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Lake Sasaram, Bihar



The noblest specimen of Pathan architecture lies amidst the artificial lake at Sasaram, the envy of many an emperor.

The tomb of Sher Shah Suri and his son here reflects the life style of a 16th century Afghans who were dubbed in history as usurpers of the Mughal throne. However, the Pathan history discounts Babur and Humayun as interlopers, for they have been important in India for more than 300 years previously to Mughals. Sasaram, although just a medieval basti (village) and a small trading outpost today. It is bifurcated by Sher Shah’s Grand Trunk Road, on which no less than 25,000 trucks pass every day.

The Puranas tell a story about Sasaram. The enmity between the Kartavirya Sahasrarjuna (literally thousand hands) and Parasurma led to the death of Sahasranjuna by Parasurma. The followers of Sahasrarjuna settled here calling it Sahasrarjuna-pura or Sahsaram. The discovery of Ashokan inscriptions on a small rock cut cave have eight lines of Brahmi script inscribed on the rocky boulder. This cave, overlooks the town, and is on the summit of Chandan Shaheed hill, named after a saint whose tomb is located close to the cave. Chandan is believed to be one of the Sufi saints who accompanied Muhmud of Ghazni.

Bahul Lodi who had encouraged the migration of his countrymen to Hindustan was ultimately disappointed with their disunity. Hasan Khan and his father Ibrahim Khan Suri came to India and were granted jagirs (land lordship) in Punjab. Their fortunes swayed with that of their masters and later Hasan moved to Jaunpur and finally to Sasaram. Sher Shah was born in Narnaul and spent his childhood at Sasaram. Early in the 16th century, Sasaram, under Hasan Khan Sur was a part of the Sharqi kingdom of Jaunpur. Sher Shah developed Sasaram into a successful administrative unit. It was an important trading post and often people came here to buy horses and later Sher Shah built a mint here. His currency reform was followed by the Mughals and maintained by the Britishers.

These tombs were built under the genius of Alawal Khan, the master architect. He was first commissioned to erect the tomb of Hasan Khan in 1535. A high compound wall encloses Hasan’s mausoleum with gateways on its sides and domed turrets at the corners. Attached to the tomb is the flat roofed prayer hall and madarsa. There is no plinth. The main tomb consists of a large octagonal tomb chamber surrounded by a wide verandah on all the sides. On each of the eight sides, the verandah is provided with three arched openings and three corresponding domes above it. The main tomb chamber rises higher than the domed roofs of the verandah and supports the larger central dome. Within the tomb chamber there are 25 graves, including that of Hasan Khan Suri in the center. The middle story of the monument appears to have been executed hurriedly with just bare walls instead of the kiosks and jalis.

Sher Shah’s tomb is larger than the original model. The tank appears to have been excavated solely for the purpose of providing a quaint view of the tomb. The multi coloured glazed tiles and painted decoration must have added to rich reflection. Unfortunately few traces remain. This three-storied mausoleum rises to a height of 45.7 m and was originally planned to be a typical island tomb with no access to the mainland. There are stairways on each side of the tomb leading to the water, the landing platform on the eastern side and finally a causeway between the tomb and the guardroom. The guardroom or the entrance porch on the edge of the northern side of the lake is flanked by two mosques on either side, and was meant to provide crew and rafts to the serious visitors willing to see the tomb properly. A bridge of arches was provided to link the entrance porch and the tomb. The bridge did not last and the visitors used rafts made of earthen pots until 1881, when the present causeway was constructed.

The mausoleum appears to be perfectly symmetrical but its base is believed to have a slight deviation at the cardinal points. However, they have been skillfully adjusted to give the impression of perfect alignment. The mausoleum is built on a large square terrace, the corners of which support the octagonal pavilions with small kiosks between them. The entrance gives way to a wide verandah on all sides, shaded by a series of 24 small domes supported on arches and each corner of the verandah is provided with a cupola. The tomb chamber is plain with traces of faded inscriptions on the western wall. The interior is well ventilated and the light comes through the large windows on the top portion of the walls fitted with jalis. The grave of Sher Shah is surrounded by 24 of his compatriots. The dome surpasses that of the Taj Mahal by 13 feet, and is based on the beam and bracket principle, allowing eight sides to fuse into a circle. The exterior was originally glazed and painted with a definite colour combination of red, blue, gold and white. Traces of colours can still be seen on the parapets and battlements.

Sher Shah’s body was brought from Kalinjar after being injured in an explosion during the final assault on the fort. He managed to survive until the news of the final victory. Salim Shah, his son lies in a tomb half-a-kilometer NW of here. His tomb is grand but incomplete. New architectural designs included are - a larger lake, eleven small passages covered by stone beams, minars and pillars at all angles of the outer octagon. Alawal Khan’s tomb lies on the outskirts of the town he was the superintendent of tombs constructed.



Ideas and editorial by Harpreet Kaur.Do mail your opinions to EDITOR AT DANCEWITHSHADOWS.COM or click here

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