I was in Bhopal reading The Begums of Bhopal, an interesting book by Shahryar Khan, when I read about Islam Nagar, a city founded by an Afghan soldier called Dost Mohammed.
Founding a city
His story is one of unscrupulous opportunism. While he was employed as the Mughal army commander of Mangalgarh in Bhopal, the army fell into disarray following Aurangzeb’s demise. Seizing the opportunity, the Afghans usurped Mangalgarh and Berasia.
The Gond Queen approached him for help. Her kingdom had been seized by her husband’s assasins and she wanted revenge. Dost Mohammad restored her kingdom by defeating her adversaries. For this, he received a princely sum and a village from the grateful queen. After her death, he usurped her kingdom back and established his capital at Jagdishpur. With Dost Mohammad came the Islamic influence on the culture and architecture of the place. Naming it Islam Nagar, he built a fort and palaces before moving his capital to Bhopal.
Inside Islam Nagar
Driving through a deserted road, we reached the outer gates of the once prosperous city. I set my eyes on the Chaman Mahal (Garden Palace). The Chaman Mahal is a picture of cool serenity in a charbagh. Amidst luxuriant gardens and fountains stands the red sandstone structure, with lovely columns and arches adorned with floral motifs. The spacious baradari and the unpretentious niches reminded me of Mughal palaces. A Sheesh Mahal near the doorway complemented the hammam. I also witnessed the double-storeyed Rani Mahal, which was built for the queens.
Although Dost Mohammad gave new dimensions to the palaces of the Gonds, a couple of old structures remain in their old form. On the verge of dilapidation, the Gond Palace stands at one side eclipsed by the beauty of the newer palaces.
With the hope that heritage is resurrected, I headed back with the ruins of history at the back of my mind.