Thursday, 6 February 2014

Lalarukh: Where two lovers rest

by Zeenath Jahan

I really cannot remember how many years it has taken me to visit Lalarukh's tomb. Many years ago I had heard an intriguing though vague story about her. It is very similar to Saima Waheed's story; except, her end was much more brutal.

In 1817 Thomas Moore had immortalized `Lallarookh' in his poem of the same name Before writing `Lallarookh', Moore had shut himself away for two years, reading oriental literature translated into English or French.

Moore's `Lallarookh' was Emperor Aurangzaib's daughter, engaged to the Prince of Bukhara. Since the marriage was to be celebrated in Kashmir, the Princess set out from Delhi in a magnificent cavalcade. During the journey, `Feramorz', a young Kashmiri poet, entertained the ladies with his ballads. By the time the Royal procession reached `Hussun Abdaul' the Princess was deeply in love with him.

In Kashmir a golden carpet was laid out for the Princess who, dragging her feet, went to meet her fiance. Her joy knew no bounds when she discovered that the Prince was none other than her Feramorz.

The real Lalarukh was not as fortunate. The lovers' nameless graves bear mute testimony to their tragedy. The story I pieced together was of a Royal Mughal Princess who committed the cardinal sin of falling in love with a common soldier. Leaping social boundaries, their love flourished. They met in secret until, unable to bear a moment's separation, they decided to elope.

I tried to imagine the turmoil in the Royal House-hold when it was discovered that the Princess had eloped with a common soldier. Some of the courtiers must have known about the affaire; others may even have helped the star-crossed lovers escape. Trackers must have been set on Lalarukh's trail, searching high and low, day and night; until the lovers were finally tracked down.

We know that retribution was swift and severe. The anonymous soldier was beheaded for his temerity. The Princess was bricked into a nameless grave in the middle of the compound, alive. A wall was built around the site, with sentry boxes at the four corners. The graves had to be guarded round the clock, to keep the curious and the sympathetic away; while the Princess slowly choked to death.

Today, only the stump remains of a tree that had witnessed the tragedy. It is dead, but for the rampant creepers covering it, which give it a semblance of life. Lalarukh too is dead, but her story lives on in a culture that continues to deny women their rights.

The guide at the tomb told us that before she had been bricked in, no one had dared to divest the Princess of her jewels. In 1902, archaeologists uncovered the Princess's corpse, still in all its finery and they built a grave over the hole they had made in the large square tomb, to make up for the desecration. The story of Lalarukh and her soldier was eventually pieced together from local folk-lore.
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To arrive at Lalarukh's tomb, we had followed a well marked route from main Hassanabdal Bazaar, off the G.T Road. The guide, Sajjid Mehmood was already unlocking the gates, even before my three-year old grandson and I had stepped out of the car. Although he said groups of tourists frequently visited the tomb, the locals do not seem to be used to having strangers amongst them. They dropped everything they were doing to get a good eyeful of us!

Before reaching Lalarukh's tomb we crossed another tomb facing an artificial fish pool. In 1589, Khwaja Shamsuddin Khwani, the Governor of Punjab, had built it for himself. He could not be buried in it when he died in 1599; because, by orders of Emperor Akbar, Hakim Abdul Fateh Gilani (d. 1589) and later his brother Hakim Humayun (1595), known as Hakim Hamam, were buried there.I wondered whether the change of plans had anything to do with Lalarukh's capture, but the guide could not say. He did tell us though, that the 1902 Archaeological team had discovered a vast treasure in the Hakim Brothers' tomb;which they removed to their own country.

Descendants of the original Goldfish and Rahu (fish) still inhabit the pool, which is fed by fresh spring waters from the bowels of the hill beside it. The original fish had worn golden rings. Their descendants are desperately trying to exist in a pool that the local populace treats like a trash can. Sajjid Mehmood was most apologetic, earnestly declaring that he had cleaned the pool that very morning!

A board near the tomb gives 1589 as the date when the fish pool and the Hakim brothers' tomb were built. The only information about Lalarukh's tomb is a board stating that it belongs to the seventeenth century.

No matter when she died, no matter how she died; today Lalarukh and her soldier rest in peace in a quiet garden. Who can tell who won in the end, the Emperor or the Lovers? They are together for eternity.
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