‘‘Monuments are the grappling-irons that bind one generation to another.’’—Joseph Joubert, French moralist and essayist
Sasaram (सासाराम)—a bustling city 160km south-west of state capital Patna—is famous for production of stone chips, and for quarrying industry. The town is situated on the Grand Trunk Road (National Highway 2). It is the headquarter of Rohtas district. The town was originally known as Shah Serai, शाहसराय (resting place of King).
Sasaram is the birthplace of the Afghan king Sher Shah Suri (शेरशाह सूरी), a warrior who defeated Mughal king Humayun (हुमायूँ) in 1540 AD in the Battle of Kannauj and ascended the throne of Delhi. Apart from a skillful civil administrator, Sher Shah had a shrewd political foresight. He enforced many administrative reforms in taxation and local area management. He established law and order across the length and breadth of his empire and fostered trade and commerce. Many of his reforms were later followed by Mughal rulers, especially Akbar, and British administrators.
Sher Shah’s father Hasan Shah was a Jagirdar in Sasaram. Sher Shah was born in 1472 AD and completed his formal education at Jaunpur. He emerged as a brave, intelligent and tactful military genius. In 1540 AD he drove away Humayun, the Mughal emperor from Delhi and ascended the throne and founded the Sur Afghan dynasty. Unfortunately he couldn’t rule for long. His reign lasted for only five years. On 13th May 1545 AD (10th day of Rabi’ul Awwal, A.H. 952) he met an accident in the Kalinjar fort. His descendants ruled Delhi for 15 years and kept the Mughals at bay.
Sher Shah (earlier name Farid Khan) restored the old imperial road called the Grant Trunk Road running from Dhaka to Peshawar, built a road from Agra to Jodhpur and Chittor linking it up with the roads to Gujarat seaports. He also built a road from Lahore to Multan. All these roads had a good number of sarais. He is also credited with introduction of the currency called Rupiyah and organized a systematic postal service.
Abbas Khan Sarwani’s ‘Tarikh-i-Sher Shahi’ (1580) provides detailed information about Sher Shah’s administration: ‘‘From the day that Sher Shah was established on the throne, no man dared to breathe in opposition to him; nor did any one raise the standard of contumacy or rebellion against him; nor was any heart-tormenting thorn produced in the garden of his kingdom; nor was there any of his nobles or soldiery, or a thief or a robber, who dared to direct the eye of dishonesty to the property of another; nor did any theft or robbery ever occur in his dominions.’’ Abbas Khan Sarwani was a waqia-navis (court reporter or in charge of news-writing) under Mughal Emperor Akbar, who commissioned the book—after re-establishing the Mughal Empire in 1555—to provide detailed documentation about Sher Shah’s administration. Akbar adopted many reforms of Sher Shah as it is or with some modifications. In that sense, Sher Shah could be said to be his precursor.
The Old fort (Purana Qila) of Delhi and the mosque within it known for its lavishness of decoration was built by him. His most outstanding architectural contribution was the construction of his own Mausoleum (tomb) at Sasaram. The imposing, beautiful Indo-Islamic structure is regarded as one of the noblest specimens of Afghan architecture in India, which combines soberness with elegance. It is an impressive brick structure partly veneered with stone standing in the middle of a man made square lake measuring about 305 mt and rising above a large stone terrace. Tomb’s 9.15mt high terrace is enclosed by a parapet wall with octagonal domed pavilions (kiosks) at four corners. The kiosks, it is said, were once covered by coloured glazed tiles. Each arm of the octagon measures about 17mt externally. Mausoleum’s interior is sufficiently ventilated and lighted as light passes through large windows on the top portion of the walls fitted with stone jalis of different patterns.
The structure was built between 1540 and 1545 under the supervision of its architect Mir Muhammad Aliwal Khan.
Surrounding the main dome are eight pillared cupolas on the corners of the octagon. The total height of the tomb above the terrace measures 37.57mt. The interior of the tomb is quite well ventilated through large windows on the top portion of the walls. In a small arched recess above the mihrab on the western wall is an inscription in two lines recording the completion of the tomb by Salim Shah (Sher Shah’s son) on 16th August 1545 AD (7th day of Jumada, A.H. 952), some three months after the death of Sher Shah Suri.
Sher Shah’s mausoleum is hailed as one of the most magnificent monuments of the ‘octagonal style’ in India. It is currently protected and maintained by the Archeological Survey of India. Lying a few hundred meters away, and also protected by the ASI, is the tomb of Hasan Shah Suri, Sher Shah’s father.
Sher Shah Suri’s mausoleum is the second tallest tomb in India and unique in its design. In 1998, it was listed in UNESCO’s tentative list of World Heritage Monuments, but did not make it to the final list. Nevertheless it’s historical or architectural importance cannot be undermined. What it urgently needed is some better upkeep, removal of illegal encroachment of the tomb land and the beautification of its surroundings to attract more tourists.