The popular imagination about Patna in the modern day has never been one of a city with its own cultural heritage and legacy. Patna gets dismissed as just the capital of a state which has little to offer to the cultural scenery of the country. However this was not always the case. Patna was once Azeemabad- a city flourishing with literary arts and culture. The city that gave this country Bedil – the man about whom Ghalib says :
“Tarz e Bedil mein rekhta kehna,
Asadullah Khan qayamat hai”.
(What a herculean task it is, Oh Asadullah!
To write as Bedil did)
So what happened to Azeemabad? And does the city still exist somewhere in the form of ruins in present day Patna? The poet Naqi ahmad Irshad askes in ‘Yaad-e-Azeemabad’,
Kahaan hai wo azeemabad? aye khaak-e-watan kah de!
Kahaan wo anjuman hai ab? ghubaar-e-anjuman kah de!
The answer lies a few steps away from the Patna University on Ashok Rajpath. There stands a door to Patna’s past- Khuda Bakhsh library. It is a time capsule that transports us back to the era when Patna was still Azeemabad. Established in 1891 it is a doorway to the past. It contains over twenty one thousand manuscripts out of which multiple are available only here. Khuda Bakhsh has witnessed a whole millennium go by in this city. The Bihar government now seeks to partially demolish the library for a highway project.
Khuda Bakhsh Library is one of the last remaining heritage sites out of many that the Bihar government has demolished in the past under the banner of ‘vikas’. For the past five years or so Patna government seems to have been on a development drive, at the cost of the city’s heritage and culture. By development the government of course means increased corporatisation of the city.
Distort a mosque from Jahangir’s era and turn it into an ill designed and ugly shopping complex full of chain outlets of multi million dollar companies. That is development brought to you by the JDU-BJP led Bihar Government. Sure the mall would remain out of bounds for most of Patna’s population which still cannot afford to blow thousands of rupees on a single shopping spree but who cares as long as the corporates financing Nitish Kumar’s campaign helicopters are happy.
The demolitions have resulted in significant loss of Patna’s history. The city, already faced a number of setbacks ranging from the revolt of 1857 to the earthquake of 1934, the heritage that survived is now falling to the atrocities of the Bihar Government. Listing a few of such important monuments is important to revisit what has been destroyed in the past five years under the chief-ministry of Mr. Nitish Kumar.
Founded in the early 1700s, the Gulzarbagh Estate was registered as a waqf property after the death of Nawab Sa’adat Ali Khan ‘Tamkeen’ of Doolighat by his wife Imam Bandi Begum in the year 1890. The Estate constituted a mosque, an Imambara, the residential area and the raiyat khana – inhabited by the poors with a nominal rent. Last year amid the Pandemic, Raiyat Khana and the Deohri of the Estate were demolished by the Bihar State Shia Waqf Board in order to lease out the land for a private hospital. Later on when this was challenged in the court, the further constructions were stopped but the poor inhabitants belonging to the working class were left homeless.
Shahi Sangi Masjid
Built during the reign of Emperor Jahangir, by his son Parwez Shah in 1621. Shahi Sangi Masjid, commonly known as the Paththar Ki Masjid is one of the earliest standing mughal monuments in Patna. Last year, the government attacked it to construct a shopping complex at its place. This faced a huge backlash by the residents of the city, already fed up by the earlier carried demolitions. This ultimately led to a halt in the construction along with the downfall of Irshad Ali Azad, the then chairman of the waqf board.
Mohammad Raza Khan Waqf Estate
Situated at the Ashok Rajpath, Nawab Mohammad Raza Khan ‘Farhad’ of Doolighat registered his property as waqf back in the year 1897. His estate included his Kothi, library, a mosque and an Imambara constructed in the 1870s along with 22 rented shops by the poor at a nominal rate. The Waqf Board snatched this from the hands of its caretakers (the family of Safdar Hussain Khan) who were against its demolition and razed it to the ground. For three years, this place lies as a barren land, the shop owners got stripped of their established businesses under the orders of the Bihar Government.
Built in 1722 AD by Nawab Ahmad Ali Khan ‘Qayamat’ constitutes an Imambara along with a graveyard registered as a waqf property at Khwajakalan with the graves of important Sufi Mystics and poets including Nawab Ahmad Ali Khan ‘Qayamat’, Nawab khadim Hussain Khan ‘Khadim’, the sufi poet Hedayat Hussain Khan ‘Momin’ – a disciple of Shah Kamaal Ali, Jaffer Hassan Khan ‘Faiz’ a revolutionary poet from the revolt of 1857 and a lot more, is now a market space eliminating the traces of the graveyard at a larger extent. The importance of this graveyard is very much visible through a couplet by Shad Azeemabadi;
Nikal aa bolti tasweer ab daalan-e-sangi se
Ke jiske dekhne ke waaste patna mein’ mela hai
(The corpses are the sole memories of dalaan-e-sangi
To witness which there is a festival in patna)
An architectural beauty of the Dutch era, a fine example of the time when Patna was a thriving port city and a trading hub for the Dutch East India Company even before the British arrival. Nitish Kumar, the Chief Minister of Bihar himself laid down the foundation stone of the new complex ordering the demolition of the buildings worth 250 years of history. Faced by a number of protests internationally , the Supreme Court of India in the month of September, 2020 ordered a stay upon the demolition.
Anjuman e Islamia Hall
Established in the year 1885, under the Bihar State Sunni Waqf Board the Anjuman e Islamia hall stood at the Ashok Rajpath, was listed as a heritage building holding innumerable tales of the Independence struggle. Last year the building was razed to the ground under the orders of Irshadullah, the chairman and Mr. Nitish Kumar, who wanted to inaugurate the new building
even before the Bihar elections in 2020.
The government is not losing a single chance to rip off the city of its heritage sites, as the culture and literature has been buried a long time ago. Sheikh Mohammad Raushan ‘Joshish’ wrote,
Kabhi mera patna bahisht e barin’ tha
Jawab iska dunya ke andar nahin’ tha
Na baaqi wo kooche na baaqi emaarat,
Jidhar jaao veerangi ki hai soorat!
(The patna that was once paradise
Incomparable to the rest of the world
No streets or monuments remain in it now
It is only a wasteland wherever one goes)
At last arrives the Khuda Bakhsh Library, a living example of the lost heritage. Even the partial demolition of this site represents the same pattern of the government to erase the history in parts. It’s good to see that the civil societies as well as the political organisations are coming up in defence of the library and are extensively writing, pleading to protect it from getting bulldozed. Imagine, what a site it would have been if they stood for the protections of the above mentioned sites as well. However the old persian saying finds its way,
‘der aayed, durust aayed’
(Better late than never)
Even if we are able to safeguard the library from the evil hands of the government, it isn’t the end. If one looks carefully they would see a commonality in the demolished buildings other that the fact that they were all heritage sites. The majority of these structures were built by muslims with the one exception of Patna collectorate which was built by the dutch. This is clearly an attempt by the NDA government to eradicate the heritage of communities that it is trying to paint as not Indian. The demolition of the patna collectorate can be seen parallely with the central vista project.
The government seems to believe that merely uprooting architectural structures will alter the history of a state. Maybe it is partially right in assuming so. Once you wipe out the physical evidence of a community’s existence in a region’s history, spreading propaganda about the community’s origins in the place becomes easier. This is why it is of paramount importance to ensure the security of the remaining heritage sites and allocation of proper care for the monuments or else the day isn’t far away when the whole non-hindu heritage of the city would be wiped out and the communities associated with those places would be labelled as foreigners. It is also important to remember the role that corporations play in all of this. Corporations incentivise the demolitions and finance governments to destroy histories and throw the poor out on the streets to starve to death. The development of hindu rashtra happens on the bodies of the poor it displaces and murders.
S. N. Ali Fraz Rezvi is a theatre artist and a student of Social Work at Delhi University. Shivangi
Pandey is a student of English (Hons.) at Jamia Millia Islamia. Both the authors are activists
with the All India Students’ Association, the student wing of CPI (ML) Liberation.