The Nawabs of Junagadh

In a previous article, I wrote about the victory of Mahmud Begada over Raja Mandlik III in AD 1473. This victory brought Junagadh under the rule of Ahmadshahi Sultanate. It was then the turn of Muslim rulers to contribute and enrich Junagadh’s cultural heritage. Subsequently, in late sixteenth century Junagadh became part of the powerful Mughal Empire. By mid-eighteenth century the Mughal Empire weakened and Sher Khan Babi, who owed allegiance to the Sultan of Ahmedabad, expelled Mughal governor, declared independence of Junagadh and founded the Babi dynasty. Junagadh was then ruled by nawabs of Babi dynasty till India’s independence.

Babi dynasty – Did the name catch your attention? Yes, the gorgeous and sensuous Parveen Babi, who was the first Indian actress to adorn Time magazines front cover, was born in Junagadh and belonged to this dynasty.

Kalwa Chowk, Junagadh

Kalwa Chowk, Junagadh

On 28th December, in the late afternoon, we headed towards Mahabat Maqbara, situated on the MG road opposite high courts, from Kalwa Chowk.

Mahabat Maqbara, Junagadh

Mahabat Maqbara, Junagadh

This boldly decorated mausoleum crowned with multitude of bulbous domes is built over the grave of Mahabat Khan II and is a fitting tribute to this great ruler under whom massive beautification of Junagadh took place.

Mahabat Khan II, Junagadh

Mahabat Khan II, Junagadh

Mahabat Maqbara has influences of Hindu, Muslim and European design styles, typical of the royal monuments of the 19th century. The notable European features of this stunning mausoleum are the floor to lintel French windows and Gothic columns along doors and windows.

Mahabat Maqbara, Junagadh

Mahabat Maqbara, Junagadh

Close-up shots of Mahabat Maqbara, Junagadh

Close-up shots of Mahabat Maqbara, Junagadh

Another close-up pix of Mahabt Maqbara, Junagarh

Another close-up pix of Mahabat Maqbara, Junagarh

Mahabat Maqbara is the most opulent structure in the complex, still the building that catches immediate attention is the adjacent tomb of Vazir Bahauddin Bhar, flanked on each corner by slim-tall minarets hugged by twirling spiral staircases.

The tomb of Vazir Bahauddin Bhar, Junagarh

The tomb of Vazir Bahauddin Bhar, Junagarh

We walked on one of the stairs to look around. Rachit, as ever, was leading me. As we were about to get on to the top, suddenly Rachit came running down towards me and looked scared. It was only after a while he could explain that he was hit by an eagle. Perhaps she had laid her eggs or had her young ones over there. It was a reminder that one must be careful while moving about in the abandoned monuments.

Minarets with Spiralling staircase , Junagarh

Minarets with Spiralling staircase , Junagarh

We were at Mahabat Maqbara complex in the late afternoon, the Maqbara was locked and there was no tourist around it. The broken jaalis and panes allowed us to peep inside at the layers of dust. It was evident that it needs maintenance but these days nobody cares for it. We felt sorry as this monument has the potential to become the symbol of Junagadh.

Close up of Mahabat Maqbara (Photo Courtesy: Poonam Ranka)

The spiraling Minaret (Photo Courtesy: Poonam Ranka)

Yet another view of Mahabat Maqbara (photo courtesy Poonam Ranka)

A complete view of the complex (Photo Courtesy: Poonam Ranka)

Next, we visited Durbar Hall Museum, the former palace of Babi Nawabs, in Janta-Chowk. It had the usual display of weapons and armors. In a hall a durbar scene was created with silver chairs flaunting the splendor of the past. In this era of corporate world those stiff backed silver chairs looked uncomfortable. I felt sitting there for long would have been more of a torture than a luxury.

The hall was decorated with valuable, ornamental silver clocks and huge chandeliers were hanging from the ceiling. In the surrounding rooms there were silver elephant seats – haude and a portrait gallery. I was keen to have a look at the pictures and portraits of the eccentric last nawab of Junagadh who had the hobby of rearing pedigree. He was crazy about dogs. He had over 800 of them and each of them had a separate human attendant. These dogs were shampooed every morning, given regular exercises and were fed on expensive dog-food. The nawab loved his dogs so much that he celebrated the marriage of his bitch Roshanara to the dog Bobby of the nawab of Mangalore with rare pomp and show. State holiday was declared for the celebrations and the guests (here I am talking about human guests and not the four-legged ones!) numbering in thousands were entertained with rich meals for three days.

At another occasion, one of his champion dogs died, and he declared a day of public mourning.

I carefully looked at the pictures of the last nawab, still in his teens, with his beloved dogs. I was expecting to see a weird and an unusual person in those photographs; on the contrary he had an innocent face. He looked naive and vulnerable. I felt a strong sympathy with the young kid. The movie “The Last Emperor” has made me sensitive towards the lonesome upbringings of the royal kids. I have realized that how painful it is to be a royal child, with lots of comfort but no one to play with and no chance of making friends. I feel that it might be during those forlorn times that the young nawab might have found a friend in the “man’s best friend”.

The area surrounding durbar hall had an aura of royalty. There were many imperial buildings that today have been converted into banks, and other offices. The visit to the Durbar hall transported me to the period India was about to get independence. The British Government had given three choices to the Indian rulers – merge with India or with Pakistan or remain an independent country. These choices were almost meaningless as to remain independent made no sense, with Indian or Pakistani army all around those small states and with the populace having strong desire to be part of either of these countries. The same was true about joining India or Pakistan, the kingdoms that were in Indian boundary had no choice but to join India and vice verse.

Soon after independence “Iron-man” Sardar Patel got an affirmation from all the erstwhile rulers for their accession to India except for the three states – Kashmir, Hyderabad and Junagadh. Nawab of Junagadh, Mahabat Khan III, was interested in merging his small state with Pakistan. His argument was that Junagadh adjoins Pakistan by sea and so he should be allowed to merge his state with Pakistan. Nawab’s was an impractical proposal as Junagadh was deep inside Indian territory and most of his subjects wanted to merge with India. In the meantime, Junagadh started to increase its military powers to oppose any revolt against nawab’s decision.

Two small states of Junagadh, Mangrol and Babaria, came to know about nawab’s plan and revolted. Nawab’s army attacked and occupied both of them. By that time disgusted Indian supporters in Junagadh got united and formed a temporary government in exile that was known as “Aarzi Hukumat” under the leadership of Samaldas Gandhi – a patriotic hero of Gujarat.

These developments in Junagadh also brought forth differences in attitude and temperament of the two most powerful leaders of independent India – Prime minister Pt Jawahar Lal Nehru and Home minister Sardar Patel. Sardar Patel was of the strong opinion of keeping Junagadh under Indian fold even if it meant attacking the nawab. Mountbatten warned Pt Jawahar Lal Nehru that an attack by Indian army on the nawab may lead to a full-scale war between India and Pakistan. Nehru wanted to avoid any war at that stage and felt that the war would be devastating for both the countries and would give wrong signals to the world. On the contrary, Sardar Patel didn’t see any possibility of a war between two countries on the issue of Junagadh and felt that Junagadh rightfully belonged to India.

Still, Sardar Patel accepted Nehru’s decision of not attacking Junagadh, but ordered Indian army to block and cut off the crucial supplies to the state. It made life of people under the nawab very difficult. The nawab realized that his subject had enough of him and could revolt anytime. He gave power of attorney to the Deewan of court – Shahnawaz Bhutto, father of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and left Junagadh with all of his dogs, wives and all the treasures he could take with him.

By that time the condition of Junagadh had become so bad that Shahnawaz Bhutto himself requested Indian government to intervene and to take charge. In the meantime, Aarzi Hukumat attacked and captured the Palace and the fort and hoisted Indian flag. Samaldas Gandhi was invited to accept the reigns of the state but he deferred it to the Government of India.

On Jawaharlal Nehru’s insistence, Indian Government, agreed for a plebiscite in Feb 1948 and except for a very small numbers of voters, everyone else voted in favor of accession to India and from then onwards Junagadh became an integral part of India.

Today there is nothing that can draw the attention of tourists toward such an interesting integral part of Junagadh’s existence. I wish the area around Durbar Hall museum could be re-developed and dedicated to the Nation as a reminder and memorial to India’s struggle to emerge as a unified nation, a struggle that didn’t end on 15th August 1947.

We were suggested by the locals to visit the Appu-Ghar of Junagadh – Suraj Fun world. I did not expect it to be an interesting place but it came as a pleasant surprise. It was better than the erstwhile Appu Ghar of Delhi and cost much less. In the adjoining pavilion a fair was organized by mother dairy. Today when Amul milk has made enough recognition in NCR and Delhi and the monopoly of Mother dairy is largely dented, it was Mother Dairy’s effort to take the battle to the Amul’s strong hold Gujarat.

Bollywood songs of nineties were played on loudspeakers. It was surprising as that period was the worst phase of Indian Music industry and living in metros I had started to believe that no-one any more likes to hear those cacophonic songs with stupid lyrics, but there they were played loudly and proudly.

Rachit and I pedaled a horse cart that was supported by an iron rail in mid-air. Two ladies were pedaling the cart in front of us and most of the time they were finding it hard to move their cart. There was a group of young kids behind us. They used to stop and as soon as there was some distance between us they came from behind with high-speed, hitting our cart and those of the ladies and made it move. It was fun, but in a corner of my heart I was worried about the safety and was silently praying that the cart does not overturn with the impact of their cart.

My most anxious moments were when I and Rachit floated in a small rubber boat on a slide. When I bought the ticket, the person at the counter looked at Rachit and told me that taking Rachit on the slide would not be an issue. But, after buying the ticket when we climbed up, the folks there refused to allow us. Finally they agreed as I had bought the tickets because of wrong information. They told me that I can slide with the kid, but I have to do it on my own risk.

I was in a dilemma, whether I should take the risk. Anyway we floated down. I was holding Rachit very tight and I must say that I was worried and couldn’t enjoy it. When we landed safely, it was a relief. Rachit enjoyed the ride a lot – enjoyment was double, he enjoyed the slide and he also enjoyed the fact that he was able to take the ride that was forbidden to the kids of his age 🙂

It was a pleasant, well spent evening at Suraj Fun World.

Our train to Ahmedabad was scheduled at 9:00 pm next day evening. The plan was to travel to Ahmedabad and then catch another train from Ahmedabad to Delhi. Day before our return journey, Tanmay had a fever and we also came to know that most of the trains to north India were delayed due to extreme fog there. So we booked a flight from Ahmedabad to Delhi.

We left Leo Resort at 7:00 pm in the evening. I settled the bill in a hurry. Only at the railway station, I realized that we had not been charged extra for overstaying around eight hours. Apparently it was complimentary, in the hurry I did not even get a chance to thank them.

We were eagerly waiting for the train to arrive, to get settled in. Soon there was an announcement that the train had been delayed indefinitely. We were in the railway retiring room, but it was clear that not only Tanmay, even Rachit needed a place to sleep. Jaishree then inquired about the railway retiring rooms from the lady attendant.

She took me to the superintendent who confirmed that the rooms were available for Rs 150. I was in a dilemma, how good the room would be. I asked him, “Can I have a look at the room”? He told me that it was against the rules but assured me that it was a clean & spacious room, for which I would have easily given Rs 500 in the town.

There was no alternative and I decided to go for it. Lady attendant offered her help to get it allotted while I would complete other formalities. In the time I finished the paperwork she got the room allotted and then helped us to shift the kids and the luggage to the first floor room. I thanked the lady and offered her money for her help. She refused to take the money and pointed that I should be with my kids as they were unwell.

The room was clean and spacious matching with railway superintendent’s comment. As soon as the kids lied down, they fell asleep. The train finally arrived at mid-night. Luckily, by that time the kids managed to sleep for a while and looked better.

In the train also the kids slept soon. As I lied down, images of Junagadh started to float through my mind. Those images were not of Junagadh’s magnificent past, but were of its simple and honest people. I kept thinking about the gracious lady attendant whose timely help made it easier for us to shift to the retiring room, about the Patel restaurant’s owner who warned his waiter never to charge for a kid’s meal, or of the fact that I was not charged for the extra hours in Leo, and also about the honest auto-wallahs of the town. I felt that this is real India and wished that it remains unpolluted; I started dreaming with open eyes; May the whole of India becomes just like that – a country of simple and honest citizens.

“बहुत जी खुश हुआ है, आज मेरा आपसे मिलकर
अभी अगली शराफ़त के नमूने पाए जाते हैं|”

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  1. I will like to share an interesting incident that I come to know, yesterday reading the article “Jostling for Junagarh” by Inder Malhotra in Indian Express.

    ” A full 32 years after the Junagarh incident, in April 1980, three months after Inidira Gandhi’s return to power, Pakistan’s then president General Zia-ul-Haq met her at Harare during Zimbabwe’s independence celebrations. On arrival he presented Mrs Gandhi an autographed coffee-table book on his country. She opened it only after he left and was furious to find that the map on the book’s front piece showed not only the whole of Jammu & Kashmir but also Junagarh, Mangrol and Babaria as parts of Pakistan. Instantly, she ordered two of her aides to take the book back and return it to the military ruler personally.”

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