Many moons ago these columns carried a piece about the tomb of Prince Pervez, the brother whom Mughal emperor Shah Jehan murdered, located at Kot Khawaja Saeed. One of the two unmarked graves was supposed to be his. It then turned out that he was not even buried there.

Now after some research it seems that another well-known tomb of a Mughal princess at Nawankot, Princess Zebunnisa, the beautiful daughter of the last great Mughal emperor Aurangzeb whom he imprisoned, is not there but elsewhere. Her tomb also has two unmarked graves. So we have two unmarked graves each in two major Mughal tombs of Lahore. So where are they actually buried, how and where did Prince Pervez and Princess Zebunnisa die? Why do their alleged tombs each have two unmarked graves?

In Mughal days both these royal tombs were decked with exquisite marble with precious stones inlays. They were a sight worth seeing. Today both are bare structures which certainly have Mughal period outlines and both have two graves each all without headstones. Just what happened? This is where history and research comes in. First we will identify the tomb and the alleged graves, moving on to recorded history about the alleged personalities that lie there, and finally managing to trace the true ‘occupants’ of the graves in their mausoleums.

Let me take up the case of the missing Prince Pervez. This handsome prince was murdered on the orders of his brother Emperor Shah Jehan as he battled for the throne. His body was brought to Agra and buried in his garden there. What is also certain is that as Shah Jehan also ordered the murder of his sons, both then living in Lahore, they could have been buried there. At least the historian S.M. Latif mentions such a possibility though no source of this information is given. We also know that in Lahore all close relatives of Prince Pervez were slaughtered. Such were the ways of the Mughals when it came to grabbing power.

Ironically the original tomb, built by Shah Jehan himself, was a superb example of Mughal marble and floral work. One source claims that when in Lahore Shah Jehan invariably went to pay respects, and one source claims he cried there. Kanhaiya Lal writing in 1882 claims that on the orders of Maharajah Ranjit Singh all the marble was removed for use in Amritsar’s Darbar Sahib. The bare tomb you see today is all that is left.

Now let us move to the second missing Mughal royalty from her tomb in Nawankot of Lahore. That is the alleged tomb of Princess Zebunnisa, the eldest daughter of Emperor Aurangzeb. Shah Jehan had willed that on reaching marriageable age she should be married to Sulaiman Shikoh, the eldest son of Dara Shikoh. Aurangzeb despised his Sufi elder brother who he thought was a threat to his aspirations for the throne, which he did with ruthless cunning under the guise of religious piety. Today a lot swear by his piety and forget just how ruthless he was.

Amazingly, pious that Aurangzeb professed to be, by the time his reign ended his entire administration was reeking of bribery, what to speak of massive financial corruption. There are numerous research books on this topic, especially the works of Athar Ali, M.A. Ansari and of Tirmizi, all of whom quote Mughal court documents. It seems religiosity and corruption, as it failed numerous European dynasties, clearly shows that they attract each other.

Princess Zebunnisa’s mother was Dilras Bano, the daughter of the Safavid ruler of Iran. Like her mother Zebunnisa was an exceptionally beautiful princess described as being slim and tall. Her beauty invited many an artist to depict her in paintings, which today can be seen in not only Lahore Museum, but in the finest galleries of the world. She was, as documents state, a ‘Hafiz-i-Quran’ at the age of seven, and started writing poetry in Persian under the name of ‘Makhfi’, which means the ‘unseen’. She excelled in Arabic, Persian, Urdu and Turkish. She was an exceptionally talented calligrapher too. One source claims she invariably read all court documents and anything she could find to read. Her library was said to be the largest in the empire.

It seems Aurangzeb trusted her opinion immensely. That is till she came to Lahore in 1662 as his father had been advised a change of location to help him recover from a nagging illness. Here she came across Aqil Khan, the son of the governor of Lahore. It seems it was love at first sight, and Zebunnisa just was a different person when in his company. Naturally tongues wagged and Aurangzeb decided to act.

He sent her on a trip to Delhi’s Salimgarh Fort, where she was, to her shock, imprisoned. In this prison this beautiful poetess remained for 20 years, passing away on the 26th of May 1702, five years before her cruel father died in 1707. She was buried in the huge garden outside Delhi’s Kashmiri Gate known as the ‘Tee Hazari’ – the garden with 30,000 trees – that is till the British removed her grave to build a railway line through it. Her grave was moved to Akbar’s Mausoleum in Sikandra in Agra, where it exists still, and can be seen.

Just how did the grave of Princess Zebunnisa appear in Lahore? This could have many explanations. The most logical seems that while in Lahore she loved to stay in the huge garden whose main gate is the existing Chauburji Gateway. The areas of Nawankot, Samanabad and other areas between the Miani Sahib Graveyard and the Ravi were once part of this huge garden.

But what about the tomb with two graves in this garden? The closest clue can be found in Sir Gaganat’s book on the reign of Aurangzeb who points to her sister Mehrunnisa and her husband Izzat Bakhsh Mirza both dying on the 2nd of April 1706, and that they were buried together. He suggests that they were buried in the garden of Zebunnisa. No exact reference can be found elsewhere. Though this theory has its flaws, yet it remains the most probable. The only common fact is that both died together in Lahore and were buried in the garden. The question is just why would Aurangzeb build a royal tomb in this garden? But then like Zebunnisa, so was Mehrunnisa also his daughter, and one who cared for him a lot.

But the poetry of Zebunnisa still lives on in the form of a ‘dewan’ titled ‘Dewan-e-Makhfi’, whose original manuscripts lie in museums in London, Paris and Delhi. A line from one such poem is given below:

“Zealots, you are mistaken, this earth is Heaven, Just ignore those who promise an Afterlife, Righteous friends join in this life’s intoxication, Sanctity lies in the heart, not essentially on the path to Kaabah”.

So we have it that two Mughal royals who loved Lahore never got to be buried in its sacred soil. Both had their own huge gardens on opposite ends of the city. One was murdered over the throne by his brother, as was Mughal practice. The other suffered because of her love, her poetry and scholarship which the pious abhorred. Such is fate.

But then at the tomb of Pervez it is most probable that the two graves are those of his sons. While the two graves at the tomb of Zebunnisa are most likely those of her sister Mehrunnisa and her husband. Lastly, what happened to the exquisite marble on her tomb?

We know that it was also removed by the Sikhs for use on Darbar Sahib in Amritsar. Kanhaiya Lal tells us so as does Baqir in his ‘History of Lahore’. Surely, these two tombs need to be conserved and looked after. There is much more to them than mere bricks and mortar. The mystery of who lies buried there will remain an enduring one.

Published in Dawn, December 16th, 2018


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