The Various Narrations of the Passing Away of the Prophet of Islām

The death of the Prophet Mohammed. Ottoman miniature painting from the Siyer-i Nebi, kept at the Topkapı Sarayı Müzesi, Istanbul (Hazine 1222, folio 414a) . circa 1595. Ottoman miniature painter 492 Siyer-i Nebi 414a
The death of the Prophet Mohammed. Ottoman miniature painting from the Siyer-i Nebi, kept at the Topkapı Sarayı Müzesi, Istanbul (Hazine 1222, folio 414a) . circa 1595. Ottoman miniature painter 492 Siyer-i Nebi 414a

Although there is a consensus between the Shia and Sunni scholars that the Holy Prophet (S) passed away on a in 11 year of Hijri, a Monday, there is much confusion regarding the exact date of this incident. Most Shia scholars believe that it was the 28th of Safar, and the majority of the Sunnis say that it was 12th Rabiul Awwal, ten years after Hijri. There are also reports, both from Sunni and Shi’i sources that however suggest that the actual date of death was 2 Rabi ul Awwal. Why the Muslims never reached a consensus as far as the death of their Prophet is concerned, is so is a tragedy! They seem to remember everything else.

Incidentally according to popular belief prevalent amongst the Sunnis, the Prophet was born and died on the same day! Thus the day is known as Bāra Wafāt: the culmination of 12 days in any of which the death of the Prophet occurred. Recently since a few years it has been nomenclated as Mīlādun Nabi, and celebrated as the date of the birth of the Prophet.

What do the sources tell us in this regard?

In Sahih Muslim, there is a famous tradition narrated by Ibn ‘Abbas saying:

“Three days before the Prophet’s death, ‘Umar ibn al­-Khattab and other companions were present by his side. The Prophet said, “Now let me write something for you whereby you shall not go astray after me.” ‘Umar said, “The Prophet is overcome by illness; you have the Qur’an, the Book of Allah, which is sufficient for us.”

“’Umar’s statement caused a furor among those present. Some were saying that the Prophet’s command should be obeyed so that he might write whatever he desired to write for their guidance. Others sided with’Umar. When the tension and uproar intensified, the Prophet said, “Get away from me!” Therefore, Ibn ‘Abbas used to say, “It was a miserable, absolutely miserable, occurrence that the conflict of opinion and noise made by the people came in the way of the Prophet’s writing a will and, because of it, the Prophet could not leave behind what he wanted to put on paper.”

Sa’eed ibn Jubayr’s narrative is thus recorded in Sahih Bukhari:

“Ibn ‘Abbas said, “What a miserable day it was that Thursday!,” and he wept so bitterly that the pebbles lying there became wet with his tears. Then he continued, When on a Thursday, the Prophet’s sickness intensified, he said, ‘Get me the things to write with so that I may write something by which you may never be misguided after me.’ People differed and quarreled over the matter, although quarreling in the presence of the Prophet was unseemly. People said that the Prophet was talking in delirium. The Prophet cried out, ‘Go away from me! I am more sound than you are.”‘

It is stated in Rawdatul-ahbab that the Prophet said to Fatimah, “Bring your sons to me.” Fatimah brought Hasan and Husain to the Prophet. Both of them greeted the Prophet, sat by his side and wept at witnessing the agony of the Prophet in such a manner that the people who saw them weeping could not hold their tears. Hasan rested his face upon the Prophet’s face and Husain rested his head upon the Prophet’s chest.

The Prophet opened his eyes and kissed his grandsons lovingly, enjoining the people to love and respect them. In another tradition, it is stated that the companions who were present there, having seen Hasan and Husain weep, wept so loudly that the Prophet himself could not hold his tears at their grief. Then he said, “Call my beloved brother ‘Ali to me.” ‘Ali came in and sat near the head of the Prophet. When the Prophet lifted his head, ‘Ali moved to the side and, holding the Prophet’s head, he rested it, on his own lap. The Prophet then said:

“O ‘Ali! I have taken a certain amount from so and so Jew for the expenditure on Usamah’s army. See that you repay it. And, O ‘Ali! You will be the first person to reach me at the heavenly reservoir of al-Kawthar. You will also be given a lot of trouble after my death. You should bear it patiently and when you see that the people prefer the lust of this world, you should prefer the hereafter.”

The following is quoted in Khasa’ is of Nasa’ i from Ummu Salamah:

“By Allah, the closest person [to the Prophet] at the time of the Prophet’s death was ‘Ali. Early on the morning of the day when he was going to die, the Prophet called ‘Ali who had been sent out on some errand. He asked for ‘Ali three times before his return. However, ‘Ali came before sunrise. So, thinking that the Prophet needed some privacy with ‘Ali, we came out. I was the last to be out; therefore, I sat closer to the door than the other women. I saw that ‘Ali lowered his head towards the Prophet and the Prophet kept whispering into his ears (for sometime). Therefore, ‘Ali is the only person who was near the Prophet till the last.”

Al-Hakim, moreover, remarks in his Mustadrak that:

“the Prophet kept confiding in ‘Ali till the time of his death. Then he breathed his last.”

On getting the news Umar, who was so stunned that he almost lost consciousness and stood before people addressing them:

“Some of the hypocrites claim that the Messenger of Allah sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam died. The Messenger of Allah did not die, but went to his Lord in the same way as Moses ibn ‘Imran did. He stayed away for forty nights, but finally came back though they said he had been dead. By Allah, the Messenger of Allah will come back and he will cut of the hands and legs of those who claim his death.” [Ibn Hisham, 2/655]

Abu Bakr on hearing this said: “‘Umar, be seated.” ‘Umar refused to do so. People parted ‘Umar and came towards Abu Bakr, who started a speech saying:

“And now, he who worships Muhammad, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, Muhammad is dead now. But he who worships Allah, He is Ever Living and He never dies. Allah says: ‘Muhammad is no more than a Messenger, and indeed (many) Messengers have passed away before him. If he dies or is killed, will you then turn back on your heels (as disbelievers)? And he who turns back on his heels, not the least harm will he do to Allah, and Allah will give reward to those who are grateful.’ [Al-Qur’an 3:144]”

Ibn al-Musayyab said that ‘Umar had said: “By Allah as soon as I heard Abu Bakr say it, I fell down to the ground. I felt as if my legs had been unable to carry me so I collapsed when I heard him say it. Only then did I realize that Muhammad sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam had really died.” [Sahih al-Bukhari, 2/640,641]

Dispute about who would succeed him broke out even before having the Messenger of Allah’s body prepared for burial. Lots of arguments, discussions, dialogues took place between the Helpers and Emigrants in the roofed passage (Saqīfa / portico) of Banu Sa’ida. Finally they acknowledged Abu Bakr as a Caliph. They spent the whole Monday there till it was night. People were so busy with their arguments that it was late night — just about dawn of Tuesday — yet his blessed body was still lying on his bed covered with an inked-garment. He was locked in the room.

The burial process took Tuesday long and Wednesday night (i.e. the night which precedes Wednesday morning). ‘A’ishah said: “We did not know that the Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam was being buried till we heard the sound of tools digging the ground at the depth of Wednesday night.” [Mukhtasar Sirat ar-Rasul, p.471; Ibn Hisham, 2/649-665; Talqih Fuhum Ahlul-Athar, p. 38, 39; Rahmatul li’l-Alamin 1/277-286]

The Ottoman Miniature depicts the Ahle Bayt as they mourn the Prophet:

The death of the Prophet Mohammed has been depicted in an Ottoman miniature painting from the Siyer-i Nebi, kept at the Topkapı Sarayı Müzesi, Istanbul (Hazine 1222, folio 414a) . circa 1595. Ottoman miniature painter 492 Siyer-i Nebi 414a One can see Hasan and Husain crying, as Ali holds the head of the Prophet. A veiled lady, probably Fatima and another personage is shown standing.

Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi

Professor Saiyid Athar Abbās Rizvi: The Historian Par Excellence (1921-94)

Professor Saiyid Athar Abbās Rizvi

Saiyid Athar Abbās Rizvi was a prolific writer and scholar. He started his career, if I am not wrong, from Aligarh. When my father got an appointment at AMU and shifted to Aligarh in 1954, he stayed for a few months in the old rambling Nili Kothi of Dr Rizvi near Kela Nagar. So he must have been here from before 1954.

Rizvi was one of the favourite students (research scholar?) of Professor Mohammad Habib, and like him, started his academic career by writing on Sufism. Initially an agnostic, he would pass his time sitting in the Manuscript Section. Another person who would also be sometimes there was another Athar: M Athar Ali. At leisure time they would not only discuss the various manuscripts and the information there but also indulge in light banter! Once a scholar reading a manuscript detailing Babur’s conquest read a statement in Persian “ba afwāj i qāhira humlā namūd”! On reading it the scholar exclaimed “Oh! Babur came to India with the contingents from Cairo!” [afwāj i qāhira only meant “ferocious army”!] Till the very end of his life, the scholar was made a butt of this joke by Rizvi Sahib and he would narrate this incident to everyone with much aplomb! This was actually repeated me by a well known French scholar who came to meet me in Paris when he came to know my relations with Professor Rizvi! He would also those days make fun of my father for his religious ways! To Athar Abbās Rizvi of those days, religion was nothing but a dangerous opium!

About him, Mohammad Habib however once predicted in writing in one of Rizvi’s works on Sufis that “If he continued in this way, he would end up one day as a great mystic one day”! And what a keen understanding that was of a student of his!

Rizvi wrote extensively on mysticism. His two volumes on Indian Sufism is a testimony of that! He also wrote on Shāh Waliullah. Another of his books was on Shāh Abdul Aziz Dehlavi and a third on Muslim Revivalist Movement in India. He has six volumes on Freedom Struggle in UP. Another of his projects was the translation of Persian sources into Hindu. It is a counterbalance to the colonial translation project of Elliot & Dawson. He wrote much more: from Iranian Revolution to Fatehpur Sikri! His first book on Sikri is still being published by the ASI as an ideal tourist guide and remarkable insights. The second book on Fathpur Sikri, done along with his research student VJA Flynn, is the first source based project on that capital city of Akbar which is still unparalleled and classic. Similarly his two volumes on the history of Shias in India is a masterpiece in spite of many of its drawbacks.

When I started work on Fathpur Sikri, one of my first paper to be presented was in his presence in the audience. He was an old man and Irfan Habib had told me that if Athar Sahib does not tear it down and maul you for writing it (it was very critical to some of his views), then you carry on with the topic, else forget it. When I made the presentation, Athar Sahib shuffled up from his seat, resting himself on his stick, cleared his voice and said: “I wish a day comes when you are an old man, and a young man tears you down!” My face went pale, there was a pin drop silence. Then he chuckled and continued “But more seriously young man, your criticism is valid: I was writing of Fathpur Sikri, sitting in Canberra and with most of my references back home in Aligarh! You are correct in your analysis and I congratulate you for it!” My supervisor smiled, and decades later I completed my book Fathpur Sikri Revisited!

However to me his best work was Religious and Intellectual History of the Muslims in Akbar’s Reign 1556-1605 published in 1975. Unfortunately out print and out of mind, this is so far one of the best works to understand Abu’l Fazl, as well as the debates which took place in Akbar’s Ibādatkhāna. A very good account of what was Sulh i kul, is also given there. I don’t know why Aligarh, as well as other centres which teach Medieval India have neglected it? This book needs to be reprinted and made available to the students and teachers alike!

True to the predictions of Mohammad Habib, Athar Abbās Rizvi soon transformed from an agnostic into a godfearing mystic. He grew a beard, established a library and an Imāmbada in his Aligarh house, where he would return each Muharram during the last decades of his life. I very well remember Athar Sahib coming to my house for the majlis with a bundle of books wrapped in a red cloth. And till the start of majlis he would sit on a sofa with that bundle of papers, busy in making corrections. I once asked what was it? He said proofs of a book on the Indian Shias. He would also sometimes after the majlis go to where my father’s books were kept in our home library and sit there for hours.

He would fast every thursday, recite ‘āmāl i Āshūr every week. He ultimately died in Mashhad, Iran and is now buried within the precincts of the Shrine of Imām i Reza, from whom he traced his descent.

May his soul rest in Peace!

Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi

Mughal Architecture: Organisation of Building Construction

Construction of Fathpur Sikri, Akbarnāma, V&A Museum, London

Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi

The question to be taken up here is: who were the real ‘builders’ and how were they organized?

Though buildings – mosques, tombs, residences etc – came to be constructed from the reign of Babur himself (1526-30), the Mughal school of architecture was really established only in the period of Akbar (1556-1605).

Quite often when our Persian chroniclers narrate the building of various forts, bridges, havelis or gardens, instead of providing the names of the architects or master-masons, and other precise details, they confine themselves to just praising their skill (as architects) – mi’mārān-i jādu asar and najjārān-i āzarkār or muhandisān-i firdaus barīn, high flown adjectives that hardly advance our knowledge.[1]

When Khwānd Amir discusses the division of society into three classes, he fails to mention the architects who must have formed an important group during his time. Even Abu’l Faẓl who devoted a full section on the building establishment and provides the names of men of standing, intellectuals and artists, fails to name the architects of his time, which he in fact does in respect of physicians. The same appears to be the case with Badāūni and the author of the Ṭabaqāt-i Akbarī. In Medieval India the inscriptions which have so far been noticed mention architects, or calligraphers, but seldom the masons or brick-layers. Thus in the case of the Tāj Mahal, the only name which comes to us – and that too only from inscriptions – is  that of Amānat Khān who has left his signature on one of the panels. The Persian sources are also silent as far as the personnel of the building construction are concerned.[2] They only mention the chief architects and engineers like Ustād Qāsim Khān, the architect of Agra Fort[3] and Ustād Ahmad and Hāmid of the Red Fort of Delhi.[4] As far as the palaces and structures at Fathpur-Sīkri are concerned, the sources are entirely silent about their actual builders. We are only informed that craftsmen from regions like Gujarat and Rajasthan were employed in the enterprise. From our sources it also appears that like other professions, the architects were largely hereditary in nature.[5]

While dealing with the expertise of stone-cutters in India, Babur tells us that in his buildings at Fathpur Sīkri, Bayāna, Dholpūr, Gwālior and Kol (modern Aligarh), “as many as 1491 stone-cutters worked daily”.[6] Abu’l Fazl tells us that three to four thousand masons and other craftsmen were employed in the construction of Agra Fort, while ‘Ārif Qandhāri says that two thousand stone-cutters and two thousand skilled masons were employed for the construction work, while eight thousand labourers assisted them.[7] Though the Persian sources are silent as far as the work force employed in the Sikandara, the tomb of I’timād ud Daulah and the Tāj Mahal are concerned, William Finch gives the figure of three thousand for Sikandara.[8] Irfan Habib, basing himself on the information available in the Persian sources, hazards a figure of 5,000 to 8,000 building craftsmen employed in the construction at Fathpur Sīkri.[9]

Our Persian sources refer to some designations of officers or professional men without naming them personally, e.g. the mīr-i ‘imārat  and dārogha-i ‘imārat who appear to have headed the building establishment. Other categories of overseers and workers mentioned in our sources are the mi’mār (architect/mason), muḥandiṣ (architect), naqsha-navīs(plan drawer), naqqāsh (carver), sangtarāsh (stone-cutter), gul tarāsh (floral designer), parchīnkār (inlayer/engraver) and the najjār (carpenter), apart from the generality of artisans and labourers.

The mīr-i ‘imārat was an official who supervised the construction of a building or an edifice. It was he who apart from supervising the construction was also responsible for the recruitment of the various masons, artisans and labourers.  While dealing with details of various bureaucratic offices and positions under the Mughals, the author of the Hidāyat-ul Qāwa‘id (c. 1700) gives the qualifications that were deemed necessary for an efficient mīr-i ‘imārat.He was required to be aware of the art of construction and also possessed a sound knowledge of arithmetic (ḥisāb).[10] If he himself was not well versed in ḥisāb, he was to hire a person who was a master in it. The mīr-i ‘imārat was also required to have some technical knowledge as well. Thus he was supposed to know the number of bricks that were needed to construct a house of a certain size, the method of preparing the mortar and the relative quantities of its ingredients.[11] Apart from this, he was required to be aware of the prevailing wages of the masons, artisans and labourers. Hidayatullah cautions that the mīr-i ‘imārat should also be aware of the prices of the lime, bricks, wood and other building material so that the person for whom the edifice is being built remains satisfied. His dealings with the subordinates were also supposed to be such that the work could be carried out in a congenial atmosphere and at a rapid pace.[12]  We are further told that if the chief architect (sardār-i mi‘mārān) were to be rewarded with a robe of honour or some other gift from the court, the mīr-i ‘imārat should himself make gifts to the other workers in a similar manner from his own account so that they may not be disheartened.[13]

Once the building was fully constructed it was put under the supervision of the dārogha-i ‘imārat, the Incharge of the buildings, who was responsible for its upkeep and repairs as the need arose.[14] To help him discharge his duties, a number of aḥadīs (royal troopers),[15] bandūqchis (musketeers)[16] and a host of ‘shovel-wielders’ (beldārs)[17] were placed under his charge.

Before the actual construction could start, it appears that certain experts were asked to submit a plan. Our sources, however, have very few references as to how these plans were made. It is only in the nineteenth century, when books of tourist interest for the Tāj were prepared that we find a detailed mention of naqsha navīs.[18] Interestingly enough in these works, the naqsha navīs is mentioned as the chief architect. The mere absence of a mention of naqsha navīs does not necessarily mean the non-existence of this profession. The sheer magnitude of the Imperial buildings and their symmetrical appearance hints towards the existence of expert plan- drawers. We find Babar lamenting at the asymmetrical and un-planned buildings which he found on coming to India.[19] One of the surviving Akbarnāmapaintings preserved at Victoria and Albert Museum shows Bābur overseeing the laying out of the Bāgh-i Wafa Garden. The painting contains a depiction of a man supervising the work with the help of a plan on a rectangular sheet of graph-paper. The men to whom instructions are being given are shown holding a long rope with which they are measuring the garden-beds. In all probability the same method was used in carrying out construction of buildings according to plan set out on a graph. For only then can one appreciate the Emperor’s indignation at the un-planned buildings of India.[20] An interesting passage in Manucci’s account very lucidly brings out the detailed manner in which the plans of houses were drawn by architects before the actual construction. Discussing the whimsical nature of a Mughal noble, Ja’far Khān, he writes:

“…But it was a stranger thing he [Ja’far Khān] did when the architect brought him the plans of a fine palace that he intended to build. For after asking as to various sections of the plan, he ended by inquiring about a certain place, where were depicted the privy retreats. The architect said it was the necessary place, whereupon he held his nostrils with his right hand, and puckering up his face, made a sign with his left to take the plan away, as if it smelt merely through having this painting on it.”[21]

Our sources generally use the term taraḥ for the plan drawing as for any pattern. Abul Qāsim Namakīn in his Munsh’āt includes taraḥi or plan-drawing, as one of the essential functions of the mi‘mār.[22] Further, we are informed that the fort of Shāhjahānabad was constructed according to the taraḥ ratified by the emperor himself.[23] Sālih Kanboh says that even the covered bāzār (bāzār-i musaqqaf) at the fort was constructed after Shāhjahān, having seen a taraḥ of a similar market at Baghdād, ordered that it be sent to Mukarramat Khān, the supervisor of the Red Fort.[24] Asaf Khān, we are informed was an expert in taraḥī and it was he who placed a number of plans for the proposed khwābgāh (bed-chamber) at Lahore Fort made by certain ‘expert architects’ (ustādān) before Shāhjahān, who then, chose one plan which was ultimately executed by the engineers (muhandisān).[25] The making of the taraḥ is also mentioned in some of the surviving Mughal documents. For example, the Nigārnāma-i Munshī, a collection of administrative documents, contains a reference to the preparation of a taraḥ of a damaged building at Peshāwar.[26] Similarly another document of Aurangzeb’s reign refers to Jawāharmal, a mi‘mār, who prepared a taraḥ of a haveli of a deceased noble.[27]  

Sometimes the term naqsha was also used to refer to a plan: Salih Kanboh uses both terms, the taraḥ and the naqsha.[28] Shahnawaz Khān in his Ma’āsirul Umara informs us that the Mughal court possessed the naqshās of both Baghdad and Isfahan.[29]

The official histories have also recorded the details of many major monuments of their period. These details include even minor intricacies like the thickness of the plinth, the height of the various portions, their length and breadth, the curvature of the dome etc. For a person like Lāhori it would not have .been possible to discuss the details of a building of such dimensions as the Tāj, unless he was provided these details by a plan or map placed before him.[30]The manner in which he describes the bulbous dome of the mausoleum also indicates the use of a plan or drawing.

We also find that the builders under the Mughals had certain rules based on which the plan might have been drawn. Thus the author of Bayāẓ-i Khwushbūī writing in the reign of Shāhjahān gives examples of details of certain mansions and gardens in order to stress how the houses, baths and gardens should be ideally constructed.[31] Dealing with arched-gates of buildings, the author says:

“The breadth of the gate of the building should be 1 dira, the height 2 dira and its chaukhaṭ should be one foot high. If the dimensions are less than this, it (the gate) would look ugly.”[32]

The actual construction work was carried out under the mi‘mār. The term normally denoted a mason, but was also used for the chief of works or supervisor. The chief architect under whose supervision the other architects constructed the Agra Fort under Akbar is called a mi‘mār by Gulbadan in her Memoirs.[33] Similarly the Fort of Delhi was completed under the directions of Ustad Ahmad and Ustad Hamid, both being ‘expert mi‘mārs’.[34] We are also told that the Tāj Mahal was constructed by the architect of the Delhi Fort Ustād Ahmad mi‘mār and his son claimed that he himself and his brothers were all expert mi‘mārs.[35] Abdur Rahim Khān-i Khānan too had in his service a ‘mi‘mār’ who had no parallel.[36] These master-masons had under their control a number of ordinary mi‘mārs (masons) whose job appears to have been mainly brick-laying. They in fact, were the real masons. Their expertise extended to estimating prices of buildings and lands: witness the task assigned officially to Lachhmi mi‘mār at Mathura to estimate the price of a private house early in Aurangzeb’s reign.[37] The mi‘mārs of supervisory levels enjoyed both importance and affluence can be deduced from their portrayal in Mughal miniatures, where, while directing building work, they are depicted fully clad from head to foot.[38]

Another category of experts who worked hand in hand with the mi‘mār were the muhandis or the mathematicians. They appear to be expert in the art of arithmetic and geometry, which they applied to calculate the proportions of the foundations and. heights.[39] The term muhandis was also generally applied to the architects. Lutfullah, the architect had the title ‘Muhandis’. He was well-versed in the science of mathematics, which he says, he applied whi1e constructing buildings.[40] In fact he has left behind works on mathematics.[41] ‘Atāullah Rashīdī, the brother of Lutfullah Muhandis, was a master of arithmetic and architecture.[42] In fact, throughout his Dīwān, Lutfullah uses the term muhandis for architect.[43] We are also told that Ustād Ahmad, the architect of Delhi Fort had no parallel as far as his knowledge of mathematics is concerned.[44]

Next in importance to the mi‘mār was the sangtarāsh (stone-cutter) or the najjār (carpenter). While dealing with the positive aspects of Indian society, Shaikh Zain while summarising the Bāburnāma says:

“They are far more numerous and exceed in number than those of any other country… in the royal edifices at Agra 680 stone- cutters who are the natives of the city, have been at work every day in special departments of the governments, and in laying in the foundations of the buildings of Fathpur Sīkri, Biāna, Dholpūr, Gwālior, Kol, and, in carrying out the imperial command, as many as 1491 stone-cutters worked daily. Moreover, every one of the pillars of the government (grandees) who erect buildings of stones, employ a. large number of the stone-cutters in the same way.”[45]

Bābur himself alludes to the large number of sangtarāsh in India giving the numbers that Shaikh Zain has reproduced. He also writes that these stone cutters were also sent to other countries.[46] Abu’l Faẓl in his chapter on a’in-i imārat mentions two categories of sangtarāsh viz. the naqqāsh who was the tracer or carver and the sādahkār or the plain stone-cutter.[47] The naqqāsh enjoyed a superior position relative to the sādahkār: the Akbarnāma paintings show the carvers better dressed than the sādahkār.[48] The stone was first handed over to the sādahkār who would cut the stone into the required shape. It was then handed over to the naqqāsh who would trace the required floral or geometrical design before handing it over to the parchīnkār (engraver) or mambatkār (embosser) as per the need. For carving out the more intricate designs, the stone marble was handed over to the gultarāsh.[49]

After the various categories of the stone- cutters and carvers accomplished their work, these stone pieces were ready to be fixed in the building. We may assume that due to a large number of stones adorned with various floral and geometrical designs, they were also numbered to enable them to be placed in proper order.[50] Quite often the stone cutters themselves had the job of joining the stone-pieces together. Shaikh Zain informs us at the stone cutters so closely and expertly joined the stones in the buildings that ‘even the sagacity of the acute and subtle critics fell in state of amazement.’ He further states that the stone cutters accomplished this task of joining without use of any plastering material or iron.[51] The title of ustād (master) was also bestowed on such expert sang tarāsh. Thus Babur mentions one Ustād Shāh Muḥammad who was entrusted with the construction of a building at Dholpūr.[52]

A close study of Mughal monuments suggests a very interesting practice. The stones adorning the plinths, stairs, pavements etc. of the various monuments at Delhi, Agra and Fathpur Sīkri have certain marks carved on them. R.Nath designates them as the masons’ marks.[53] But they are surely stone-cutters’ marks. Whether each mark denoted a family of stone cutters or their respective guilds, we do not know.

Yet another craftsman who was important was the khwushnawīs or the calligrapher who was responsible for designing and executing inscriptions to be fixed on the building. Whether like a modern calligrapher he would execute his art on paper later to be transferred on stone by the naqqāsh and parchīnkār, we do not know. But from what we know, it seems, he was held in good esteem. It is only his name that time and again we find inscribed along with his work on the building. Thus one of the slabs on the main portal of the Tāj gives the name of Amānat Khān, the khwush-navīs.[54]

Yet another class of master-craftsmen and artisans was that of najjār  or durūdgar (carpenter).[55] Carpenters had the responsibility of constructing the doors and the windows. Some of the European accounts mention wooden houses,[56] and Abu’l Faẓl mentions wooden structures.[57] In his chapter on buildings, Abu’l Faẓl mentions the carpenters just after the stone-cutters. According to him, the carpenters were divided into two groups. The first group of durūdgar appear to be those who shaped and chiselled the wood. These he sub-divides into five categories. The second group, which he calls sādahkār or plain job-workers, who probably just shaped the planks etc, are divided into three categories. The man responsible for sawing the logs of wood was called ārah-kash (‘saw-driver’).[58] The need for carpenters in making windows would also have been considerably high due to the high cost of glass for the panes.[59]Abu’l Faẓl thus speaks of pinjarasāz who were the lattice and wicker workers who probably decorated the windows etc.[60] Whenever glass was used the services of tābdān tarāsh were required.[61]

The building under construction cannot be completed without the presence of artisans who have the expertise in digging and brick-laying. Thus our Persian sources have innumerable references to beldārs or ‘shovel wielders’.[62] A lofty building being constructed with the use of stone and bricks needed the service of the beldārs to dig its strong foundations. Then again, the mason busy in his work was in need of help of certain artisans to prepare the bricks and bring them to him. Thus, Abu’l Faẓl divides the beldārs into two categories. The first were those who helped in the construction, of walls and the second were ordinary diggers.[63] When the bricks were being cemented with the help of lime mortar, the services of a gilkār were required, a kind of lime-mixer or mortar-maker.[64] Another cementing material which was in vogue at that time was prepared with the help of surkhī or pounded bricks. This work of pounding the brick and mixing it with lime mortar was performed by surkhīkob or the brick-pounder.[65] The, tiles which were used in roofing the houses of the middle-income group were prepared by the khisht-tarāsh.[66] From the Mughal paintings it appears that most of these workers were ill-clad and went about – as in the present age – in a semi-clad condition with only a loin-cloth and c1oth-piece used to help in carrying load; the women carrying bricks are, on the other hand shown with blouses and short sarees.

Abu’l Faẓl also mentions a number of artisans who were required in the construction of thatched-houses and huts which were used as dwellings by the common people in the towns and countryside.[67] They included the chhappar-band (thatchers), bāns-tarāsh (bamboo-cutters) pātāl-band (reed-binders) and lakhīra (varnishers of reeds).[68]

The water needed for the construction work was supplied from the wells (chāh) which were dug by chāh-kan(well diggers) and frequently cleaned by yet another set of experts called ghoṭa-khor.[69] A worker was also needed to carry this water to the place where the mortar was being prepared. He was known as the ābkash (water-carrier).[70]

The practice of constructing water tanks and fountains near palaces and tombs was quite common. The water to these fountains was supplied through underground water channels and pipes. Our sources are silent as to their builders. In Persia, Afghanistan and other Central Asia, the experts who constructed these underground water pipes were known as mukhānis, chāhkhu, qumūsh or qārizkan.[71] Whether under the Mughals they were known by any of these names, we do not know.

Thus we see that the building establishment under the Mughals generally consisted of numerous categories of craftsmen each expert in his field, working under the command of a supervisor.

As far as the construction of Imperial buildings was concerned, there appears to have been some sort of a ‘contract’ system. Gopāl Rāi Surdaj includes in his work an istighāsa regarding the construction of two sarais between Narwar and Sironj, which mentions an amount set aside for the construction. It was from this amount that the salaries were to be paid and material bought by the building supervisor.[72]

Once the supervisor for the construction was chosen and an architect appointed the next step was to draw the plan. The actual work would start with the bēldār s digging the foundations. The masons would then raise the plinth over this foundation and then construct the walls. Mughal paintings abound in depictions of spades, hammers and other instruments which were used for these purposes. Some workers would busy themselves in preparing and mixing the mortar. Others would carry the bricks and the mortar to the masons. For the mortar, barrows carried by two workers, one on each side were utilized. For bricks, baskets were used. Wheel-barrows, not depicted, were presumably not in use. It also appears that the bricks needed for the building were and baked in kilns quite near the site of the building under the eyes of the Supervisor.[73] The paintings also depict the work of each category of worker being supervised by a person with a guiding stick in his hand. The use of ramp made of wood was also known along with the ladder, with the help of which the labourers could climb up to the level where the bricks were to be laid.

The embossers and carvers used iron chisels and hammers. Probably the ābkash used leather bucket (mashk) like the saqqas (water- carriers).

The practice of repairs of the old buildings is also referred to, despite Pelsaert’s statement that this was entirely neglected.[74] Thus we find Jahāngīr ordering ‘Abdul Karīm Mā’mūri, an architect, to repair ‘the buildings of the old kings’ at Māndu.[75] An iron plate inscription on the gate of the mausoleum of Sultān Hoshang Ghori (d. 838 A.H. / 1434-5 A.D.) at Māndu mentions a host of architects who went there for inspection.[76] In a very interesting letter to Shāhjahān, Prince Aurangzeb mentions the repair works being carried out at the Tāj Mahal whose ceiling had started leaking during the rains. He urged that there was greater need to pay attention to the repairs in order to safe-guard the ground structure.[77] Dealing with the repair-works going on at the Tāj, he writes:

“The architects (mi‘mār) are of the opinion that if the roof of the second floor is opened up and treated afresh with lime mortar over which half a gaz (yard) layer of mortar grout is laid (tehkāri) then probably the semi-domed portals, galleries and the small domes may be made water tight.”[78]

Aurangzeb then goes on to remark that the architects ‘confess their inability to fully repair the bigger Dome’.

Extract from the Sectional Presidential Address of Professor Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi to Medieval India Section of the Indian History Congress, JNU session, 2014



[1] See for example Lahori, Pādshāhnāma, Bib. Ind. ed., Calcutta, 1866-72, Vol. I, pt.i, p. 22l; Muhammad Salih Kambo, Amal-i Salih ed. G Yazdani, Calcutta. 1923, Vol. II, p. 294.

[2]  For the various categories of craftsmen involved in constructional.activity and their wages, see my “Organization of Building Construction in Mughal India”, paper presented at the Indian History Congress, Dharwar, 1988; see also A.J. Qaisar, Building Construction in Mughal India – The Evidence from PĀ’inting, Delhi, 1988.

[3] Gulbadan, Humayun Nama Tashkent, 1959, p. 17 Abu’l Faẓl, Akbar Nama, ed. Molvi Abdur Rahim, Calcutta, 1879, Vol. II, p. 247.

[4] Waris, Badshahnama, MS. Raza Library, Rampur, (transcript in the Department of History Research Library, AMU, Aligarh), Vol.I, p.38

[5] See for example the family of Lutfullah, Dīwān-i Muhandis, reproduced in Sayyid Sulaiman Nadwi, “The Family of the Engineers who built the Taj Mahal and the Delhi Forts”, The Journal of Bihar Research Society, Vol. XXXIV, Pts I & II, 1948, pp. 75-110 and M. Abdullah Chaghtai, “A Family of Great Mughal Architects”, Islamic Culture, Vol. XI, no. 2, April, 1937, 200-209

[6] Bāburnāma, ‘Abdur Rahīm’s Transl., Br. Lib. MS Or. 3714, ff. 412 B – 413 a; transl. A.S. Beveridge, London, 1921, vol. II, p. 520; See also Shaikh ZĀ’in Khawāfi, Ṭabaqāt-i Bāburi, tr. Hasan Askari, Delhi, 1982, p.134.

[7] Abu’l Fazl, Akbarnāma, ed. Abdur Rahim, Calcutta, 1886, Vol.II, p.247; Ārif Qandhārī, Tārīkh-i Akbarī, Rampur, 1962, p.145.

[8] Finch’s account in Early Travels in India, 1583-1619, ed. Foster, Oxford, p.121.

[9] Irfan Habib, “The Economic and Social Setting”, Marg, vol. XXXVIII, no.2 (special on Akbar and Fatehpur-Sikri), pp.79-80.

[10] Hidāyatullah Bihārī, Hidāyat ul Qawā‘id, Ms., University Collection, Azad Library, AMU,  f. 40(a).

[11] Ibid, f 40(b)

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid. For his responsibilities also see Gopāl Rāi Surdaj, Durrul ‘Ulūmf. 60(a) (Rotograph in the Research Library of the Department of History, Aligarh).

[14] Similar supervisory distinction can be seen in the canal construction work. The actual digging of the canal, building of dykes, the control and disbursement of wages to masons and artisans was the job of mir-i ab. See for example, Akbar’s sanad of 978 (1570-71) in Lieut., Yule, ‘A canal Act of the Emperor Akbar with some notes and remarks on the History of Western Jumna Canal’, JASB, l846, vol.XV, Calcutta, pp.213-23; also Memorandum on Chitung River (1635) contĀ’ined in Letters of Shaikh Jalāl Hisāri and Bālkrishan Braḥman, MS (Rotograph Deptt. of History). Badāūnī informs us that Nūruddin Muhammad Tarkhān, who was an expert in the science of ḥindsa, riyāzī and nujūm (arithmetic, geometry and astronomy) was appointed as mīr-i āb to dig Shah Nahr by Akbar (Badauni, Muntakhab-u Tawārīkh, ed. Molvi Ahmad Ali, Calcutta, 1869, Vol. IV, p. 197). After a canal was completed, it was placed under the charge of dārogha-i nahr who with the help of his gumāshtas and mutaṣaddis looked after its upkeep and collected the canal cess (nahrāna). He was also entitled to recruit labourers for the repair work. See, for example, B.N Goswami and J.S. Grewal, The Mughal & Sikh Rulers and the Vaishnavas of Pindori, IIAS, Simla, 1969, Document No. III, pp. 94-95; also J.S. Grewal, ‘Some Persian Documents from Nurpur’,  Historians Punjab: Miscellaneous Articles, Amritsar, 1974, pp. 79-80.

[15] Mughal Documents, Catalogue Of Aurangzeb’s Reign, ed. M.A. Naeem, Vol.1, Pt.I, document Nos. 1/204 arid 1/1468.

[16] Ibid., Document No. 1/96.

[17] Ibid., Document nos. 1/131, 1/151, 1/735.

[18] For example, Dīwān-iAfridiTarikh-i Taj MahalAhwal-i Taj Mahal etc. For their references and date of compilation see R. Nath, The Tal Mahal and its Incarnation, Jaipur, 1985; S.M. Latif, Agra: Historical and Descriptive, Calcutta, 1896 (new ed. pub. 1981), pp. 116-7; S.C. Mukherji, “Architecture of the Taj and its Architect”, Indian Historical Quarterly, Vol., I,1933, Calcutta, pp. 872-9, etc.

[19] Shaikh ZĀ’in Khawafi, Tabaqat-i Baburi, tr. Hasan Askari, Delhi, 1982, p.108.

[20] A plan of the houses of Santidas Sahu which were gifted by him survives in a hibanama, see M.A. Chaghtai’s article in JASP, op.cit.

[21] Manucci, II, p.146.

[22] Abul Qasim Namakin, Munshat-i Namakin, Aligarh Collection, Maulana Azad Library, AMU, no. farsiya 26, f. 133 (b)

[23] Wāris, Pādshāhnāma, Ms. (transcript Research Library, Department of History, AMU, Aligarh), p.39; see also Shāhnawāz Khān, Ma’āsir ul Umara, ed. Abdur Rahim & Ashraf Ali, Bib.Ind., Calcutta, 1881-91, III, p.463.

[24] Amal-i Sālih, op.cit., II, pp.471-72.

[25] Lāhori, II,op.cit., p.224; Amal-i Sālih, op.cit., II, p. 8

[26]  Munshi Malikzāda, Nigārnāma-i Munshi, Ms. No. 36, Research Library, Department of History, AMU, Aligarh, ff. 157 (a)-(b).

[27] Akhbār dated 43rd RY of Aurangzeb, Akhbār- darbār mu’alla, Royal Asiatic Society, London (microfilm Research Library, Department of History, AMU, Aligarh, no. 30)

[28] Amal-i Salih, op.cit., III, p.28.

[29] Ma’āsir ul Umara, op.cit., II, p.469; For the naqsha of a Deccan Fort sought to be captured by Aurangzeb, see, Kalimāt-i Taiyabāt, ed. Ināyatullah Khān, Ms., Aligarh Collection, Maulana Azad Library, AMU, Aligarh, farsiya,39, no. 278.

[30] Lahori, op.cit., Vol. II, pp. 323-31.

[31] Bayāẓ-i Khwushbūī, Ms. IOL Ethe 2784 (I.O.828); Rotograph copy in the Research Library, Department of History, AMU, ff. 108(a) – 111 (a).

[32] Bayaz-i Khushbuif. 108 (b). Suggestions are made for construction of tombs, minarets and garden-beds. For similar directions as to dimensions for buildings being built at Jaipur in 1720’s under the supervision of Vidhyadhar., the architect of Raja Jai Singh, see A.K. Roy, History of the Jaipur City, New Delhi, 1978, pp.41-42, 52.

[33] Gulbadari, Humayun Nama Tashkent, 1959, p.17; See also Abul Fazl, ed. Molvi Abdul Rahim, Calcutta, 1879, Vol. II, p. 247.

[34] Waris, Badshah Nama, Ms. Raza Library. Rampur (transcript copy in Research Library, Deptt. of History, AMU), vol., I, p. 38.

[35] Lutfullah Muhandis, Dīwān-i Muhandis, reproduced in Sayyid Sulaiman Nadwi, “The Family of the Engineers who built the Taj Mahal and the Delhi Forts”, The Journal of Bihar Research Society, Vol. XXXIV, Pts I & II, 1948, pp. 75-110 and M. Abdullah Chaghtai, “A Family of Great Mughal Architects”, Islamic Culture, Vol. XI, no. 2, April, 1937, 200-209.

[36] Mulla Abdul .Baqi Nahawandi, Ma’asir-i Rahimi, ed. M. Hidayat HusĀ’in, Calcutta, Vol. II, pp.610-11.

[37] Mathura Documents, dated 10 Jamadi I, 5th R.Y of Aurangzeb (,Xeroxed)

[38] See for example Akbarnāma pĀ’intings depicting the construction of Fathpur Sikri and Agra Fort preserved in Victoria and Albert Museum.

[39] See for example Lahori, Vol. I., Pt.i, p, 223.

[40] Dīwān-i Muhandis, op.cit.

[41] Some of his books which survive include (i) Risala-i Khawās-i a’dad, MS. BM 16744 / 3; (b) Sharh-i Khulāstul Hiṣāb, MS. Azad Library, AMU, Aligarh (2 copies).

[42] Dīwān-i Muhandis, op.cit.

[43] Ibid. In modern Persian also the term muhandis stands for an architect.

[44] Ahmad Ali Sandelvi, Makhazan-ul Gharāib, MS. Shibli Academy, p. 153.

[45] Tabaqāt-i Bāburi, op.cit., p. 134.

[46] Baburnāmah, ed. A.S. Beveridge, London, 1971, f. 291(b)

[47] Abul Fazl, A’in-i Akbari, Nawal Kishore, Vol.1, n.d. p. 117.

[48] Akbarnāma PĀ’intings, op.cit.

[49] For their separate skills see Lāhori, II, p.324; Ahwāl-i Tāj Mahal, Mirza Beg, (MS. Research Library, Deptt. of History, AMU); R. Nath, The Taj and its Incarnation, op.cit., pp. 40-41.

[50] Even today one can see the practice of numbering the stones at the Dayāl Bāgh Mandir at Agra which is under construction. As per the design, the stones are numbered before being handed over to the mason who has the job fixing them on the brick walls of the temple.

[51] Tabaqāt-i Bāburi, op.cit., p. 157.

[52] Babur Nama, op.cit., f. 339(b).

[53] R. Nath, The Taj Mahal and Incarnation , op.cit., p. 44; For the marks of professionals, including the stone cutters see Infra.

[54] See also Latif, Agra: Historical And Descriptive, op.cit., description of the Taj; . R.Nath, op.cit. pp. 41-2. Abdul Bāqi also mentions quite a few khushnawis and naqqāsh (calligraphist) see for example Ma’āsir-i Rahīmī, ed. Hidayat Hossein, 1925, Vol. III, p.1682.

[55] Abul Fazl used the term durūdgar for them. A’in, I, p. 117.

[56] Pelsaert, op.cit., p. 34; Bernier, op.cit., p.398.

[57] A’in, Vol. I, op.cit., p. 562; For the use of wood in houses an its importance see Hidāyat-ul Qawā’idop.cit., f. 40(b). For the expert carpenters of Calicut, see Pyrard, The Voyage of Francois Pyrard of Laval, tr. ed. Alfert Gray, Vol. I, n.d., London, p. 403.

[58] Ā’in. Vol.I, op.cit., pp. 117

[59] Fryer, op.cit., p. 92.

[60] Ā’in, op.cit., Vol. I, p. 117.

[61] Ā’in, op.cit., Vol. I, p.118

[62] See for example Bāburnāma, op.cit., f. 291(b); Tabaqāt-i Bāburi, op.cit., p.115; Lahori, I, op.cit.,p.323 Ali Muhammad Khan, Mīrāt-i Aḥmadi ed. Nawab Ali, Baroda, 1928, Vol.1, p. 276; M.A. Naeem, Mughal Document, Catalogue of Aurangzeb’s Reign, vol. I (1658-63), Hyderabad, 1980 

[63] Ā’in., op.cit., Vol. I, p. 117.

[64] Ibid. Interestingly he is placed the first in the list of artisans employed in the Building establishment.

[65] Ibid

[66] Ā’in., op.cit., Vol. I,  p. 118. For the use of tiles in mercantile houses at Ahmadabad see Jawaid Akhtar, ‘Merchants and Urban Property: A Study of Cambay Documents of the 17th-18th centuries: Professor R.N. Mehta Felicitation Volume, Jaipur, 1999

[67] For thatched huts of common people, see for example, Fr. J. Xavier’s Letter, JASB, n.s. no. XXIII, 1927, p. 125; Finch, Early Travels, p. 185; Tavernier, I, op.cit., pp.122,128. See also Badauni, op.cit., p.398 etc.

[68] A’in., op.cit., Vol. I,., pp. 117-8.

[69] Ibid

[70] Ibid

[71] See Iskandar Beg, ‘Ālam Ārā-i ‘Abbāsi, Isfahan, l956, Vol.I. p. 473 also The Encyclopaedia of Islam, (new edition), Vol. IV, Leiden, 1978, s.v. kanat.

[72] Durrul ‘U1ūmop.cit., ff. 60(a)-(b); See also Tuzuk-i Jahāngīrī ed. S.Ahmad Khan, Ghazipur, 1863, Vol. II, p. 347 where there is a mention of Jahangir giving Rs. 30, 000 to Haidar Malik to construct a canal. The amount was to be utilized for material and labour.

[73] Ibid., f. 60(b).

[74] Francisco Pelsaert, Jahangir’s India The Remonstratie, transl., W.H. Moreland & P.Geyl, Delhi, 2009, p. 56

[75] Lahori, Vol. I, op.cit., pp. 137,182.

[76] Epigraphia Indo-Moslemica, 1909-10, p. 23 cf. M.A Chaghtai, ‘A Family of Great Mughal Architects’ Islamic Cultureop.cit., p. 200.

[77] Abul Fath Qabil Khan, Ādāb-i ‘Ālamgīrī, ed. Abdul Ghafur Chaudhuri, Lahore (Pakistan), 1971, Vol. I, pp. 111-13.

[78] Ibid. Vol. I, p. 112.

An Illustration of Defiance?: Depicting The Tomb of Qutbuddin & the Minār at Mehrauli in a 16th Century Miniature

I am really thankful to Rana Safvi for posting an almost an unknown miniature from the illustrated manuscript of Wāqi’āt-i Bāburi, preserved at the State Museum, Alwar in Rajasthan.

Babur Circumambulating the Tomb of Khwaja Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki

The miniature is interestingly inscribed in two lines in naskh using black ink within a golden band, one above, and the other below. The text is as follows:

“…hamīn shab i chahār shambah, qal’a i Dehli rā sair kardah. Shabash īnjā būd wa subāh i ān
Roz i chahār shambah, mazār i Khwāja Hazrat Qutbuddin tawāf kardah maqbara …”

[..on the night (preceding) Wednesday, went for site seeing the Fort of Dehli. Stayed there for the night. The next day morning, that is, Wednesday, went to circumambulate the sacred tomb of Hazrat Qutbuddin…]

We know that these texts were illustrated during the reign of Akbar, who had ordered a large number of histories and other manuscripts to be illustrated.

The miniature is extremely important due to the fact that amongst the genre known as “Mughal miniatures” perhaps it is the first visual record of the area of Qila Rai Pithora where the earlier Sultans built the city, the city which in sources of Delhi Sultanate is known as ‘Dehli-i Kuhna’. The miniature records at least three tombs, at a distance from each other. The most prominent of them being an octagonal one. To any observer of this miniature who has not visited the site, the above mentioned text would make him conclude that the prominent octagonal structure depicted almost in the centre of the frame would be the Tomb of the saint, Qutbuddin Bakhtiyār Kāki.

However, as righty pointed out by Rana Safavi, the octagonal tomb is actually the tomb of Adham Khan, the son of Akbar’s foster nurse, Maham Anaga, who was thrown twice from the ramparts by Akbar in 1562 after he had stabbed Shamsuddin Muhammad Atka, whom the emperor revered as his father!

Tomb of Adham Khan

We know that Adham Khan was actually punished with the death penalty by Akbar. After his execution, Maham Anaga withdrew from politics and ultimately died. From 1562 to 1567 the reign of Akbar saw a number of revolts by the senior nobles, many of whom were Turanis.

This whole incident is discussed in detail by Abul Fazl in his Akbarnāma. A very beautiful and poignant illustration of this punishment to the unfortunate rebel has also been included in the Akbarnāma manuscript at Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

After this particular incident nothing is mentioned by any of the sources regarding Adham Khan or his mother.

It is interesting to note that the painter who was assign the task to illustrate this copy of the Waqi’āt i Bāburi manuscript places this rebel’s tomb in the centre of his composition. If so, then was this an allusion to a silent and symbolic defiance? An illustration of sympathy towards a lost cause? We know that Akbar had ordered manuscripts and texts to be illustrated around 1580’s. A serious revolt had once again erupted in 1581, centred in Bengal and Bihar, against certain economic and religious matters. But is this illustration one of those which were illustrated under Akbar at all? Or is it a later composition?

The artist is placing the tomb of Adham Khan in the centre of his composition, on a page where Babur’s visit to the tomb of Khwāja Qutbuddin is being mentioned.

Rana Safvi rightly mentions that the domed structure now covering the tomb of the saint is of quite modern origins. The present structure was built only in 1940’s.

The present Tomb of Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki

According to her, Sir Syed in his Athār us Sanānādīd says that this dargah is not a permanent structure and the saint’s grave is just a mound of mud. Similarly Monuments of Delhi of Maulvi Zafar Hasan describes it as ‘a mound of earth and kept covered by a sheet, made by his disciple and successor Baba Farid Ganj Shakkar of Pakpattan.’

Illustration of this shrine in Athār us Sanādīd

Also seen (perhaps again for the first and only time) in the miniature under discussion is the Qutb Minār built initially by Qutbuddin Aibek and then added upon by Sultan Iltutmish. The tapering minaret with its actual flutings and honeycomb balconies is depicted along with its original chhatri.

Towards the left of the minaret are placed a number of camps. Some camps can also be seen near a domed mosque-like structure placed on the right hand. Between Adham Khan’s tomb and the Qutb Minār are certain other structures. This is the place where ideally the Qubbatul Islām mosque should have been placed. But it is remarkably absent. Two domed structures are drawn at some distances behind Adham Khan’s tomb. Both are silhouetted with green trees. Is one of these tombs that of Muhammad Quli Khan, the brother of Adham Khan as opined by Rana Safvi?

Detail of the miniature

It’s just a guess. If so, and if one believes the miniature to be made under Akbar, then the defiant nature of the artist gets confirmed. The tomb of Muhammad Quli Khan, however in real life is much smaller than the dome depicted in this painting: though the artist’s licence can never be ruled out!

Tomb of Muhammad Quli Khan

The painting is a very interesting composition. In the foreground is depicted the party of the emperor with his standards and other royal paraphernalia. Babur is shown wearing a bright yellow tunic sitting atop a horse and accompanied with three other horsemen and a number of piyādas. A mahout atop an elephant follows him.

In a warning note on my post on this miniature by the art historian Dr Kavita Singh, a professor of Art History at JNU opined that artistically this painting can not be dated to the period of Akbar but to 19th Century. And then Professor Rochelle Kessler posted the link of American Institute of Indian Studies which lists this miniature from Waqi’āt i Bāburi as being dated c. 1775 AD! So it turns out that the painting is late 18th Century. The artist thus can in no way be labelled as a person registering his defiance or subversion! Probably the poor guy was not even aware of who Adham Khan was, or what the incident involving him was!

But then, it is quite possible, that the artist was closely following some other more contemporary depiction which he might have seen?

Must however thank my senior Rana Safvi for making this miniature known to the public through her posts. And thanks to Kavita Singh and Rochelle Kessler for helping us understand it!

The link to the website is:


• Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi

PROFESSOR R.C. GAUR (1929-2001)

Professor R C Gaur

Ram Chandra Gaur, archaeologist and historian, was born on 4 July 1929 at Faizabad, U.P. Losing his father when he was 14 and being the eldest among his brothers, he pursued his higher studies under difficult circumstances. Gold medallist at his B.A. examination, Allahabad University, he passed his M.A. in Ancient Indian History and Greater India, in 1955. He worked as Assistant Archaeologist, and Curator at the State Museum, Lucknow, 1955-58, during which he made a survey of the medieval site of Kara. He joined the Department of History, Aligarh Muslim University, as Lecturer in 1958, and became involved in the archaeological work that Professor S. Nurul Hasan, Head of the Department, wished to develop.

However the excavations which emblazoned Professor Gaur’s name as an archaeologist of international fame was that of the ancient site of Atranjikhera in District Etah, U.P. During these excavations he scrupulously followed all the prescribed canons of excavations. The excavations began in 1962 and Gaur published his monumental report, Excavations at Atranjikhera: Early Civilization of the Upper Ganga Basin , in 1983.

Even before the time the report was published, Professor Gaur’s papers in various journals had already changed the perception of the Painted Grey ware culture from a copper to an iron- age culture. Despite the very important finds that he brought to public notice, he remained very careful always, so that even when the technical report suggested that a piece of glass found in the PGW strata was part of a bottle, he himself refrained from endorsing the claim. This excavation of Atranji Khera helped bring Aligarh on the world map of Indian archaeology.

Professor Gaur directed excavations at another site, Lai Qila (Dist. Bulandshahr), which was subsequently destroyed. He thought the site to be very significant for a possible link between the OCP and PGW phases.
In 1978 Professor Gaur became Director of the Aligarh team engaged in excavations at Fatehpur Sikri, as part of a national project, which was initiated by Professor Nurul Hasan as the Union Education Minister. During the course of various seasons of diggings, he unearthed the presence of a long avenue of shops leading to the palace complex, the Khushbu Khana (royal perfumery), which had temporarily been converted into a Jesuit chapel during the reign of Akbar, the royal stables (cheetah khana, shutar khana and horse stables) as well as a number of nobles’ houses. The site which had been identified as “Ibādatkhana” by Mahrahrawi and S Athar Abbas Rizvi was also cleared.

Many honours came his way. The Aligarh Muslim University appointed him Reader in 1967 and Professor of Archaeology and Ancient Indian History in 1978. When he retired on 31 July 1989, he was the Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, and Chairman, Department of History. He was Visiting Fellow of the Institute of Archaeology London, 1971-72, and General President of Indian Archaeological Society in 1988.

Professor Gaur’s last ten years were quite tragic as a consequence of a cerebral infection which kept him in a coma for a long period of time. Yet his strength of will seemed to triumph over everything. With the full support of his family he went on working to the last. His reports on Lal Qila and Fatehpur Sikri excavations appeared during the years that he was so disabled and could speak and move only with difficulty. And yet he also compiled and published during the same time his catalogue of the major items of statuary and sculpture at the Aligarh University’s Archaeological Museum, which he had so assiduously assembled, and to which he gave the name “Sir Syed Collection” in honour of the AMU’s founder.
To honour his memory and in recognition to his immense contribution to the field of Indian Archaeology, a special gallery at Musa Dakri Museum was dedicated to his name in 2018. The gallery was formally inaugurated by the Dr Tariq Mansoor, the Vice Chancellor, AMU on 27th August 2019. It houses the archaeological material and artefacts from various excavations conducted by him and others at the Department of History, AMU

Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi

Remembering The Independence Day of India

Pandit Nehru with the Tricolour

Today I was invited to virtually join with the students and teachers of the Emjay Vocational Higher Secondary School, Villapalli, Vatakara, Calicut, Kerala and inaugurate their Independence Day function. I must thank the management board of the School and its members, the Principal of the School, Mr Jazeel, and Mr Moideen who called me up to invite me. I was given two options: either record my message in audio or if I could, to make a video. I preferred the later for I know that if send an audio, it would never be listened to by the young children! In a video, there was a remote chance of them listening in to at least some portions of it. Now to record a video and send it also presented a number of issues: when I recorded it on my laptop, it somehow became a little lengthy and I being a technically challenged, was unable to think how to upload it. So I spoke again, this time for 6 minutes and had it recorded on mobile. It was then cut into sections and sent to the person concerned. But then all this meant that I could not discuss all things which I wanted to discuss with the young students! So this post to get the things out of my system!

Delivering my online remarks

Today as we celebrate the 74th Independence Day, we are again in the midst of very critical times. The country is tottering to collapse into anarchy, chaos and Neo-fascism. Lynchings on the pretext of religious differences, muzzling of dissent and minorities, trampling of human and minority rights are the order of the day. Probably such are the conditions which would shame even the dark ages of the past! And on top of that India is in the midst of a raging pandemic which threatens the very existence of the known ways of life and society! The education system is in tatters, the economy is at its worst and blind faith rules the roost! On top of everything else, those at the helm of political affairs are those who were once the most powerful collaborators of our Imperial masters who had enslaved us and turned us into an enslaved Colony and milking away our national wealth and draining out our wealth to their Mother Country!

It was after a very long struggle that we had won our Independence from the Colonial Rule. Since the Battle of Plassey in June 1757 we had slowly and gradually fell victim to the extremely exploitative English Imperialism. Slowly and gradually almost the whole of the Indian Subcontinent was reduced to servitude: first of the English East Company, and then the British Crown!

The first War of Independence and the struggle for freedom was launched by Tipu Sultan during 1790’s when he entered into an alliance with Napoleon Bonaparte and invited him to jointly defeat the English. He and his father Hyder Ali had also aligned themselves with the Americans. We know that Tipu had reportedly ordered a copy of the American Declaration of Independence, in a prelude to his ringing endorsement of the French Revolution! His troops, like the French, were uniformed and even used their military techniques.

Tipu Sultan

And then a second Struggle to gain Independence was the Great Revolt of 1857-58! It was joint revolt of all the Indians irrespective of religion or race! It was started by the Sepoys: you must have heard the name of Mangal Pandey!

Revolt at Meerut

The rebels starting from Meerut Cantonment marched to Delhi to beseech the old Mughal emperor declare Bahadur Shāh Zafar who was ultimately declared as their leader! Rani Laxmi Bai of Jhansi, Tantia Tope of Pune were all Mujahid’s who fought under the banner of a Muslim King! Nahar Khan, Bakht Khan, Kunwar Singh, Rao Tula Rām, Umrao Singh, Begum Hazrat Mahal, Birjis Qadr, Thakur Vishwanath and many others fought together without any division on the basis of religion or caste! That is why 1857 is also known as the First War of Independence!

A scene from the Revolt

After the Revolt Sir Syed Ahmad Khan who was in the employment of the English and seen the Mutiny, it’s causes and effects subsequently wrote two important works. His Asbāb i Baghawat i Hind and Tārīkh i Sarkashi i Zila Bijnore were in fact a critique of the British.

Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and Mutiny

Through his writings he tried to show the English where they were at fault and why people had in fact risen in revolt. Ultimately on witnessing that the Muslims were emerging as the worst sufferers due to their boycott of English language he founded the Mahommadan Anglo Oriental College: at Aligarh. It was an institution where modern education coupled with Religious knowledge was to be given. By now the Revolt haf miserably failed and India had passed directly under the rule of the British monarch and the Parliament. There was no option but to train the young members of his community in the new sciences and make them eligible for government service. At Aligarh Sir Syed also established a Scientific Society and a Journal on the same line was also launched.

In the meantime the Indians having lost the war for Independence did not rest. They rose as one once again under the aegis of the Indian National Congress which was a group of the middle classes of Indians founded by an English, AO Hume. Very soon a popular Freedom Movement with mass support was launched after the return of Gandhiji from South Africa. The struggle now started in right earnest. But remember that this movement was not confined only to North India

Gandhiji in Orissa

Kerala too produced many freedom fighters. Accamma Cherian was considered the Rani of Jhansi of Travancore by Gandhiji. Another was Abdur Rahiman who participated in Salt Satyagraha for which he was imprisoned for 9 months. He was was editor and publisher of the Malayalam daily newspaper Al-Ameen in which he tried to nurture nationalism among the Muslim people of Malabar

The Dandi March

Vaikom Muhammad Basheer participated in Salt Satyagraha and was in prison. Even after he was released he didn’t keep quiet, he organized an anti-British movement and took an active part in the freedom movement.

Veliyankode Umar Khasi was a Muslim scholar and freedom fighter who took active participation in the Civil-Disobedience movement and fought against the British opposing to pay taxes. Interestingly at the time of his death, he was waiting for death to arrive by preparing his own grave.

There were thousands of others who’s names we should remember and felicitate!

As also this nationalist fervour was developing another thing happened. In 1920 through an Act of Parliament the Aligarh Muslim University was established. It was the culmination of a dream project of Sir Syed. He had always visualised the MAO College On the lines of Oxford of the East!

Strachey Hall, AMU: the Old Campus of MAO College

It emerged as a modern University where both Science and Quran had its importance. Physics, Chemistry, Botany, Zoology, and Engineering was taught along with Unani Tibb. Subjects of Art and Social Sciences along with a separate faculty of Theology was also established: the Science and Quran were literally together! On the other hand admissions and faculty positions were given to people of all religions: Muslims, Hindus, Jains, Buddhist, Sikhs and Christians were all entertained: Aligarh emerged as a microcosm of India visualised by the Rebels of 1857 and the Indian National Movement. The Aligarh Muslim University Students Union gave member ship to Gandhiji and Jinnah, Patel and Maulana Azad!

But don’t forget the horrors of Partition: The collaborators and the English Colonialists sowed the seeds of communal division! The division of separate electorate and Communal Award accentuated the social fissures. The Hindu Maha Sabha, the RSS, the Muslim League all played their dangerous games. For every Bhagat Singh and Sukhdev, there was a Savarkar writing apology letters and working for dividing the people on the basis of Religion and caste.

The Refugees at Purana Qila
The Parition Riots

The end result was that on the eve of our Independence, as India was being into two, and as Pakistan as a separate nation purely on the basis of religion was being created, 2 million innocent Indians, both Hindus and Muslims lost their lives, while at least 14 million were displaced and turned into refugees.

The Partition Migrations

As Pakistan was celebrating it’s birth and Nehruji was delivering his Tryst with Destiny Speech this was the scale of human disaster! Remember Gandhiji was amongst the rioters as others celebrated! He was fasting and grieving! Also remember that a year later, he was shot dead by those who had collaborated with the English. Gandhi ji died with the words “Hey Ram!” on his lips and a wish to go to Pakistan to bring a closure to the killings there!

Gandhiji and his Assassin, Nathuram Godse
Hey Rām!

Remember Our Duties on this 74th Independence Day as our democratic rights are being trampled, people are being killed on the basis of their faith, the Judiciary is silent, the Parliament is a silent spectator and the economy of the country is at its lowest! Only yesterday our Supreme Court held Prashant Bhushan for showing the mirror to the Judges! We need to swear once again by Unity, Integrity, and our Secular ideals! We need to safeguard our Constitution which gave us a unique character of our own. We need to retrieve the ideals of our founding fathers and all those who gave their life for preserving the idea of India which our beloved nation is! Let us endeavour to arrest the process of conversion of our esteemed nation into a mirror image of our neighbour! This is the only way that we can guarantee a continued Independence of our beleaguered nation!

Jai Hind! Long Live a United India! Long Live our Secular Constitution!