Men at some time are masters of their fates:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
(Julius Caesar, 1.2.146), Cassius to Brutus
By: Mudassar Bashir
Asif Jah is one of those towering personalities of the history that create and shape history of their times. He was not a king but a king maker who knew to make a right move at the right time. He was brother of Nur Jehan, the beloved and influential wife of Mughal emperor Jahangir and father in law of heir apparent Prince Khurram, who became emperor after the death of his father Jahangir.
It was the golden era of Mughal rule in India and he held the most important portfolios of Nau Hazari ( commander of nine thousand troops) and prime minister of Shah Jahan. During the reign of Jahangir, he helped his sister Nur Jahan to become the most powerful queen in the Mughal history. Their alliance worked well for both of them and enhanced their power and influence in the Mughal court. It is said,”Kingship knows no kinship”: when his personal interest and agenda had a clash with her sister’s interest, this alliance turned into discord and later into a conflict. His daughter Arjumand Bano ( known later as the Empress Mumtaz Mahal) was married to Prince Khurram who was the crown prince. Nur Jahan’s daughter from her previous marriage was married to prince Sheh Yar, another son of Jahangir, from another wife. Empress Nur Jahan wanted her son in law to occupy the throne after the death of Jahangir. This clash of personal interests broke the alliance and resulted into a bloody war between the two princes. Prince Khurram and Asif Jah won the day and prince Shahar Yar was captured and blinded. Nur jehan lost all her power and spent her remaining days in Lahore.
He rose to be a Nau Hazari ( commander of nine thousand troops) and two hundred cavalry during the reign of Shah Jehan He was awarded the title of Khan-e-Khanan and appointed prime minister.
His date of death has been described as 1641 by Prof. Aslam in his book, ‘Khuftagan e Khak e Lahore’. Asif Khan was held in great esteem by Shah Jahan. Shah Jahan buit the iconic Taj Mahal when his wife Mumtaz Mahal died. Her father Asif Khan was a great bulwark of support for the king, especially in his role as the prime minister.
Mullah Saleh Kamboh, in his book Shah Jahan Nama, writes thus about him:
‘Yameen ud Daula, Asif Khan, Khan e Khanan, commander of nine thousand troops, two hundred cavalry, departed from this world in the fifteenth year of ascension.’
Kamboh writes about the scene of the King receiving the news of his death:
‘The King came to know on the evening of the 17th Shaban, that Ymeen ud Daula, Asif Khan has passed away. It as as if His Highness was completely stricken and lost control his faculties. Shah Jahan had always been generous towards Asif Jah, but he would still express his regret repeatedly that he could not do enough service to his father in law. Asif Khan left a mansion (haveli) worth two million rupees and a cash inheritance of twenty five million rupees.’
Shah Jahan himself built the mausoleum on the grave of Asif Jah. It is a testament to his love for his father in law, that he built his mausoleum adjacent to that of Jahangir, his father.
Asif Jah himself was a keen builder. The garden, Nishat Bagh, that he built in Kashmir, was considered to be the most beautiful in India after the Shalamar Bagh. Some historians say that he had a palace, where the Badshahi Mosque currently stands. Some others are of the view that it was located outside of the the Dehli Gate extending to the Naulakha Bagh and was occupied by the Prince Dara Shikoh later. There are no surviving remains of this palace.
This mausoleum was one of its kind in India, a bit like Taj Mahal. The dome is oblong, in the Iranian tradition. It is an unusual shape in India. This was the tallest mausoleum building in Lahore, after that of Ali Mardan Khan. Kanhayya Lal Hindi writes in his ‘Tareekh e Lahore’:
‘This mausoleum was lined with marble from the foundations to the top. The floor inside was also marble. The plinth and the cenotaph itself were made of marble. The eight doorsteps, the spirals outside and the tall pillars on each side were made of sandstone. There was bronze work surrounding the entrances. There was an octagonal platform outside of the entrance doors. The floor of which was lined with marble and the walls with sandstone. On all four sides, there were water ponds the edges of which were bordered with broad slabs of marble. The area inside the perimeter wall of the garden was three acres, with the mausoleum at the centre.’
The Mughal era was followed by the Sikh rule. The Mughal buildings were mercilessly vandalised. The marble was pulled off the buildings and sent to the Golden Temple. Ranjit Singh wanted to build a monument for himself, he built a pavilion between the Fort and the Badshahi Mosque. The mausoleums of Asif Jah and Zeb un Nisa were canibalised for marble. Other building materials were sent to the Golden Temple.
The slab inscribed with the attributive names of Allah was also removed from the cenotaph. Because of the Arabic inscription, it was not reused and was cast aside, inside the building, till it was later replaced by Kanhayya Lal Hindi, the architect commissioned by the colonial British to restore the monument.
The tall dome can be seen from a distance after crossing the Ravi bridge into Shahdara. It is located to the west of Jahangir’s tomb, the original entrance door of which was towards the east side. Currently, the entrance door of Serai Shahjahani (Shah Jahan’s Seraglio) is used for the public. On its right side is the Jahangir’s tomb, in the middle, there is a mosque and on the left side the mausoleum of Asif Jah and Nur Jahan.
These five monuments were part of the same complex before the colonial British rule. It was bisected by the newly built Railway, so that the Nur Jahan’s tomb was isolated. Rather than the original entrance, a small doorway adjacent to the wall of the mosque is used for entrance. The whole area is overgrown with weeds and wild grass. The ponds and fountains surrounding the edifice are long gone. The old wells outside the perimeter walls have been filled up.
One can see truant school kids playing cricket, addicts smoking, paedophiles grooming their victims, gamblers fighting and mongooses scurrying about.
There are stairs leading up the platform into the building. The cenotaph is in the middle. It seems that it may have been crafted by the same artisan who made the cenotaph of Jahangir, as the stone and the inscription is very similar. The headstone inscription says:
هو الله الذي لا إله إلا هو عالم الغيب و الشهاده هو الرحيم
The top slab reads thus:
This is followed by:
On the vaults, some mosaic work can still be seen.
This mausoleum is a neglected part of our heritage, and must be restored to its former glory.