Lost Narratives of Varanasi, Unweaving the Historical Layers

Malavika Kasturi, a University of Toronto professor, in the talk titled ‘Mughal Banaras: An Exploration’ at India International Centre of Delhi, presents a new viewpoint on Varanasi’s widely accepted Hindu narrative and uncovers its forgotten Mughal history.

She highlights the lives of Mughal pensioners and their descendants, emphasizing their influence on the city’s social and political affairs. By exposing erased histories and emphasizing the importance of diverse historical perspectives, Kasturi’s research urges the need to preserve Varanasi’s heritage.

Chronicles of Mughal Pensioners in Varanasi

Kasturi’s research focuses on the Mughal pensioners and descendants of Alamgir II who lived in Varanasi during the colonial era. Of particular interest are individuals like Shahzada Jahandar Shah, son of Shah Alam II, who arrived in Varanasi in 1787 with the aim of building a robust army to support his father. Following his death, Jahandar Shah’s family continued to reside in the city as political pensioners and became increasingly involved in the local social and political scene. The city’s residents still remember various structures linked to the Mughal pensioners, such as the Shahi Masjid and Dargah-e-Fatman.

Kasturi sheds light on the Mughal history of Varanasi that is often overlooked, focusing on the later Mughals during colonial times. Her research challenges the commonly accepted narrative that portrays Mughal history in the city only in terms of temple destruction and conflict. Instead, Kasturi places emphasis on the political importance of Varanasi during the colonial era and delves into the lives of Mughal pensioners and their offspring, who lived in the city from the 18th century until the British departure in 1947.

Fading Echoes and Selective Memory

The history of later Mughals in Banaras is plagued by issues such as “selective amnesia,” selective memory,” “selective conservation,” and “selective curation,” which have contributed to the neglect of heritage associated with this era. Despite the significance of the Chait Singh Palace, which was occupied by Jahandar Shah and his family for almost a century, the memories associated with it do not include its Mughal occupants. This selective approach has led to the poor condition of Jahandar Shah’s tomb and the other Mughal buildings in Varanasi.


Kasturi’s examination of Banaras from multiple angles illuminates the different dimensions of its social, religious, and political fabric. Her research delves into the overlooked Mughal history of Varanasi, bringing to the fore the stories of Mughal pensioners and their offspring and highlighting the significance of safeguarding a range of historical accounts.

Kasturi’s commendable research on the marginalized Mughal history of Varanasi aims to showcase the city’s diverse past. Her efforts highlight the significance of safeguarding multiple historical narratives to develop a comprehensive understanding of Banaras’ cultural heritage.

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