Legend has it that the Mughal emperor Akbar, fond of boating, was once sailing on the Gomati river when he came upon a poor woman wailing. She wanted to cross over to the Mughal sarkar of Jaunpur but did not have a boat. Akbar not only ferried her across, he reprimanded his nobles for spending enormous wealth on building mosques but not on public works. Munim Khan, the Mughal governor of Jaunpur, was instructed to construct a bridge across the Gomati. Completed in 1564, the Shahi Bridge, still in use, is testimony to the last time Jaunpur was looked after by a ruler.

Since then, Jaunpur’s story has been one of utter neglect and rapid decay.

The Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh presented its first budget, for 2017-18, last week and drew flak for not including the Taj Mahal in its heritage preservation and maintenance schemes. That the policy was guided by the ruling party’s Hindutva ideology was clear as only Hindu holy sites such as Mathura, Chitrakoot, Varanasi and Ayodhya were included in the list for tourism development and monument conservation.

While accusing the Adityanath government of pursuing a “pro-Hindu” history agenda might not be far off the mark, the fact is that Taj Mahal gets more than its fair share of funds from Unesco and the Union Ministry of Culture and Tourism. The reply to a question asked in the Lok Sabha last July revealed that from 2013 to 2016, the monument earned over Rs 75 crore through ticketing and other paid services, and Rs 11 crore was spent on its maintenance in the same period.

Like all things Mughal in the Indian subcontinent, Taj Mahal’s pomp has created an unnecessary controversy over not being allocated funds it clearly does not need. This leaves historical places and monuments that badly need funds neglected. Jaunpur is one such place.

The Shahi Bridge, built by the Mughals in 1564, is still in use. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

City of inspiration

The inspiration for many Mughal monuments, Jaunpur was hailed as Shiraz-e-Hind – Shiraz in Iran was famous for its natural beauty and historical grandeur – by Shah Jahan, the builder of the very monument in whose shadow the city now lies forgotten. Dying under the weight of this cruel irony are Jaunpur’s unique historical edifices.

Founded by the Delhi sultan Firuz Shah Tughlaq in 1359 AD, Jaunpur was named after his predecessor Malik Jauna, popularly known as Muhammad bin Tughlaq. He erected a fort, featuring a hamam and a mosque, among other buildings.

In 1394, the Tughlaq governor of Jaunpur Malik Sarwar, bestowed with the title of Malik-us-Sharq, or Lord of the East, declared his independence and founded the Sharqi dynasty.

The Pathan builders of the Sharqi dynasty were the first, according to the architectural historian James Fergusson, to successfully blend the Indic and Islamic styles of architecture, an amalgamation that the Mughals emulated later. The epitome of this admixture is the Atala Masjid, built primarily from reused material. A lofty central pishtaq (propylon) hiding the squinch dome became the defining feature of Sharqi architecture. Separate zenana enclosures have latticed screens while a black marble mihrab is adorned with ornately carved architraves. This style is replicated, with minor variations, in other monuments of Jaunpur such as the Jama Masjid, Lal Darwaza, Jhanjhari Masjid and Khalis Mukhlis Masjid. Including the tombs and palaces of the Sharqi kings, there are over a dozen monuments in Jaunpur.

State of neglect

Today, the monuments lie heavily encroached upon. According to the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (Amendment and Validation) Act, 2010, an area of 100 metres from all sides of a monument is prohibited for construction while an additional area of 200 metres is regulated. Therefore, construction work of any sort needs to steer clear of monuments by at least 300 metres. Any violation of the rule can invite up to two years in jail, or a fine of Rs one lakh. This rule is openly flouted in Jaunpur and the state administration has so far done nothing to enforce it. A dense population resides next to Lal Darwaza and even the Shahi fort. Often, the nearby population steals stones from the decrepit monuments to use for construction.

Atala Masjid was built primarily from reused material. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Furthermore, despite boasting an array of gorgeous edifices, Jaunpur’s only ticketed monument is the Shahi fort. Several other monuments in the city surpass the fort in terms of beauty and uniqueness and could generate a lot of revenue, which can be used for their upkeep. An arrangement as easy and obvious as this has not been put in place by the state. No ticketing often means no gated complex around the monument and no guards, thereby leaving the monuments defenceless against encroachment and decay.

Worsening the state of tourism and heritage in Jaunpur is the lack of basic infrastructure. Roads are riddled with potholes, and there is acute shortage of water and electricity. Absence of such fundamental amenities has set in motion a vicious cycle of “no tourism, no revenue, no infrastructure”, further pushing Jaunpur’s monuments into oblivion.

Jaunpur’s heritage has been steadily decaying for quite some time now. But the only time it caught the eye of the state was in 2016, when the Akhilesh Yadav government made it a part of the Heritage Arc plan that also included Lucknow, Agra and Varanasi. Under the plan, Jaunpur was to receive a special package for tourism promotion and a team of officials was sent to prepare a detailed report on conservation of its monuments. Before the plan could come to fruition, however, Akhilesh Yadav lost power to Adityanath. Jaunpur remains a quagmire of neglect and decay.

One would imagine that Jaunpur, with its abundance of ornate monuments, would be an obvious choice for heritage preservation and tourism development anywhere in the world. But not in Adityanath’s Uttar Pradesh. Since Jaunpur is dotted with mosques and tombs of a “Muslim” dynasty, its remains are clearly not “Hindu” enough to garner state funding from the Adityanath government.

Jaunpur is a goldmine of historical edifices that could, with a little help from the state, yield unprecedented revenue. The revenue would not only help preserve the monuments, but also create new tourism-related jobs and aid in Jaunpur’s infrastructural development. Tourism development in Jaunpur is a self-sustaining model and a win-win for both the residents and the state administration.

But if the Adityanath regime continues to starve Jaunpur of conservation funds, it will soon become India’s greatest heritage loss since the whisking away of the Amaravati Stupa in the 20th century.

Ruchika Sharma is pursuing a doctorate in history at Jawaharlal Nehru University.