My mother still rolls her eyes when we mention our 2014 Gujarat trip, commenting on how her daughter forced the family to take a 200-km detour while going from Dwarka to Somnath — over a photograph. I had indeed forced the family to put up with bad roads and the too-warm winter sun to visit a monument, just because I had chanced upon a photograph of it during my travel research and couldn’t get it out of my mind.
Standing almost forgotten on a busy dusty street in Junagadh in Saurashtra, is the 19th century mausoleum of Nawab Mahabat Khan II, across the road from the High Court. Called the Mahabat (not Mohabbat) Maqbara palace, also the mausoleum of Bahaduddinbhai Hasainbhai, this stunning monument was once said to be home to the Nawabs of Junagadh. A stellar example of Indo-European-Islamic architecture, it is also designated as a protected monument by the Archaeological Survey of India.
This declaration of protection hasn’t had any effect though, with an absconding caretaker and a creaking iron gate that swings carelessly in the slight winter breeze. If this centuries-old monument is still standing, it’s totally on its own accord. According to a marble information tablet, the nawab’s family set aside Rs 8,000 a year that’s given to the village for the upkeep and maintenance of the maqbara.
Even if you’re not an architecture enthusiast, you can instantly spot the various influences on the building: the Islamic arches, the domes or topis which are classically Indian, and, the columns and silver doorways which bring in the European influence. What is equally interesting is the Jama Masjid, which lies adjacent to the maqbara. At first glance, its layout resembles the Taj Mahal — complete with four minarets, but these are encircled with winding staircases that give a very Gothic feel that’s rarely seen in similar buildings across the country. Apparently, the construction of the maqbara started in 1878 by Mahabat Khanji II and was completed by his successor Bahadur Khanji III in 1892.
The intricate architecture of the two buildings can be said to be a testament to the complex history of the land it stands on. The Junagadh state was founded in the early 18th century, becoming a British Protectorate in 1807. The East India Company took over the state in 1818 but the Saurashtra region never came under direct British rule. It was divided into more than a hundred princely states, which is how it remained until 1947. At the time of independence, its incumbent ruler Mahabat Khanji III chose to accede to Pakistan despite having no common border with Pakistan. After pressure from the Indian government and neighbouring states, Khanji and his family are said to have fled to Pakistan, and in November of 1947, Junagadh’s court appealed to the Indian government to take over the state’s administration. After a controversial plebiscite in February 1948, Junagadh became a part of the Indian state.
Amidst all the political and communal turmoil, then and even now, both the Mahabat Maqbara and Masjid stand tall, forbidding and alluring, perplexing and mysterious, waiting to be discovered by the thousands of tourists who flock to India each year.
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