OLD MONUMENTS

Photos: In Gujarat, Junagadh's stunningly beautiful monuments are crumbling with neglect

Tip: go and visit it before it’s gone.

The Junagadh Sultanate, which existed from 1807 to 1948, plays a walk-on part in the Indian history taught at schools. It is one of three princely states – the others being Kashmir and Hyderabad – that resisted integration with the newly independent dominion of India.

Junagadh wanted to accede to Pakistan, even though it did not share a border with it. In the end, however, the Indian Army took over the small kingdom and held a referendum in 1948, in which Junagadhis overwhelmingly to join India.

Courtesy its years as a princely state, however, Junagadh, now a district in Gujarat with an eponymous city which functions as its headquarters, has a fascinating history. Its last nawab, Muhammad Mahabat Khanji III Rasul Khanji, was a near-fanatical animal lover, who owned hundreds of dogs and spent large sums on getting them married. He was also instrumental in preserving the Asiatic lion in Gir and it is thanks to him that the subspecies has not gone extinct.

His diwan, or prime minister, Shah Nawaz Bhutto went on to become the Motilal Nehru of Pakistan – his son, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, as well as granddaughter, Benazir Bhutto, would go on to rule the country, just as Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi did back in India.

The sultanate also left behind some stunning architecture which fuses Indo-Islamic and Gothic styles in Junagadh. These monuments now lie forgotten and are crumbling, having fallen victim to India’s fantastic ability to let its own history go to seed.

Mahabat Maqbara.
Mahabat Maqbara.

Pictured above is the imposing tomb of Nawab Mahabat Khanji II, the sixth Nawab of Junagadh. Completed in 1892, the Mahabat Maqbara has a stunning cluster of onion domes supported by columns build in the Gothic revival style, which would have been high European fashion at the time.

Tomb of Bahar-ud-din Bhar.
Tomb of Bahar-ud-din Bhar.

The complex also hosts the tomb of Bahar-ud-din Bhar, a powerful wazir or prime minister of the sultanate, is a finely carved façade, similar to the Mahabat Khan tomb. It is surrounded by four stunning minars with staircases wrapped around them.

Nearly forgotten

Sadly, both monuments are in disrepair. A signboard, which too is chipped and faded, bravely announces that this is a “protected place” under the Gujarat government. Unfortunately, other than the signage, there is little proof of that protection.

The compound is neither enclosed nor ticketed. The fact that it is located right at the centre of town makes things worse – people use the monument as a park and, at night, as a drinking spot. Windows of the tombs have been smashed and pigeons have made themselves at home there, carpeting the insides of the 120-year old monuments with their droppings.

Baharudin's tomb.
Baharudin's tomb.

Even more dangerously, chunks of the balustrade, a part of the railing, of the minars that flank Baharudin's tomb are falling off – in some cases, a wire is the only thing holding them in place.

This is alarming for more reasons than one. Apart from dealing a blow to the history and aesthetics of the monuments, the loose bits of the balustrade are just one calamity away from falling on the head of an unlucky passerby, with possibly fatal consequences.

 Jama Masjid.
Jama Masjid.

The Jama Masjid, taken care of by the locals, is ironically the best-kept monument in the district. The price to pay for this preservation, though, is steep: the structure has been painted a ghastly green and yellow.

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