THE DUSTY TOWN of Sasaram, a three-hour drive west of Patna on the historic Grand Trunk Road is famous for the Mausoleum of Sher Shah Sur, the great Afghan ruler . This mid-16th-century architectural masterpiece is, to quote architectural historian Percy Brown, a testament to, “the aesthetic capacity of the Indian architect at its greatest, and his genius at its highest”.
With a spectacular setting in the middle of an artificial lake, the pyramidal sandstone structure rises in five tiers to a height of 45 m (148 ft). The first two tiers comprise of a stepped basement and a high terrace that seems to emerge from the water, with a pavilion at each corner. The octagonal tomb is set on this plinth, and tapers towards the dome in three elegant layers of arches, crenellated parapets and small pillared kiosks. The broad dome is crowned by a large gilded lotus finial. All these elements combine to create a superbly proportioned structure that appears to float above the lake.
Curiously, the tomb is orientated eight degrees off its main axis – a mistake that the architect, Aliwal Khan, has skilfully disguised. The brilliant yellow and blue tiles are still seen in places. Nearby is the tomb of Sher Shah’s lather, Masan Sur, built by the same architect.