Delhi Monuments – The Three Domed Mosque, Safdarjung Tomb


There is something about this Garden Tomb of Safdarjung that draws you in.  This was the last architectural project of Mughal era in Delhi and is perhaps one of the most underrated monuments too, mainly because of the constant comparison with much touted Humayun’s Tomb. Here is a blog I wrote about why You should go with an open mind to really enjoy its beauty. Safdarjung Tomb Complex  

Safdarjung’s full name was Wazir-ul-Hindustaan Abul Mansur Mirza Muhammad Muqim Ali Khan Safdarjung. He was also known as Nawab-Wazir, Nawab Wazir al-Mamalik, Subedar of Kashmir Agra & Oudh, Khan Bhadur, Meer-e-Atash and Firdaus Aaramgah. He was the most powerful governor and the state of Awadh or oudh virtually became independent of the Mughal empire under Safdar Jung and his successors till it was annexed by the British in 1857.

The tomb complex is also known as Mansur ka Maqbara and like most monuments of Delhi this too holds interesting nooks and corners which usually visitors tend to ignore.

This post isn’t really about the tomb but about the beautiful little double storey mosque, with its three gorgeous onion shapes domes, built to the right of the exquisite main entrance of the tomb complex. The mosque was supposedly made by Safdarjung’s wife. if true then it is one of the few mosques commissioned by women, another one is Khair ul Manazil mosque.

You get the best view of mosque from the high platform of the tomb.  It is fascinating to watch the lingering shadows, the filtering sunlight and the tree branches making patterns on its wall.  The onion shaped striped domes, the slender cuboidal minarets and the pointy finials emerging from floral base atop the domes are exquisite to look at all times of the day. Interestingly the floral base isn’t Lotus as was the norm in those days. The place is full of intrigue and surprises. The placement of the mosque is unusual but it was built as part of the mausoleum.  The exterior of the domes has distinct stripes of red sandstone and marble veneer. Haven’t seen anything so beautiful in Delhi at least.

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Visitors are allowed entry to the mosque’s square only on Friday for the prayers and an iron grill blocks the entry on rest of the days. It isn’t possible to click the mosque from the small courtyard since most of it is veiled by the awnings that stretch from side to side to provide shade to the devotees. Also, the walls of the numerous chambers that flank the gateway and span the space around obscure much of the mosque.

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These chambers were meant for the students of a madrasa (Islamic seminary) that was commissioned and supported by Safdarjung’s descendants, but now these too are inaccessible. Locked and closed gates aren’t a new feature for those who wander around Delhi monuments. Delhi has enough phenomenal architectural hidden treasures not accessible to public . No one tells why access is denied. The other functional mosques don’t have access issues so it is sort of baffling about this one. Perhaps someone can explain the reason.

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Last year,  I was fortunate to get access to the beautiful but neglected wuzu khana or the ablution tank chamber located on the lower level. There is a small gate on the right (usually latched) inside the grand eastern entrance to the tomb complex that leads to the corridor leading to the wuzu khana and the mosque . The wuzu tank has a fountain in it. The place has lost most of its engravings which were perhaps similar to those on the main gateway. Just imagine how gorgeous this would have looked when it was used for ablution before going upstairs for prayers. The central arch of the mehrab has a floral engraving.

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Most mosques do not have a fountain.  Only three mosques in Delhi, including this one, have a fountain in wuzu khana. The Kalan Masjid at Turkman Gate has a fountain in the tank that is used for wuzu, but it is made of Marble. The entire mosque is built with The Delhi Quartz Stone and was built in the time of Feroz Tugalaq when the use of Sand Stone and Marble wasn’t common and because these stones had to be brought from Rajasthan so the fountain could be a later addition.

Fatehpuri Mosque too has a fountain. This was built in the 17th century and so the marble fountain could be an original.

So, this is a unique feature of this particular mosque and I seriously hope that the waterworks are revived here and the structure is restored properly without making it garish eyesore like a few other restored ones.

Interestingly, a drawing of Safdarjung Tomb scene by Willaim Daniell dated late 18th century shows a water body in the foreground. According to historian and Convener of the Delhi chapter of INTAC Swpana Liddle old maps reveal that this was in fact a stream, which rose in the Ridge, the part of it adjacent to present day Vasant Vihar, it flowed in a north-easterly direction, past Safdarjung’s tomb, through today’s Lodi Garden, and finally merged with the Barapulla nala.  No trace of this stream survives today. I wonder if that water-body fed the water to the Wuju khana. I lot of questions need answers and I will update as I come to know.

Unfortunately both the mosque and the Mansur (Safdarjung) ka madarsa don’t get enough footfall for the authorities to look after these structures. This mosque was opened for Friday prayers in the 1980s and  like monuments used for prayers such as Jama Masjid, the Puri temple and many other old temples, mosques and Churches is not under ASI protection. Since the authorities responsible for these structures do not spend money on maintenance the heritage buildings are generally neglected. The ASI, perpetually short of funds, does not care too much for monuments which are not totally under their care. Allowing prayers in protected monuments is a clear violation of law but laws are often violated in our country. Call them religeous or political whims and a setback to our collective heritage.

I could spend only a short time inside the mosque corridor leading towards wuzu khana and mosque so couldn’t examine it minutely. Neither could I see the entire mosque with the guard breathing down my neck. I could manage only a few photographs but hopefully one day I will get another chance to explore it in greater detail.

This is a quick post just to share some of the photographs and details. Will notify as and when I update it.

I hope this goddamn virus curls under some stone and goes into indefinite hibernation so that the lockdown is lifted and I can visit my favorite haunt. Meanwhile don’t forget the beauty that Delhi is with all its shortcomings.

Delhi Monuments : The Khair-ul-Manazil Mosque


In 1450 the Mughals began their reign starting with Babur, the Mughal empire flourished and reached its pinnacle during Akbar’s reign. He was an ideal king and is considered one of the best rulers among all the Mughals.

Emperor Akbar is usually associated with Fatehpur Sikri, the capital is founded in Agra but I wanted to explore the bits of his story that lives through the ruins in Delhi. I went to the two places in Mehrauli, the tombs of Muhammad Quli Khan and Adam Khan, sons of Maham Anga and Akbar’s foster brothers. I think her remains too are buried along with Adam Khan here but I am not sure. Maham Anga was Akbar’s chief wet curse and held an important place as an adviser to the teenage Emperor. Shrewd and ambitious she was in-charge of the empire and acted as the de-facto regent of the Mughal Empire from 1560 to 1562. The worse kind of petticoat government that ever was.

Khair ul Minazil was commissioned by her during Akbar’s reign and the complex has a mosque and a madarsa (Islamic seminary). The name means ‘ the most auspicious of houses’.  This is an important structure because there aren’t many instances of  surviving  architecture which have the patronage of a woman.  It was perhaps the first Mughal Mosque in Delhi.

This serene mosque is located on Mathura Road, opposite the Old Fort  or Purana Qila. Driving down the busy road in the front of the mosque I had always wanted to stop by and spend some time there. This time I especially made a plan to do so. One can see hundreds of pigeons flying around the structure and for once I didn’t despise the sight.

It all blended in so well. Perhaps in olden times this complex was part of the Old Fort complex. Not many people actually venture into this beautiful structure and that is a pity for one can sense the grandeur of the place by just standing inside the complex. History tells that an assassination attempt was made on Akbar’s life from the first floor of this mosque in 1564.

The double storied gateway of the mosque is made of quartzite and red stone but the mosque and the madarsa are made of rubble. If you look from inside the magnificent gate has medallions and intricate stucco patterns etched on it.

On both the sides of the mosque stands the two storied madarsa in dilapidated state. The larger rooms are on the ground floor and a narrow passage leads to the smaller ones on the first floor. Most of the walls are crumbling and no doors or windows are left if there were any.

The vast rectangular courtyard has a waju hauz which is not working hence not in use. The old well, on the other hand, is working and people draw the water for waju (ablution).

One can see water pitchers near the hauz that are filled everyday for the residing pigeons.

 

The mosque is better preserved than the madarsa. Earlier there were five arched bays leading to the mosque but now only three are visible. There is a dome at the central bay of the prayer hall while the other bays have been roofed with vaults. The mehrabs, curves and Qur’an scripts are on the verge of decay due to the neglect of the structure.

 

The Persian inscription  set above the central entrance that tells us that this was built by Maham Anga with the assistance of shihabuddin Ahmed Khan. We also see two more names apart from Akbar that of Niyaz Baqsh who constructed Khairul Manazil and Darvesh Hussain who supervised the construction. The name ‘Khair-ul-Manazil’, when written in Persian, yields the number 969 Hijri (AD 1561-62), the year of its construction, and thus is a Chronogram. A very interesting and unique feature of this structure.

The inside floor of the mosque is still in a fairly good condition because people offer Namaz but the outer floor is in very bad state.

One can see copies of Quran sharif kept in one of the brackets in the wall.

The Mecca facing western mehrab still has some remnants of the exquisitely vibrant blue, red, violet green and yellow enamel tile work, a testimonial to its glorious past.

Most of the awe inspiring artwork is now lost to the years of neglect and the gorgeous facade bears a blackened appearance and yet it stands tall as a witness to the beauty and grace this place has managed to keep even now leaving behind the rectangular protruding projections. One can imagine how grand this mosque would have looked in its prime days. Maham Anga was resourceful, rich and very confident woman and left no stone upturned to make this a work of art. No tow tiles of the facade are of the same design. The geometrical and floral patterns are different in each tile. There are some verses from the Holy Quran inscribed on the walls.

On the outer wall of the mosque one can see the brackets that once supported the chajjas or the wide eaves that were meant to keep the sun away.

It is hard to believe that the mosque is erected without any foundation.

The iron gate and the boundaries restrict the movements if you wish to photograph the complex from various angles.

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I wanted to take some pictures from the expansive lawns of Sher Shah Gate or Lal Darwaza complex but it is under restoration and public is not allowed at the moment.

I hope more people visit this stunningly beautiful mosque but I also feel that the lack of interest in this has also preserved it from the onslaught of those ‘tourists’ who harm the monuments by engraving their names or drawing cupid hearts etc on the walls.

I also hope Archaeological Survey Of India considers some restoration work here before we completely lose whatever artwork is remaining now. Do visit this place whenever you are on Old Fort side.