Asif Khan’s whithering tomb


Asif Khan’s tomb is situated among a group of monuments situated in what was once the Mughal Dilkusha Bagh (Heart-expanding Garden) in Shahdara.
The group includes a cluster of interlinked monuments of a serai forming the forecourt which leads on the east to the spectacular tomb of Emperor Jahangir, built by his celebrated wife Empress Noor Jahan, and on the west to a mosque and the tomb of Asaf Khan or Asaf Jah, one of the most powerful grandees at the courts of Jahangir and Shah Jahan. Close by is situated the tomb built to house the mortal remains of Empress Noor Jahan and her daughter Princess Ladli Begam.
A left turning from the Maqbara Road leads to the cluster marked by a double-storey imposing Mughal gateway. From here the route is by foot since the direct access since the entrances on three sides of his Chahar Bagh Rauza (paradisal garden mausoleum) were blocked in recent times. The route is to turn left towards the mosque in Chowk-i-Jilau Kham (Jahangiri Serai quadrangle).
A small door in the cloister immediately adjoining the mosque on the left (south) leads into the Asaf Jah Chahar Bagh, enclosed by a wall. As one emerges from the low-roofed cloister, they are struck by the high bulbous dome of the octagonal monument. The gateway is exactly like the gateway of the Akbari Serai, 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 goes right up 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 walled garden around the mausoleum is a square with 800-foot sides. 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 is the chaste 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. The interior was adorned with pietra-dura work. Eight doors had glittering bronze gates with finely wrought metallic motifs. From the dome hung expensive chandeliers. All these were removed by the Sikhs and sent to Amritsar to decorate the Darbar Sahib. The cenotaph of Asaf Khan 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 Ranjit Singh in a search for treasure. The floor around the grave today is brick-paved. Inside, there are remains of stucco decoration. A gallery runs along all eight sides. The arched openings at the gallery level have a double frame made of rope molding in white stucco featuring cloud-like knots on stems. The floral arabesque is an exquisite example of the geometrical arrangement of natural forms.
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 and 3-4 feet thick. 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 8 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, the tomb was built by the emperor himself at a cost of Rs 3 lakhs.
When Asaf Khan died in November 1641, he is reputed to have left behind “a colossal fortune,” his house in Lahore alone having cost Rs 20 lakhs at the time of its construction. Employed by the Iranian court in Tehran, Asaf Khan 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 Jahangir married his sister, Noor Jehan. 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 Jahangir, Asaf Khan rose to unprecedented heights, achieving the status of commander of 9,000 personnel and 9,000 horses, a mansab once reserved only for royal princes. Shah Jahan granted him the title of Yamin-ud-dawla and appointed him sipah-salar or commander-in-chief. Asaf Khan was not only instrumental in securing the Mughal throne for Shah Jahan in the struggle for succession, but the latter relied implicitly on the taste and judgment of his father-in-law whenever
erecting his monumental architectural tour de force for which his reign became so famous.