The Mughal rulers of India were known for their magnificent monuments, the Taj Mahal is world-renowned as an icon of love for a beloved Queen. There is yet another edifice built by the calligrapher of the Taj in memory of his loving brother. Amanat Khan built a Sarai (Inn) 29 km from Amritsar to serve weary travellers. Today it lies in ruins with encroachers destroying its beauty.
The Taj Mahal of Agra remains one of the greatest monuments built in the memory of a beloved Begum of the Mughal ruler Shah Jahan.
It can hardly be compared to the ruined Sarai, Amanat Khan built 700 km away from Agra, close to Amritsar.
Yet, there is a deep parallel between the glorious Mausoleum and the decrepit Sarai (Inn). They were both built for love.
The Taj was built in memory of Shah Jahan’s beloved and the Sarai Amanat Khan was built in the memory of a much-loved brother Afzal Khan, by Amanat Khan.
There is another great similarity between the two monuments.
It’s the calligraphy by Amanat Khan. Khan was the calligrapher of the Taj Mahal and he was also the calligrapher of the Inn or Sarai which served weary travellers along the Lahore-Agra section of the Grand Trunk Road.
“The two brothers Amanat Khan and Afzal came to India from the city of Shiraz in Iran in 1608. Amanat Khan started working in the Imperial Library of Emperor Shah Jahan while his older brother rose to become a prime minister of the Empire," Young History researcher and writer Aashish Kochhar told SBS Hindi.
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Amanat Khan was appointed to design the calligraphy of the Taj Mahal.
Impressed with his talent, Emperor Shah Jahan conferred on him the title of “Amanat Khan” and gave him some land in 1632 which ranked him with nobility.
Historical writer Aashish Kochhar says gaze at the base of the dome of the inside of the Taj Mahal and you can see Amanat Khan’s signature, which reads: "Written by the humble faqīr Amānat Khan Šīrāzī in the year 1048 heǰrī, corresponding to the twelfth year of the auspicious reign [of Shah Jahān]”.
Even as Amanat Khan completed the most important project of his life, tragedy struck him, as his brother Afzal Khan died in Lahore at the age of 70.
British author W E Begley, in his book Monumental Islamic Calligraphy From India (1985) notes how deeply this impacted Amanat Khan, who in 1640 CE spent all the money he had received as a reward for his services to the Mughal court and for his calligraphy on the Taj Mahal, on building his own monument to love.
The guest house or Sarai he built was designed by him and it had elaborate glazed-tile calligraphy.
After designing this memorial for his brother, Amanat Khan retired and dedicated the rest of his life to prayer.
He passed away in 1644-45 and was buried at the Sarai itself.
Historian Begley mentions, “The old calligrapher spent his entire income in constructing a Sarai or caravan inn in the outskirts of the Lahore city (today in TarnTaran district in Punjab, India) as a memorial to his expired brother, in an area which was once a part of the royal jagir which he and his brother once possessed prior to his retirement.”
Describing the Sarai Amanat Khan, Aashish Kochhar tells us, the Sarai has two large gateways – Delhi Gate and Lahori Gate – where you can see these designs that contain Koranic verses.
"Today, only Delhi Gate is accessible, and on either side of the gate are two identical octagon-faced minarets that support the structure.
"Inside the gateway is a courtyard and a long passage runs through the middle of the complex, with rooms on either side. The rooms are of different sizes, and were allotted to travellers according to their class and wealth.”
Today the property has been encroached upon and an entire little village has made the Sarai it’s home.
"It is totally neglected and has fallen into ruins. In the centre-left of the complex lies the forlorn mausoleum of Amanat Khan," says Kochhar.
“On the top of the mausoleum are three circular domes and three doors that lead inside. Each door is decorated with calligraphy and floral designs. Inside the mausoleum, there are inscriptions on the main wall.
"It is in a pitiable state today and some locals use it as a mosque. The inn built for weary travellers is in possession of wave upon wave of encroachers who have destroyed the delicate latticework and the tiled calligraphy is fading," he says.