Moby Sara Zachariah


15 Jul
Dastaan-e-Maqbara: Mausoleums of Poets and Musicians

Throughout history, musicians and poets have played a vital role, be it a ‘court poet’ or a royal or a Bhakti or Sufi poet evoking social change, they have immensely contributed to arts and literature. They left a legacy that draws admirers even today, whereas their tombs are great architectural marvels that speak of their prominent position in the glorious days of the past. 

Moroccan traveller Ibn Batuta wrote that Sultan Mohammad bin Tughlaq (fourteenth century) had more than 2,000 court musicians. Abul Fazl’s Ain –i- Akbari has a chapter entirely dedicated to the imperial musicians, and mentions the 36 musicians associated with Akbar’s court, a mix of Hindu, Irani, Turani, Kashmiri men and women. One of them was the Malwa ruler Baz Bahadur (r. 1555 to 1562). 

 Mughal miniature of Tansen receiving a lesson from Swami Haridas, with Akbar watching, Image Credit - Wikimedia Commons

Mughal miniature of Tansen receiving a lesson from Swami Haridas, with Akbar watching, Image Credit - Wikimedia Commons


Tomb of Tansen

An iconic vocalist and instrumentalist, Tansen (sixteenth century) was buried in a simple tomb close to the tomb of one of his music masters and Sufi saint, Mohammed Ghaus, in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh. The tomb of Mohammad Ghaus is single chambered topped with a central dome surrounded by chattris (domed pavilions), decorated with marble jaali (latticework). Surrounded by a garden, the marble tomb of Tansen displays a typical Mughal architectural style. Some sources state that he passed away in 1586 at the age of 82. Tansen was one of the navaratnas (nine gems) in the court of Mughal Emperor Akbar and earned the title ‘Mian Tansen’ (learned man). He learnt Hindustani classical music from Swami Haridas and later from Mohammed Ghaus. He also mastered the Dhrupad style of music and initiated the Gwalior Gharana of music and many new ragas (traditional melodic patterns in Indian music). Keeping his legacy alive, Tansen’s tomb hosts 'Tansen Samaroh’ (Music Festival) attended by renowned classical musicians every year in the month of November. Interestingly, a popular legend has it that chewing the leaves of the tamarind tree near the tomb can enhance your voice quality and musical knowledge.  


Legacy of Delhi Poets


Young Abdul Rahim Khan-I-Khana being received by Akbar. Illustration from Akbarnama. Image credit- Wikimedia Commons
Young Abdul Rahim Khan-I-Khana being received by Akbar. Illustration from Akbarnama. Image Credit - Wikipedia Commons

Fortunately, for all the history buffs and music lovers, Delhi is dotted with tombs of poets, including the unconventionally beautiful tomb of a poet-saint Khwaja Mir Dard (eighteenth century). Known for his ghazals and poems, Mir Dard (dard means pain in Urdu) belonged to the Delhi school of music and was a Sufi of Naqshbadi order. With an exceptional command over Arabic, Persian and Urdu, and deep love for music, he often advised the Urdu poets who gathered at his home for mushairas (poetry recitals). A green circular dargah (Sufi shrine) with a tin roof stands out in a congested neighbourhood of SKD Basti. Adjacent to Zakir Husain College, his mazar (tomb), with no dome, is built modestly with bricks. His tomb houses 13 graves in it. It is interesting to note that today the basti is home to Mirasis, a community of musicians who perform at dargahs.  

The tomb of Mazhar Jan Janan (1700- 1781), a poet contemporary to Aurangazeb’s reign, located near the Madarsa Shabul Khair and Jami Masjid of Old Delhi, where he was buried after he was tragically shot by a fanatic. 

Mazars of several poets can be spotted in and around Nizamuddin Basti, including that of Persian and Hindustani music poet Amir Khusrau (fourteenth century), who is hailed as a pir (Sufi saint), and Abdul Rahim Khan-I-Khana (seventeenth century) known for his Urdu couplets and various dohas (couplets). One of the nine important ministers, Rahim also served as a dewan (finance minister) and defence minister in Akbar’s court. Mirza Asadullah Beg Khan (nineteenth century), better known as Ghalib, lived in Ballimaram, Gali Qasim Jan (Old Delhi), and lies buried in Nizamuddin in a humble tomb built much later after his death in the twentieth century, commissioned by Ghalib Academy. 

The mausoleum of Maulana Jamali is undoubtedly one of the most ornate structures of the Islamic period which appears like a beautiful ‘jewellery box’. Situated within the Mehrauli Archaeological Park, the tomb of this famous court poet and Sufi saint is adorned with colourful ceramic tiles and Persian poetry composed by Jamali (means lovable in Arabic and Urdu). 

Situated in Bagh–e-Bedil (Garden of Bedil), the tomb of Bedil (eighteenth century) is often overshadowed by its more famous neighbour, the Old Fort.

History has witnessed many royal personalities not only attending musical samas (gatherings) but also developing keen interest and skills in music and poetry.  Some of the tombs of these  noteworthy ‘royal’ poets are Tomb of Sultan Sikander Lodi (Lodi Garden), who went by his takhallus or pen name Gulrukh, and the tomb of Mughal Princess Jahanara (Nizamuddin), a princess who called herself ‘Sufi Poetess’. Legends suggest that Jahanara was in love with a poet, but could not marry him because he was not from a royal lineage.  

Tomb of Jahanara, Nizamuddin. Image credits- Wikipedia Commons
Tomb of Jahanara, Nizamuddin. Image credits- Wikipedia Commons

Jahanara’s niece and daughter of Aurangazeb, Zeb-un-nissa (1638 – 1702), also wrote poems under the pen name Makhfi (hidden one). It is argued that her father imprisoned her for twenty years in Salimgarh Fort, and she died in captivity and for a brief time was buried in a tomb in a garden Tees Hazari (Thirty thousand trees) close to Kashmiri Gate, before her mortal remains and the inscribed tombstone were shifted to Akbar’s tomb in Sikandra, Agra. 

The last Mughal ruler, Bahadur Shah Zafar (1837-58, died. 1862), was also known to enjoy the company of poets such as Zauq, Ghalib and Tisha, and spent most of his time writing or enjoying poetic gatherings in his favourite garden across the River Yamuna. He enjoyed going for excursions in the river, where he heard the fishermen sing while they indulged in fishing. Sadly, the reign of Zafar witnessed a series of unfortunate events; the British exiled him to Rangoon (Yangon) after his arrest and trial as a prisoner after the 1857 Mutiny, where he breathed his last in 1862. While his actual tomb is in Burma, the sardgah (empty grave) lies inside a Mughal marble tomb in Mehrauli, close to the revered dargah of Chisti saint, Qutubuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki. It was much later that his simple mud grave in Burma was identified and converted into a tomb. Today, Zafar is venerated as a pir and people seek favours at his mazar. 


Mazar-e-Faizi, Agra

Born as Shaikh Abu al-Faiz Ibn Mubarak in 1547, the elder brother of court historian Abul Fazl, was a celebrated poet and scholar who went by his pen name, Faizi. Known to be a genius, Mughal Emperor Akbar awarded him the title of Malik-ush-Shu’ara (poet laureate) for his achievements in Persian poetry, and appointed him the tutor of his sons, including his son and heir Emperor Jahangir.  He has 100 poetic works in Persian to his credit and a book titled Tabashir al-Subh, a collection of qasidas, ghazals, ruba’is and elegies. Some sources state that he passed away in 1595 in Lahore, and was buried for a brief period in Agra’s Aram Bagh (Ram Bagh). Later his mortal remains were shifted to a tomb close to Sikandra (burial place of Akbar). 


The Unknown poets, Talib Amuli and Sati-un-nisa

Talib Amuli or Amoli (late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries) was an Iranian Tabari (Iranian language of northwestern branch) poet and poet laureate at the court of the Mughal emperor Jahangir. Awarded with the title Malikhush Shearai (king of poets), he wrote two poems and a short poem on Kashmir, a city that was beloved to Jahangir and Noor Jahan. It appears from the medieval sources that Amuli was buried in the compound of Taj Mahal in Agra, but his gravesite was never identified. 

His sister and wife of Poet Nasira, Sati-un-nisa, was a learned Persian scholar and achieved utmost proficiency in Persian prose and poetry, was often referred to as ‘princess of poets’. She was also appointed as instructor of Jahanara Begum and Sadr-un-Nisa (female Nazir of the harem) by Emperor Shah Jahan. One year after her death (seventeenth century), in Agra, at the order and with an expense of Rs 30000 borne by Shah Jahan, her mortal remains were shifted from the temporary grave and reburied in a tomb in Jailankhana Chowk in Agra. 


In the memory of Kabir Das

One of the prominent poets and mystics of the Bhakti-Sufi heritage, Kabir was and still is revered by Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs who visit his mazaar (tomb)/samadhi, which has a temple built adjacent to his grave by his Hindu followers. It is believed that his medium of communication was through songs, padas and his bhakti (devotional) poetry and dohas (rhymed couplets), which is popular among people of North India even today. Kabir Das died in 1518 and his tomb now lies in Maghar, in Uttar Pradesh, a site that was decided after a fierce dispute between his followers over his burial site. Interestingly, as per a popular legend, death in Maghar will lead you to hell whereas dying in Kashi/Varanasi, the birthplace of Kabir, can help you attain ‘moksha’ (final emancipation). 


Ibrahim Rauza, Bijapur

Ibrahim Rauza, Bijapur. Image Credit - Wikipedia Commons
Ibrahim Rauza, Bijapur. Image Credit - Wikipedia Commons

In Bijapur, most of its sultans were keen Persian poets and encouraged poetry among their courtiers as well. A poet and instrumentalist himself, Ibrahim Adil Shah II (AD 1580- 1627) was a connoisseur and huge patron of arts; he invited several Iranian poets, public officials, scholars and artists from around the globe to settle down in Bijapur and provided patronage. Two of the major Persian poets, Nur-al-Din Muhammad Zuhuri (death. 1618) and his father-in-law, Mulla Malik Qummi (death. 1618), were perhaps the two most popular court poets of Bijapur. The Sultan was often referred to as ‘Ibrahim the tanpurawala’, the one who composed poems on his consort, Chand Sultana, his Tanpura Moti Khan and his elephant Atish Khan. He also wrote a book titled, Kitab-e-Navras (Book of Nine Rasas) in Dakhani. 

The book starts with a prayer to Sarasvati, the Goddess of learning.

bhaka nyari nyari bhava ek

kaha turuk kaha barahaman

(Whether a Turk (Muslim) or a Brahmin with different language- emotion is the same.)

Completed at the order of his wife, Taj Sultana, the funerary monument of Ibrahim, Ibrahim Rauza (tomb), just outside the Bijapur Fort, is adorned with lines from Arabic and Persian poems, especially on columns, panels and screens. 


Maqbara of Mir Anis

Urdu Mir Babar Ali Anis
Urdu Poet Mir Babar Ali Anis. Image Credit- Wikipedia Commons

A poet extraordinaire and famous for his Rubaiyat (quatrain compositions), Mir Babar Ali Anis or Anees (means companion) belonged to a family of Delhi poets who migrated to Faizabad (former capital of Awadh), in Uttar Pradesh, and later shifted to Lucknow in 1842 in search on literary patron. Grandson of Mir Hasan and son of Mir Khaliq, two of the greatest Urdu poets, Mir Anis is a prominent figure in the scene of Urdu literature of the nineteenth century. He is said to have composed his first poem at the age of six, when his favourite goat died. His later compositions express a sense of agony due to the tragedies of 1857 Mutiny. He was laid to rest in his own residence in Lucknow’s Chowk after his death on December 10, 1874. In the early 1990s, the kucha (locality) of his tomb and graves of family members was renamed as Kucha-e Mir Anis, in honour of this outstanding artist. Today, his tomb lies in ruins and is in need of  immediate repairs. 

Another poet greatly devoted to Delhi was Mir Taqi Mir, who also wrote a famous elegy on Delhi. However, he died and was buried in Lucknow. Sadly, his mazar was destroyed when a railway station was built over it.



Banner Image credits- Headstone of Jahanara's Tomb, Wikipedia Commons