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.

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.