I have blogged about my jinxed trip to the Taj Mahal but I must say that I have visited the Taj of the
Deccan. Bibi ka Maqbara is called the Taj of the Deccan because it is inspired by the architecture, carvings and landscaping of the Taj Mahal. Located in Aurangabad, Maharashtra which had become an important centre for the Mughals in the 17th century, the Bibi ka Maqbara is said to have been built somewhere between 1651 and 1661. Although the name means it is the ‘tomb of the wife’, it was actually built by Aurangzeb’s elder son Azam Shah (Akbar’s brother) in memory of his mother Rabbia Ul Durrani or Dilras Banu Begum. When I cross-checked the dates through a search on Wiki, I found that Azam Shah was born in 1653 so it is unlikely that the construction would have started in 1651 although these are the dates mentioned on the inscription put up by the Archeological Survey of India. The same inscription states that the monument took shape under leadership of Ata-Ullah, who was the architect and Hanspat Rai, the engineer. It is also called ‘poor man’s Taj’ because it was built with a fraction of the resources spent on the Taj Mahal and tries to copy the grandeur of the Taj.
We landed up at Bibi ka Maqbara early morning as the gates were opening for the visitors. After paying a small entrance fee, we came to the open area in front of the water tank which is a favourite spot for taking pictures with the Maqbara in the background. Several tourist guides and photographers were already up and offering their services. The tank is lined on both the sides by well-manicured lawns and rows of trees. The Maqbara itself is constructed on a raised platform with four minarets in the four corners. Unlike the Taj Mahal which is made entirely with marble, the Bibi ka Maqbara uses marble only for the lower portion and the dome. For the middle portion, one finds marble polishing given to a structure made primarily with basalt and plaster. The filigree and carvings are very beautiful although not too dense. The mausoleum is simple and located a level below in an octagonal well which is lined with beautiful marble carvings and one can see it standing at the balcony above. From here, one can also see the intricate carving inside the dome.
When we visited Bibi ka Maqbara, there was some renovation work in progress. With passing years, the monument has started getting discoloured and has blackish grey patches, especially on the resurfaced areas. There were not many visitors around and perhaps that is one of the reasons why the monument looked somewhat neglected. I thought the monument could get better attention and resources from the government. However, when I came out and saw deprivation and stark conditions of those living around, I had too many questions in my head: should our government be spending its already stretched resources maintaining a monument which is unlikely to see many visitors just because it is a piece of history or should the resources be better spent elsewhere? Would it be appropriate to pass on this role to the private sector or non-profit heritage societies? On what basis does the government decide the resource distribution across hundreds of such historical monuments that exist all across the country – is it based on number of visitors, historical significance of the monument, or the amount of restoration that is required. I am not sure if I have adequate answers to these but one thing seems to be clear: not all monuments in the country are equal; some appear to be more equal than the others.