This autumn I had been to Aurangabad and its environs for a short trip of 3 days. Aurangabad is located in the Marathwada region of Maharashtra. Being ruled by Sultans of Ahmadnagar, the Mughals and the Nizams one after the other, the city in many ways resembles some of India’s great Indo-Islamic cities like Hyderabad, Shahjahanabad, Lucknow etc. Its a fascinating place for a history buff. Ruins peep out from unthinkable places, the pace of life is slow and unhurried, the people are refined and cultured and whether Hindu or Muslim, speak pure Urdu, a version rarely heard outside old Lucknow. Aurangabadi Biryani is one of the tastiest versions of the dish, second only to the much hyped cousin of it’s, the Hyderabadi Biryani.
Daulatabad is a small town about 16 kms from Aurangabad. It’s main attraction is its fort, one of the largest and THE most magnificent in India. The area near Daulatabad has been inhabited since about 100 BC. There are the remains of a few caves here, called the Aurangabad Caves. Though not as well known as the Ajanta Caves which are about 90 kms from here, they nevertheless resemble them in quite a few aspects. Then known as Devagiri, Daulatabad was the capital of the flourishing Yadava dynasty. Alauddin Khilji’s General, Malik Kafur ended the Yadave dynasty by defeating its ruler, Ramchandradeva during the course of his South India campaigns. Daulatabad again rose to prominence when the eccentric Tughluq Sultan, Muhammed bin Tughluq shifted his capital from Delhi to Daulatabad. It was under him that the existing Daulatabad Fort was refurbished, strengthened and given its present appearence. Huge banyan trees planted by the Sultan to shade his subjects in the long march from Delhi to Daulatabad still survive. Unfortunately the Sultan failed to provide for the lack of water in the arid Deccan wastes and had to move back to Delhi in a few years. Daultabad again fell into disrepair till the Bahmani and later the Ahmednagar Sultans repaired it, recognising its value in guarding the vital Golconda road. However the city itself never attained anything of its past glory.
The elevation of Aurangabad as the de-facto capital of India during the last quarter century of Aurangzeb’s life gave Daulatabad renewed importance as it guarded the direct route to it. However when the Mughals’ successors in the North Deccan, the Nizams shifted their capital to Hyderabad in the 1760s, Daulatabad again became a mere outpost subject to frequent pillage by the Marathas. The long rule of the Nizams saw the irretrievable decline of Ahmednagar, Aurangabad and Daulatabad and the ascendancy of Hyderabad as the new capital of the Deccan.
Today the fort at Daulatabad seems a mere shadow of its former glory. It is strikingly located, perched on a 200m high hill that dominates the landscape. There are extensive ruins along the fort perimeter, remains of the one time capital of India. Present Daulatabad is a tiny highway side town whose income entirely depends on tourism and supplying food to the highway commuters. The entry to the fort is a nominal Rs 5/-. There are massive bastions guarding the main entrance. Cannons lie around, ornate Mughal ones, early Nizami ones and the mobile British ones.
Besides the fortifications Daulatabad contains several notable monuments, of which the chief are the Chand Minar and the Chini Mahal. The Chand Minar is a tower 210 ft. high and 70 ft. in circumference at the base, and was originally covered with beautiful Persian glazed tiles. It was erected in 1445 by Ala-ud-din Bahmani to commemorate his capture of the fort.
The Chini Mahal, or China Palace, is the ruin of a building once of great beauty. In it Abul Hasan, the last of the Qutb Shahi kings of Golconda, was imprisoned by Aurangzeb in 1687.
The climb to the summit is very hard. The only means of access to the summit is by a narrow bridge, with passage for not more than two people abreast, and a long gallery, excavated in the rock, which has for the most part a very gradual upward slope. The summit has a magnificent Mughal era pavillion along with a cannon called Mendha Tope (Sheep cannon). There is also a Bhool Bhulaiyya or maze with many false routes all of which lead to a trench! Ideal for the enemy to get lost in. At one end of the Fort is a small open air gallery consisting of Jain, Buddhist and Hindu relics unearthed in the neighbourhood. A standing Parasvantaha looked quite impressive to me. The Fort also contains a structure called Bharat Mata temple. This has been a Jain Temple, a Hindu temple and a Muslim mosque before it attained its present form in 1948.
A few kilometres from Daulatabad lies Khuldabad. A small town, it is dominated by the shrine of the Sufi saint, Khwaja Burhanuddin Gharib. Sufi qawwali and the chants of the Bhadra Maruti temple mingle in its air. Adjoining the saint’s dargah is a small enclosure. It contains an earthen grave with a few tulsi plants on it. This is the resting place of the last of the Great Mughals, a man whose writ ran from Ghazni to Chittagong and from Kashmir to Mysore, the Emperor Muhiuddin Muhammad Aurangzeb Alamgir. Six and a half feet of earth is all that he requires now. The puritanical Emperor had forbidden any strucutre on his tomb and had asked that the money he had earned by sewing caps alone should be used for his funerary expenses. The marble flooring and the jaali are the gifts of the Nizam and the British who thought that the Emperor’s resting place was a bit too modest. I uttered a silent prayer for the last Mughal. It’s hard not to feel pity for the man, how much evil he may be accused of. Thankfully, Modern day historians are gradually disproving the many myths regarding Aurangzeb. One day maybe, he will take his true place as one of the greatest administrators of Medieval India.