HARKING BACK : The tomb of the Mughal prince who is not there

By Majid Sheikh

Dawn, Mar 15, 2015

We concentrate a lot on the walled city of Lahore, and all for good reason, as well as the major monuments to the east and the west. But scant attention is paid to the hundreds (Yes Hundreds!) that exist to the north of the railway line.

When the railway line was laid in Lahore in 1859-60, it effectively cut through a lot of major monuments, including the tomb of Nur Jehan and Asaf Khan, as well as the gardens that went with Kamran’s ‘baradari’. But then it also, in a way, cut off the northern monuments of Lahore, which have ever since been ignored. My effort of recent has been to visit these areas so that we get a complete picture of the state of our past.

The first victim of the railways was the exquisite garden of Naulakha, for the entire railways station complex is housed in it. To the south a few areas were left, which were soon consumed by urbanisation. When the British arrived in 1849, the entire areas to the east of the walled city were a series of gardens. After the decline of the Moghals and the arrival of the British, almost a hundred years of turbulence and virtually non-governance followed.

In this period the damage was immense. When the Austrian Baron Charles von Hugel visited Lahore in 1836, he was to write: “we passed ‘serais’ and palaces and unkempt gardens and ruins so numerous and extensive that they have to be seen to be believed”.

Of the seven major gardens that lie to the north, today let us concentrate on Kot Khawaja Saeed and Chah Miran, the locality to the northern-most part and near the river. Who was Khawaja Saeed? This question comes to mind immediately. Well, Khawaja Saeed was the ‘mahavat’ (elephant driver) of Prince Perwez, the son of Moghal emperor Jahangir and brother of Shah Jehan.

The garden was originally owned by Prince Perwez, and the area was first known as Perwezabad. In the middle of the huge garden is the solitary tomb of Prince Perwez. But then the question arises that is Prince Perwez really buried here? Probably not, or should we say ‘definitely not’.

In the struggle for power after the death of Jahangir, Prince Perwez was killed (Dr Abdullah Chughtai claims) by Asaf Khan on the orders of Shah Jehan at Burhanpur at the age of 37 on Oct 26, 1625.

His body was brought to Agra where it lies buried. Shah Jehan came to power in 1628 and it seems that he started clearing his way to power anticipating his father Jahangir’s death.

Once in power he married his son Dara Shikoh to Nadira Begum, the daughter of Prince Pervez. Much later when Emperor Aurangzeb was engaged in his struggle for power he got murdered the two sons of Prince Dara Shikoh so that the line of succession was cleared for his children and not his elder brother’s sons.

Legend has it that the grave here is that of Mehr Shikoh. The mystery of the grave does not end here.

Historian Syed Muhammad Latif claims that the two sons of Prince Perwez were murdered on the orders of their uncle Shah Jehan in Lahore, and that they were buried here.

There is no other reference to the source of this claim, except that the tomb itself was built by Shah Jehan in anticipation of the two planned killings.

But this is not the end of this mysterious story of the tomb of Prince Perwez. Two major twists still remain.

A well-known Indian historian claims that the body of Dara Shikoh, which was buried near Humayun’s tomb in Delhi, was never seen to be buried in Delhi. He claims it was taken to Lahore and buried in the garden of Prince Perwez.

The second twist is that the body of Dara Shikoh was buried in Delhi, but his head was taken to Lahore and buried in the garden of Perwez, where other Royal princes murdered in struggles for power lie buried.

This is a bizarre claim, except that it has one mysterious twist. Prince Dara Shikoh allegedly claimed during his life that Hazrat Mian Mir used to sit in the tomb and prayer and meditate. When asked he used to say that this is the place where my dear follower will be buried, so I pray for his life.

A rather strange assertion from a seer who the people of Lahore respect a lot. The mystery of the tomb of Perwez at Kot Khawaja Saeed will remain an enduring one.

Now about the structure of the tomb itself. We know from ‘Tehkiqat-e-Chisti’, written in 1864, that it was made of the finest white marble, including the floor, with eight marble door frames.

The outer gates, four of them of the garden, were also of white marble. “No other place in Lahore has so much high quality marble used”, Kanhiya Lal was to write, adding: “Ranjit Singh was to remove all the marble for use in Darbar Sahib in Amritsar, and to finish the tomb in brick”.

Experts put the date of construction as being between 1630 and 1640, and documents tell us that Shah Jehan took a special interest in its construction.

But what about Khawaja Saeed after whom the area today is named. If you stand at the tomb and look eastwards, you will see another Moghal era tomb. This was probably, when it was built, located at one edge of the garden.

This is known as the tomb of Mai Dai, the daughter of Khawaja Saeed, and a lady who looked after the sons of Prince Perwez. One legend, rather unbelievable that it is, has it that she was also murdered along with the sons of Prince Perwez.

An amazing array of murdered royalty surely does not exist anywhere in the world. Murder and mystery goes hand in glove, mostly it has to do with power. So who really lied buried in this beautiful, yet dilapidating, structure, just to the north of Lahore? Were the heads of Perwez and Dara both buried here?

Were the sons of Perwez buried here? Does Mehr Shikoh lie buried here? Logic tells us that we accept that royalty was buried here, all of whom were connected with the struggle for power of Shah Jehan and his son Aurangzeb. Who is the victim and who the perpetuator, this one must leave to the reader.



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