In the downtrodden suburb of Shahdara in Lahore, a magnificent page of history twirls alongside the hubbub of the present. For in this neighbourhood – where Metro buses meet the end of their slithering track, the railways rush past the poor settlements, and the rickshaws drive by at all times of the day – are the tombs of two of the most historical figures of the Mughal bloodline. Emperor Jahangir and his wife Nur Jahan are both buried here, in closely located but vastly different tombs, and their last resting places have tales of their own to tell.
Jahangir’s tomb is said to be the second-most magnificent Mughal structure, shamed only by the Taj Mahal. It was built under the supervision of his wife Nur Jahan, who outlived the king by eighteen years. Upon entering the complex, you land in the middle ground, surrounded by the Akbari Sarai, which were later converted by the British into warehouses for the railways. The complex spreads towards both sides. A passage besides the Masjid leads you to the tomb of Asif Khan, who was Nur Jahan’s brother and a minister in Jahangir’s government. The tomb of Jahangir, the prime attraction of the place, is located in a separate ground, and is much better maintained than most historical sites in the region. The tomb is adorned with precious stones and gems, although most of these were plundered during Sikh rule. The intricate frescoes on the wall and the wonderful marble work on the roof make it a sight to behold.
Nur Jahan’s own tomb shudders in comparison to that of Jahangir’s. It is a lot blander in appearance and structure, and the Punjab government has done well to extend its woes. No entry tickets are in place. The tomb lacks a demarcated boundary, and mostly serves as a cricket ground for the locals. It’s ironic, really, how an average king gets himself a masterpiece, and arguably the strongest woman of the Mughal timeline is unable to carry that strength to her lasting abode.
However, there’s a lot more to these tombs than meets the eye. The geometrical precision and architectural proficiency of the Mughals expresses itself quite strongly in both these structures – and the fables attached to the tombs add substantially to the charm. Like everything else in history, the supposed facts may be unverified, but they make for a fascinating read nevertheless.
The construction of Jahangir’s tomb is attributed to either his son Shah Jahan or his wife Nur Jahan, with most historians weighing upon the latter. It took ten years to build the mausoleum, with a total cost of one million rupees. It is said that Jahangir, who had lost his heart to the magnificence of Kashmir, wanted to be buried there. But the unwavering Nur Jahan wouldn’t have it any other way – she wanted his remains to be buried in Lahore. Legend has it that Nur Jahan had Jahangir’s entails separated, sending some parts of his body to be buried in Kashmir, and securing his bones for the grand tomb in Lahore. With no heritage policies in place, one can enter the closed parts of the tombs by bribing the guards. The rooftop is remarkable, with intricate marble work on the ceiling that resembles a Persian carpet. The minarets are accessible too, and here’s a fun fact: The Badshahi Mosque lies opposite the tomb of Jahangir, across the River Ravi. And these structures have been built in such a way that only three minarets of the tomb are visible from the mosque, and vice versa.
Nur Jahan’s tomb took only four years to complete, and that too with a meager sum of Rs. 300,000. She is buried with her daughter Ladli Begum. During the Sikh rule, their coffins were looted of all precious items, and the remains buried again. Afraid of the dark, Nur Jahan had willed that her grave should always receive natural light. There are windows on every side of the underground room, bathing the tomb with sunlight at dawn and dusk. The epitaph on her grave is melancholic in tone: “On the grave of this poor stranger, let there be neither lamp nor rose. Let neither butterfly’s wing burn nor nightingale sing.”
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