan Maqbara.
The Sahi Quila is a seven storey, an engineering marvel of that time, which stands at the bank of river Tapti. This served as the residence for the Kings, Queens, and the princes that visited and stayed in the city. Elaborately constructed plinths, and the fallen domes, and vaults, on top of the standing pier partially in ruins, try to speak of the lavish lifestyle, the palace offered.
The most maintained structure in the Quila is the Shahi Hammam (Zenana Hammam, Ladies Bath), which Shah Jahan built especially for his beloved Mumtaz Mahal. The bath is no less than an engineered spa with hot and cold running water, fountains for showers, aquatic massagers, and a trio of perfumed tanks. It had a diamond-studded ceiling to reflect light from an oil lamp. The squinches on the ceiling are adorned with all sorts of colorful frescoes (much of which is retained even today). One of this fresco is said to be the inspiration of the Taj Mahal.
Another most well maintained and important monument is the Jama Masjid. The Jama Masjid is not just an ordinary large mosque, but one which hails the secular spirit of the city, with both Sanskrit and Arabic scriptures engraved together in its wall. Still functioning, this mosque is one of the greatest prides and landmarks within the city.
Although the city witnessed numerous historically important events, most evident and relatable among them is the death of Shah Jaha’s beloved Mumtaz Mahal, while giving birth to her fourteenth child. Intensely grieved by her death, and passionate for her love, Shah Jaha decided to build the Taj Mahal in Burhanpur, on the bank of Tapti river, which then had to be relocated due to logistical challenges, where it today proudly stands.
However, the Ahukhana, initially a beautified deer hunting ground developed by the queens for leisure and sightseeing, became the temporary tomb of Mumtaz Mahal, while the Taj Mahal was under construction. Ahukhana is another elaborately built Mughal Monument, with heightened platforms, topped with onion domes, and garnished with Mughal Gardens and water streams.
However, as a token of initial choice for holding Taj Mahal, Burhanpur proudly accommodates a Kala Taj Mahal, many of whose elements and proportions resemble that of one in Agra.
Apart from being an important Mughal city, it also is home to a unique anti-gravity water system called Kundi Bhandara. As the name suggests, this system consists of more than a hundred interconnected wells (Kundis) which push the water to the destination using air pressure. There are only two of these kinds of systems in the world, one of which sits in Iran, and the other in India, in Burhanpur.
Reading through life that the city has endured, and its 256-living heritage monuments, might lead someone to believe that it must attract a lot of tourists. And why not? Tourists must be exposed to another beautiful city in India. But unfortunately, that is not the case.
As the city lost its context and importance after the Mughal, it remained to be a small town in modern India, devoid of any contextual and responsive development, until the last decade. After it became a district, the fort walls, the routes, and some monuments, have been fortunate to receive some minimal conservation, yet a lot of maintenance is not indulged in.
The day to day life in this city has a unique grandeur in terms of transition through the city. The school busses pass under the grand fort gates, which speaks stories of the guards that served them, their resting niche, and the importance of the fort that we live in. Obviously, like every other historic city, Burhanpur also has a new and an old city. But the grand lavish residences in the new part seem less grand than the vintage projected balconies, with timber columns in the old city. The stone steps, and elaborate metal grills and railings, give the city its language, and grace, that is familiar yet unique.