Delhi Monuments – Lal Gumbad


 

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.

Delhi Monuments – Ambling Through Deer Park & Hauz Khas – 1


It is a daunting task to write about the monuments of Delhi, their historical and architectural importance, about the city itself especially if your knowledge is limited. I have some books marked for reading this year but I love dilli and often wander into its lanes, bylanes, parks and ruins to get narrow the distance between what was and what is.

Hauz Khas ruins have always been a favorite destination but I never really got around to look at them from a blog post point of view. Hardly clicked photographs or wrote about them. The old monuments were more of a refuge when I wanted to escape from madding crowd. Deer park too was a runaway place where I could spend hours with myself without any intrusion.

Since Adi shifted to HK and my visits became more regular to the area I decided to list and visit all the  monument in HK and surrounding Green Park etc. The walks started with Chor Minar. You can read about it HERE.

The places on my list are:

Hauz Khas complex with The tomb of Ferozshah and other structures, Baag – i – Alam Gumbad and the walled mosque (Humayunpur), Kali GumtiBarah Khamba, Biran Ka Gumbad, Dadi Poti ka Maqbara, Choti Gumti, Sankari Gumti, Idgah of Kharehra, Nili masjid, Munda Gumbad, Hauz-i-Alai to start with.

I have covered a few  of these and will write about each in the coming days.

Deer Park Monuments – Baag – I – Alam Ka Gumbad and The Walled Mosque

Deer park was once known as Bagh -e- Alam ( ‘Garden of World’ ) and lay between Sultan Allauddin Khilji’s Siri fort and Hauz – i – Alai now popularly known as Hauz Khas Lake which was the largest man made water body of that time. Even the garden was the largest one built outside Khilji’s city known as commonly referred to as dar-ul-Khilafat later known as the city of Siri. Now the garden is limited to what we know as deer park and the lake is reduced to 1/5th of its original size.

Tucked in the thick vegetation of deer park are a few very important monuments and we started our exploration with he impressive BaghI i – Alam ka Gumbad and the Walled Mosque.

Bagh- e- Alam ka Gumbad is the largest of the three monuments in the deer park. It is an example of typical Lodi era architecture. The date of  its construction (1501)  is mentioned in a Persian inscription on a panel on the western wall. Delhi Gazetteer says the tomb is of a saint Shihab- ud -din Taj Khan. The panel also names the builder of the tomb as Abu Syed.

The monument is usually locked but I have heard it has a beautiful painted ceiling and tear drop patterns.

Surrounded by unruly vegetation and massive trees is this imposing structure with walled quibla or mosque on one side.  The facade of the monument gives a false impression of it being three- storey. Three sides of the monument have trabeated entrances barred with locked grill doors and the forth west one that faces Mecca has a mehrab recess characteristic of all the Lodi era structures. It is decorated with Quranic inscriptions.

Similarly like all Lodi era structures this too is built with locally quarried red and grey stone blocks intricately placed together to create a stunning patchwork. There are arched windows over the entrances. The entrances and the windows are set within a larger arched niche which is further placed in a rectangular frame projecting outwards through the wall face. The Eastern wall has stairs to the roof. I tried to peer through the grills to get a glimpse of the roof but the interior was shrouded in darkness and nothing was visible so I just walked around to see the gumbad from other angles. It is then I spotted a parakeet happily settled in one of the arched niches.

The dome springs from a sixteen-sided drum. The roof and the drum (base) of the hemispherical dome are decorated with a line of battlement-like ornamentation called kanguras.

The walled mosque 

The Lodi era wall mosque next to it has five-mehrab niches pointing towards Mecca. It is flanked by beautiful octagonal domed towers on either side with arched entrances build within them.

The central niche is flanked towards its back by turrets. The central of these niches is the largest both in terms of height and width. The smaller niches were build  probably to keep little lamps at night. The Quibla’s large courtyard has two neat rows of unknown graves and the place resembles more of a cemetery than a mosque. One can see beautiful leaf motifs on the entire length of the wall.

I watched the play of light and shadows on the leaf littered floor of the courtyard. Even though the plaster has peeled off at many places giving a glimpse of the rubble beneath this structure is still in a better condition than other monuments in the vicinity. The whole area is thickly shrouded by foliage from all sides overshadowing most of structure.

A little ahead is a newly constructed modern enclosure that houses hundreds of hamsters and rabbits.  We walked passed that to an open area where a cricket match was in full swing. I could see the Kali Gumti as we walked on a pathway shaded by lush Ashoka trees.

For some reason we did not go to the gumti and Tohfewala Gumbad hidden in thick foliage. I will be writing about these two separately. From there we took the trail to the deer enclosure and then to Munda Gumbad.

Munda Gumbad 

Munda Gumbad or the bald dome is a ruined pleasure pavilion on top of a grassy hillock. It was once in the center of the lake and was connected by a causeway to the city. Now it  lies at the edge of the lake. The headless or domeless structure can be accessed from all four sides by a of stairs. Made of rubble masonry the structure is believed to have two storeys. Now just a ruin it still has a aura around it and once can stand there and look at the green waters of the lake and across it he back of Tughlaq’a tomb and walls of the madarsa.

Hauz – i – Alai or Hauz Khas Lake 

By the time we were through with the Gumbad the sun had completed its journey. The green waters of the serene lake shimmered in the golden sunlight as the sun bid farewell. We walked along the lake admiring the marooned dried trees, sunken boats, fountains and the gorgeous reflections of the sunset.

At some point we sat down to talk about the  hauz i alai in its hay days when Khilji constructed it in 1295. This largest man made reservoir acted as water catchment for southern part of the city. It is believed that originally the reservoir spread over 123.6 acres and was 13.1 ft deep. Now it is just a quarter of its original size.

Once the Khilji empire declined the reservoir got neglected and mostly silted up. It was taken over by encroachments till Firoz Shah Tughlaq came to reign and took charge to de-silt, clean and clear the clogged inlets and repair it to be used again. He named it Hauz Khas and built a madarsa ( Islamic seminary) and some other structures including his tomb at its edge.

The Northern limb of the Madarsa – e – firoz Shahi (1352), a medieval center of learning, starting from the Tomb of Tughlaq on the left as seen from the water reservoir Hai- i – alai or Hauz Khas lake.

The entire complex of structures built by Tughlaq in the 14th century make this area along the lake stunningly beautiful.

Taghlaq”s Tomb

Tughlaq was by far the most prolific and far sighted builder in medieval North India and his love for architecture can be seen here in abundance. He carried out a lot of public work projects especially in the area of irrigation. We will discuss those in the upcoming posts.

The lake or tank, its water channels are still a very impressive sight.

We left the park from the Hauz Khas village end and headed back towards Sakri Gumti. I will do a post on those structures later. The complex is one of my favorites and there was a time I would spend hours wandering in the midst of this ruined glory.

 

 

Stay tuned for more on Hauz Khas complex and some other monuments in the vicinity. Stay warm and keep the spirits high. I will update this with better photographs of the monuments as and when.