My last halt in Bijapur turns out to be a bit of a grave destination and the setting of a cold blooded tale. It is well past five in the evening and I have been on a whirlwind tour of the heritage town where almost every monument is a mahal or a mosque or a mausoleum. But I have not had my fill as yet.
The auto driver is a bit sceptical when I tell him that I want to head to Saat Kabar. He tries to dissuade me . “ There is no road. You may have to go there walking on your own. The auto cannot go there,” he says . He warns me that it is rather isolated and there will be no one around. But I refuse to be cowed down .
We drive down, leaving the dusty town and hit the highway. A detour takes us across a few scattered homes as we watch some boys play cricket on the empty grounds. The auto stops at a dead-end. All that I see in front of me is just a bit of dense undergrowth and a clump of bushes. There is no path. Thorny thickets are thrust in front of me as I walk behind the auto driver looking out for snakes. On one side is sheer wilderness and on the other lush fields.
We keep walking and suddenly I spy the outline of a monument peeping at us through the trees. Brick red in colour, it seems to be on the other side of a high compound wall with no path to access it. I stop and look at it towering in front of me, the unkempt branches of the trees snaking towards it, shrouding it from public view.
It is eerie and quiet but I wonder if this is the Saat Kabar or the sixty graves of the murdered wives of Afzal Khan, the army chief of Adil Shahi 11. The graves narrate the gruesome fate of these women who were killed by none other than their own husband. The tragic story is set in the 17th century, at a time when Chatrapathi Shivaji wages war against Adil Shah 11 . Afzal Khan leads the forces but is distracted by an astrologer who tells him that he will not survive the battle. The jealous and possessive commander decides to kill all his 60 wives lest they remarry after the war. So, he beckons them to an isolated spot and pushes them into a well and murders them. One of them tries to escape, but is captured later and killed as well.
I am actually standing in the middle of nowhere amidst wilderness looking for these sixty graves. Suddenly my auto driver calls out to me. He is ahead of me, near a clearing and I make my way through the shrubs only to see a vast open space . There lie several graves , made of black stone, arranged neatly in rows, sending out a silent epitaph to those women. Some of these stones are broken , while they lie open to the skies. Afzal Khan apparently wanted to be buried near his wives as well, but he never returned from the battlefield.
The silence is ominous here, almost echoing the last cries of the women who were pushed to their death here. I feel a shiver and hurry back to the safe confines of civilisation.
This was published in my column , Inside Story in The Hindu Metro Plus