Sunlight streams in through the fine stone Jaalis, transforming the gloomy interiors, throwing bright patterns on the hard, cold floors. The Jaalis themselves shine against the light, as if studded with thousands of diamonds. Soft instrumental music playing in the background completes the picture, and for just a moment, I am transported back in time, when the passages I am walking through would have resounded to musical notes, played and sung by the greatest of musicians. It is late afternoon, and I am at the tomb of Muhammad Ghaus, in Gwalior, the spiritual mentor of Tansen, as the Tansen Music festival is in progress. I couldn’t possibly have chosen a better time.
Tansen is known as one of the nine gems of Akbar’s court, and as one of the greatest musicians of the era. It is here, in Gwalior that he truly belongs, the son the city is proud to claim as its own. However, in the tomb complex where he rests in peace, he is but a student, a disciple of the great Sufi master, Muhammad Ghaus.
Muhammad Ghaus (~1500 to 1563) was among the most eminent Sufis of the Shattari order, who came from Persia to India. After spending thirteen years meditating in the hills near Benaras, under severely austere conditions, he emerged to spend the remainder of his lifetime teaching a most eclectic variety of Sufism. A student of Sanskrit, Muhammad Ghaus wrote one book combining Islamic mystic thought with astrological theories, and another on the methods of self-discipline and breath control, as practiced by the Yogis. This was the first treatise on the yogis written by an Indian Muslim*.
Muhammad Ghaus was closely associated with Humayun, and when Humayun was overthrown by Sher Shah, the Sufi master was forced to flee to Gujarat. He only returned to Agra and Gwalior when Akbar came to power. This is also when Tansen came to him as a student, and became his disciple.
|Muhammad Ghaus' tomb, as seen from Tansen's.|
Muhammad Ghaus’ importance in the Mughal court is clearly seen in the grandeur of the architecture of his tomb. The domes, arches and minarets are typical of the period, but it is the jaalis or stone latticework, that sets the tomb apart.
|One of the most beautiful Jaali panels. Notice that each square has a different pattern|
The central hall with the tomb has jaali work too, but it is the outer walls of the passage around the hall that are so impressive in their design.
|Painting on the ceiling|
While the effect of the light on the jaalis is impressive, it also throws light on the sad state the monument is in.
|This is the panel around the entrance to the tomb. Notice how parts of the jaali have broken|
The tomb is a place of pilgrimage for many, as well as a major tourist attraction. However, there are bags of cement, and assorted things lying all around the place, diverting our attention from the gorgeous play of light.
Parts of the jaalis are also breaking, and it is high time the authorities take care to keep people from damaging the monument further.
Muhammad Ghaus’ tomb is the most impressive, but not the only monument here. There are tombs to many other disciples of the master, among whom Tansen has an important place.
Tansen’s tomb is simple, in complete contrast to that of his mentor.
A single man stands by, pointing towards a tamarind tree which, he assures us, is the secret of Tansen’s magnificent voice! Samhith quietly takes the leaves, but once we are out, says “If that was true, everyone who comes here would have had a voice like Tansen!” On that note, we head back towards our waiting car, our laughter mingling with the strains of music.
*Ref. Richard Eaton, The Sufis of Bijapur 1300-1700, Role of Sufis in Medieval India
- Deo Bagh, Gwalior - The Neemrana Experience
- The Colossal Jinas
- The Man Mandir Palace
- The Other Monuments of Gwalior Fort
- The Temples of Gwalior Fort
- The Gujari Mahal Museum