Sunday, January 11, 2015

THE TOMB OF SHER AFGAN: Alamgunge, Burdwan

 The tomb compound

At the Alamgunge area of Burwan City one can find the tomb of Ali Quli Khan Istajlu who is better known as ‘Sher Afgan’. Situated in a walled compound, which also houses the domed shrine of “Pir Bahram”, It’s a fairly simple affair, a flat roofed room, with archways, where two marble tombs are laid side by side. One belongs to Sher Afgan and the other is for Nawab Kutub-Uddin Khan Koka, the Subedar of Burdwan, who was foster brother of Mughal Emperor Jahangir. Its an irony that they were buried side by side as if in perfect solidarity but truth is they died fighting each other. I found this bit odd because I have never seen sworn enemies who killed each other were laid to rest together. We need to go back in history to understand the perspective.

The tombs of Sher Afhgan & Kutub-Uddin Khan Koka. Check the inscriptions on the tombs

It’s true that history is largely an account of Kings, Emperors, great Commanders, leaders and large Kingdoms and seldom about common men. Sher Afgan was a mere ‘Jagirdar’ at Burdwan district under Mughal monarchy. This alone wasn’t important enough to put his name prominently on the pages of the history book. His remembrance in history books is largely attributed to the fact that he was married to an extraordinary lady name Mehr-Un-Nissha, who after his death went to Delhi, got married to Emperor Jahangir and practically controlled the Mughal Empire till Shah Jahan came to the throne. She was the famed Noor Jahan (Light Of the World) whom the history remembers as the most powerful & influential women of the 17th Century Mughal Empire. She was also the aunt of the Empress Mumtaz Mahal for whom the future Emperor Shah Jahan built the Taj Mahal.

The life as well as death of Sher Afgan was intertwined with the Mughal Emperors Akbar and his son Salim, who later took the throne in the name ‘Jahangir’ (meaning conqueror of the world). His life was a long journey of struggle with began in faraway Persia where he was born and finally culminated in violent end at Burdwan of Bengal in the summer of year 1607,  Ali Quli Khan Istajlu was an adventurous Persian who began his life as a Safarchi (Table Attendant) of Ismail II the third safavid of Persia. After the death of his master, circumstances made him to flee from his home. He was a brave man and a good warrior. He landed up in Multan and met Abdul Rahim I Khana, a high official of Mughal Empire. He started serving the Mughals in the army, worked his way up and in recognition of his work he received a mansab at ‘Patta’ in present day Pakistan. He had served well and had later on moved to Royal Courts of Lahore.

Ali Quli held important position in the Royal court and was close to Emperor Akbar and his son Prince Salim. Ali Quli was a friend and faithful companion to Prince Salim. It is said that during a hunting expedition, a tigress attacked Prince Salim and Ali Quli saved his life by fighting off the tigress alone. This brave act had earned him the title of ‘Sher Afgan’ which in Persian means ‘thrower or tosser of the tiger. (The word ‘Afgan’ has no co-relevance to ‘Afganisthan’ as it is commonly mistaken. In Persian language ‘Afgan’ means ‘thrower’ or ‘tosser’, thus the title).  It is here in Lahore fate took a turn and in the year 1594 he got married to a beautiful 19 year old lady named Mehr-Un-Nissa, the daughter of Mirza Ghias Beg, also a Persian and a noble man in the royal court of Akbar. As per Ain-E-Akbari, it was Emperor Akbar himself who had ordered the marriage. History is blurred here but it is said that young Prince Salim was attracted to beautiful Mehr-Un-Nissa and immediately wanted to marry her. This Emperor Akbar did not approve and thereby he quickly pulled strings and married her off to Ali Quli Khan Istajlu. But Prince Salim could never forget Mehr-Un-Nissa and by the turn of fate, which even the all-powerful Emperor Akbar could not control, he did have her as her Begum when he ascended the throne.

Prince Salim ascended the throne in the year 1605, after lot of turmoil which was common for all Mughal Emperors. He revolted against father Akbar and Ali Quli, being a faithful follower had sided with Akbar. Nevertheless, prince Salim became the Emperor. Then it is said that Jaganhir pardoned him and had sent him as a Jagirdar, all the way from Lahore to Burdwan, under his foster brother Kutub-Uddin who was made ‘Subedar’ (Governor) of Bengal Province. It is not clear if this was punishment posting or a reward, or there was any other intention behind this. But as a result Ali Quli travelled all the way from Lahore and settled in Burdwan.

Soon after the events took an ugly turn and Sher Afgan was accused of disobedience & treason by siding with Afgan rebels and trying to evade Mughal rule and paying taxes. Thus Kutub-Uddin was asked to bring Sher Afgan to court. Nobody would know now for sure whether there was any basis of the allegations raised against him or this was just a ploy of Emperor Jahangir to rob him of his beautiful wife whom he had a crush on since his younger days. Some say that the ministers of Jahangir, who knew about his weakness on Mehr-Un-Nissa urged him to take her in his possession as she was fit to be an empress and not belong to a person who was technically a servant of the empire. It is also written on the grave of Kutub-Uddin that he was promised the high office of Subeder of Bengal on condition that he would procure for his royal master the beautiful Mehr-Un-Nissa, wife of Sher Afgan’ . However historians doubt this theory. After the death of Sher Afgan,  Mehr-Un-Nissa along with Ladli Begum, the young daughter from Sher Afgan’s first marriage, were send to the royal harem. There she spent next four years as lady-in-waiting to one of the Jahangir's stepmothers, Sultana Begum, the mother of Khusrau Mirza at Agra. Jahangir married her only in the year 1611. So the four years gap raises a question that if Jahangir had wanted her so badly and had her husband killed then why she had to spent four years in the harem before she got married.

Whatever be the issue Kutub-Uddin came down to take Sher Afgan into custody. Sher Afgan refused to give in and Kutub-Uddin started advancing towards Burdwan. He had also sent Ghiasa, the son of his sister, in advance to pacify Sher Afgan and bring him to the court. So upon his arrival on May 30, 1607, Sher Afgan duly went to meet him, accompanied by two men. At this point Kutub-Uddin signalled his men to capture Sher Afgan. Sher Khan was a fine warrior and sensing treachery he immediately attacked Kutub-Udding and wounded him fatally. However he also couldn’t escape and fell before the swords of Kutub’s men. Thus the life that started in Persia came to a bloody end at a nondescript village in Bengal.  Kutub-Uddin also succumbed to his injury on the same day.

Now the two men lie side by side. Probably Jahangir wanted it this way. Jahangir’s memoir ‘Tuzk E Jahangiri mentions that death of Kutub-Uddin caused him great grief and at the same time he could not forget the faithful companion of his younger days who once saved his life.

The entrance to the tomb compound.

In the same compound there is a simple domed structure with small minarets which is the tomb of “Pir Bahram”. His original name was Shah-Wardi Bayat. He was a Chagtai Turk from Bukhara. He turned to a saint and came to India during the reign of Emperor Akbar. A significant part of his life was spent in Delhi and Agra where he served drinking water to people as service and thus he was also called “Sakka” (one who gives water). Later he travelled to Bengal and stayed at Burdwan for some time till he breathed his last around 1563 or 1564 AD. On one side one can see a large pond and on the opposite side there is a Muslim burial ground.   

The domed structure housing the tomb of Pir Bahram

In the same compound there are many unmarked graves which belongs to members of the royal family and there is small mosque as well where locals offer prayer.

Other unmarked graves in the compound

Entrance to the tomb of Pir Bahram

Burdwan is well connected from Kolkata by Road and by Train. The beautiful NH-2 is a pleasure to drive on and you should be reaching Alamgunge in about two and half hours. Regular bus services from various parts of Kolkata are also available to reach Burdwan. If you are travelling by train there are numerous local trains available. Burdwan being a major junction station all trains stop here. From the railway station or bus stand you can hire an auto, Rickshaw or a ToTo(Electric Rickshaw) to come to Alamgunge, which is a part of the city. You need to ask the locals for direction to the Tomb.  The visit should not take more than one hour. You can also look at other inetersting Places of Burdwan like the Curzon Gate, Golap Bagh, Burdwan Raj College etc. in the same day trip.

If you are travelling from Kolkata this can be easily covered in a day trip and there is really no necessity to stay. However there are good  hotels available in Burdwan should one wishes to spend the night


When you are in Burdwan do not forget to test the famous Mihidana & Sitabhog. There are several sweet shops in the city that sells quality Mihidana & Sitabhog. Ganesh Mistanna Bhandar near the station is a good option.If you are travelling by road from Kolkata you must stop by at Shaktigarh to taste the famous ‘Lyancha’  


  1. Dear Sagar Sen,

    I liked your post very much, especially the pictures. It will be very helpful if you could add coordinates or google map of this place.

    You mentioned that Sher Afgan got a mansab in Patta, present day Pakistan. I could not locate this place. Kindly inform me. However, there is one town Patti, in district Tarn Taran in Indian Punjab, near the Pakistan border.


    Tariq Amir
    Doha - Qatar.

    1. Hi Tariq,
      I looked up some sources, and the place is Thatta, not Patta. Thatta I believe is in Sind.

  2. Are there any timing boundations to visit the tomb ?

    1. I haven't seen any notice regarding timing. However it's better to visit between 9AM and before sunset.

  3. Thanks for the photos and the wonderful description.
    Just one lapse.The place is not at Alamgunj.and bethere to be described to be located at "Pir Burham"

  4. Sher Afghan Khan was NOT Persian, he was Afghan, from Afghanistan. In Iran Persian language the word for tiger is not sher, it's babr!  Iranians speak persian -farsi. Afghans speak dari and pashtu. And no Iranian is called Khan. Sher Afghan means- Afghan tiger- somebody who is brave.

  5. Sher Afghan Khan was NOT Persian, he was Afghan, from Afghanistan. In Iran persian language the word for tiger is not sher, it's babr!  Iranians speak persian-farsi. Afghans speak dari and pashtu.And no Iranian is called Khan.Sher Afghan means- Afghan tiger-somebody who is brave.

  6. Your article is informative. People will know many thing on sher afgan.

  7. Very good to see that you have taken care to write a lot of background information. This is what enhances the joy of travelling and visiting historical places. Such places should not be dismissed by visitors as ''oh, just another Muslim monument''.Thanks. I must read your other pieces.

  8. Wow! such a wonderful pictures. Thanks for sharing this interesting and informative article. I really love this useful post.