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 – 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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

 

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.

Photo Essay- Humayun’s Tomb And A Day Saturated With Prayers


It is all a matter of faith. They say, when there is a calling then only one can visit the Dargah of  Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, Delhi’s 14th century Sufi saint.  After years of waiting I was finally able to offer Chaddar at the mazar. There is something in the air which slowly seeps into your being and a complete transformation takes place.  Fragrance of incense sticks, flowers, the soothing melodious sounds of qawallies sang in devotion to the Sufi saint, the devotees all add to the somber atmosphere of the Dargah. Tears flowed as all the pain, hurt accumulated over the years  flowed out. I felt completely cut off from everything around me. Its a feeling of  complete oneness with the saint, something one can not describe. We offered prayers and the dargah nasheens ( caretakers) helped us in that.

The world suddenly changes to medieval one as you leave the main road to go towards the Dargah. Labyrinthine alleys, crowds of beggars and street-vendors, bazaars with cheap eateries hawking kababs and other delicacies, people selling caps, rosaries, religious posters, books, CDs, turn it into a magical world. The unusual blend of music, ritual, food, crafts and local traditions insulates one from the hustle bustle of outside world.

I tied the thread on the jaali and closed my eyes in reverence. One can feel the the immense love and affection that Hazrat Nizammudin Auliya, the14th century poet and Amir Khusrau, the musician shared. The passionate submission to the khwaja that one witnesses here  is unique of Sufism and the magnetic pull which brings one again and again to the this shrine is unmistakable.

We did not take any photographs as it was a purely personal visit but a  post on the Dargah is due with all the pictures.

The photo shoot  took place at Humayun’s Tomb. Magnificent and impressive the newly restored world heritage site is one of my favorites. Every visit to this striking monument brings out some mysterious  intrinsic splendor come alive.

The west door from where the tourists enter the complex.

The magnificent view from the west door.

The recent restoration and conservation of  the gardens, pathways, fountains and water channels of the chahâr-bâgh, or four-part paradise garden, surrounding Humayun’s Tomb has simply made the mausoleum look even more beautiful than before. All the lost glory of this tomb seeped in melancholy and solitude is back. For the first time in 400 years, water channels in the 16th Century Humayun’s Tomb were reactivated to facilitate the water harvesting system in the tomb, making it the largest heritage site in India to have such a system. The Tomb is also the only site to have a water harvesting system that covers two acres of constructed area and 30 acres of the entire site. At night, when the tomb is lit up, it is truly spectacular to watch the fountains and the building in backdrop emerging out of  the deep shadows of the garden.

The lush green gardens with trees and water bodies are a refreshing sight. Surrounded by ancient ruins, the place draws you to itself. The gardens are dotted with  Black Bean Tree,Budha Coconut,Palms,Figs,Anar,Chandani,Citrus,amalta,neem,champa ,amaltas etc. The complex has some of the oldest trees in Delhi. The sound of the koel bird echoed in the still summer evening. One could also hear peacocks at a distance but I wasn’t able to spot one. Though we spotted a pair of beautiful storks.

Along with the tourists and locals who come to relax in the midst of these serene surroundings we found some gorgeous crows cooling themselves in the plush lawns.

Another crow decided to take a bird’s-eye view from the stump of  palm tree.

The garden restoration has breathed new life into the legacy of  the first garden tomb of India. 500 pomegranate saplings, 2000 flower-bearing fragrant plants like Hibiscus,HarsingarChandni and Jasmine, as well as shade trees like mango and neem, were planted in the 26 acre garden and one can see the stunning results as one enters the complex.

Centuries’-old Indian craft, modern technology and hard work of dedicated laborers revived dilapidated monument and gave it a much-needed face lift.  Humayun’s Tomb finally rose from its slumber to its former glory. The restoration of Isa Khan’s Tomb is still on and tourists are not allowed in. Country’s oldest sunken garden is being uncovered here. We saw some of the things which were excavated from the site.

One of the best preserved and tourist friendly monuments of Delhi, Humayun’s Tomb is the finest specimen of Indo- Islamic architecture. Apart from the main building we visited some other monuments inside the complex and in it’s vicinity  like, Barber’s tomb (nai ka maqbara), Neela Gumbad, Chillah Nizamuddin Aulia, Afsarwala Mosque, Afsarwala Tomb, Arab Sarai, the lovely garden of Bu Halima and Isa Khan’s tomb.

We talked around the complex absorbing is rich past and mesmerized by the  beauty of  the ruins. Unknown graves took us by surprise and the plush soft green grass took away all the tiredness and heat of summer. We leisurely walked barefoot on the moist grass, oblivious to the love birds( couples) and the foreign tourists. The sun was beginning to set and the tomb glowed in its golden light of the melancholic dusk. The cool breeze added to the serenity of the place.

We sat near the elevated  boundary of the tomb’s platform and gazed at the beauty that surrounded us. It was a day saturated with prayers and ancient history.

Humayun wasn’t one of the greatest of Mughal emperors. A dreamy romantic king with a soft heart who was fond of books, music, astrology, he was born to Babur, the founder of Mughal dynasty he spent his life pursuing the pleasures and lost his empire to Sher Shah Suri. His brothers turned hostile, friends became enemies and long serving servants fled leaving him lonesome and humiliated. The man who once had the entire north of India under his thumb, Humayun, was forces to languish in solitude. One can feel the gloom and desolation in his grave which has no inscription etched on it. Unlike other emperors his beloved wife is not buried next to him. The eerie silent pain seeps out of the grave and hangs in the air of the quiet tomb. My heart went out for this lonely emperor as I walked around the main tomb.

456 years have gone by since this unfortunate king died and was buried here. He lost everything and dies falling from the treacherous straits of Purana Quila. The tragedy did not end here.  A century later, the headless body of Humayun’s great grandson, Dara Shikoh, the greatest Mughal emperor India never had, was also buried here.  Dara was murdered by his own brother Aurangzeb. This glorious tomb is the only thing left of Humayun.

I reflected on our day as Adi and I talked of the king , his mausoleum, the river Yamuna that flowed nearby , the shrine of Khwaja Nizamuddin Aulia and realized how much human and cultural history every nook and corner of this area held. We missed out on many nearby Baoris (wells) and smaller mosques and monuments and vowed to come back soon.

The evening shadows deepened as we left the past and drove into the glitter and madness of present. Our hearts filled with mixed emotions and saturated with prayers.