Tomb of Asaf Khan

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In the same complex as the mausoleum of the Mughal Emperor Jehangir near the Lahore suburb of Shahdara Bagh, lies the tomb of Asif Jah, also known as Asaf Khan. The brother of the Empress, Nur Jehan, and the father of Mumtaz Mahal, the inspiration for the Taj Mahal, Asif Jah served as the governor of Lahore during the reign of Shah Jehan.

When Asif Jah died in 1641, he is reputed to been one of the wealthiest men in the empire,  his house in Lahore alone having cost Rupees 20 lakhs (2 million rupees) at the time of its construction. Employed by the Iranian court in Tehran, Asif Jah went bankrupt and migrated to India in 1546. Sheer good luck brought him to the court of Akbar, where he became a distinguished lawyer and became the emperor’s brother-in-law when Jehangir married his sister, Nur Jahan. In 1612 his daughter Mumtaz Mahal (the title given to Arjumand Bano Begam), in whose memory the world-famed Taj Mahal was built, was married to Shah Jahan. Referred to as ‘my adopted son (farzandi)’ by his brother-in-law Jehangir, Asif Jah rose to unprecedented heights, achieving the status of commander of 9,000 personnel and 9,000 horses, a position once reserved only for royal princes and was also appointed Governor of Lahore in 1625 AD by his brother-in-law.

After Jehangir’s demise in 1627, Khan was instrumental in securing the succession of Shah Jehan and was rewarded with an even more prominent role within the government; the new emperor granting him the title of Yamin-ud-dawla and appointed him sipah-salar, or commander-in-chief. Asif Jah was also turned to by Shah Jehan for his taste and judgement whenever erecting his monumental architectural tour de force for which his reign became so famous. It was only when Asif Jah failed in the siege of Bijapur in 1632 that favour was lost. Asif Khan died in 12th June 1641 AD whilst fighting against the force of Rajah Jagat Singh Pathania. There are variations as to whom commissioned his tomb, sources varying between his sister, Nur Jehan, and Shah Jehan at a cost of three million lakhs.

A small door in the cloister, immediately adjoining the mosque on the left (south side), leads into the Asaf Jah Chahar Bagh, enclosed by a wall of 800 square feet. The high bulbous dome of the octagonal monument is a striking image as one emerges from the low-roofed cloister. The gateway is single storeyed in the centre and double storeyed on its flanks, with an internal flight of steps. Immediately behind this gateway is a canal about three feet wide which leads to the octagonal platform on which the mausoleum building stands. Remains of the canal, once supplied by a well, are still visible west of the southern gateway.

The tomb is a typical Mughal construction with a graceful high-pointed dome set on an octagonal base. Its huge arches were once fully lined with expensive floral Kashi work, but most of this is now gone, as has the white marble facing of the dome. There were once four fountains at the four cardinal points on the plinth around the tomb. Both the platforms were made of red sandstone inlaid with white marble in the style of Jahangir’s tomb. Eight doors had glittering bronze gates with finely wrought metallic motifs and huge, expensive chandeliers hung from the dome. Local legend states that these were removed by the Sikhs and sent to Amritsar to decorate the Darbar Sahib despite no evidence of them exists at the Sikh site today. The cenotaph of Asif Jah is made of white marble and inlaid with decorative motifs and inscription. The actual grave was in the form of Jahangir’s grave, but it was uprooted by Maharajah Ranjit Singh in a search for treasure. The floor around the grave today is brick-paved.

A set of stairs on the western side leads to a gallery, and thence via another flight of steps to an ambulatory placed between the drum of the dome and the huge parapet wall, 12 feet high. At each end of the base of the octagonal parapet there are two small arched openings to disperse rain water. Two door-like arched openings at a height of about eight feet in the shell of the dome are located on the northwest and southeast.

The tomb of Asaf Khan provides a very clear example of double-dome construction. At the base, the drum is a circular or true dome about 3 feet in height. Above this, the drum transforms into a 24-sided drum. The height of this storey is about 10 feet. The original dome was a bulbous structure like those of the Badshahi Mosque or the Taj Mahal in Agra, for which it served as a prototype, but its apex was destroyed by the Sikhs when they pulled off the marble slabs. Its current conical vertex shape does not represent the Mughal style.

Although today but a shadow of the once grand edifice as a befitting permanent abode of the closest confidante of Shah Jahan

Currently, the site is in serious disrepair and there have been few attempts since 1849 to preserve or restore the building. There are few, if any, direction boards to guide tourists and visitors and it is advised to go via the Maqbara Road, where there is a car park before proceeding on foot through the gateway.

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