Khuldabad: When All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) leader Akbaruddin Owaisi visited the tomb of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb at Maharashtra’s Aurangabad district in May, Shaikh Nisar Ahmed never imagined that it would turn into such a raging controversy.
The Ahmeds have taken care of the tomb for six generations, and this was the first time ever that the monument in Khuldabad, about 28 km from Aurangabad city, had to be closed for five days, for fear of communal tensions after Owaisi’s visit, Ahmed told ThePrint.
“There was some tension for the first time in my life. Otherwise, there has never been a problem. The Hindus and the Muslims live peacefully, following the Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb,” the 63-year-old tomb caretaker said, referring to the syncretic culture of India. “People of all religions and castes come here. Many politicians have also visited (the tomb).”
On 13 May, Owaisi reached the tomb and offered flowers at the site amid the ongoing controversy surrounding the Mughal emperor and the temples he is said to have demolished to build mosques. His visit drew sharp criticism from political parties that dominate Maharashtra’s politics.
Shiv Sena Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut said Owaisi’s politics was to “merely vitiate Maharashtra’s atmosphere”. BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis sought sedition charges against the AIMIM leader and slammed the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government for not acting against him. The Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) demanded that the structure be demolished.
Sachin Sawant, a spokesperson for MVA constituent Congress, shot back, highlighting that AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi had visited the tomb in 2019 when Fadnavis was the Maharashtra CM. He also sought to remind the BJP of a Muslim leader from its ranks who, too, had done the same.
Aurangzeb, who had ordered the execution of Maratha icon Chhatrapati Shivaji’s son Sambhaji in 1689, is a deeply polarising figure in Maharashtra. After the controversy over Owaisi’s visit, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) closed the tomb for five days following a request from a mosque committee in Khuldabad.
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Ahmed said his ancestors were Aurangzeb’s ‘khaadim (servants)’.
“After his (Aurangzeb) death, his son said that our family had served his father well and asked us to remain with him in his resting place. After my father’s death in 1977, I took over as caretaker.”
Ahmed’s family organises the ‘urs (death anniversary)’ and other ceremonies with the monetary offerings that visitors leave at the tomb. The family has been into the gems and perfume business for the past four decades. Ahmed runs a small shop right outside the tomb.
Many kings and Sufi saints have been laid to rest in Khuldabad. Aurangzeb’s tomb is on the same premises as the tomb of Khwaja Syed Zainuddin Shirazi, who the emperor used to consider his ‘guru (teacher)’.
According to the caretaker, Aurangzeb wanted his tomb to be made of ‘mitti (mud)’ with a plant of sweet basil next to it and be open to the sky. “His wish was to have a tomb built for 14 rupaya 12 anna. He did not want any ‘zari (a decorative gold thread on cloth)’ or ‘mulmul (muslin)’,” Ahmed said.
A visually impaired tour guide rattles off this information in a single breath to the tomb’s visitors for which he does not claim any fee.
A site of history
The tomb used to get around 2,000 to 3,000 domestic and international visitors in the pre-pandemic years, but the numbers have dipped since then with fewer foreign tourists, Ahmed said.
“People don’t just come to visit Aurangzeb’s tomb or to understand his history. On the other side of this tomb lies the tomb of (Deccan’s formidable African-origin military general) Malik Ambar,” Ahmed said. “People come because Khuldabad is a fortress of Sufi saints. ‘Khuld’ means heaven, so when people come here, they also visit Aurangzeb’s tomb. There’s also a Bhadra Maruti Mandir, which everyone visits after touring the tomb.”
(Edited by Tony Rai)
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