R.V. Smith makes a word picture of the gumbads of Delhi, their architectural beauty and also their significance in history
The gumbads (domes) of Delhi are also repositories of history which, however, are not given the attention they deserve. Domes came into prominence during the Muslim period, though there certainly were domed buildings before that time, but Hindu temples and other edifices, by and large, lacked the finesse and excellence of the domes that came up later. The dome was essentially linked to the Islamic conception of heavenly structures (of which the Taj and Humayun’s Tomb are the best examples), though the one built by Kubali Khan was a different entity altogether since, despite the name, he believed in ancestral spirits that prophesied war and peace.
The Shish Gumbad in Lodhi Gardens dates back to pre-Mughal days. Maulvi Zafar Hasan says that it is the tomb of a Lodhi grandee, “a 10 square-metre chamber roofed by a dome whose ceiling is ornamented with floral motives and verses from the Quran.”
The Gol Gumbad near Lal Bahadur Shastri Marg also belongs to the Lodhi era and measures 8.5 square metres. The dome springs from an octagonal neck. This gumbad, however, is not so prominent as the one on the tomb of an unknown nobleman, situated west of the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. According to INTACH, the dome seems to answer the description of the “Phuta Gumbad” mentioned by Maulvi Zafar Hasan. Since the dome is not cracked but is in pretty good condition, it is conjectured that it was repaired subsequent to the Maulvi’s observation in the pre-Partition days when claimants to such buildings were still around. The monument is small and compact though the dome ill- suits its size. It dates back to the Tughlak period and the person whose last resting place it was supposed to be, was probably a courtier of Ferozshah Tughlak who was a great builder himself and a lover of architecture. He not only built new palaces, fortifications and hunting lodges but also repaired edifices of earlier ages, including the Qutub Minar and some of the constructions of Alauddin Khilji and the rulers who preceded him.
Yet another remnant of the Lodhi period is the Dosirihya Gumbad in Nizamuddin village. Though a tomb, it is now a residence. The name suggests that its dome was double-headed but that cannot be ascertained since the building is badly deteriorated. The Bara Khamba nearby has, besides a central dome, four domed apartments at each of the top corners of the structure. The encroachments on it have been cleared of late. Yet another domed tomb in the vicinity is of the late Mughal period. The dome has “an octagonal neck and Kangura motifs at parapet level.” Chini Ka Burj, west of the Nizamuddin Baoli, was built between 1550 and 1560. It is an oblong mosque with a domed chamber and tile work that gave its name (Chini) to the building, says INTACH. Bade Lao-Ka-Gumbad has already found mention in last week’s column.
Atgah Khan’s tomb in the Nizamuddin Basti has a very prominent dome and commemorates the husband of Ji Ji Angah, one of the two wet-nurses of Akbar, who was slain by Adham Khan, son of the other wet-nurse, Maham Angah, out of jealousy. Bari-Ka-Gumbad, east of this tomb, is of the Lodhi period and, according to Zafar Hasan, was probably a gateway to a building that no longer exists. Sabz Burj on Mathura Road stands like a sentinel to the architectural wealth of Nizamuddin area; the tiles on the dome (an excellent one) gave it the name but they were blue and not green as “Sahz” suggests. The ASI has renovated this structure, a tomb, with blue, green and yellow tiles on the neck of the dome that rises majestically against the skyline.
The tomb and mosque of Afsarwala towards the western gate of Humayun’s Tomb are also domed structures of the early Mughal period. The laskar or court official of probably Humayun’s time was the one whom the two monuments commemorate — a nameless official who must have been a very influential person in his lifetime.
Nila Gumbad, north of Nizamuddin station, is the tomb of Fahim Khan, Abdul Rahim Khan-e-Khanan’s close attendant. “The building is an unequal octagon from outside and square within,” according to INTACH. It was constructed by the Khan-e-Khanan whose own disfigured tomb is close by. Blue tiles gave the mausoleum its name.
Yet another structure, Kale Khan Ka Gumbad in South-Extension, is supposed to be the tomb of Mubarak Khan Lohani, the father of Darya Khan Lohani who is buried nearby. They were Lodhi period’s famous personages. Bare Khan Ka Gumbad too is in South Extension but the man buried in it remains anonymous. Chhote Khan Ka Gumbad and Bhure Khan Ka Gumbad in the same locality also honour Lodhi noblemen. But the domed building in Kilokhari village is the gateway of the tomb of Sayyid Mahmud, a contemporary of Hazrat Nizamuddin. So gumbads remain the hallmark of 700 years of rule by Muslim kings in Delhi.