Burhanpur MP – Where Taj Mahal Was To Be Originally Built

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Burhanpur – I only knew that Mumtaz Mahal of Taj Mahal fame died in this city while giving birth to her 14th child. Beyond this, I had no idea what this city was. So, when on the MP Queens Trail I visited Burhanpur – everything was a discovery, which is always a joy. As we entered the city and drove along an old fort wall, I knew the city will surprise me for the next two days.

Allow me to take you for a virtual tour of Burhanpur in Madhya Pradesh.

Asirgarh Fort

Satpura Hills as seen from Asirgarh Fort near Burhanpur
Satpura Hills as seen from Asirgarh Fort near Burhanpur

Driving from Indore side, even before we entered Burhanpur, we stopped at Asirgarh Fort – about 25 km before Burhanpur. Perched high on top of a hill, the formidable fort makes its presence felt from a distance. Thankfully, the car goes right up to the entrance of the fort on the steep hill, although you do have the option to hike the hill.

Ashwathama

Asirgarh fort is an ancient fort with references from the Indian Epics. At a small Shiva temple inside the fort, it is believed that Ashwathama – the eternal wanderer, still visits and offers a flower to the Shivalinga every day. The temple is small with a tank that is also named after Ashwatthama. Apparently, there was a secret tunnel with one end at this temple.

Ashwathama Temple at Asirgarh Fort.
Ashwathama Temple at Asirgarh Fort. Image – Shraddha Desai

In the known history, Asa Aheer, a local chief of Yadava clan built the fort in 14th CE. In fact, Asirgarh gets its name from his name. He and his family were killed by deceit by Faruqi Nasir Khan around 1400 CE. Asirgarh is known as the ‘Door to the Deccan’.

Asirgarh is surrounded by lush green Satpura ranges. The tabletop hills rising out of the valley make a panoramic sight from almost anywhere. The interesting aspect of Asirgarh fort like Mandu is ample water bodies on the hill to sustain life comfortably. I loved the names of various tanks – Badam Kund that apparently had the fragrance of almonds, Rani ka Talab which is supposed to have mythical Parasmani, Mama & Bhanja Talabs that I assume would belong to an uncle and nephew pair, Ganga and Jamuna Talab.

What you see now is mostly ruins – a mosque on one corner, a church in another, a Phansi Khana where prisoners were hanged, some palace ruins scattered around and some abandoned water bodies.

Brief History of Burhanpur

In the Indian scriptures, Burhanpur is mentioned as Bhrignapur, taking its name from Bhrigu Rishi who not just did his Tapa here but also wrote Bhrigu Samhita here on the banks of Tapti River. I found the name Brahmapuri written at many places but I could not place a temple dedicated to Brahma here or any reference to him.

I did see some ancient Devi temples in and around Burhanpur.

The modern history of Burhanpur is linked to Faruqis and Mughals. It was Shahjahan and Aurangzeb who came here and spent some time here.

Places to Visit in Burhanpur

Kundi Bhandara

Kundi or Well No 1 at Kundi Bhandara - Burhanpur
Kundi or Well No 1 at Kundi Bhandara – Burhanpur

If you have time to see one thing in Burhanpur – go for Kundi Bhandara. This is a unique water management system, that makes natural water travel underground to the desired locations. The system taps the fresh spring water running from the Satpura Hills to the Tapti River. A series of wells at regular intervals capture the water and supply it to the city.
As you approach the Kundi no 1 – the first of series of 100+ wells, you drive along the brightly painted series of wells. Some of them are fenced now to avoid abuse.

Series of Kundi Bhandara Wells at Burhanpur
Series of Kundi Bhandara Wells at Burhanpur

At Kundi Bhandara, you can see a small electric lift. This can take you 25 meters down to the small walkway where you can see the water collection mechanism. Unfortunately, when I visited the lift was not functioning. Looks like it may not work anytime soon. A lost opportunity for MP Tourism as well as visitors. From the images that I saw it looks like a stone tunnel with water flowing at the base. As a visitor, you can walk through this water.

Come to think of it, the man behind these brilliant waterworks of Burhanpur is none other than Abdul Rahim Khanekhana or the poet Rahim we know for his Dohas.

Shahi Qila

Shahi Qila on Tapti River - Burhanpur
Shahi Qila or Royal Fort on Banks of Tapti River – Burhanpur

A part of old Burhanpur continues to live in the Shahi Qila or the Royal Fort of Burhanpur making it a living fort. We entered the area through a red colored multi-story gate called Shaniwara. Through the narrow lanes with old houses and shops all around, we reached the main gate of the fort.

Other Living Forts of India:

Sonar Qila in Jaisalmer

Orchha Fort

Chittorgarh Fort

Hamman of Mumtaz Mahal

Models of Taj Mahal as murals in Mumtaj Mahal's Hammam at Burhanpur
Models of Taj Mahal as murals in Mumtaj Mahal’s Hammam at Burhanpur

Most interesting part of this fort is its Hammam or the Royal Bath that was used by none other than Mumtaz Mahal. Apart from the systems that make it a perfect Spa, what is worth noticing is its blue and green hued painted ceiling. Our guide pointed out the image of the Taj Mahal and said this was the inspiration for the white marble mausoleum in Agra. Other panels have images of the headgear of Mumtaz and Shahjahan. The paintings desperately need conservation or they would be lost in some time.

Second interesting part of this fort is its ramparts from where you can see the ghats of Tapti River and Jainabad across the river. It is when you look down, you realize you are standing on the 4th floor of the fort and not the ground floor. You are not allowed to visit the lower floors but you can see them clearly standing next to the river.

Tapti Ghat

Temple at Raj Ghat on Tapti River at Burhanpur
Temple at Raj Ghat on Tapti River at Burhanpur

Tapti is supposed to be one of the oldest rivers in India, even older than Ganga. She is called Suryaputri or the daughter of Sun. It is believed that when Ganga was asked to come on earth, she was scared of the immense respect that Tapti commanded. She requested it to be reduced before she descended on earth and she was obliged. No wonder we no longer hear of Tapti or Tapi in the same breath as Ganga anymore.

Tapti & It's ghats at Burhanpur
Tapti & It’s ghats at Burhanpur

There are many small & colorful Shiva temples on the ghats of Tapti at Burhanpur. They are located at different levels and in a way act as a natural measure of water levels of Tapti. For example, if the water level here reached the temple in bright red, floods are expected in Surat the next day which is good 300 km away. How incredible and commonsensical were our ancient system! When and where did we lose them in favor of machines and jargons!

Read More – Maheshwar on the Banks of Narmada

Elephant Structure

Elephant Sculpture in the middle of Tapti River at Burhanpur
Elephant Sculpture in the middle of Tapti River at Burhanpur

A unique must-see thing at Tapti in Burhanpur is the giant elephant in stone that stands in the middle of the river. I am told it is accompanied by a baby elephant that is visible only when the water level is low. When I visited I could just see a bit of its back. I could not gather who built these elephants and when. I could not even think of any other sculpture that stands bang in the middle of a flowing river.

Read More – Ganga Arti at Varanasi

Tapti Arti is performed every evening at the Raj Ghat. This is the simplest river Arti I have seen ever.

Gurudwara Bari Sangat

Gurudwara Bari Sangat at Burhanpur
Historic Gurudwara Bari Sangat at Burhanpur

Burhanpur has a very important part of Sikh history. Gurudwara Bari Sangat here has a copy of Guru Granth Sahib that has been signed in gold by Guru Gobind Singh himself. You can see it in a video film that is always playing on a screen. The original copy is brought out once a year only.

Read More – The Sacred Sword by Hindol Sengupta

It is a large Gurudwara in pristine white. There is a large langar house that gives you an idea of how many devotees it attracts.

Dargah-e-Hakimi

Dargah-e-Hakimi - Burhanpur
Dargah-e-Hakimi

The Dargah-e-Hakimi is the most well-preserved of places to see in Burhanpur. The tombs in pristine white with silver carved doors are not just beautiful with manicured lawns all around but so impeccably maintained that one can easily recommend a cleanliness award for them.

It is a tradition to come to the Dargah on a horse-drawn Tonga. So, you can see a lot of colorful Tongas parked in the market outside this dargah.

Jama Masjid

Sanskrit Inscription at Burhanpur's Jama Masjid
Sanskrit Inscription at Burhanpur’s Jama Masjid

A fairly large mosque with two tall minarets in black stone is situated in the busy marketplace. What you must see besides the stone carved niches is the inscription in Sanskrit and a long wooden rosary with more than 1000 large sized beads. You will have to request the priest to show it to you.

Ahukhana at Jainabad

Jainabad is the twin city of Burhanpur located on the other bank of Tapti River. You can reach it via a bridge or on ferry boats that run regularly.

Ahukhana or Hunter's lodge at Jainabad
Ahukhana or Hunter’s lodge at Jainabad

Ahukhana used to be the hunting lodge on the other side of Tapti River, that can be seen from the ramparts of Shahi Qila in Burhanpur. It was primarily used by Mughal royal women for hunting. Ahu is Persian means deer and apparently lots of dear were left in an enclosed area for the women to have the pleasure of hunting. This fairly large pavilion has a char-bagh style garden surrounding it.

Now Ahukhana’s claim to fame is that the body of Mumtaz Mahal was buried here for 6 months before it was moved to Agra.

You have to drive through kuccha roads to reach this place, so if it is raining – avoid.

Black Taj Mahal

Black Taj Mahal - Burhanpur
Black Taj Mahal

We drove through the filthiest streets to reach Nawab Khan’s tomb that is more popularly known as the Black Taj Mahal. It is similar to but much smaller than Taj Mahal but made of local black stone. The paintings inside the tomb are also done in black color which is something I have not seen elsewhere.

Read More – Taj Mahal – the most photogenic monument in the world

You do see the glimpses of the Taj Mahal in various places in Burhanpur.

Raja Jai Singh Chhatri

Raja Jai Singh Chhatri - Burhanpur
Raja Jai Singh Chhatri – Burhanpur

A little away from Burhanpur City, near the confluence of Mohana River and Tapi River, stands a sole structure in all its loneliness. This is the Chhatri or memorial of Raja Jai Singh. It is a free-standing pavilion with 32 pillars and five domes.

Read More – Bada Bagh of Jaisalmer

Renuka Devi Mandir

Renuka Devi Temple - Burhanpur
Renuka Devi Temple – Burhanpur

Around Burhanpur there are three Devi temples forming a triangle – Asha Devi Temple near Aseergarh, Ichhapuri Devi and Renuka Devi Temple.

Renuka Devi temple is closest to Burhanpur and this is the only one I could visit. It is a small temple in saffron, with a relatively large Deepstambha.

Read More – 50 Cities in India named after Devi

Cloth Market

For a long time, Burhanpur has been a cotton cloth producing market. The cotton mills still operate and are a major source of the city’s economy. If you look around, you would see people moving around with piles of cotton fabric on cycles, rickshaws, autos and mini vehicles.

Making Ropes from Cloth Mill Waste at Burhanpur
Making Ropes from Cloth Mill Waste at Burhanpur

Of the waste that is generated by cotton mills, ropes are made. Rope making is a thriving subsidiary industry in Burhanpur. In many areas, you see the rope making industry on the roadside. They use mechanical machines to twist and turn the cotton threads in a way that it becomes a strong rope.

Another popular industry in Burhanpur is Paper Mills.

Mawa Jalebi – Must Eat in Burhanpur

Famous Mawa Jalebi of Burhanpur
Famous Mawa Jalebi of Burhanpur

No old city tour is complete without tasting its food. At Burhanpur, I discovered the Mawa Jalebi that can be seen everywhere in the old city. Thick big Jalebi is part of the staple breakfast here. Filled with Mawa or solidified milk, it is damn heavy and of course soaked in sugar syrup.

Read More – Jaipur Street Food

Making of Roomali Roti - Burhanpur
Making of Roomali Roti – Burhanpur

Burhanpur is also famous for its Rumali Roti that you can see being made on reversed tava on top of tandoors.

Overall, I did not expect Burhanpur to engage me for two days. Less written about places have a charm and a rawness that is lost in the more popular destination. Not to forget the stories that are still waiting to be told.

Burhanpur is a great getaway from Indore.

16 COMMENTS

  1. An informative article (as usual) written in a very appealing and engaging style. You mention that the stone carved niches at the Jama Masjid in Burhanpur include an inscription in Sanskrit. Actually, the inscription is bilingual–in Arabic (on top) and in Sanskrit (below Arabic; in Devnagari) and placed on the mihrab of the prayer hall. It provides the astronomical position of the site, the date and the year of construction (1646; according to the Samvat Panchanga) of the mosque. There is another inscription in Arabic on the central mihrab, which is more elaborate (see Saiyed A. Abbas, Arabic +Sanskrit inscriptions in 16th C Jama Masjid of Burhanpur, India
    https://www.academia.edu/12318675/Arabic_Sanskrit_inscriptions_in_16th_C_Jama_Masjid_of_Burhanpur_India

  2. Thanks for the detailed information of areas to visit in Burhanpur. I really would like to visit Tapti Ghat and Kundi Bhandara – they look so interesting and full of history.

  3. This was such an interesting post!! I’ve been to Agra, and of course was captivated by the love story of Shah and Mumtaz Jahan that was captured in all its glory of the Taj Mahal. I had no idea that Burhanpour was intended to be the initial resting place or that she died there.. I would love to visit this city when I go back to India. The elephant monuments in the water really piqued my curiosity! And those Jalebi wet my appetite for Indian desserts!! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Nice and well written article, didi 😊 Tell me more about Ahukhana of Burhanpur. Did you find any empty grave by which one can believe that it was a resting place of Mumtaj Mahal?

  5. Thanks for the info, Anuradha.. I enjoy reading inditales and look forward to them..
    Hope I make it to Burhanpur in near future.. Offbeat places fascinate me.. If you organize visits/ tours, do let me know.. Best of Luck 🙂🙂

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