The tomb of Lal Khan is situated immediately north of Malviya Bridge, close to the bank of the river Ganga at Rajghat, adjacent to the archaeological remains of early Kashi. This is a relatively little known and visited monument in Banaras, possibly because it is completely invisible to anyone walking along the more popular ghats south of Malviya Bridge.
The tomb was built in 1773 for Lal Khan, a Muslim minister in the court of Maharaja Balwant Sing, the first king of Banaras. In the early 1700s following Auranzeb’s death, the Mulghal Empire started to decline with regional viceroys becoming increasingly independent. Known for his patronage of both Hindu and Muslim cultural events, Banaras was under the control of Mir Rustam Ali, who entrusted his property to a Brahmin named Mansaram, founder of the Banaras ruling family.
Maharaja Balwant Singh was the son of Mansaram, and although his minister Lal Khan was known for strict law enforcement, he also did much to support the diverse cultural life of the city. It is said that Lal Khan specifically wished to be buried here, so he could see the great gateway (now lost) of the royal palace.
The tomb is located in the centre of a typical rectangular walled persion-style paradise garden. Each of the four corners of the garden once had an octagonal stone canopy, one of which was destroyed when the north-western section of the original garden was cut off by the re-routed Grand Trunk Road.
The main tomb is constructed on a high square platform, with a large dome, and four corner minarets. The exterior is decorated with colourful cobalt and turquoise tiles, set in pink sandstone. Much of this temple is Timurid-inspired, hardly surprising as the Mughals were Timurid and Mongol in linage (Persian and Turkish in their cultural ancestry). Two other members of Lal Khan’s family are also buried here.
The contrast between the ghats south of Malviya Bridge and this area immediately to the north is quite stark. Almost instantly the urban sprawl of Varanasi disappears as you cross the railway bridge by Raj Ghat, and enter a far more rural landscape.
The well tended gardens of Lal Khan’s tomb offer some much needed green space near the banks of the Ganga that you cannot find anywhere else along the ghats. A visit to Lal Khan’s Tomb can be combined with seeing the early archaeological remains of Kashi, which are located immediately to the east.
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