R.V. Smith makes a case for the 90-odd monuments in Delhi that could do with better care
Ninety-five monuments in Delhi are awaiting protection but the Archaeological Department is still in the process of notifying them, says a report. One discerns a casual approach to the matter which has been long pending and resulting in more encroachment and despoliation of the Capital’s heritage. Take the tomb of Birji Khan on Venkateshwara Marg, R.K. Puram. It belongs to a nobleman of the Lodhi period who must have occupied an important post during the reign of Sikandar Lodhi and accompanied the Sultan to Agra when he was trying to set up a new capital there. An earthquake and pressing matters of State hindered the work, and the ruler’s plans remained incomplete. After defeating his son, Ibrahim Lodhi, Babar moved into the city and Humayun too camped there. But it was left to Akbar to fulfil Sikandar Lodhi’s dream of a capital 122 miles from Delhi in the pre-historic Agravan.
The tomb of Birji Khan, according to Maulvi Zafar Hasan, occupies 18 square metres and has arched panels with a dome “springing from a 16-sided drum, crowned by a marble and red sandstone pinnacle”.
Its state of preservation is not good. Birji Khan’s name and fame may disappear altogether if the monument is not saved. Mohammad Quli Khan’s tomb is in the DDA Park, Mehrauli. Vandalism and despoliation, despite the renovation in 1996, are a big threat to the mausoleum. Dating back to 1610, it was built during the reign of Jahangir as a memorial to Adham Khan’s brother, son of Maham Anga who was Akbar’s wet nurse. Because of this Mohammed Quli Khan too was a foster brother of the emperor.
While Adham Khan’s tomb is fairly well preserved, this one is not. Incidentally, it was this monument that was converted by Sir Thomas Metcalfe into his summer retreat Dilkhusha in the 19th Century. The British Resident made extensive extensions to it on the north and a pavilion in the centre. The tomb stands on the original wall of Lal Kot of Prithviraj Chauhan. Metcalfe also added many terraces and waterworks. According to INTACH, traces of a fireplace have also been found in the building, which has calligraphy on its arches and yellow, green and blue tiles.
Darvesh Shah’s mosque, also in DDA park, dates back to the Lodhi period. It is a walled mosque on a raised platform “with seven mehrab recesses, raised battlements and flanking minarets”. There are several graves in the main courtyard, presumably of Darvesh Shah and his descendants. But who Darvesh Shah was can only be conjectured — a holy man of the Lodhi era who was highly venerated, as is evident from this memorial which, however, has undergone some renovation.
Hijron-ka-Khankah in Mehrauli DDA Park has a monument to an unknown nobleman and a whole lot of graves in the courtyard of eunuchs who must have occupied important positions in the Sultanate period, probably serving as chamberlains in royal palaces. Bade Lao-ka-Gumbad in Vasant Vihar, behind Basant Lok Market, stands on a terrace 4.35 metres high, says INTACH. It has arched recesses on the inside walls and “on the west a battlemented wall mosque”. The interior of the dome is ornamented. The tomb has become a residence in authorised occupation and may suffer more damage, which may result in the loss of this Lodhi relic. Why it is known as Bade Lao-ka-Gumbad has not been established but the word “Bade” signifies greatness of the person it commemorates.
Gol Gumbad in Lodhi Park is a tomb of 8.6 square metres “and on each of its sides is a recessed arch, with a central doorway. The dome springs from an octagonal neck”.
But this too is a monument to an unknown personality. So also Phutta Gumbad. The Baradari south of Bade Lao-ka-Gumbad has also become a residence despite being a tomb. “There are 12 arches within the courtyard while the tomb has a domed Chattri”. The tomb of Paik is yet another endangered monument on G.T. Road. Belonging to the Lodhi period, it has badly deteriorated during the past few years, not surprising since it was formerly a police post. The octagonal monument has arched recesses and “decorations on the neck of the dome”. It has openings in four cardinal axis and the floor has caved in. ‘Paik’ means ‘messenger’, but nobody knows who this messenger was. One thing is certain; that he occupied that post in Lodhi times and as such was a royal messenger to suffragan rulers to whom he delivered royal commands and messages accompanied on horseback by a retinue of solders.
Turkman Gate, which has now been given a hideous coat of paint, is also awaiting ASI protection. It is a reminder of Shah Turkman Bayabani, the saint of the wilderness, who lived here during the time of Altamash and Sultan Razia and her brethren. Shah Jahan honoured the Sufi by naming one of his 14 city gates after him. Should it not be preserved?