In Delhi, death often doesn’t put a full stop to lives well lived.
It was predestined. Delhi was, after all, founded on the banks of the Yamuna; the river itself being named after the sister of Yama, the Deity of Death. With the passage of time, Delhi was built and destroyed, built anew and destroyed afresh until it came to be the City of Tombs. Here the dead reside in every nook and cranny, lanes and highways. From the nondescript tomb of Raziya Sultan, the first woman ruler of India, to the much more impressive tomb of the Mughal king, Humayun, Delhi has opened its breast for them all. Humayun’s last resting place has, incidentally, been the precursor to the much more celebrated Taj Mahal in Agra. Just as the Safdarjung Tomb, another garden tomb, near the famed Lodi Garden, is said to be inspired by the Taj!
On the fringe of Old Delhi, you will find Ghaziuddin’s madrasa and tomb; in the heart of the city, we have Muhamad Shah’s tomb which is part of a series of tombs built during the reign of the Sayyids and Lodis. Then in and around Mehrauli, the place once ruled by a succession of Sultanate kings, starting with Qutubuddin Aibak, there are tombs at every step, notably those of Balban and Iltutmish. Not to forget that of Maham Anga, the wet nurse of Akbar. The area, incidentally, brought up the entire empire of the Mughal king, Shah Alam – translated as the Emperor of the Universe!
At many places, the dead are treated as, well, dead and gone. For instance Abdur Rahim Khan-e-khanan tomb near Nizamuddin. At others though, they are venerated. For proof one just has to go to the tombs of Nizamuddin, Amir Khusrau and Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki, a disciple of Moinuddin Chishti. Then near the historic Jama Masjid lies the tomb of Maulana Azad, the man who built the education system of modern India.
Old and new, medieval and modern, Delhi will always be more than a footnote whenever the annals of tombs will be written.