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.

The Silk Cotton Tree : The Flaming Glory


Spring is in the air. The month of March covers Delhi, the capital of India into a tapestry of colors. One can see a variety of colorful flowers all over the capital and the stately trees along the road sides flaming with red silk cotton flowers along with many others.

Semal or the silk cotton tree (Bombax malabaricum), the harbinger of spring, lines most of the important roads in central and south Delhi and is full of visiting birds, squirrels and insects who enjoy the brilliant scarlet or orange blooms and variety of food on these majestic flaming trees.

In the beginning of summer the tree beers long green pods full of silk cotton. They hang from the branches and as they ripen and turn brown the fluffy soft cotton escapes from it with the slightest breeze and floa like a snowflake everywhere. The strong dry winds carry them to far off places. Most of the time our balcony is filled with the soft cotton balls with a black seed attached to it. My boys often collect lots of such flecks of silk cotton and fill small pillows with it.

Semal wood is in great demand as matchwood. In India, almost the entire annual yield of Semal trees is reserved for matchwood industry. It is used to make plywood, being eminently suitable for light plywood containers. It is also used for packing cases, boarding, planking etc.

The light, buoyant, soft, strong, elastic, resistant, water repellent floss from the Indian silk cotton tree is used for stuffing cushions and pillows, upholstery, wadded cloth quilts and also as insulating materials for refrigerators and as packing.

The Semal tree holds a reputation as medicinal tree in Ayurveda. Every part of the tree is used from the roots to the flower. The one to two years old roots are known as Semal Musli are used very frequently by the healers as aphrodisiac. The roots are also astringent, anti dysentery, analgesic. It is given as a cure for Diarrhea. The paste of bark is applied during skin eruptions and inflammations. Paste of flowers applied over boils, sores and itches. Dried young fruits are given in chronic inflammation of bladder and kidneys. The gum that oozes out of the bark is astringent as is used as a tonic and in other form it is used in book binding and food industry.

The fiber derived from the inner bark of the tree is used to make ropes. Seed oil of the Semal is used in the manufacture of soaps and lubrication substances.

Young Flowers and Calyces are edible and are often used for making pickles and vegetable.

The tree is a delight to watch with its unique flowers and the variety of birds that visit it.

The flowers of this stately tree are at their best in mid February to March end. The tree sheds it’s foliage in the beginning of winter but by January its bare branches are covered with countless marble sized green buds which have plum color sheen to them.

In February, when the weather warms up a little, flaming red flowers appear at the top crown of the tree.

The tree is at its best in the month of March. The flowers range from deep red to orange-red and even a peachy color that’s uncommon. The trees, when in full bloom, present a striking blaze of crimson.

The large chalice shaped has five thick glossy petals that curl backwards. The deep center of the flower contains more than 60 stamens at a time. They grow in a circle of five unequal bunches with a bunch in the center. Yellow at the base their red tips merge into the flower.

The flower of the Semal tree has nectar secreted in its hollow which makes it a favorite with birds and bees alike. The cacophony of the birds like Myna, parakeets, crows, jungle babblers and many others can be deafening at times as they feed on the nectar all day. The birds and insects also act as pollinating agents.

The nectar also attracts insects which in turn bring the insect eating birds flocking to the tree. It is a feast laid by nature and thoroughly enjoyed by all creatures big and small. Even the fallen debris of the fleshy flowers are eaten by animals like squirrels and dears.

These pictures are from a park in front of our home. there are three massive silk cotton trees right there. The collony is dotted with them