A recently published book on Delhi’s Mauza Khairpur area throws light on one of the city’s oldest graveyards

The standoff between the management of the Jorbagh Karbala complex and Residents’ Welfare Agency has its genesis in the events of 1947 when refugees from Punjab and Sindh were settled in the complex that includes the Dargah Shah-e-Mardan. Dr. Khaliq Anjum, former head of the Anjuman Taraqqi Urdu (Hind), New Delhi, has come out with a book in Urdu on the dargah and other mausoleums in Mauza Khairpur, which throws interesting light on Delhi’s most venerated Shia burial ground

. Up to now it was widely believed that Dargah Shah-e-Mardan dated to the time of Nawab Qudsia Begum, wife of Emperor Mohammad Shah Rangila and mother of Ahmed Shah, his son and successor, in the mid-18th century. But in the book titled Dilli ki Dargah Shah-e-Mardan, Dr. Anjum has traced its existence to 1543-44, which means to the time of Sher Shah and the Sur dynasty. That should make it one of Delhi’s oldest cemeteries, after the smaller graveyards of the 12th to 15th centuries.

The author says that once while accompanying Lal Bahadur Shastri in a car, he persuaded the then Union Minister to step down and have a dekko of the area devastated by the refugee influx. Shastriji was astonished by the scene that unfolded itself. Medieval marble graves had been uprooted with impunity to provide shelter to the newcomers to the Capital. Even the shrine of Hazrat Ali (Shah-e-Mardan) had been severely damaged, what to talk of other shrines and tombs. The boundary wall had been pulled down and new structures had come up all around. Shastriji gave orders for the restoration of the wall (chardewari) and repair of prominent graves. At one time the Jorbagh complex covered several acres, right up to the tomb of Safdarjang, which is now more or less isolated from it. But the 1947 exodus reduced the area greatly with encroachments, both governmental and private.

Dr. Anjum, along with Col. Bashir Hussain Zaidi, surveyed the complex and with help from other knowledgeable people has listed the monuments with a thoroughness that is worthy of appreciation. There are photographs in the 115-page book (brought out by the Anjuman Taraqqi Urdu), and the sources cited include Sir Jadu Nath Sarkar (Fall of the Mughal Empire), W. Franklin (History of the Reign of Shah Alam) and the list of Muhammadan and Hindu Monuments (VOL II, Calcutta, 1916).

Mahabat Khan’s body was brought from the Deccan while Safdarjang’s body was brought from Faizabad and buried here. Then there is the grave of the mysterious Mah Khanam and the tomb of Justice Murtaza Fazal Ali. Other graves mentioned are those of Ashraf Beg Khan, Mahaldar Begum, Mehr-ul-Nissa Begum, Wilayati Begum, Karbali Begum, Mirza Mohsin, Sharful Nissa Haji Begum, Saadat Khan, Qasim Ali Khan, Najaf Ali Khan, Nawab Sayyid Sultan Mirza, Sayyida Khatoon, Javed Khan, Maulvi Sayyid Ali, Nawab Mubarak Mahal Begum, Nawab Ibrahim Beg and many others of note and fame.

Besides, mention is also made of the various masjids, including the ones built by Qudsia Begum and Zeenat Begum, the Majlis Khanas, Bibi Fatima-ki-Chakki, Dargah Arif Ali Shah, Qadam Mubarak (footprints of Ali), Mehr-ul-Nissa Begum-ki-Chaukunthi and the royal qabristan.

About Qudsia Begum it is said that she was greatly influenced by Nawab Bahadur Javed Khan, who was murdered at the instigation of Nawab Safdarjang. The queen started life from humble beginnings as a dancing girl and before her conversion was known as Udham (aka Uttam) Bai. The begum was accused of many things but at the same time respected for being a great patron of women and the poor (Reham-dil Begum).

For a book priced at Rs.200, it is quite a treasure house of information on a place associated in general perception only with tazias, and perhaps could draw more readers with an English translation.