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Thursday, 2 June 2011

Maham Anagah

The Hand that Rocks the Cradle Rules the World
Men have not been the only ones who have adorned their beloved Delhi down the ages. Women, too, have played a smaller, but significant role, in constructing tombs, pavilions, mosques, temples and caravan sarais. There is, for instance, the Neeli Masjid in A Block of Hauz Khas built in 1505-06 by Kasum Bhil, the nurse of Fath Khan. Construction activities either directly commissioned by women or built under their supervision gained momentum during the Mughal period. Significant examples include: the Darghah Shah-e-Mardan and the cluster of buildings near Jor Bagh built by Qudsia Begum, wife of Muhammad Shah and mother of Ahmad Shah, who also built the Qudsia Gardens near ISBT; the Roshanara Gardens built by Princess Roshanara; the Garden of Bu Halima near Humayun’s Tomb; and the Fakhrul Masajid built by Fakhr-e-Jahan begum in memory of her husband, Shujaat Khan, opposite the St James’ Church. Then there is the Khairul Masajid and madarsa on 
Mathura Road
opposite the Zoo and the tomb of Adham Khan opposite the bus depot at Mehrauli built by Adham’s mother Maham Anagah, who was also the wet nurse of Akbar and a powerful woman in the court.
Akbar lost his parents while still a lad. He grew up under the tutelage of Bairam Khan and the fostering care of Atgah Khan. His wet nurse, Maham Anagah however played an important role in the early years of his life and more so after the assassination of Bairam Khan. She tended the infant Akbar virtually from the cradle and waited upon him till some years after his accession to the throne. According to contemporary chroniclers such as Abul Fazl, Maham Anagah increasingly began to exercise undue influence not just on matters of the harem but also on matters of state. Like all mothers, she also grew increasingly ambitious about her own son, Adham Khan, who had grown up with Akbar and whom the young emperor looked upon as a foster brother.

However, the mother-son duo, fearful of losing their hold over Akbar’s affections, grew jealous of the other courtiers. Akbar’s love and dependence upon the nobleman called Atgah Khan, husband of yet another wet nurse named Ji Ji Anagah, was a special thorn in their side. Moreover, Atgah Khan had helped Akbar’s father, Humayun, escape after suffering defeat at the hands of Sher Shah Suri. For his loyalty, Humayun had appointed his wife Ji Ji Anagah as wet nurse for Akbar and bestowed several titles upon Atgah Khan. Akbar, therefore, not merely relied upon his sage counsel but also looked upon him as a father figure.

One day Atgah Khan and Adham Khan quarrelled and the latter murdered Atgah Khan. Adham Khan then rushed to Akbar’s private apartment with the blood still fresh on his hands. Enraged to hear that the young and foolish Adham Khan had killed a man he loved dearly, Akbar is said to have seized Adham Khan, carried him across the length of the apartment and thrown him over the terrace with his own hands. According to other accounts, Akbar ordered Adham Khan’s hands and feet to be bound and then had him flung over the terrace. From that day on, Akbar deposed Maham Anagah and thus ended her brief chapter in the books of history. The grieving mother later built the large, grim-looking tomb in Mehrauli for her foolish, headstrong son. She herself, too, lies buried close beside her son.

The tomb she had constructed is a bit of an architectural anomaly; a typically Lodi-style building built during the Mughal period it arouses some curiosity because of the peculiarity of its construction. An octagonal building with verandahs on all sides and three arches on each of the eight sides; it is built of grey sandstone and rubble and is reminiscent of Muhammad Shah’s tomb in the Lodi Gardens.

Situated opposite the bus terminal in Mehrauli, today few would know it by its real name. Locally called Bhul Bhulaiyya Adham Khan’s tomb is more famous for the labyrinthine maze of passages cut in the thickness of its stone walls than the life and times of the man who lies buried here. It has low round towers on the eight corners of the platform on which the tomb stands, small, slender minarets on each of its eight-cornered verandah, and a wide-bottomed dome springing from a 16-sided drum. The dome is, inexplicably, surmounted by a red sandstone finial – the only bit of ornamentation in this otherwise severe building. Despite the no-frills architecture, vandalism has taken its toll here as in most other buildings in the Mehrauli area.

The other building attributed to Maham Anagah in Delhi is the Khairul Manazil on
Mathura Road
, opposite the Purana Qila. Literally meaning The Most Auspicious of Houses, this was a mosque with a madarsa attached to it. It was built in 1561-62. Khairul Manazil is one of the hidden jewels of Delhi, its invisibility all the more bizarre given its wonderful location. The mosque is surrounded by a wall of random rubble masonry broken in parts but still serving to mark a boundary. The east-facing gateway is large and imposing with a hollow concavity in its exterior arch. Built of red sandstone the archway still has traces of the decoration it once must have sported. You enter through a massive wooden door (closed at night to secure the mosque from vandals) to enter a spacious courtyard. A well on the right still has plentiful water and is used by the faithful for ablutions till this day.

Though under ASI protection and not the Waqf, prayers three times a day are permitted inside this broken-down but still very pretty mosque. Perhaps because it is in use, limited though it is, the place is kept clean. An old man has taken the self-appointed task of sweeping it and tending it as best as he can. But there is not much he can do about the sacks of lime left behind after the last restoration job! Or the planks of wood and assorted odds and ends that the contractors have left stacked in the arches. Nothing, however, can take away from the solemn beauty of the place. Grey pigeons and long-tailed parrots fly off the nooks and crannies as you approach the intricately worked outer wall of the prayer chamber. Traces of tile work in the most stunning azure blue remain on the outer walls which are decorated with arched niches, pilasters and inscriptions. A single dome sits grandly over the central arch, topped with a finial -- a typical Mughal ornamentation, one that you don’t see in the Lodi and Tughlaq buildings. The minaret, however, is still to make its appearance. A staircase leads up to the flat roof from where the muezzin would have given his call to prayer. Turrets with arched openings mark each side of the west-facing outer wall. Inside, the prayer chamber consists of five compartments, the central one being the largest and the grandest with fine engravings done in pilaster. A marble slab fixed on the central arch of the prayer chamber proclaims:
In the time of Jalaluddin Mohammed who is the greatest (Akbar) of just kings, When Maham Anagah, the protector of chastity, erected this building for the virtuous,
Shihabuddin Ahmad Khan, the generous, assisted in the erection of this good house…

While the mosque proper stands in reasonable good shape, the madarsa attached to it has fallen on hard times. It was housed in the double-storey colonnades that marked the north, south and east walls. The eastern and southern walls are no more than ruins; the northern wall allows some sense of what the rest of the building must have once looked like. Small cell-like rooms, some little more than arched niches, must have once housed the boys sent here to learn to recite from the Holy Quran. The spacious courtyard with the well on one side and a large octagonal sunken basin in its centre must have once reverberated with the sound of young voices learning to read and memorise the scriptures. Now, silence greets the occasional visitor to this, the Most Auspicious of Houses, built by a woman for whom it could be said: the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.

--- Rakhshanda Jalil

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