Beyond Time: A Journey Through Monuments And Legends Of Love

From the shiplike Jahaz Mahal to the lovelorn Roopmati Pavilion, recount the legendary tales of love across India etched in architecture this Valentine’s Day
A testimony of love, the Palace of Jodha Bai
A testimony of love, the Palace of Jodha BaiShutterstock

It is Valentine’s Day, and I find myself thinking: How old is this phrase: “I love you.” How timeless yet banal. Why do lovers repeatedly affirm those three potent words, “I love you,” throughout their relationship? Does it serve to fortify their bond? Is there a sense of vulnerability that such repetition seeks to reassure? Can the act of repetition amplify the depth of emotion? To seek help, I turn to Barthes, who believes “I-love-you” is barely a sentence—the utterance suspends the speaker in a “specular” relation with respect to the other. So, when I say to someone: “I love you,” and I say it a million more times, to what effect is it? Maybe, in the end, my love will prove true and triumphant.

A view of the Taj Mahal
A view of the Taj MahalShutterstock

Perhaps Shahjahan felt a similar inkling of the future and wanted the future generations to come to see the Taj, be mesmerised and say, love exists; it's here, in the white marble, etched in the decorative inlay of this megastructure. And though Shahjahan might be famed, history is grand, and the pawns of love are aplenty. Countless tales of passion, celebrated and obscured by time, weave through the annals of human existence.

On this Valentine's Day, let us detour into love and saunter through similar monuments where the stones speak.

Roopmati’s Pavilion, Mandu, Madhya Pradesh

A view of Roopmati’s Pavilion
A view of Roopmati’s PavilionShutterstock

According to the legends of Mandu, Baz Bahadur, a music aficionado, was out on a hunting expedition. On his way, Bahadur was struck in his strides by a voice humming a tune. The sultan was carried along the voice and chanced upon a shepherdess, Rani Roopmati, singing in her group of friends. Instantly, Bahadur fell head over heels and beseeched Roopmati to marry him. Though Roopmati agreed at last, it was under one condition: that she would live in a palace that overlooked the holy Narmada River.

Roopmati with Baz Bahadur, Sultan of Malwa
Roopmati with Baz Bahadur, Sultan of MalwaWikimedia Commons

Thus, the encounter led to the construction of both a magnificent palace in Afghani architectural style and the Reva Kund of Mandu. While originally the structure was but an observation post for the royal army, the pavilions were added as a symbol and gift of love, and the structure turned into the beautiful abode of Rani Roopmati. The pavilion stood south of Baz Bahadur's palace, overlooking the Nimar Valley. It was Nasir-ud-Din Shah Khilji, Sultan of Malwa, who designed this structure, later renovated under Baz Bahadur. Featuring Mughal and Rajput styles, the palace boasts expansive courtyards, high terraces, halls with arched gates and a central cistern. Chhatris graced the terrace, while a room with exceptional acoustics served as the music hall.

A chhatri of Roopmati's Pavilion
A chhatri of Roopmati's PavilionShutterstock

Nevertheless, the bloom of love for Bahadur and Roopmati was soon to shrink as Emperor Akbar, keen on expanding his empire, sent out Adham Khan to besiege Mandu. Afterwards, Bahadur fled to Chittorgarh, while Roopmati faced the choice of either suicide or capture by the enemy. Sadly, the queen chose to poison herself and tragically passed away.

Famous in Mandu folktales, the tragic love story of Roopmati and Bahadur is also canonised for the Indian people in the form of a 1957 Bollywood movie, "Rani Roopmati," in which the famous song "Aa laut ke aaja mere meet," brings the agony of separated lovers to life.

Address: 8C66+529, Mandav, Madhya Pradesh 454010

Timings: 7 am to 7 pm

Jamali Kamali Mosque, Delhi

The Jamali Kamali mosque
The Jamali Kamali mosqueShutterstock

"I have become you, and you have become me.

I am the body, you are the soul.

So that no one can say, hereafter,

That you are someone else and I am someone else"

These lines, credited to Amir Khusro, known as Tuti-e-Hind (Parrot Voice), are speculated to be dedicated to his Sufi master, Nizamuddin Auliya. Khusro's connection with Auliya is portrayed in his poetry, dohas, stories, and qawwalis, circulating across the subcontinent, inspiring love, faith, and spirituality. However, a similar lesser known duo is found in the obscure, lonely mosque, the Jamali Kamali in Mehrauli Archaeological Park.

Sheikh Fazlu'llah, also known as Sheikh Jamali Kamboh, or simply Jamali, was a renowned Sufi saint who had travelled extensively across Asia and the Middle East and lived during the late Lodhi and early Mughal eras. While much is known about Jamali from the Jamali-Kamali Mosque, the latter, Kamali, fails recognition due to an obscene lack of evidence. Nevertheless, the oral tales and traditions that have come down to us all signify but to one thing, that Kamali was Jamali's ardent devotee and lover.

Inside the Jamali Kamali mosque
Inside the Jamali Kamali mosqueShutterstock

Though the homosexual aspect of the historic site remains repressed, it is no denying that the complex that also houses the tomb of Jamali and Kamali next to each other has turned into a hub for the LGBTQ community to gather and commemorate the legacy of love and companionship that transcends societal norms and prejudices.

The fresco inside the tomb
The fresco inside the tombDelhi Tourism/facebook

The premise of Jamali-Kamali is home to a majestic mosque akin to Qila-i-Kuhna Mosque in Purana Qila. Built in 1528-29, it features a red sandstone exterior with marble adornments, a spacious courtyard, and a prayer hall with five arches. Adjacent to the mosque, there is the tomb of Jamali-Kamali, a lavishly decorated edifice with a flat roof. The tomb chamber holds two marble graves, one belonging to Jamali, the saint poet, and the other to Kamali. Inside, the roof of the tomb exhibits one of the most exquisite and intact frescoes of India in the Persianate tradition, a canvas of bright red and blue.

Address: G5CQ+33M, Anuvrat Marg Opposite Qutub Minar Metro Station, Mehrauli, New Delhi, Delhi 110030

Timings: 5 am to 6:30 pm

Jahaz Mahal, Mandu, Madhya Pradesh

Jahaz Mahal, Mandu
Jahaz Mahal, ManduShutterstock

In the book, "Mandu: Travel Guide by Eicher Goodearth Limited," the Jahaz Mahal is introduced as "the building which best captures the mediaeval romance of Mandu." The whole structure, resembling a ship (Jahaz) adrift in water, was built by Sultan Ghiyasuddin Khalji for his large harem in the 15th century. In the harem, about 15,000 women lived who indulged in art and craft, hunting, and court politics.

Letitia Elizabeth Landon (L. E. L.) in Fisher's Drawing Room Scrap Book, 1832/The Water Palace, Mandoo
Letitia Elizabeth Landon (L. E. L.) in Fisher's Drawing Room Scrap Book, 1832/The Water Palace, MandooWikisource

The palace is a striking architectural masterpiece nestled between two artificial lakes, Munj Talao and Kapur Talao. The structure is immortalised in Fisher's Drawing Room Scrap Book, 1832, with a poetical illustration by Letitia Elizabeth Landon. Beyond its architecture, Jahaz Mahal serves as a focal point for the vibrant Mandu festival, offering adventure activities, music performances, and balloon festivals during the winter season. A highlight of the festivities is the sound and light show at Jahaz Mahal, captivating every visitor's attention.

A street view of Jahaz Mahal
A street view of Jahaz MahalShutterstock

According to the Mandu travel guide, the "Tuzuk-i-Jehangiri" recounts Emperor Jehangir's visit to Mandu, during which his wife, Noor Jehan, resided in Jahaz Mahal. The "Tuzuk-i-Jehangiri" describes the splendid scene: "It was a magnificent gathering. As evening fell, lanterns and lamps adorned the tanks and buildings... a spectacle unparalleled elsewhere. The lamps reflected on the water, creating the illusion of a fiery plain across the tank. A lavish celebration ensued, with guests indulging in revelry to their heart's content."

Address: Jahaz Mahal, Jahaz Mahal Internal Rd, Sulibardi, Madhya Pradesh 454010

Timings: 7 am to 6 pm

Tomb of Abdul Rahim Khan-i-Khana, Delhi

Tomb of Abdul Rahim Khan-i-Khana before restoration
Tomb of Abdul Rahim Khan-i-Khana before restorationShutterstock

Amidst the bustling crowds that traverse the Nizamuddin area daily, the tomb of the illustrious poet Rahim, or Rahimdas, one of Akbar's Navratnas lies in serene obscurity. Despite Rahim's verses adorning the textbooks of generations past, his final resting place remains largely unnoticed amidst Delhi's myriad monuments.

A pminiature portrait of Rahimdas
A pminiature portrait of RahimdasWikimedia Commons

The structure, housing the mortal remains of Abdul Rahim Khan-i-Khanan, languishes in neglect and decay. Yet, beneath the veil of neglect, there lies a tale of love and devotion. Commissioned in 1598 by Abdul Rahim Khan-i-Khanan himself for his beloved wife, Mah Banu, the Rahim Khane Khanam Tomb stands as a testament to their eternal bond. In 1627, Rahim's mortal remains were interred alongside his beloved, eternally bound in death as they were in life.

Half restored tomb of Abdul Rahim
Half restored tomb of Abdul RahimShutterstock

This monument, hailed as the first Mughal edifice erected in honour of a woman, is believed to have influenced the architectural splendour of the iconic Taj Mahal. Its walls are crafted from red sandstone and marble. In a succession of poor decisions, the marbles and sandstone of Rahim's tomb were employed in the construction of Safdarjung Tomb nearby as a result of which the tomb went into disrepair from dilapidation. As the Archaeological Survey of India endeavours to preserve this gem of Mughal architecture, one cannot help but marvel at the untold stories that lie entwined within its walls, waiting to be unveiled and cherished anew.

Address: Nizamuddin, Jaipur Estate, Nizamuddin East, New Delhi, Delhi 110013

Timings: 10 am to 5 pm

The Palace of Jodha Bai, Fatehpur, Uttar Pradesh

The facade of the Palace of Jodha Bai
The facade of the Palace of Jodha BaiShutterstock

Inside Fatehpur Sikri lies the splendid Palace of Jodha Bai, a testament to the intriguing interplay of romance and religion that defined the Mughal era. Contrary to the cinematic portrayal in the film "Jodha Akbar," which spun tales of a legendary union, historical records debunk the existence of an Akbarian consort named Jodha. Instead, Akbar wedded a Hindu princess hailing from Amer, revered as Maryam-uz-Zamani, whose regal presence graced the palaces of Agra, Lahore and Fatehpur. It was Maryam who ushered Akbar into the realm of Hindu customs and traditions.

The Palace of Jodha Bai
The Palace of Jodha BaiShutterstock

The moniker "Jodha Bai," as illuminated by historian Samuel Dalrymple in his social discourse, may have sprung from the annals of time, tracing its roots to the matrimonial alliance forged between Akbar's progeny, Jahangir, and a maiden of Jodhpur. Embodied within the Palace of Jodha Bai are echoes of Hindu iconography, yet its architectural ethos veers more toward the distinguished "Gujarati style" than a strictly "Hindu" aesthetic.

Address: 3MW7+PW5, Dadupura, Fatehpur Sikri, Uttar Pradesh 283110

Timings: 7:30 am to 6 pm

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