Delhi Monuments – Ambling Through Hauz Khas – Firoz Shah Tughlaq Tomb Complex – 1


I am rather late in writing about this. Health and other anxiety related issues have kept me away from most work but today let me share the first part of the Hauz Khas monument complex. The next post will cover the Madarsa and some other aspects related to this marvelous site and surrounding areas.

Hauz Khas complex has been one of my favorite places to go to when in search of solitude irrespective of the fact that it is always crowded with couples and people looking for a place to rest/eat or just linger around. In a good move ASI has put an entry ticket since April and I see the effectiveness of it. So, a few days back I went to explore the ruins and sit under the grand old tamarind tree.

This post is just my personal account of what holds me captive and pulls me to this place and not really a historical or architectural commentary. The most interesting aspect of these ruins and the Hauz e alai near by is the influence of three great rulers who ruled over Delhi.  Allauddin Khilji’s construction of the second city of Delhi, the city of Siri (1296–1316} and Hauz e alai the grand reservoir that provided for the water requirements of the city. Once Khilji died and his empire faded away the reservoir got neglected and perished.

Then as a mark of respect another great ruler of Delhi Firoz/Firuz Shah Tughlaq restored and got the silted Hauz cleaned during his reign (1351–88). He also commissioned a magnificent double storied Madrasa-i-Feroz Shahi (seminary), a mosque, few pavilions, chatris overlooking the restored lake. It is among these he built his own humble tomb where the great Sultan rests now. 

Later in the year 1507-08 yet another great sultan of Delhi Sikander Lodhi added the striking embellishments inside the tomb.

So when I walk through the 13th century ruins the stones whisper stories of many eras of sultans and their immense love for art, architecture and intellect. Firoz Shah Tughlaq was the third ruler of Tughlaq dynasty that ruled over Delhi. A man with a mission he loved to build things be it fortresses, canals, schools, cities, mosques, hunting lodges, sarais (rest houses), hospitals etc. He also commissioned repairs of old buildings, mosques etc. including Qutub Minar to which he added two floors after it was damaged by an earthquake.

Coming back to the Hauz Khas Complex one enters through a modest stone gateway into a the landscape of ruins set in the midst of manicured grassy patches. It is a world very different from the so called urban village you leave behind on the other side. Immediately a calm descends on you as you glance around at the ancient structures, the domed tomb of Tughlaq soaring above the rest of the buildings, old wise trees with birds merrily chirping in their lush branches and a little further and beyond the lake with its deep green waters. These are the secret keepers and the story tellers of ancient Delhi. 

Each ruler from the Tughlaq dynasty added their own architectural creativity to whatever they build. In Firoz Shah’s time these architectural achievements reached their zenith. The new architectural trend is visible in all the buildings erected during his reign.

The 5-6 pavilions with domes in different shapes (hexagonal, rectangular, octagonal) and sizes are the first thing you notice on entering the complex. Some of these structures were tombs and one can see a few graves. The roof and domes of these simplistic tombs is decorated with kanguras. You can see the small chatri in the foreground.

The pavilions and the ruins of the court yard are conjectured to have been used as part of the madrasa in the past. On the inside all the pavilion domes have lost the ornamentation but one can still see the exquisite foliated motifs on the drums and the kalsa motifs on  top of the domes. Most of the structures are falling apart and the bands of calligraphy are discontinuous or fading. I notices a few pigeons nestled in the holes inside.

The cylindrical pavilions don’t have any graves and perhaps they were part of a bigger structure as one can see stone beams projecting from the base of their dome drums.

I moved on from there to the hundred year old Tamarind tree which I will cover in next post. Next to the tree are Three domed colonnaded pavilions and the Mosque.

These interlinked pavilions make a T shape and again have broken bands of calligraphy inside the dome. The building is made of hard quartzite which is tough to carve. One can still see finials, kanguras and calligraphy in incised plaster in the plastered tombs. The long colonnaded halls stretch from north to south.

There are also signs of ornamentation of some sort which has vanished now leaving just dark holes and broken patches. The whole structure stands on a solid stone platform. It is amazing how these strong square pillars have supported the structure for last almost 650 plus years. Yet one sees the cracks that have developed over the period of time. Some restoration was done by ASI in 2012 I think. These structures were perhaps used as seminar rooms for the students of the Madarsa.

One can also see a ruined remain of a staircase with large windows and perhaps one can descend to the lower floor of the madarsa from there but I did not disturb the couple sitting there and moved on to the Mosque.

The small Mosque with overhanging jharokhas stands under an ancient Tamarind tree at the northern end of the Madarsa. The quibla wall of the mosque projects towards the water reservoir. If you see it from the lake side you can clearly see the five mehrabs.

The central mehrab with a domed chatri and open sides is like a pavilion and projects towards the reservoir. I have heard that the qibla wall has rich ornamentation but I couldn’t see it. Perhaps next time. The mosque was closed for public entry although the door was open. There’s a crumbling staircase next to it which leads down but I left it for another day of exploration.

I headed to the Tomb of Firoz Shah but then I spotted the two buildings flanking the original entrance not in use opposite Firoz Shah’s Tomb. One is closed to public and the other is ASI’s local office.  One of them seemed to be a guard house but not sure of the purpose of other one. 

The sun was getting to me now so I sat on some ruined steps and watched the common myna quench her thirst from the water pipe in the garden. A young girl sat reading on yet another set of steps shaded by the laburnum.

Firoz Shah’s Tomb looks very simple from outside. It is a square building with battered walls and an old surviving jali (stone lattice work) with calligraphic details and medallions above the entrance door that is set in a larger niche. During the reign of Firoz Shah the tombs were devoid of ornamentation and were very simple structures. Inexpensive material like rubble, lime and plaster were used for construction. Lack of skilled craftsmen and poor economic conditions were the prime reason for this. Constructed in 1388 AD Firoz Shah’s tomb is totally in line with the structures of Tughlaq era, made with quartzite rubble finished with plaster with slightly sloppy fortified walls and battlement ornamentation.

Situated at the pivot point of the two perpendicular wings of the madarsa it is the largest building now in the complex. It doesn’t have the defensive architecture pattern but has some simple ornamentation around the entrance. The walls are decorated with merlons on the two tiers. One above the cube and other above the octagonal square. The outer wall has a slight projection towards the center emphasizing the entrance door which depicts a blend of Indian and Islamic architecture.

The top of the tomb has a slightly pointed dome set on plastered squinches and corbelled beams making it an octagonal drum and then a sixteen sided drum before the actual dome.

There is a low platform in a courtyard on the southern side with horizontal and vertical stone railings and ledges similar to the ones found in Buddhist Viharas and stupas of that era. It is believed that that these were inspired from the Sanchi Stupa.

Somehow the tomb seems very impressive even in its plainness. Three steps lead inside to a beautiful interior with Firoz Shah’s grave in the center and the graves of his son and grandson to one side of it. The eight sided polygon roof is very different from the other Tughlaq era structures.

The squinch arches were a thing of past but are used in here. There is a band of calligraphy and a band of geometrical designs on which the dome rests. There are beautiful medallions of different shapes and sizes with Hadiths and Quranic inscriptions in narqsh characters. These medallions are arranged between two concentric stars and a large medallion in the center. It is believed that Sultan Sikander Lodhi who took up the repair work of many tombs commissioned these ornamentation during his reign (AD 1489-1517). They are typical of the architecture of his time. In Tughlaq’s buildings one doesn’t find such embellishments.

Next to the tomb there are two other domed entrances leading towards the madarsa. One was barred by iron door but  could see the steps leading down.

The structures are in dire need of restoration but I feel scared of the way current restorations are going on in Delhi. Ruins must look like ruins and all this whitewashing just spoils the original aura of the place. I sat on the stairs leading to nothingness and wondered how it must have looked when the place was in its prime glory.

The pillared halls, the crumbling walls, the musty dark corridors, the collapsed buildings, the  lake waters down below and the greenery around taking away all the worries and tiredness I felt. There is a certain energy that runs through the ruins stitching everything. Lean against a crumbling walls or just run your fingers gently over them and you’ll feel its presence.

The relationship of modern Delhi and its ancient architecture is complex and especially in this case you see how rapid unrestrained urbanization has marred the face of these ruins. The original spirit of Hauz Khas Village is long lost to the passages of time. As per my knowledge, Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) regulations prohibit construction of structures within 100 metres of protected monuments but here in the haphazardly expanding Hauz Khas ‘village’ no one seems to bother about any laws either MCD’s or the ASI’s. The sleepy green waters of the lake, the old wise trees and the ancient ruins watch the complete collapse of the cultural fabric as the metamorphosis continues to change the original landscape. The bubble is ready to explode any time soon. Meanwhile life continues to struggle to find breathing spaces between the ancient and the modern. In the end it is all about money and here there is no dearth of it.

We will cover the other areas of the complex in the next post. I am not keeping too well to explore right now but the truth is I am a nomad by and these ruins will pull me to their embrace sooner than I think. I am posting this with the current pictures I have but I will soon update with a few fresh ones. I realized that some photographs don’t do justice to the buildings or embellishments. I will upload rest of the photographs for this post on my Instagram account. Do visit.

Till then do go and enjoy the serenity that  surrounds this complex.

Delhi Monuments – Safdarjung’s Tomb Complex


Safdar Jung’s Tomb complex or Mansur ka Maqbara, as locals call it, holds a special place in my heart. I think the tomb was never meant to rival Humayun’s Tomb as sighted everywhere but to solely honor Mirza Muqin Abul Mansur Khan, viceroy of Awadh and later the chief minister known by his title, Safdar Jung.  He was a 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. It rivaled Delhi in literature, architecture, art.  Satyajit Ray’s classic movie, Shatranj Ke Khiladi (The Chess Players) was set in the backdrop of Awadh.

This garden tomb was the last architectural project of Mughal era in Delhi.

There is an undisturbed calm that fills the tomb complex as it is not crowded with tourists like the other tombs. A sereneness that draws you in. It may be “imperfect” architecturally but as a whole the entire complex is awe inspiring.

Remember what Sheldon’s mother says in Big Bang Theory? “Sometimes it’s the imperfect stuff that makes things perfect.”

Keep in mind that this artistically magnificent tomb is that of a prime minister in the Mughal Empire, “Wazir-ul-Mamlikat-i-Hindustan” and not that of an emperor or a Mughal royal. Even his master Muhammad Shah Rangila doesn’t enjoy the luxury of such a splendid spacious resting place. Though he may have that fine ornate carvings, characteristic of  mid 18th century Mughal era, inside his tomb.

As for the marble being stolen from Rahim Khan e Khana’s tomb there are two theories on this. One is the popular one floating everywhere and mentioned by historians too that some of the exterior stone (marble) was plundered from Rahim’s tomb while constructing Safdarjung’s tomb.

The second theory I read refutes the first. As per Aga Khan Trust ( who are restoring Rahim’s Tomb) no material from there was used in Safdar Jung’s Tomb. The analyzed stone cladding is totally different. Mr. Ratish Nanda  says, the marble on this dome doesn’t match the one in Rahim’s.

I am no historian or expert to give my views on it but I still feel that wherever the stones came from should not belittle the efforts of creating this grand mausoleum.

Both Sir Syed ( who thinks the stones and marble went to Lucknow) and Basheeruddin Ahmed who thinks it was stolen during the time the railway line was being built by workers, don’t mention Safdarjung refute the stripping off the marble theory.

 

The triple storied heavily ornamented gateway of the tomb complex is a photographers’ delight. The splendid floral and geometrical patterns that adorns the facade symmetrically around the jharokha of the arched entrance are stunningly done in orange, green and purple. One of the prettiest gateways in Delhi especially in comparison to the much touted Humayun’s Tomb. Only a few of the buildings by later Mughals have this Bangla jharokha style incorporated with the inverted arches in their buildings as per my knowledge. Correct me if I’m wrong.

One can barely see one of the fading fish motifs, the royal insignia of Awadh, on the left side under the base of the arch. The other is not visible at all. It reminds one of  Safdar Jung’ glorious connection with Awadh. The arched walls of the gate frame the tomb perfectly and trust me it is a very surreal experience to stand there and watch the grand mausoleum. There is a lot of work in incised plaster in the interior of the gate.

The Arabic inscription over the main entry gate to the central chamber of the tomb reads, “When the hero of plain bravery departs from the transitory, may he become a resident of god’s paradise”.

A gate on the right side leads to the three domed mosque.  most of the chambers of the madarsa and the mosque is not accessible to the pubic which is the case in many of the monuments in Delhi. A very frustrating rule. I was not permitted to step in the courtyard or into the mosque to see the Ablution or the Waju Khana with a fountain that is a rare occurrence in such mosques.

The gardens are filled with bird calls and it is soothing to see such a treasure of unique trees and shrubs. I was able to see the gorgeous Sita Ashok, mango and the Indian Gooseberry (Awla) in bloom, the kadamb fruiting in full glory with squirrels and birds feasting on the ripe fruits, the beautiful shrubs of Red Kund / Red Jasmine lining the main pathway to the tomb.

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The manicured lawns, the swaying palms, the gardeners at work, the entire tranquility just lift  your tired spirits. You must look up the gardens whenever visiting any of the monuments.  The waterways are always dry but the well had a motor attached for watering the garden which was a welcome sight as earlier I remember seeing it all neglected and was cordoned off with the stone lattice work fence.

Don’t know how deep it is. Was it used to quench the thirst of weary travelers or those staying in the pavilions in the complex apart from being the prime water source to the gardens? Perhaps a Persian water wheel was used for garden irrigation or water was even hand drawn too for drinking. I’m trying yo picture the scene. Nothing online about the well perhaps because these wells are poor cousins of the mighty step-wells..lol …I’ve seen a beautiful working well in khair ul manazil mosque. There’s one in Nili masjid too but closed and not in use.

Built in 1753-54 AD, Safdar Jung’s tomb is set on a high plinth containing series of recessed arches. It is surrounded by a 300-sq-meter garden in typical Mughal style charbagh pattern where the garden is divided in four squares by walking paths and canals leading to the three pavilions that are, as expected of ASI, out of bound for public. The tomb is in the center. There are four two storied minarets in the four corners of the square structure.

The onion shaped dome, made of white marble and pink stone, rising above a 16 sided sandstone drum stands out uniquely amidst the other tombs and monuments of that period. Designed and built by Abyssinian architect Shaidi Bilal Mohammad Khan the tomb is a fine example of Persian and Indian architecture. The bulbous shape derives from Persian Timurid domes and the elegant lotus finial with a marble pinnacle derives from the Hindu temples.

(I lost a few pictures so sorry for this shoddy one. Will change when I visit the tomb next.)

The interior of the dome has beautiful work in molded limestone plaster or stucco as we know it. The medallions with looped floral designs are surrounded by radiating petals and carried on honeycomb pendents that rise in multilayered formations. The dome consists of eight chambers, the central one housing the pristine white marble cenotaph of Safdar Jung. One of the most ornate and beautiful ones in Delhi.

The actual graves or burial chambers of Safadrjung and his wife Amat Jahan Begum are placed in an underground chamber of the monument.

The central chamber has four entrances and the play of light and shadow in the chamber is stunning.

Hidden staircase in the plinth leads to the tomb level and the tomb interior can be accessed via flight of stairs on the two sides. Each of the side room is decorated with rococo plaster work. Each designs different from the other. The minaret in the four corners are lined with thin marble strips and have a chatri on top.  

The Mughal Empire by the mid 1700s and there may have been several factors and not just short funds leading to the hurried patchwork in the making of this tomb. I wish someone researches this a bit more.

There is a certain grace about this tomb made of red sandstone and marble. I hope the monument gets its due and people stop quoting it as resembling an “elderly courtesan”..  (highly exaggerated), “last flicker…” and “poor copy” of Humayun’s Tomb etc. The mausoleum is perfect in its so called imperfection. 

Look beyond what is served to you on platter and visit the tomb with no preconceived notions. Its quiescence will draw you in like nothing else.