CONTRIBUTED BY URVASHI SRIVASTAVA
Burhanpur once an important trading centre of the Mughal Empire boasts of 600 years of stratified history beginning from 1400 A.D. when the city was founded by Faruqui rulers at the site of a Hindu town named Basana Khera, as the capital of the kingdom of Khandesh. The city came under the Mughals in 1601 A.D. who made it their seat of government for the province of Deccan. Humayun, Akbar and Shahjahan were amongst the great Mughal emperors who ruled from Burhanpur. It was here that Prince Khurram was given the title of a Shah by Jahangir and came to be known as Shahjahan. The city acted as the base from which armed expeditions for the conquest and control of the Deccan were launched. It has therefore historically been referred to as the Gateway to Deccan. During the Mughal rule the city was at its helm both architecturally and in its strategic positioning as the passage to Deccan and as an important trade route. The presence of the royal court gave great impetus to the weaving industry attracting craftsmen from the surrounding states of Gujarat, Malwa and Deccan making the city an important trading centre. During medieval times the city boasted of a very fine quality of transparent Muslin which was exported to as far as Persia,Turkey, Poland, Arabia and even Grand Cairo. There was a flourishing silk, textile, and dyeing industry and a cloth embroidered with gold and silver threads was also exported. Handicrafts were manufactured in the city catering to the higher classes of the contemporary society.
The medieval city of Burhanpur strewn with historical evidences from its past has several layers of heritage presenting the story of its evolution and growth from a small village to becoming the second most important trading centre in the whole of Mughal India down to the rule of the Marathas. Daniyal the first governor of Burhanpur built a palace at the site of the old citadel. Many fine palaces, gardens and hamams were also built inside the citadel. Ahukhana, thepleasure garden of the Mughal princes was also built by Daniyal. The town received special architectural patronage by the great nobleman and general Abd al-Rahim Khan-i Khanan (died 1627 A.D.) and includes important works of civic architecture. The city boasts of a unique technological and architectural feat of the past, the Qanat, an efficient water management system of Iranian inspiration, the only one of its kind in India. The landform of the area sloping towards the east to the river Tapti was utilised to construct the unique water supply system of Qanat, which served to bring water from the foothills of the Satpura range to the town and to the Khan-i Khanan’s now lost Lal Bagh. These artfully planned and cultivated gardens with a large artificial lotus-pond in their middle became the great attraction of Burhanpur, all the more so as Khan-i Khanan threw them open to the public – a rare gesture of civic spirit for the times. Apart from this a public hamam was also built close to the Jama Masjid.
During Maratha occupation several residential buildings, temples, the river front and ghats were constructed along the river Tapti. The city was fortified by constructing a 8.3m high and 2.4 m wide wall. Nine entrance gateways were constructed over the major routes. Peshwas added neighbourhoods known as Peths. After the city was occupied by British, trade and commerce declined greatly. Several ginning and pressing factories were set up in the city and the traditional weaving industry suffered a great setback. Introduction of the railway in 1867 A.D. ended the significance of the trade route. The city became an administrative centre and no longer remained a trading centre. After independence expansion of the urban fabric took place outside the walled city and the historic core was left to degenerate.