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 – Kharbooze / Kharbuze ka Gumbad


This is one of the prettiest and perhaps the smallest fluted domed pavilion in Delhi. Built in 14th century, during Tughlaq’s reign, the structure is known as Kharbooze ka gumbad.
The dome, carved from a single solid stone, resembles a half sliced muskmelon (kharbooza) hence the name.

Delhi has its fair share of fluted domes including the one in Makhdumi Mosque, Fatehpuri Mosque, Mir Taqi’s Tomb in Golf Club enclosure, Teen Burj in Mohammadpur village, Madhi Masjid, Mehrauli, Bahaul Lodi’s Tomb and a few more. 

No authentic evidence is available to justify the claim of its association with Sufi saint Kabir-ud-din Aulia. The saint’s grave (Lal Gumbad) is just a stone’s throw away  from this structure hence the presumption.

It could very well be a tomb of some other person or part of a bigger structure. The structure has a miniature chatri made of grey stone that stands on four pillars on  a small octagonal base with a diameter of 2 m.  The dome is precariously balanced on the top. One can see a chamber like opening below the base in some vintage photographs. It’s blocked by the stones now. Only an excavation around the area may perhaps give some answers to this quirky structure’s past.

 I was lucky to get access to Kharbooze ka Gumbad and take close-up of the structure with the permission from the Principal of the school in whose compound the structure lies now.  The ruling by Apex court prohibited any construction within 100 meter radius of a protected heritage site. The school was built in 1982 as per some sources so it was already operating when the ruling came. Not that it is an excuse to encroach. Now it seems there has been an amendment again lifting the ban and allowing construction of public infrastructure within 100 meters of monuments protected by ASI . It could spell disaster for the remaining built heritage. Already hundreds are lost to encroachment and unauthorized construction. 

Delhi is dotted with such lesser known monuments. Where ever you look you are bound to find some architectural marvel. Most of these, which are not on the tourist map, go unnoticed and most of the time  aren’t cared for.  This area of Sadhana Enclave, Panchsheel , Shaikh Sarai, Soami Nagar and Savitri Nagar are rich in such nondescript structures. Not many stop and wonder their architectural presence and historical importance of the mosques, tombs, enclosures of Tughlaq and Lodi periods that are littered all over the place, hemmed in from most sides, in the chaotic, congested bylanes of urban Delhi. They don’t find a place in guide books or get tagged on Google maps. Orphaned, they stand there as a mute testimony to the glorious days of Delhi Sultanate.

INTACH Delhi chapter is looking after the restoration aspect of this structure along with 18 others. The smaller monuments like this one need greater care as they are prone to getting destroyed. Being inside a Montessori school premises has thankfully saved  this one from vandalism. INTACH has been restoring  many relatively unknown monuments every year and turned the fate of a large number of them. 

I think it is a collective responsibility of the the organizations meant to protect these structures and of the public to look after them in the midst of bureaucratic, financial and other challenges that come in the way. A constructive engagement between MCD and residents welfare associations, the public-private partnership and involvement of corporates can help protect the heritage structures from vandalism and pilfering to some extent that is if they get rid of their temperamental aversion towards conservation and restoration of our heritage. 

Having said that one fact that remains undeniable is that uneven attention is given to the built heritage of the city. We have lost enormous history due to our apathy especially the unprotected ones.  

I have digressed from my usual factual details about the monuments but not much information is available about Kharbuze ka Gumbad so I thought of sharing some thoughts in general. Will update the post as and when I get more information.

Delhi Monuments – Lal Gumbad


 

Wandering around Delhi you may come across many pieces of history now forgotten and lost to time. One such lesser visited monument is the Tomb of Sufi saint Sheikh Kabiruddin Auliya known as Lal Gumbad. Oblivious to the hustle bustle around it the elegant building stands in a gated walled complex in utter neglect. Though it is in comparatively good state the other structures that lay scattered in the ground around it are a repository of decay.

Sheikh Kabiruddin Auliya is believed to belong to the Chishti Silsila. The Sufi saints were known for their piety and simplicity and never had such grand tombs of marble and sandstone built over their graves. Mostly they were modest enclosures, usually open from the sides. It is believed that Kabiruddin was a disciple of Sufi saint Roshan Chirag Delhi, who was the spiritual successor of the world-renowned Nizamuddin Auliya.

Most of the saints of Chisti order were buried in open grounds and later chatris wee built over the graves. Many other graves, wall mosques would come up around the saint’s grave over a period of time. This particular tomb is not just grand as a structure it has ornate walls, pierced jaali screens, and, according to the local lore, gold filial atop the dome which is thought have been stolen centuries ago. And yet, the plaque inside the tomb ascribes it to the saint. There are many theories about the structure and one such says that it was built by Firoz Tughlaq for himself but later given for the Sufi saint’s burial.

Situated in Sadhna Enclave, Malviya Nagar, this sandstone structure of Tughlaq period is known as Lal Gumbad though it doesn’t have a red dome. How it acquired the name is a mystery. It does have sloping red sandstone walls. The somewhat pointed and not so round dome used to be white but has blackened over the period of time.

If you look at the structure it resembles a mini fort rather than a saint’s Dargah. In appearance it reminds one of Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq’s tomb, albeit this tall square structure is a poor replica of it. Built in 1397, it is a typical example of Tughlaq architecture. The structure stands on a raised plinth and has sturdy sloping walls covered with strips of dressed red sandstone that turn slightly inwards as they go up. The Tughlaq tombs had walls with thick base making it easy for the single dome to sit properly atop the squat building. The plastered conical dome springing from the low octagonal drum of this tomb is strikingly different than other Tughlaq era tombs.

On the North and South side walls one can see mihrabs with ornate sandstone jaalis. The west wall exterior is plain from outside but has a deeply recessed arch inside. One can see lotus bud motifs in marble on the arches that have false decorative pillars below them. The Eastern archway is elaborately carved and as one enters the damp, dark funerary chamber one comes across nine graves. The grave of a male in the center is a somber one. One can see a lot of lotus bud ornamentation in marble inside, very typical of Khilji period in my opinion, though I am not an expert. The great wooden door is kept locked mostly to prevent worshiping I guess.

The tomb is also known as Rakabala gumbad due to the story that rakhabs were fixed on the western slopping wall to steal the gold finial.

The exquisite domed gateway is now gone and so have the enclosure walls. The whole place, except the main tomb, looks more ruinous than what it was even say 10 months back. Not that the tomb of Hazrat Shaikh Kabir-ud-din Aulia is in perfect condition. The massive wooden door is charred from below due to the burning of incense sticks, earthen lamps etc. Overgrowth has taken over many of the dilapidated structures there. Encroachments and sheer neglect has caused the eastern gateway to become dilapidated. Its floor has eroded and is in dire need of repair.

The other domed structure in the complex is filthy and smells disgusting. I think it also acts as a store. I couldn’t approach the wall next to it as there was garbage of all sorts, broken glass and an overgrowth of low thorny bushes. Why aren’t the concerned authorities maintaining this place? Going by the photographs of last 5-6 years things have just deteriorated. The way things are going we will lose most of the lesser known monuments due to sheer neglect and apathy. I think all these gated monuments should be ticketed. It will definitely improve the situation.

There are several scattered graves and remains of at least five wall mosques in the enclosed area around the tomb. All of these belong to Lodi period. The most prominent one is located to the west of Lal Gumbad. Here, there are recessed arches on the western prayer wall and two short walls returning on the North and South too contain arches. One can see some fading incised plasterwork depicting floral motifs as well as geometrical shapes on the main qanati (wall) masjid.

There is a platform in front of the wall with a single grave. The corners of the western wall are strengthened by circular bastions. Two other mosques have three mihrabs and a third one has a single mihrab.

Everything is surrounded by weeds and grass. It is remarkable how these structures have withstood the ravages of time. Nothing much is known about who is buried in these graves. Perhaps people who were close to the saint.

Many locals were lounging around the grassy patches that cover some of the space in the complex. No tourists were there and according to the local boys hardly any visit the place as it is infested with bad elements mainly gamblers and addicts. I could feel the piercing gaze of young men who were killing time there.

The 620-year-old tomb, one of the finest pre-mughal structures and the ruins around it are dying a slow death. There is a dire need to preserve Delhi’s built heritage.

As I walked around the unkempt but manicured grounds that once formed the fourth city of Delhi- Jahanpanah, founded by Muhammad Bin Tuglaq, I thought about the times we live in and the ruinous state of affairs that have marred the social fabric of our country once known to be secular and tolerant. In retrospective these abandoned ruins seemed calming to the senses.

Unfortunately I missed out photographing some important aspects of the place. I will update the post when I click a few more pictures.

Meanwhile do take time out and visit these exquisite yet unknown remnants of our cultural and architectural heritage.

Delhi Monuments – Ambling through Green Park – Barakhamba And Biran Ka Gumbad


During the fifteenth century Delhi had such a large number of tombs and other monuments that it became difficult to keep up with them . The area around Hauz Khas, Green Park and its surrounding localities are dotted with such beautiful but forgotten buildings. Only a handful have found a place in the tourist map rest are just scattered around inconsequential and insignificant to the history and to city folks who pass by them without even giving a glance. Though in recent years ASI has given many of them a facelift but still they don’t attract the attention they should. Heritage  for us has become a liability rather than a matter of pride. Thankfully these particular set of  structures are at least free of encroachment and it better condition many of their counterparts.

Barahkhamba 

Close to the two picturesque gumtis stands a massive yet magnificent Barah Khamba or twelve pillared domed structure though, unlike the three other structures in the city with the same name, this one doesn’t seem to have the twelve pillars or columns. The name is misleading but it is clearly a Lodi period tomb with all the characteristics of that architectural style. Like most of the tombs around it nothing much is known about who is buried here or who commissioned or built it.

The structure stands in the middle of a small well maintained garden patch with two minor yet interesting structures near it. The impressive domed square building is supported by pillars of different girth and the corner ones seem like solid buttressed walls though from inside one can count the twelve columns with walled spaces between a few. The building had cenotaph inside which has long since fallen to the ravages of time but there are still numerous graves in the compound shaded with heavy tree branches. All four sides of the building have three arched entrances. These arched entrances are embedded in a wider arched depression giving the structure a massive look. Set on a mound the structure stands on a 2 feet six inches plinth with a hemispherical dome on top. One can imagine the barren walls of its interior with engravings of some other embellishments.

Two very interesting structures stand close to the structure – a single worn out bastion which seems as if it may have been part of some other structure but looks totally out of place now and a square structure with an alcove / niche that may have been used to light an earthen lamp as the stories say but I feel it may have probably held a horizontal beam or something. Perhaps there were one each at all the four corners. We will never know the mysteries these orphaned structures hold. There is a dried up well too in the compound.

Overall the place carries an aura of mystery and desolation. Not many people spot it in one glace through the thick trees and high walls and grills and those who do somehow prefer the serene and lush green patches of the other smaller structures opposite the road. I didn’t see any caretaker or guard but a roadside vendor said he is usually around somewhere but doesn’t know anything about the building and in any case not many are curious to know what lies beneath in the graves. One day everything will turn into a ruin. Even these big sprawling houses will crumble perhaps even before the ancient structures he said and glanced around the changing landscape of the city with sad eyes.  I bought a dona of chaat from him and walked away reflecting on his wise words.

Biran Ka Gumbad 

Right opposite the main Green Park market is another nondescript tomb that hardly anyone visits. Earlier there was a small entrance from the Agrasen Park but now one has to go to the narrow lane to access the monument. Sandwiched between a row of houses and a park it is totally disconnected from public view and easy to miss. The patch of greenery that surrounds it is smaller than previous ones I visited. Perhaps the reason to have a separate entrance was to stop encroachment and that seems to have worked.

As one ambles around these lanes of old kharera village one can see why Delhi became a necropolis in times of Sayyids and Lodis. The number of nondescript tombs and graves is ridiculously high. Some of these are octagonal or square and others like a pavilion or chattri.

Biran ka Gumbad means ‘Brother’s Dome’, perhaps an indication towards the nearby Dadi -Poti tombs but all these names are locally given. No authentic historical documentation is there about the identity of these various tombs. They all remain uninscribed and unclaimed. The rubble built design is similar to Dadi ka Gumbad except for the absence of arched openings flanking the and the archways embedded in the sides and the mihrab.

It is a massive 13 meters x 13 meters structure built in typical Lodi style. As you climb the seven steps your thoughts wander to the seven ancient cities of Delhi and their remnants scattered all around the present metropolis. The Afghans ruled over Delhi from 1451 to 1526 as Lodhi Dynasty. 500 plus years of ancient footprints and these tombs, a testimonial to that time. 

 

Inside the high ceiling single chamber there is a ruined remains of a cenotaph.  At one time perhaps it had beautiful incised and plastered medallions and remnants of painted decorations but most is lost now. The exterior is decorated with arched niches arranged in a row giving it an impression of double storeyed building.

There is a remaining strip of ornamentation here and there along the exterior walls.

In the compound there is a dried up well which is about 10-15 feet deep.

There is nothing spectacular about the structure and yet it draws your attention to come and explore, perhaps run your fingers along the stones and feel the heartbeats of a million stories. Gaze at it for sometime and you automatically feel drawn to it.

Most of the time the place is deserted. The caretaker said not many people visit it and those who do hardly stop for more than ten minutes. At night the tomb is lit up like all the others in the vicinity but I doubt if anyone gives it even a glance.

It is sad and I am reminded of these lines by William Henry Davis,

” What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.”

 

Do go visit these forgotten relics of the time by. I have covered most of the monuments in this area. Today there is another adventure awaiting.

Stay tuned for it to reveal itself.

Delhi Monuments – Ambling through Green Park – Choti Gumti And Sakri Gumti


The area around old kharera village (now Hauz Khas) is dotted with many big and small monuments. Camouflaged by large trees and posh houses these structures stand as a silent testimonial to time gone by. Usually set in a small garden plot they offer a place to to the locals to step out of their hurried routines and pause a little.

It is interesting that during the 14th-15th century reign of Sayyid and Lodi’s the city construction was limited to tombs and mosques. They lacked resources and Sikander Lodi shifted his capital to Agra thus further restricting the building of new structures in Delhi. So, the construction of grand forts, palaces, cities that the early Sultanate rulers did practically came to a halt during early-14th to mid-17th centuries except a few exceptions and there. Interestingly the Sayyid, Lodhi and Mughal rulers and nobles chose Delhi as a resting place for their loved ones so slowly in that period Delhi turned into a sort of necropolis.

It is strange that most of these mosques and tombs, except a few large ones, remain unsung even after their recent beautification. The illumination of these structures by ASI hasn’t helped much in promotion as people barely pause to look at them.

Apart from the tombs and mosques there are a few other small structures like Sakri Gumti that could have been part of a larger complex of buildings or perhaps a gateway albeit a strange one.

I explored the cluster of Lodi era structures – Choti Gumti (Small Domed Building), Sakri Gumti (Narrow Domed Building), Barakhamba (Twelve-pillared Building) and Biran ka Gumbad during my wanderings around the Hauz Khas / Green Park area, part of the city of Siri, the third capital of Delhi Sultanate.

All these structures lie in close proximity of each other and to the Hauz Khas group of monuments. The two Gumtis are separated from each other by a road that ambles into the posh Hauz Khas Enclave, Green Park and leads to HKV.

Choti Gumti 

This petite Lodi period (AD 1451-1526) structure stands gracefully in a small garden patch.  The cubical little mausoleum is perfectly proportioned and has small decorative alcoves.  It measures 15 square inches and is built with rubble masonry and then plastered like all the other structures of this period. There are numerous pointed arches of the embossed rectangular facades on all the sides.  A semicircular dome crowned with a blooming lotus finial adorns the structure.

The kanguras (battlement-like ornamentation) and the hints of tiny minarets emerging from the corners of the octagonal drum (base) of the dome make it a pretty little building.

The Choti Gumti is a tomb and a single grave of an unknown person lies in its forgotten dark interiors that are closed to the public eyes. There is a narrow entrance with steps leading to the upper level where one can go around the dome and get a bird’s eye view of the area but that too was inaccessible. I came to know that there is a painted medallion on the ceiling. I will try and get access in a few days. 🙂

I sat to rest on an empty bench watching the men enjoying their siesta and soaking the early winter sun. A group of young girls chatted animatedly as the walked around inspecting the structure. The pigeons sat on the dome obliviously to life around them.  A young lad served tea to two workers eating their lunch on the grassy patch. I had to cover a few more places and the sight of food was making me hungry so I decided to leave. The barricaded garden has a shop on a far side corner and a makeshift entrance made for the convenience of the shopkeeper I guess. I took that exit and crossed the road to Sakri Gumti and Barah Khamba opposite its gate.

Sakri Gumti  

Set in the center of a small well maintained barricaded garden stands a mysterious narrow structure built of rubble masonry. Sakri Gumti is another lesser known Lodi era monument.

As there is no grave inside we know it is not a tomb. In fact there are entrance arches on all its four faces making it look more like a gateway but a gateway to what we don’t know. Also, there is a half broken rubble wall running along its eastern side, originally it would have perhaps blocked one of its entrances but as I looked closely there seemed one side of a smaller arch entrance in that too right in front of the entrance of the main structure. The wall is broken from that point. One can see a small window too.  Who built the wall and why we do not know. The ornamented arches and windows on the exterior wall give it a semblance of two-storyed building.  The short dome rests on a relatively high drum. A row of kanguras similar to ones around the roof’s vertical expanse surround the dome. I didn’t step inside but will go another time and update on how it looks. On the exterior wall there are some roughly carved patterns embossed here and there.  Otherwise there is no other ornamentation.

Even though the structure is very intriguing not many people visit it. I just saw one gentleman lunching quietly on a nearby bench under a tree shade. There was no guard or caretaker in sight.

These little gems are an integral part of the urban layout of Delhi. They stand there tenaciously holding on to life as the city around them evolves at maddening speed.

Stop by sometime to pause and reflect on this heritage of Delhi that mostly doesn’t get its due.

 

  

Delhi Monuments – Ambling Through Hauz Khas – Nili Masjid And Idgah Of Kharera


I’ve been missing in action here since a long time and that is because my laptop is giving issues and I have not been able to sort it so far. This Delhi monument post is part of my wanderings in Hauz Khas area. There are still a few more I will cover including those in adjacent Green Park.

Nili /Neeli Masjid 

Since so many years I passed the Nili Masjid of the Blue Mosque but never really went in there to explore. Located in A block the the tree bayed mosque is on the side of the road connecting August Kranti Marg and Aurobindo Marg. Sandwiched between posh houses  sometimes misses the eye unless of course it is prayer time or Friday when one can see a lot of devotees heading there for prayers. It is one of the few working mosques of Delhi which are under ASI protection.

An inscription over its central arch says that it  built in A.H. 911 (A.D. 1505-06) during the reign of Sikandar Lodi, by Kasumbhil, nurse of Fath Khan, son of Khan-i-Azam Masnad Ali Khawas Khan, then governor of Delhi. She is one of the few women who commissioned some beautiful structures in Delhi. Others include Hamida Bano Begum, Maham Anga, Roshanara Begum and Qudsia Begum.

Made from rubble stone and plaster Nili Masjid has rather masculine looking massive bastions and conical supporting towers along its western wall. No other major archaeological features are visible to make it different from other mosques or other medieval structures. This low fortification was suppose to protect them from any invasion but here it doesn’t serve the purpose. It is mainly for beautification it seems.

The mosque has slender turrets at the corners of the octagonal drum (base) on which a single dome sits pretty. There are three arched entrances to the masjid.

An intricate line of kanguras (battlement-like ornamentation) inset with vibrant blue tile work run along the roof of the mosque giving the mosque its name – Nili Masjid or Blue Mosque, however the ornamentation is only limited to the portion above the central facade.  A wide “chajja” (overhanging eave) supported on thick carved bracket runs on the rest of the front face.
Under the blue tiled Kanguras one can see elegant calligraphy and art work. The mosque is beautiful in its simplicity. There is no grandeur to it an yet it is striking to the eyes. Some areas inside the chamber have been recently plastered as part of the conservation program I think.
Within the boundary there is also a well that is covered and no longer in use. One can see loudspeakers etc places in the corners of the roof. One can see prayer mats, racks to keep things etc inside the chamber which is fitted with modern amenities like tube lights, fans and coolers. I wonder what are the rules for the monuments protected under ASI and why encroachments and making alteration is not stopped.
The grass covered front yard is nice and clean with some potted flowering plants and a few lush big trees that line the fence.
While I was wandering in the area I thought of going to Idgah too as it is a stone’s throw away from my son’s home.
Idgah of Kharera 
The 600 year old Idgah of kharera in Hauz Khas (near to Chor Minar in Padmini Enclave)  was used only for congregational Eid prayers unlike the other mosques. The structure represents the West wall around which people gathered for Id prayers. There is a mimbar or pulpit next to the central mehrab for the Imam to deliver his message. Usually a town or city will have one idgah but as Delhi was made of many cities there are four medieval Idgahs here.
Built of rubble masonry, this structure has 11 mehrabs and a turret at the end of one side with the inscription written on a red sandstone slab fixed on the south bastion towards east. It tells that this most famous and renowned mosque was built by Iqbal Khan who was popularly known as Mallu Khan, a powerful noble and virtually the ruler during Muhammad Tughluq’s reign who commissioned this structure. The inscription also tells about the volatile period in which it was built.
It is stated to have been built A.H. 807 (A.D. 1404-05) in the typical Tughlak style. I read somewhere that it was here Timur had set up his camp to offer ‘aman’ or ‘peace’ to the people after he invaded Delhi but unfortunately it didn’t go the way he had thought. Some incidents made him unleash unimaginable horrors on the citizens of Delhi.
The big trees in the fenced enclosure are home to many birds like barbets, peacoks, bulbuls etc. Local residents often come here for picnics and children can be seen playing there under the watchful eyes of the guard. Thankfully there are no encroachments and the monument is in good condition.
The stone slab that tells about the monument needs some attention and the writing is faded and hardly visible at many places.
I remember reading about mosque of Darwesh Shah in nearby Gautam Nagar and it is on my ‘to visit’ list. So are some of the lesser known small monuments around this area.
I am reading up about my city and will post again ina few days. Meanwhile I visited Sunder Nursery and was enchanted with it. Will do a post soon. You can still look up my Instagram account for some pictures from there.
Spring in Delhi is always beautiful so leaving you with some gorgeous flowers I saw there.

Delhi Monuments – Ambling Through Hauz Khas – Dadi Poti Tombs


This is in continuation from the previous post. Technically this tomb complex lies behind the Green Park metro station on Sri Aurobindo Road. Turn right just before Aurobindo market towards the road leading to Hauz Khas village to get there. I took a lane from Hauz Khas enclave to reach.

Dadi poti or Bibi Bandi tombs are situated amidst elevated ground surrounded by well maintained manicured lawns. The walkway to the larger Dadi (grandmother) tomb is lined with harsingaar/parijat hedges which were in full bloom when I went a few days ago. It was a sunny day and a lot of menfolk were either sitting or lying on the grass enjoying the warmth of the winter sun.I couldn’t spot any tourists though.

Delhi has a lot of these minor tombs and other structures with intriguing history. Two two tombs are a mystery to us in many ways. No one knows who is buried there though there are many legends that float about it. Both the tombs are made of rubble and plaster.

The larger tomb is typical Lodi era structure (1451-1526AD). It is perhaps the grandest tomb in that particular area. It’s 15.86 metres X 15.86 metres in dimension and its northern and southern walls have arched window like design and 2 levels of 4 arched niches each, giving it a double storey appearance.

A typical feature of many Lodi period tombs. Inside the tomb one can see exquisitely engraved Quaranic inscriptions in the form of medallions on the walls and ceiling.

The spacious interior has six unidentified cenotaphs made of stone which shows that the persons buried there were not royals but perhaps nobility.

The structure is square at the base but as the walls rise they get octagonal then hexagonal before they merge to form the dome. There are some tapering fluted pillars flanking the rectangular embossed facades on each of the sides along the tombs exteriors.  On either side of the eastern opening there is a staircase leading to the roof but it is out of bounds for the public.

The smaller and plainer tomb is about 20 feet to the side of the larger one. It is known as  the Poti Tomb. Most probably the names are given keeping in mind the size of the structure. Though this one is of Tughlaq era ( 1321-1414AD) and has slightly slopping walls and is 11.8 metres X 11.8 metres in dimension. The interesting aspect of this tomb is that unlike all the other tombs that have their entrances to the south and usually get more ornate designs on that side this one has a North facing entrance. The entrance has some ornate designs now blackened and faded with time.

Another unusual thing about this tomb is the lantern shaped structure on its dome. Something like a Rajputana Chatri. The interior is plain unlike its neighbor and has three unidentified graves.

Someone there told us that the place is haunted but looks beautiful when lit up at night but the interesting part was a natural phenomenon that occurs as the daylight fades to darkness. The interior of the larger tomb fills with various hues of light. I have yet to experience this and will try to get it recorded along  with the night photographs of the tombs.

Next on my list are Biran Ka Gumbad, Barah Khamba and Nili Masjid which I have crossed so many times but never entered for some reason.

Till then think about the rise and fall of this beloved city, its secrets and mysteries and of the people who made it what it is.

Wishing you all a very happy 2019. Stay strong. Stay Focused. 

 

Delhi Monuments – Ambling Through Deer Park & Hauz Khas – 1


It is a daunting task to write about the monuments of Delhi, their historical and architectural importance, about the city itself especially if your knowledge is limited. I have some books marked for reading this year but I love dilli and often wander into its lanes, bylanes, parks and ruins to get narrow the distance between what was and what is.

Hauz Khas ruins have always been a favorite destination but I never really got around to look at them from a blog post point of view. Hardly clicked photographs or wrote about them. The old monuments were more of a refuge when I wanted to escape from madding crowd. Deer park too was a runaway place where I could spend hours with myself without any intrusion.

Since Adi shifted to HK and my visits became more regular to the area I decided to list and visit all the  monument in HK and surrounding Green Park etc. The walks started with Chor Minar. You can read about it HERE.

The places on my list are:

Hauz Khas complex with The tomb of Ferozshah and other structures, Baag – i – Alam Gumbad and the walled mosque (Humayunpur), Kali GumtiBarah Khamba, Biran Ka Gumbad, Dadi Poti ka Maqbara, Choti Gumti, Sankari Gumti, Idgah of Kharehra, Nili masjid, Munda Gumbad, Hauz-i-Alai to start with.

I have covered a few  of these and will write about each in the coming days.

Deer Park Monuments – Baag – I – Alam Ka Gumbad and The Walled Mosque

Deer park was once known as Bagh -e- Alam ( ‘Garden of World’ ) and lay between Sultan Allauddin Khilji’s Siri fort and Hauz – i – Alai now popularly known as Hauz Khas Lake which was the largest man made water body of that time. Even the garden was the largest one built outside Khilji’s city known as commonly referred to as dar-ul-Khilafat later known as the city of Siri. Now the garden is limited to what we know as deer park and the lake is reduced to 1/5th of its original size.

Tucked in the thick vegetation of deer park are a few very important monuments and we started our exploration with he impressive BaghI i – Alam ka Gumbad and the Walled Mosque.

Bagh- e- Alam ka Gumbad is the largest of the three monuments in the deer park. It is an example of typical Lodi era architecture. The date of  its construction (1501)  is mentioned in a Persian inscription on a panel on the western wall. Delhi Gazetteer says the tomb is of a saint Shihab- ud -din Taj Khan. The panel also names the builder of the tomb as Abu Syed.

The monument is usually locked but I have heard it has a beautiful painted ceiling and tear drop patterns.

Surrounded by unruly vegetation and massive trees is this imposing structure with walled quibla or mosque on one side.  The facade of the monument gives a false impression of it being three- storey. Three sides of the monument have trabeated entrances barred with locked grill doors and the forth west one that faces Mecca has a mehrab recess characteristic of all the Lodi era structures. It is decorated with Quranic inscriptions.

Similarly like all Lodi era structures this too is built with locally quarried red and grey stone blocks intricately placed together to create a stunning patchwork. There are arched windows over the entrances. The entrances and the windows are set within a larger arched niche which is further placed in a rectangular frame projecting outwards through the wall face. The Eastern wall has stairs to the roof. I tried to peer through the grills to get a glimpse of the roof but the interior was shrouded in darkness and nothing was visible so I just walked around to see the gumbad from other angles. It is then I spotted a parakeet happily settled in one of the arched niches.

The dome springs from a sixteen-sided drum. The roof and the drum (base) of the hemispherical dome are decorated with a line of battlement-like ornamentation called kanguras.

The walled mosque 

The Lodi era wall mosque next to it has five-mehrab niches pointing towards Mecca. It is flanked by beautiful octagonal domed towers on either side with arched entrances build within them.

The central niche is flanked towards its back by turrets. The central of these niches is the largest both in terms of height and width. The smaller niches were build  probably to keep little lamps at night. The Quibla’s large courtyard has two neat rows of unknown graves and the place resembles more of a cemetery than a mosque. One can see beautiful leaf motifs on the entire length of the wall.

I watched the play of light and shadows on the leaf littered floor of the courtyard. Even though the plaster has peeled off at many places giving a glimpse of the rubble beneath this structure is still in a better condition than other monuments in the vicinity. The whole area is thickly shrouded by foliage from all sides overshadowing most of structure.

A little ahead is a newly constructed modern enclosure that houses hundreds of hamsters and rabbits.  We walked passed that to an open area where a cricket match was in full swing. I could see the Kali Gumti as we walked on a pathway shaded by lush Ashoka trees.

For some reason we did not go to the gumti and Tohfewala Gumbad hidden in thick foliage. I will be writing about these two separately. From there we took the trail to the deer enclosure and then to Munda Gumbad.

Munda Gumbad 

Munda Gumbad or the bald dome is a ruined pleasure pavilion on top of a grassy hillock. It was once in the center of the lake and was connected by a causeway to the city. Now it  lies at the edge of the lake. The headless or domeless structure can be accessed from all four sides by a of stairs. Made of rubble masonry the structure is believed to have two storeys. Now just a ruin it still has a aura around it and once can stand there and look at the green waters of the lake and across it he back of Tughlaq’a tomb and walls of the madarsa.

Hauz – i – Alai or Hauz Khas Lake 

By the time we were through with the Gumbad the sun had completed its journey. The green waters of the serene lake shimmered in the golden sunlight as the sun bid farewell. We walked along the lake admiring the marooned dried trees, sunken boats, fountains and the gorgeous reflections of the sunset.

At some point we sat down to talk about the  hauz i alai in its hay days when Khilji constructed it in 1295. This largest man made reservoir acted as water catchment for southern part of the city. It is believed that originally the reservoir spread over 123.6 acres and was 13.1 ft deep. Now it is just a quarter of its original size.

Once the Khilji empire declined the reservoir got neglected and mostly silted up. It was taken over by encroachments till Firoz Shah Tughlaq came to reign and took charge to de-silt, clean and clear the clogged inlets and repair it to be used again. He named it Hauz Khas and built a madarsa ( Islamic seminary) and some other structures including his tomb at its edge.

The Northern limb of the Madarsa – e – firoz Shahi (1352), a medieval center of learning, starting from the Tomb of Tughlaq on the left as seen from the water reservoir Hai- i – alai or Hauz Khas lake.

The entire complex of structures built by Tughlaq in the 14th century make this area along the lake stunningly beautiful.

Taghlaq”s Tomb

Tughlaq was by far the most prolific and far sighted builder in medieval North India and his love for architecture can be seen here in abundance. He carried out a lot of public work projects especially in the area of irrigation. We will discuss those in the upcoming posts.

The lake or tank, its water channels are still a very impressive sight.

We left the park from the Hauz Khas village end and headed back towards Sakri Gumti. I will do a post on those structures later. The complex is one of my favorites and there was a time I would spend hours wandering in the midst of this ruined glory.

 

 

Stay tuned for more on Hauz Khas complex and some other monuments in the vicinity. Stay warm and keep the spirits high. I will update this with better photographs of the monuments as and when.

Delhi Monuments – Chor Minar ( The Thieves Tower )


I often wonder how I never paid any attention to this solitary tower in K block Hauz Khas Enclave. I have seen almost all the big and small structures around this area but never stopped here. Yesterday I was wandering around the city and was in the neighborhood so decided to walk down and take a closer look at the tower of punishment, a landmark with a gory history, that is usually ignored by many.

The minar is located in the midst of posh bungalows of Hauz Khas. This supposedly haunted structure is encircled by a garden and serves as a traffic roundabout. The monument is made of rubble masonry where large irregular chunks of stone are held together by thick mortar.  The tower, with 225 regularly spaced holes on the upper half,  is kind of macabre to look at. It also seems incomplete and gives a stump like look. If you view it from a distance it appears to have its head chopped off. Sends a shiver up your spine to think what it hides in its dark depths.

Delhi has had its own share of horror filled past and this Chor Minar is a fine example of that. Built in early 14th century, under the reign of Allauddin Khilji (1290–1320) , this tower was used to display the severed heads of thieves and criminals. The heads would be impaled on spears stuck into the holes, to act as a deterrent to others. Though there is no proof if that was the sole purpose of this tower it is very much possible as those times were very turbulent.

I stood there imagining 225 blood dripping heads staring at me from the stone walls of the Minar and turned away only to face the tree in the compound with hundreds of dried seed pods hanging on its branches. It is perhaps one of the Khejri (Prosopis cineraria) trees but I need someone to identify it correctly.

I can’t tell you if I was amused or repulsed. The eerie silence holds you captive as you marvel at the structure, the bloody times in which it was constructed and the Sultan’s preferred way of  delivering justice.

Perhaps with the growing threats from the Mongols, it was necessary to maintain law and order for Khilji. Only with a streamlined administration he could have faced the challenges imposed by the mongols and other invaders. It is believed that when the crime rate increased then heads of only the important noted criminals were displayed and the rest were piled like a pyramid next to it. A blood curdling scene that is hard to imagine as one stands there looking at the manicured square patches of grass that surround the tower.

There is also a belief among the historians that a large number of Mongols who attacked Delhi during Khilji’s regime were defeated and captured and their severed heads were hung from the holes in the Minar for striking terror among the masses.

I wondered if the man who peacefully slept under the warm winter sun, the girls who took selfies next to the Minar or the creme de la creme living in those upper crust houses knew of the headless ghosts that may be grinning or peering at them.

Unfortunately not many people are aware of its history and the morbid tales associated with it and the tower stands there seeped in its blood soaked secrets.

I sat there on the bench taking in a piece of history one would wish to forget. The tower is headless and that seems like too much of a coincidence. It stands on a platform with three arched recesses on all four sides. The central recess on the east is the entrance to the tower with a spiral staircase leading to the top. The gate is locked now and is inaccessible. Only the birds, the squirrels and the bats can see what’s in there.

A woman walking the dogs gave me a strange look as I stood at the gate peering at the minar and hoping against hope to get a signal from some presence in there. It was a hot winter day and the afternoon sun was blazing in its full glory. I had a few more monuments to visit so said goodbye to the ancient inhabitants of the Chor Minar promising to be back soon as my elder son lives a stone’s throw away.

Do visit this haunting beauty whenever you are in this part of the city. The place isn’t very far from the Metro station and the guards near the colony gates or the autowallas will guide you there.