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 – Ambling Through Hauz Khas – Darwesh Shah Mosque


At the outskirts of the ancient city of Siri stands a lesser known Lodi era wall mosque dedicated to Darwesh Shah whose identity is unknown. As we know, Darwesh Shah is a honorific, not a name. The DDA park in which the mosque is located is technically in Gautam Nagar next to Gulmohar Park but I am including it in my Hauz Khas trail. The Muhammadi Wali Masjid, the mosque of Darwesh Shah, the Nili Masjid, and the Idgah, all located in close proximity to each other, testify to the fact that the vicinity of Siri was an important location for religious and other significant structures.

The Lodi dynasty contributed immensely to the architectural heritage of the city. They were the last rulers of the Delhi Sultanate. A large number of tombs, mosques, gardens were commissioned during there reign and are splendid examples of late Sultanate architecture. Most of the structures that find mention in Delhi’s built heritage are in Lodhi Garden, the rest are scattered across the city and mostly remain unknown and unsung.

We have no information a  to who built this particular mosque but the legends has it that six centuries ago, the Sufi saint once asked a group of six boys if they would buy the kingdom of Delhi for 2,000 tankas (currency used in the 12th century by Turkish Sultans). One of the boys, Bahlol Lodhi, agreed and was blessed by the Holy man. His friends mocked him for being “a fool” but Bahlol said it was not the case, that if the saint’s words were true, he would gain a kingdom, and if they weren’t, he did the right thing by giving the saint what he desired.

We can see how true his words were as Bahlol Lodi  became the founder of the dynasty that bore his name and ruled over Delhi Sultanate for 75 years from 1451 to 1526.

On his death in 1489 A.D., he had expanded the Sultanate to nearly twice of what it was in the beginning of his reign. However, there is no authentication of this story about the interaction between Bahlol and Darwesh Shah. It is believed that perhaps Bahlol commissioned this mosque to honor Darwesh Shah but there is no documentation of that. 

One can imagine the pastoral setting of the mosque as one stands there watching the play of shadows and light in the the current green expanse around it. The spread out canopies of old Keekar trees, the grassy patches, the walking paths, the gazebo and the quiet nestled in the stone walls of this ancient mosque.

For a long time this unimposing mosque lay in shambles since 1920, overgrown with bushes, shrubs and hidden by huge leafy trees. Neglect had resulted in the collapse of one portion of the mosque but INTACH gave it a commendable face lift in 2009 before the Commonwealth Games making it more accessible to public and restoring the remaining parts. The mosque got saved or else it would have got completely destroyed. The limestone plaster developed a patina over the period of time and now most of the mosque has got back its antiquarian look.

Though the entry to the upper platform is closed to public but one can walk around the structure to access its beauty. In a way it is good as it protects the remaining building and prevents encroachment and offering of prayers thus leading to further damage.

Made with rubble masonry this is a wall mosque, with a rectangular enclosure for graves that stands on a high platform.There are eleven of them but no one knows who is buried in these graves. There is a doorway and stairs at the north-east corner that lead to this raised platform. The prayer wall on the west and east side has a set of seven recessed mihrab arches of which the central one is emphasized with raised battlements. The North and South sides have five arches. The center of the west side wall that contains the mihrab is slightly projected from outside and is flanked by two tall minarets till the parapet level. The description is based on Maulvi Zafar Hasan’s observation.

One can observe different facets of this mosque as the shadows play on its walls or take a stroll in the park taking in the sights and sounds.

Sometimes a peacock will surprise you or you may spot some interesting bird keeping an eye on the joggers, workout enthusiasts sweating it out or the folks lazing around on the grassy patches or the benches.

I spotted an Oriental Magpie Robin perched near the mosque and a few other birds watching the sun go down. Phone photos don’t do justice to birds so I usually refrain from clicking. Some things need to be enjoyed with the naked eyes too.

I sat beneath the shade of a tree thinking about and the Darwesh, the reign of the Lodis, the unique stories of the bygone era that fill the city I love and the rapidly emerging patterns of the urban expanse choking the remaining few breaths of the ancient built heritage of Delhi. As I see the apathy of the other forgotten and endangered big and small monuments I feel glad to see this one at least breathing easy.

As the autumnal sun reached its peak I bid adieu to the Darwesh and made my way to some of the other tombs in the near vicinity. I will be covering a whole bunch of these ancient structures dotting this area.