Monday 14 January 2013

The sign posts of the Mughals

Today, these monuments have all but disappeared and the few that are still on the road side have been neglected. These are the Kos Minars that the Mughals built all along the roads of their huge Empire.
The Kos Minars were generally mile stones and the distance of a  place was measured by a Kos. These minars are solid round pillar, around 30 feet in height that stands on a masonry platform built with bricks and plastered over with lime.
These minars were installed across main highways to delineate the route and also mark the distance.
At the height of the empire, there were more than 1,000 such Kos Minars and a majority of them came to be constructed between 1556 and 1707.
All the Mughal Emperors encouraged the construction of such mile stones so that they could stand as a permanent and indestructible monument. For the Mughals, the distance between two Kos was three kms.    
One such Kos Minar can still be seen on the Grand Trunk Road from Delhi to Chandirgarh. The Minar is near Panipat in Haryana.
Emperor Akbar’s chronicler and historian Abul Fazal has written in Akbarnama that Akbar issued an order in 1575 that at every kos on way from Agra to Ajmer, a Kos Minar should be installed so that those who had lost their way have a mark to find their path.
Thus, the Kos Minars, constructed for the comfort of travellers, eventually became an institution during the rule of the Mughals. After Akbar, his son Jahangir and grandson Shah Jahan, both added to the existing network of Kos Minars.
In the North, the network of Kos Minars were extended from Agra to Lahore and Peshawar via Delhi, in the East to Bengal via Kannauj, and in the South from Agra to Mandu via Shivpuri. In 1607, Emperor Jahangir ordered the Zamidars of his kingdom to plant trees at regular intervals on the Agra-Lahore road. In 1619, he ordered Baqir Khan, the Faujdar of Multan, to put up a pillar at every Kos. He also ordered a well to be sunk at every three kos distance.
Unfortunately, India seems to have forgotten its heritage. There has so far not been any systematic study undertaken to find out as to how many Kos Minars still survive. One reason could be that they were seen as architecturally insignificant.
But when one looks at the minars as part of a much larger design, their real significance can be appreciated. For instance, some of major cities of historical significance, monuments and battlefields are situated on the route marked by Kos Minars.
There are some places on the Agra-Delhi belt where a network of caravan sarais (travellers’ resting places), and bawlis (stepped drinking water wells) - though some of them extinct now – were built close to Kos Minars for the comfort and benefit of travellers. Nearly 400 years later, highways have come up much along the same route as one delineated by Kos Minars.
The Kos Minars also played an important role in the day-to-day administration of the Mughal empire. Each Minar was equipped with a horse, a rider and a drummer to relay back and forth royal messages with speed. Historians say that that the primary function of these road side mile stones was to facilitate efficient transportation and communication.
There are 49 Kos Minars in Haryana, of which 17 are situated in Faridabad district, seven in Sonepat, five in Panipat, 10 in Karnal, nine in Kurukshetra-Ambala belt , and one in Rohtak districts. And all of them, except the one at Rohtak, exist on the Delhi-Ambala and Delhi-Agra highways.
The Kos Minars or Mile Pillars are medieval milestones that were first constructed by the Afghan Emperor Sher Shah Suri.

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