Badaun: City of Sultans
Badaun in Uttar Pradesh is just another small but busy town choking on traffic. In fact, chances are you’ve never even heard of it. Yet there was a time when this mofussil town was second in importance only to Delhi and a centre of Islamic culture and learning.
Located on the banks of the Sot river, a tributary of the Ganga, Badaun is around 283 km south-east of Delhi, in Badaun district of Uttar Pradesh. The region was said to have been ruled by the Panchala Mahajanapada, one of the 16 great republics of ancient India, and which covers present-day Badaun, Farrukhabad, Aligarh and Bareilly districts.
Very little is known about Badaun prior to the 11th century. There are claims that there was a settlement called ‘Buddhgaon’ (village of Buddhists), which later became ‘Badaun’. Other accounts claim that the region was ruled by kings of the Ahir community, one of whom was ‘Raja Budh’. Also, there are several claims and counter-claims that Badaun was ruled by Raja Mahipal as well as several others, making the history of this period difficult to decipher.
What we do know for sure dates to the 12th century CE. In 1192, Sultan Muhammad Ghori defeated Prithviraj Chauhan, the ruler of Delhi, and established the Delhi Sultanate in the subcontinent. Badaun and surrounding regions, which comprised mostly of thick forests and grasslands of the Ganga-Yamuna doab, were captured by Ghori’s general, Qutb-ud-din Aibak, in 1196. Badaun’s importance thus begins with the founding of the first dynasty of the Delhi Sultanate, in the 12th century.
The town became the headquarters of the Katehr province (today’s Rohilkhand) under the Delhi Sultans. Aibak established a school that he named after his former master, Muiz ad Din Muhammad Ghori, as ‘Muizzi Madarsa’. Over time, Badaun became an important centre of Islamic learning in North India, with a number of mosques, madrasas and khanqas attracting scholars, poets and mystics from across India. Few know that the famous Sufi saint, Sheikh Nizamuddin, was born in Badaun and lived here for many years.
During the Sultanante period, Badaun was also a launch pad for many adventurers who went on to play a role in the history of the subcontinent. Sultan Shams ud-Din Iltutmish, more famous as the father of Razia Sultan, was awarded iqta (governorship) of Badaun by Aibak and he continued to hold the position till the death of his master in 1210. Sultan Iltutmish built many monuments here, of which only an idgah survives. Having been ‘renovated’, it looks like a modern building today. It was during this time that the grand Shamsi mosque was built.
Badaun’s history doesn’t end with the demise of the first sultanate. Sultan Alauddin Khilji served as the Governor of Badaun in 1289 CE before he ascended the throne of Delhi. It was also here that the notorious Bakhtiyar Khilji, who went on to destroy Nalanda and Vikramshila, began his career.
Over time, Badaun lost its importance and we hear little of it with the advent of the Mughals, except for Emepror Akbar’s court chronicler, Mullah Abdul Qadir Badauni, who belonged to this town. In 1657, the headquarters of the province was shifted to Bareilly. With the fall of the Mughal Empire in the 18th century, Badaun was brought under the control of the Rohillas, then Awadh and finally the British in 1801.
During the Revolt of 1857, the town was in the throes of turmoil and it slipped out of British control for almost a year. It was re-occupied by the British in 1858. Visit this mofussil town and you can relive its glorious past marked by mosques, temples, shrines, tombs, churches, reservoirs and other ruined heritage structures. Let’s explore the top ten monuments of Badaun that have stood the test of time.
Just 3 km from the main town, on Dataganj Road, is a large water body believed to be more than 1,200 years old. Some accounts attribute its construction to the legendary Raja Mahipal in the 7th century. An Urdu historical account on Badaun titled Hast-o-Bood refers to the reservoir, stating, “The famous Surajkund of Badaun is one of the remnants from the days of Raja Mahipal. It was built by him on the suggestion of his father. On the side of this water body, he constructed beautiful monuments. Now no traces of its past have been left and the water body usually gets filled with rain water.” In 2017, the Government of Uttar Pradesh erected a tablet near the reservoir. It says that this was the site where Emperor Ashoka built many Buddhist monasteries and, later, where Raja Mahipal built the ‘Suryakund’.
From the dargah of Sayyad Ahmad Bukhari, you can see an encroached water body, popularly known as ‘Sagar Tal’. It is located close to Nevadah, 2.8 km from the centre of Badaun town. According to Hast-o-Bood, during the 7th century, Raja Mahipal renovated the old fort of Badaun and built many structures inside its compound. These include a large water body with beautiful gardens on its banks.
Shamsi Jama Masjid
Located in the very heart of the old city, past the crooked alleys of the Maulvi Tola locality, is a grand mosque. Three beautiful gateways – the main eastern gateway, one at the northern end and another at the southern end – lead to a large courtyard with an ablution pool (huaz) in the centre. The area where prayers are said is divided into three parts – a central chamber supported by a huge dome and roofed by vaulted chambers.
Among the oldest mosques in North India, it was built by the third Sultan of the Slave dynasty, Iltutmish, in 1223. It seems that construction of the mosque was completed when Iltutmish became Sultan and his son was the governor of Badaun, who supervised its construction. The shrine also bears an imprint of Muhammad bin Tughlaq’s reign, when the northern gateway was added.
In 1637, Badaun was ravaged by a massive fire, which damaged the main dome of the mosque. It was repaired by Sheikh Qutubuddin Koka, the foster brother of Emperor Jahangir and later, Governor of Katehr. It was further renovated after 1857.
Shrine Complex of Sayyad Ahmad Bukhari
Badaun was home to many Sufi saints across the centuries and has earned the moniker ‘City of Saints’, a term used in many Oriental historical texts for this town. One of the most legendary among them is Nizamuddin Awliya, or Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya of Delhi, the famous Chishti Sufi who was born here. The compound includes a mosque and a tomb complex that houses the graves of his father (Sayyad Ahmad) and grandfather. Hazrat Nizamuddin’s grandfather Sayyad Ali, had migrated from Central Asia due to the unrest created by the Mongols there. Nizamuddin’s father Sayyad Ahmad served as the Qazi (chief jurist) of Badaun. The present structure was built in the mid-18th century by Rohilla Chief Hafiz Rahmat Khan.
Alauddin Alam Shah Tomb Complex
The last monarch of the Sayyid dynasty, Alauddin Alam Shah, succeeded his father to the throne of Delhi in 1445. But he was feeble and unable to control the affairs of his kingdom. He abdicated the throne and retired to Badaun in 1448, leaving the seat of power vulnerable.
Three years later, Bahlol Lodi seized control of Delhi. For the next 27 years till his death, Badaun became a principality of the abdicated king. According to the Archaeological Survey of India’s list of North West Provinces (1891), many of the tombs in Badaun, dating from the 15th century, belong to the family of the abdicated king.
One among them, in the western part of the city, is a tomb complex where the graves of Makhaduman-i-Jahan (mother of the deposed Sultan), Sultan Alam Shah himself and his wife are present. It is a square tomb built from lakhori bricks and covered with a dome. Both entrances bear an inscription with Hijri dates that correspond to 1472 CE and 1477 CE. The monument features in the protected list of the Archaeological Survey of India.
Tomb of Parwar Khanum
This splendid 17th century tomb is located in a family graveyard in Sheikhupura, a historic suburb of Badaun. It is the final resting place of Parwar Khanum and was built by her husband, Nawab Farid (son of Sheikh Qutubuddin Koka, foster brother of Emperor Jahangir and Governor of Badaun). The ruined tomb is concealed by fields and the road to the monument is filled with garbage and weeds.
Parwar Khanum was the sister of Mumtaz Mahal, whose more famous mausoleum, the Taj Mahal, is visited by hundreds of thousands of tourists every year. Sadly, her sister’s grave awaits a devastating fate, many of its sections having already crumbled to the ground.
Tomb of Ikhlas Khan
Another magnificent monument of the late 17th century is the tomb of Ikhlas Khan, a Mughal noble and nephew of Sheikh Farid. Built on a raised plinth, the lakhori brick monument was constructed by his wife in 1690. The central chamber that houses graves is covered by a bulbous dome. All four sides are bounded by an arched verandah with kiosks and cupolas at the corners.
Twin Temples of Patiali Sarai
The Patiali Sarai locality is home to a beautiful temple complex, which now appears as two separate sections. With lofty, arched gateways designed in Indo-Saracenic style and towering cone-shape shikharas, it was built by a Kayastha zamindar known as Naubat Rai in the late 18th century. He was given the title of ‘Nawab’ by the Rohilla rulers.
Not much is known about Naubat Rai, whose name fails to appear in the colonial gazettes. City chronicler and author, Tasleem Ghauri, says his name is mentioned only in oral history. A slab of marble has been placed on the floor and, according to local lore, people who are afflicted by allergies are cured after they touch the stone.
The Civil Lines locality houses a Central Methodist Church, whose plaque bears the date, 1857. Construction of the church was started by Dr William Butler, an American who chose Rohilkhand and Awadh for his work.
Butler was in Bareilly when the Revolt of 1857 broke out and he took refuge in Nainital during those turbulent times. There, he built the Nainital Methodist Church in 1858, arguably the first Methodist church in Asia. After the mutiny, Butler moved to Bareilly and Badaun districts to build more churches.
Some accounts claim that while Butler was fleeing to Nainital, he passed by Badaun and laid the foundation of the Central Methodist Church in the town, with the help of a local Methodist Christian named Chimman Lal. The church was completed when the district was re-occupied by colonial forces after the mutiny was quelled.
The Civil Lines area has another church, a Catholic Church, located on Police Lines Road. The church is small and features colonial architectural elements. With glass-fitted windows, high ceilings, sloping tiled roof and pointed arches, this church is one of the few post-Mutiny colonial monuments in Badaun. According to the District Gazette of Badaun (1907), it was built in 1872.