Although the most impressive Islamic monument in the whole of Maharashtra, Aurangabad’s Mughal tomb-garden, the Bibi-ka-Maqbara, has always suffered from comparison with the Taj Mahal, built forty years earlier, of which it’s an obvious imitation. Completed in 1678, the mausoleum was dedicated by Prince Azam Shah to the memory of his mother Begum Rabi’a Daurani, Aurangzeb’s wife. Lack of resources dogged the 25-year project, and the end result fell far short of expectations. Looking at the mausoleum from beyond the ornamental gardens and redundant fountains in front of it, the truncated minarets and ungainly entrance arch make the Bibi-ka-Maqbara appear ill-proportioned compared with the elegant height and symmetry of the Taj, an impression not enhanced by the abrupt discontinuation of marble after the first 2m – allegedly a cost-saving measure.
An enormous brass-inlaid door – decorated with Persian calligraphy naming the maker, the year of its installation and chief architect – gives access to the archetypal charbagh garden complex. Of the two entrances to the mausoleum itself, one leads to the inner balcony while the second drops through another beautiful door to the vault (visitors may no longer climb the minarets). Inside, an exquisite octagonal lattice-screen of white marble surrounds the raised plinth supporting Rabi’a Daurani’s grave. Like her husband’s in nearby Khuldabad, it is “open” as a sign of humility. The unmarked grave beside it is said to be that of the empress’s nurse.