While walking up the causeway to the Ghyas-ud-Din Tughlaq mausoleum at Delhi’s Tughlaqabad, we counted more than 50 stones with inscriptions or etchings on them. Only an expert can say what they mean

Ghalib, the master of brevity had in one of his ghazals talked of the difference between seeing and observing, suggesting that observing requires a special kind of vision, a vision that enables the observer to see an ocean in a drop and the entirety in a fragment.

While walking up the causeway to the mausoleum of Ghyas-ud-Din Tughlaq this last Wednesday I was reminded of this couplet of Ghalib because I had gone there to look for something on the surface of the large blocks of stone that make the parapet of the causeway. I must confess that I have been going to Tughlaqabad for decades and must have walked up and down this passage scores of times, looking at the stones but not seeing or observing them. I was there this Wednesday an hour before noon in the stillness of the sweltering heat that monsoon is when it is not raining, and I was looking for things that I had missed all these years. I had failed to notice what I should have seen because I did not have the eye that sees.

Prof. Narayani Gupta had suggested that I look closely at the stones of the parapet when I visit Tughlaqabad next; she said she seemed to recollect noticing some writing that appeared to be in the Brahmi script. She was not sure of exactly where she had seen it but she thought that it was on the parapet and she said if you go there, look at the stones on the inside of the right parapet wall as you approach the mausoleum.

There were four of us and we began looking, we were now looking at each stone, something that we had not done earlier. Initially, we explored the surface of the stones on the right side, then on the left wall as well and by the time we reached the steps that take you to the mausoleum that Ghyas- ud- Din had named Daar-ul-Aman or perhaps Daar-ul-Amaan, the former would mean abode of peace and the latter would mean a place where one takes or seeks refuge.

On this little walk from the point where you climb the causeway, broken for the Mehrauli-Badarpur Road to the Daar-ul-Amaan we counted more than 50 stones with inscriptions or etchings on them. A few looked like names of people, while the others were common symbols -- a trident here, an axe there, at places a plain circle, somewhere else a fish in outline, a couple looked like etchings of some animal. But one could not be sure if it was that or simply unplanned markings, some intentional and others a result of erosion.

Out of all we saw and photographed, and we could have missed a few, we gathered the impression that these were more like masons marks and less like text and perhaps that is why there are almost as many stones with signs like the trident or the axe etc. as there are with words.

We know that masons were paid by the number of stones that they had completed cutting, dressing or polishing. And that it was a fairly common practice for them to leave a unique mark on each of the stones that they had worked upon as this obviated the possibility of someone else usurping the benefits of another’s labour.

And so that could be a possible reason for these marks and words could be the names of the masons working there. But how can we be sure? Someone who knows the script will need to study them, they look not very different from Nagri in their shape, but the order in which they are placed it cannot be read as Sanskrit. Is the script Brahmi, was it in common use in the 14th century etc, are questions that need an expert to try to answer.

The question that is bothering me more urgently, however, is why did I not notice these markings earlier, The eye that sees needs to be cultivated, those who have it, notice and remember, those who don’t need to be pointed in that direction. I really wonder how much of what we think we have seen we have in reality observed and noticed.

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