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.