India’s rich history is checkered with so many dynasties and short-term rulers that it is obvious to expect regions that rose to prominence for a brief period and then were relegated to relative obscurity. These parts of the country may not find inclusion in regular tourist itineraries, but for the more adventurous lovers of history they offer very rewarding glimpses into their glorious past. One such region is the area surrounding the town of Sasaram in Bihar, which normally just acts as a pit-stop on the National Highway 19, once known as the Grand Trunk Road.
Sasaram is the headquarters of Rohtas district in Bihar, and located about 150 km south-west of Patna. Varanasi is about 135 km further west. Lying on the arterial New Delhi – Kolkata route, it is an important railway junction and well-connected with most cities in North India. Because of its location on NH 19, one of the busiest national highways in India, it has very good accommodation options too.
Like many parts of India, the history of the Sasaram – Rohtas region is intermingled with a fair share of mythology. Rohtas is supposed to get its name from Rohitashwa, the son of King Harishchandra. The name Sasaram is widely believed to be derived from the myth of great King Sahasrabahu, probably a ruler from the local adivasi community (and sometimes cited as a demon for these reasons), who was killed by Parasauram. The region was of middling importance under the Mauryan dynasty, most likely because of its location on the trade route connecting the north of the country to the east.
Photo by Officer
But, the brief high point of Sasaram’s history came when a local chieftain went on to defeat the Mughal emperor Humayun and established himself on the throne of Delhi for five years. Sher Shah Suri, born Farid Khan in a family of Pashtun origin settled in Sasaram, may have just been a blip in the long Mughal rule that covered a vast stretch of North India, but his influence on administration, taxation, governance and related areas were strong enough to be followed by the Mughals and the British who came after him. The most prominent legacies of the great ruler, of course, are the Grand Trunk Road itself, which once stretched from Chittagong to Kabul, and the Indian rupee.
Places to Visit
Sher Shah Suri’s Tomb – The great ruler might have conquered Delhi, but his body was laid to rest in his home town. This brilliant example of Indo-Islamic architecture, currently on the Tentative List of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, was built on the orders of Sher Shah himself and was designed by master architect Alawal Khan, and was completed soon after his accidental death in 1545. The mausoleum, made of red sandstone, stands in the middle of a square artificial lake and is connected to the main land by a stone bridge. The tomb is located a very short distance from the GT Road, and is worth a visit even if you are just passing by.
Photo by Sudhir kumar RBI
Hasan Shah Suri’s Tomb – Also designed by Alawal Khan, this mausoleum belongs to Sher Shah’s father, a renowned tactician and ruler in his own right. Built on a similar model as the more illustrious son’s tomb, this is slightly less refined in its detail, but offers a magnificent sight too.
Rohtasgarh Fort – A rare historical fort in eastern India, it is also one of the oldest in the country to continue standing. It has played an important role in the region’s history, right from the 1200s to the time of the British. A 2-hour trip from Sasaram, it is built on a hill at a height of 1500 ft, and the climb to its gate can be quite a trek. What makes the effort worth it though is the imposing fort as well as the many places of interest within its walls.
Photo by Virajsnigh7
The Aaina Mahal, Jama Masjid, Hathiya Pol, Habsh Khan’s Mausoleum, the Ganesh Temple and the Devi Temple, built at different points of time, following different schools of architecture, give an idea of the long history of this fort. Interestingly, the famous Rohtas Fort in Pakistan, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was built by Sher Shah Suri and named after this fort.
Shergarh Fort – If you really want to explore uncharted territory, this fort, about 32 km south-west of Sasaram, is a great bet. While it is commonly believed that it was built by Sher Shah Suri, many historians contest the fact, and the exact origins remain a mystery. While the fort itself and the many structures within it are in ruins, some parts, including underground chambers, remain surprisingly well-preserved. What is even more surprising is that this fort, which offers many breathtaking views, doesn’t see many visitors. Part of the reason could be that this fort is supposed to have been the site of a massacre when a large number of Sher Shah Suri’s extended family members were put to death by Humayun’s army.
Others – Once you are done with these places, you can make good use of any remaining time with visits to the Indrapuri Barrage, the fourth longest barrage in the world; the Ashokan Rock Edict, about two km from Sher Shah Suri’s Tomb; the beautiful waterfall at the Tutla Bhawani temple; and the various temples in and around Sasaram.
Featured Photo (Sher Shah Suri’s Tomb) by Nandanupadhyay