By population the fifth-largest city in Maharashtra, Aurangabad is named after the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. The city is a tourism hub, surrounded by many historical monuments, including the caves of Ajanta and Ellora which are now UNESCO ‘World Heritage Sites’, as well as the famous Bibi ka Maqbara. Interestingly, Aurangabad is titled ‘The City of Gates’ and the strong presence of these can be felt as one drives through it.
Recently declared the ‘Tourism Capital of Maharashtra’, the history of this city with a multi-faceted character can be traced to the ‘Mulaka Janapada’ mentioned in the ‘Ramayana’ and ‘Mahabharata’. It was known as Rajtadag during the Satavahana rule and later as as Khadki or Khidki. After the Satavahanas the region witnessed a succession of powerful dynasties from 3rd to 13th century CE, including the Vakatakas and the Yadavas. With the coming of Allauddin Khilji and the establishment of Bahemani rule, the Deccan region was exposed to new ideas of style and aesthetics in art and architecture.
It became the capital of the Nizamshahi kingdom from Ahmednagar under its prime minister, Malik Amber, who redesigned and laid the foundations of the new town. The city also became the virtual capital of the Mughal Empire after the arrival of Emperor Aurangzeb who developed it as the capital of Deccan Suba, and renamed it Aurangabad. In 1692 he built the magnificent palace Quila-e-Ark and fortifications around the city. After the death of Aurangzeb, his minister, Nizam-ul-Muluk Asaf Jah, added to the beauty of the city by building many palaces, gardens, mosques and canals. In the later period the capital of the dynasty of Nizamshashis was shifted to Hyderabad and the city of Aurangabad lost favour with the ruling elite.
At present the caves of Aurangabad, Bibi ka Maqbara and Panchakki are the main tourist attractions within the city limits. The Aurangabad caves are located on a hill near Bibi ka Maqbara on the outskirts of the city at a distance of just 5 kilometers from the Aurangabad bus stand and 9 kilometers from the railway station. The Panchalkki is a mere 1.5 kilometers from the main bus stand on the way to Bibi ka Maqbara. The caves are open from sunrise to sunset while Bibi-ka Maqbara and Panchakki remain open till 9.30 pm.
The caves are segregated into three groups and belong to the Buddhist faith dated between 3rd to 7th centuries CE. The third group was left unfinished and moreover appears like natural caves and inaccessible. Except for Cave 4 which is a Hinayana ‘chaityagriha’, all the other caves are monasteries and ‘chaityaviharas’ affiliated to Mahayana and Vajrayana faiths. Various sculptures of Buddha, a panel of ‘Hariti-Pancika’, the ‘asamahabhayas’ (eight great perils), a pictorial representation of a group of dancing females in the midst of seated female musicians and a ‘Mahaparinirvana’ panel are worth seeing here.
Bibi ka Maqbara is actually a beautiful mausoleum of Rabia-ul-Daurani, the wife of the Mughal Emperor Aurangazeb. The mausoleum stands in the centre of a rectangular enclosure in the form of a decorated lime-plastered building with minarets. A mosque to the west of the main structure was a later addition by the Nizam of Hyderabad. A marble dome rises above with four minarets at the corner angles. According to the ‘Tawarikh Namah’ of Ghulam Mustafa, the construction cost of the mausoleum was Rs 6,68,203.07 in 1651-1661 CE. Soneri Mahal (golden palace) is situated near Bibi ka Maqbara. It was built during 1651-53 by a Bundelkhandi chief who accompanied Aurangazeb into the Deccan. The palace gets its name from the paintings made in pure gold water which adorn its interiors. At present it houses the office of the State Department of Archaeology and a regional museum housing numerous sculptures and antiques.
Distance from Mumbai: 370 kms