Ambling Through Hauz Khas – Makhdum Sabzwari Mosque


I always wanted to visit this very beautiful and intriguing mosque and Dargah of lesser known saint Hazrat Makhdum Sabzwari in upmarket Mayfair Gardens next to Hauz Khas enclave. The late 15th century mosque and tomb complex stands west to the ruined walls of Siri.

One look and you’re in awe of the simple yet majestic structure set in a serene lush garden. This is another of the invisible, forgotten structures from late Tughlaq period (built after Taimur’s invasion of Delhi in 1398). The massiveness of the construction, slopping sturdy exterior walls, squat domes, rows of unornamented pillars, all show the simplicity and austerity of Tughlaq style of architecture.

Here is a text from the Online Gallery of British Library :

“Durgah (‘Shrine’) Mukhdoom (‘literally a Servant’) Subzwaree (‘title taken from the place of birth’) Saheb. The individual whose shrine is here represented was a native of the town of Subz in the Province of Kish, and was a person of uncommon talent. When he had acquired as much learning as his birth place could furnish him with, he proceeded to Shiraz and Bokhara, where he pursued
[The tomb and adjacent mosque of Makhdum Sabzavari.]
his studies in medicine and other branches of service and literature to a perfection which entitled him to diplomas. Hence he came to Hindoostan during the reign of Sultan (‘Emperor’) Alaoodeen(‘Glory of the Faith’) Khiljie (‘name of tribe or family’), who reigned AD 1295 in quest of religious characters & on arrival at Dehlie became a disciple of Huzrut Sultan ool Mushayek Nizam Odeen Owleea (Page 40 [f. 43v]) under whom he practised so rigid a discipline as to induce his Master to nominate him to the succession of the Priesthood held by himself. He did not, however, survive to receive the honor having demised about AD 1325 two years previous to the death of the Saint. The Mausoleum and Mosque which are seen in the drawing were erected by his children.” (LINK)

The use of indigenous motifs and style at some places in the structures make it a unique link between the early puritan architecture and more inclusive one of the later dynasties of Sayyids and Lodis.

Sadly, except from Thursdays, barely anyone visits this place despite its unique features. On Thursdays a few devout people come to pray and seek the blessings from the saint. Not much is known about Makhdum Sahib. Some say he came from Sabswar in Central Asia.

There is a board telling you that it is an ASI protected monument but no other information is available. This mosque reminds me of Shah Alam’s tomb and mosque enclosure (late 14th c.). Both have low enclosing walls and similar mosque and tomb.

The gateway to the complex is made of rubble masonry. There are four small niches flanking a large Temple-Style entrance arch comprised of carved rectangular slabs and pillars. Under the arch is a beautiful carved corbelled gateway leading to the courtyard. A very important feature of the gateway is the unusual and beautiful fluted ribbed dome. The gateway allows access to the northern side of the mosque. The entrance to the steps leading to the roof is locked. There is a balcony with cells too. The grilled gates of the cells are a latest addition.

The structure is a beautiful example of intermingling of Indian and Central Asian architecture comprising of architectural brilliance of both the styles. Some of the unique features of this architectural style are elaborately decorated and embellished arches and domes. Teachings from the Holy Quran, various floral patterns and the Buddhist and Hindu motifs were widely used in decorations. We see some of that in this complex too.

I find the ‘indo- Islamic’ term a misnomer but that is my personal view point. There is nothing called Islamic or Hindu architecture apart from what the British fed everyone to create a feeling of ”otherness’. The architecture that’s called Islamic is from Central Asia and the Hindu is actually the Indian architecture.

I believe that architecture during those times wasn’t really Hindu or Islamic and the motifs were designed as per the aesthetic sense rather than religious one. This is a debate for some other time. The use of common motifs in temples and mosques or tombs etc speaks highly about the vivid imagination of builders and designers of these buildings. The successful bringing together of different design features as a whole is a fine example of the ganga- jamuni tehzeeb. It is interesting that we see a diverse intermingling of Indian, Persian, Buddhist, Jain style of architecture. I am sorry for digressing but it is a point I had to make. Architecture has No Religion.

Back in Sabzwari Mosque, the spacious courtyard is lined on three sides by pillared cloisters that form the part of the mosque. It is a seven bay mosque that has squat domes over the central and the corner bays giving the structure a solid, sturdy look.

The most intriguing feature of the mosque is the concept of “enclosed space”. One can see the sahn defined by iwans on three sides. This gives the sense of both openness and closeness at the same time. The iwans on the western (Mecca facing) wall are more prominent. One can also see circular buttresses on the corners of the western wall.

The building is constructed of rubble masonry coated with plaster. The pillars of the arched openings are made of hard compact granite roughly chiseled into squared rectangular blocks. The western facade also has two slender turret-like structures on either side of the main dome and one on each of the ends.

There are no minarets for the muezzin to summon for the prayer and an interesting thing to note here is that the two step mimbar of pulpit, to the right side of the Qibla wall, is placed behind a pillar. It is a small mosque so it served its authoritarian purpose.

The arches, pillars, the red sandstone dripstones, the architraves and brackets speak of the gentle intermingling of the two architectural styles. The external walls of the iwans and the vaulted insides of the domes have delicate plaster ornamentation and medallions.

There were 18 medallions in total out of which twelve have the word ‘Allah’ inscribed on them while six others have floral designs. This beautiful structure has survived the ravages of more than five centuries but the sharpness of lines chiseled in plaster look exquisite even today. A few medallions, plaster ornamentation, painted decorations have got destroyed over the period of time especially due to neglect and vandalism.

A unique feature is the presence of two medallions that have hexagram in them with the word Allah in the middle. The hexagram is surrounded by Tibetan Buddhist ‘infinity knots’ or the ‘endless knots’.

Delhi has a lot of mosques and tombs with hexagram as a decorative geometrical symbol. I’ll try and do a story on it too.

Hexagram has been used in Islamic ornamentation on almost all ancient structures from tombs to mosques. It has been extensively used in Indian and other architectural styles, cultural beliefs too with different connotations. It is also a potent symbol of astronomy, science and mathematics. I think the early Armenians were the first to use it in 3rd millennium BC.

The infinity knot or the endless/eternal knot is an auspicious symbol in both Jainism and Buddhism. The Tibetan Buddhism’s endless knot motif is incorporated in some of other monuments in Delhi too perhaps to depict the concept of infinite powers of one eternal God or an inter-twining of wisdom and compassion. Also, there was a spread of this branch of Buddhism in Delhi since the time of King Ashoka so we do see the symbols from it incorporated in many later structures.

There are two narrow domes hujras or cells on either side of the open pillared cloisters, which probably served as secluded chambers for performing austerities or meditation. One of them still has remnants of an intricate red sandstone jaali (lattice-work).

 

Facing this mosque is a walled graveyard. The focal point is the pavilion tomb of the saint himself. Built on a raised platform, it is a twelve-pillared structure that originally had jali screens (screen with ornamental patterns) held between the pillars. (see the British Library Link above)

 

The pillars are arranged to support a set of beams that in turn support an octagonal drum, on which sits the squat dome. At the corners formed between the square and the octagonal drum on the roof are four decorative minarets. A chhajja (projecting cover supported on brackets) runs all along the outer periphery of the pavilion. Medallions bearing the name Allah are studded into the kangura pattern.

The grave’s plaster has fallen off exposing the bricks beneath. I saw some swastikas drawns with red roli powder on one of its sides. Some flower offerings lay there along with a blackened earthen diya. A mazar such as this has a religious significance unlike the maqbara such as in Humayun’s or Safdarjung tombs.

The most interesting feature of the tomb are the remains of intricate cerulean shamsas on the crest of the dome and lintels for which both incised and painted plaster has been used. One can see it in a painting made by Mazhar Khan for Metcalfe’s Imperial Delhi, Dehlie Diary, online gallery of British Library.

Painting was one of the more common forms of decoration in medieval structures. Possibly because it could be used extensively and did not require the hard physical labour or the large expenses that went into stone work. Unfortunately it doesn’t withstand the passage of years well because of its fragility and here is an example of that but despite that, lots of medieval monuments in Delhi (especially tombs) are home to some beautifully ornate painting.

There are several other graves, some with inscriptions, scattered around the main structure. Most of them are in dilapidated state. These must be the graves of either the saint’s disciples or family members.

A few people were resting under the trees in the rolling park around the structure but mostly it was the crows, squirrels and a solitary Hornbill that had come to experience the tranquil surroundings of this forlorn complex.

I made another visit to the complex a few days later and spent time exploring the gardens.  Usually one finds a peacock or two there but that day it was deserted. I remembered the summer of the Laburnum and how pretty it would look with its delicate flowers carpeted on the emerald green grass.

I am still trying to learn more about this mosque and Dargah and I will update the post in case I come across some interesting facts.

I think I have covered almost all the lesser known monuments in and around Hauz Khas. I have two more interesting posts on Delhi wanderings coming up so stay tuned.