Nurmahal : Nur Jahan’s serai in heart of Punjab

Who doesn’t know Nur Jahan? The wife of Emperor Jehangir, the Padshah Begum was truly an influential figure at the Mughal court. As a generous patron of arts and architecture, she is credited with many artistic and architectural achievements. Several mosques, serais, tombs and gardens were built in her name. One such recipient of her patronage was the Nurmahal Serai in Punjab.

Where is Nurmahal?

About 20 kilometers west of Phillaur in the District Jalandhar, Punjab, lies the small town of Nurmahal. The town derives its name from a Serai which was built there by Nur Jahan, in 1618. The construction took two years to complete and was overseen by Zakariya Khan, the then-governor of Jalandhar. It was meant for travellers on the Lahore-Agra route.

Because of its prime location on an important trade route, the Serai brought in a lot of tariff for Nur Jahan. She later used this to patronize other institutions.

Lawns inside the Nurmahal complex

The Nurmahal Serai Complex: As it stands today

This relic of the past is managed by the Archaeological Survey of India and as such quite well-maintained. Enter the complex, one is immediately struck by the magnificent gateway of Serai Nurmahal. This is the Western Gateway. Made of red sandstone, it has intricate carvings depicting birds, elephants, camels, fairies and humans. There used to be another gateway opposite to it, the Eastern Gateway, which no longer exists.

Serai Nurmahal

The serais built around this time usually had brick gateways. This makes the Sandstone gateways at Nurmahal stand out.

On crossing the Western Gateway, one is welcomed by green lawns. These are bounded by rooms on three sides. The fourth side has a Hamam (public bathing area). There is also a Mosque inside the complex.

All the rooms in the Serai have an arched porch, a verandah and alcoves inside- perhaps to place lanterns at night. There are octagonal towers at each corner of the gateway. However, all rooms and even the staircase leading to the top have been blocked now. There is also a deep well in the complex(dried up now), similarly covered with an iron grill for safety reasons.

A dried up well at Nurmahal

Fun-Facts about the Nurmahal Serai:

Emperor Jehangir visited this Serai twice. For some time the Serai was used as a school. Here’s an excerpt from the Tuzk-i-Jahangiri, confirming the same:

…I took up my quarters in Nur-Saray. At this spot the Vakils of Nur Jahan Begam had built a lofty house, and made a royal garden. It was now completed. On this account the Begam, having begged for an entertainment, prepared a grand feast, and by the way of offering, with great pains produced all kinds of delicate and rare things. In order to please her I took what I approved. I halted two days at this place

Other than elements from Islamic iconography, the sculptural features of Nurmahal Serai also has Hindu influences. Thus, it is an example of syncretic architectural design.

Architectural features at Nurmahal

Getting there:

Apart from heavy traffic, the drive till GT Road is quite smooth. However, the Phillaur-Nurmahal road is narrow and full of pot-holes, making it a back-breaking journey. Once inside the town, it isn’t difficult to find the Serai Nurmahal. A word of caution though– the closer to the monument you try to take your vehicle the more difficult it will be to reverse while getting out.

There isn’t any parking place as it has all been usurped by street vendors on carts. The approach has dhabas, mithai shops, auto repair shops with narrow alleys – typical of any old town.

My top tip for visitors

For people wanting to visit, I suggest that either Ludhiana or Jalandhar be used as a base and Nurmahal be covered in a day trip.

All images are provided by the Author and may not be reproduced without permission.
Featured Image: Wikimedia Commons

Inspired? For Women’s History Month, the Heritage Lab in collaboration with Jaypore and Aleph Books celebrates women at the Mughal court. Despite being highly educated and powerful, the contributions of #TheseMughalWomen remain under-represented in history. As part of this campaign, we invite readers, researchers, bloggers to share their encounters with #TheseMughalWomen.

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Hemant Sarin
Hemant Sarin
A lawyer more interested in History. Follow me on Twitter @hemantsarin

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