THE LARGEST CITY in northern Maharashtra, Aurangabad is the nearest air-link to the splendid caves at Ellora and Ajanta. It was founded in 1610 by Malik Atnbar, prime minister of the Nizam Shahi rulers of Ahmacl-nagar. In 1653 it became the headquarters of Aurangzeh , the last great Mughal emperor. It was from this city – which he renamed after himself – that he conquered the Deccan states.The city’s most famous monument is the Bibi ka Maqbara. Located outside the walled city, this imitation of the Taj was built in 1678 by Aurangzeb’s son, Adam Shah, in memory of his mother Rabia Dulrani. Standing in the middle of a large Mughal garden, it has four disproportionately large minarets at the ends of its raised platform. Like the Taj, it uses white marble and stucco, but there is none of the fine pietra dura work that distinguishes Shah Jahan’s creation.

Aurangzeb’s walled city makes up the central part of the town, although a few structures from Malik Amhar’s older city remain, including the Naukonda Palace (largely in ruins) and the Jami Mashed . On the left bank of the Khan river is the Dargah of Baba Shah Musafir, a Sufi saint who was Aurangzeb’s spiritual guide. The complex contains a small mosque, a madrasa (theological college), a law court, the zenana (women’s quarters) and a water mill (Panchakki), fed by a rectangular tank. Also within the old city, close to Zafar Gate, is the Aurangabad is famed for its ancient art of weaving brocade, using silk and gold threads, known as kanskhab. When the city’s prosperity declined, the weavers began using less expensive cotton and silver threads, producing himroo, which literally means similar. A variety of such shawls and saris are available in showrooms across town. The factory also produces rich Paithani saris, intricately woven with gold thread.

ENVIRONS: About 3 km (2 miles) north are the Aurangabad Caves. Mainly excavated during the Vakataka and Kalachuri periods (6th and 7th centuries), these caves can be divided into two groups. Of the five caves in the western group, the oldest is Cave 4, dating to the 1st century AD. It is a fine chaitya griha with a monolithic stupa. Carved on the rock face outside is a superb image of the Buddha, seated on a lion throne. Cave 3 (5th century) has an ingeniously designed pillared hall that is acoustically sensitive and amplifies sound. Inside the inner sanctum, a Seated Buddha is flanked by devotees with floral offerings. The eastern group, nearby, comprises four caves. Cave 6 has delicately sculpted Bodhisattva, surrounded by flying figures. The most splendid of the caves is Cave  a sumptuous shrine with large sculptures of Tara and Avalokitesvara. Its inner sanctum has a superb frieze of a female dancer accompanied by seven musicians.

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