A trip full of surprises is the best kind of a trip. We at Breakfree swear by this. Therefore, if a new route is available, we don’t hesitate to try it out, not just to save time but to see a different side of the same region. So, while on the roadtrip to the Konkan, when our host at the homestay at Diveagar mentioned about the Jungle Jetty that had been constructed recently we were naturally intrigued. Connecting a hamlet named Rohini to Agardanda via the Rajapuri creek, this ferry service has the capacity of carrying around 10-15 cars to the other side. After checking out, we drove to Rohini and stood waiting for the grand ferryboat to arrive. Once we boarded and all the vehicles were loaded, a pleasant ferry ride followed. Approximately fifteen minutes later, we were cruising on a narrow road to go to Murud, not to see the Janjira but to have the lip smacking fish thali at the buzzing Patil’s Khanaval.
A few kilometers into the journey, we noticed milestones and boards put up by the Archaeological Survey of India declaring the area as protected under various sections of the law. We couldn’t see any monument except the majestic Janjira fort standing in the middle of the creek, to our left. We moved on and suddenly the mystery was solved.
To our left, where the road forks towards Rajapuri Creek lay a complex of three structures. Fenced on all sides, these three structures built of sandstone stood forlornly. We pulled over and entered through the small gate. Some restoration work seemed to be underway. At that moment, we didn’t know what these were. They seemed, at best, a royal masoleum belonging to the Siddis, the regional rulers of Murud and Janjira. We weren’t far from the truth as we were to find out later. A text message from a friend who is a history buff like us confirmed it. These were the Khokhari Tombs or as ASI classifies them – Khokari Gumbaj.
The Siddis were descendants of slaves from Abyssinia who were brought to India by Arab Merchants in the 12th century. Inherently strong and well built, the Siddis as they came to be known were employed in the armies of the local rulers. Jamal-ud-Din Yaqut, the confidante of Begum Razia Sultan for instance, or Siddi Malik Ambar the founder of the city of Aurangabad. But closer to home ruled the Siddis of Janjira. Regularly plundering Bombay and terrorizing the British, they were allies of the Mughals. Emperor Aurangzeb acknowledged their might and realised their strategic importance as a powerful naval force. Janjira Fort that stands in the Rajapuri creek was taken by the Siddis from the Kolis by deceit and was made impregnable for the other local rulers. The Marathas under Sambhaji, the son of Shivaji made several attempts at capturing this fort but never succeeded.
On every trip to Janjira, it is fascinating to imagine the Siddis, the strong maritime power ruling the region ruling the sea fort, commanding the dandarajapuri areas and making frequent forays into the Harbour of Bombay. The diplomatic relations between the colonisers and the local rulers in the 17th to 19th century makes for a fascinating read. After having spoken about the Siddis and their role in the history of Bombay during our Exploring Bombay walks, visting their resting place was an experience we treasure. Speaking of treasure, a local legend says “untold wealth lies within the silence of the tombs spelling death or madness to the grasping seeker unless he is able to read the Koran backwards without pause or repetition; a treasure secured by the word of god. Evidently, no one has as yet performed a successful recitation or excavation.”
Built in the Indo-Saracenic style, there are 3 main tombs while scattered all around the complex are 50 other tombs of nobility and other important people of the Siddi empire. The bulbous domes with an intricate finial on each tomb, beautiful jhaali work on the windows and rounded arches in the doorways.
The Gazetteers Department of Raigad (Kolaba) mentions the following about the tombs
Khokari (Murud Peta) a small village on the mainland nearly opposite the Janjira fortress, contains three massive stone tombs in the Indo-Saracenic style. The largest is the tomb of Sidi Surul Khan who was chief of Janjira from 1707 to 1734, and the two smaller buildings are the tombs of Sidi Kasim commonly known as Yakut Khan, who was in command of Janjira (1670-1677), of the Moghal fleet (1677-1696), and again of Janjira (1696-1707) and of his brother Khairiyat Khan who was in command of Danda-Rajpuri (1670-1677) and of Janjira (1677-1696). The tomb of Surul Khan is said to have been built during his lifetime.
Yakut Khan’s tomb has an Arabic inscription stating that he died on Thursday 30th Jama-Dilaval H. 1118 (A.D. 1707) Khairiyat Khan’s has also an inscription. The figures of the date of his death are H. 1018, but the Arabic words give the date H. 1108 (A. D. 1696) and this is probably correct. The tombs were kept in repair by the Nawab who had assigned the village of Savli-Mitha-gar with a yearly revenue of Rs. 2,000 for the maintenance of Surul Khan’s tomb, and the village of Dodakal for the maintenance of Yakut Khan’s and Khairiyat Khan’s tombs. On Thursday nights the Koran is read at these tombs and yearly death-days or urus are celebrated.
There was absolutely nobody else apart from us to confirm the last bit about the reading of Koran. But the mosque within the complex seemed like nobody had visited it in a long time. Behind the tombs lied three huge baobab trees. Quite fascinating because we have been helping track some of the Baobabs located in Bombay. One of them was in bloom and it was the first time that we were seeing the white bulbous flower, hanging upside down. Apart from the architectural and historical significance, the Khokari tombs must be visited to see these trees too.
James Douglas writing about Yakut Khan and the tombs at Khokari in 1900 said:
Here you may sit awhile, or sleep o’ night, if you care to rough it on a charpoy, cheek by jowl with his sarcophagus. Here he rests after the hurly-burly of stormy times (1670-1707). Other chiefs also— “Their bones are dust And their swords are rust, And their souls are with the saints, we trust.”
This place Khokari is on the mainland, only a mile or two away, and, on a rising ground on the sea margin, among trees, is of uncommon beauty. There is an Arabic inscription on Yakut’s tomb ; they all remind one of the grand tombs at Eosa, above Euora. The Koran is recited every Thursday, and the Nawab sees to it that the tombs are all kept in good repair.
And we too sat, albeit not at night but under the bright sun, marvelling at the grandeur of the place and of the intricate work on the tomb of Yakut Khan. While workers commissioned by the ASI went about doing their work, with no supervisor or any official around, we wondered if the lost glory of the Mausoleum would ever be fully restored. Thismonument of national importance didn’t even have a small signboard announcing the name of the structure, leave alone its history. But for us, it was a pleasant discovery and we hope to return soon.
To visit Khokari Tombs, travel down 6 km from Murud towards Agardanda Jetty and after Khar Amboli you will come across Khokari. You can also drive down from Rajapuri Jetty to Agardanda.
Photos by: Biswajit Dey, Rithika Kumar and Mohini Bhavsar
Text by: Rushikesh Kulkarni, Team Breakfree Journeys