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Updated: July 31, 2010 19:05 IST

Decked by the dome

R. V. Smith
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Illustration: Tony Smit
The Hindu Illustration: Tony Smit

Domes have a charm of their own. One remembers living in a domed house on the outskirts of Delhi more than 60 years ago in which beer parties were held on week-end afternoons and whisky and rum flowed in the evening. The house had been rented from a family which claimed noble lineage and a history of 300 years. That domed house has now been demolished but the memories associated with it still linger in the mind as Gumbad-ki-awaz or echoes from the dome.

Now news has come of the planned renovation of Phoota Gumbad, Kala Gumbad and the Anonymous Gumbad in Jawaharlal Nehru stadium. These monuments are believed to belong to Tughlaq times. The Tughlaqs were great builders and right from the time of Ghiyasuddin up to Mahmud Tughlaq's reign which saw the end of the dynasty, a large number of buildings came up in Delhi.

Mohammed-bin-Tughlaq followed in the footsteps of his father, whose tomb has a unique dome. After building Adilabad, Mohammad abandoned Tuglakabad, the fortified city to build his own capital city of Jahanpanah or Refuge of the World. That was the time when the threat of a Mongol invasion had receded and he could build his edifices without any fear.

Feroze Shah-Mahmud Tughlaq's reign saw the invasion of Taimur but before that Khan-i-Jahan Junan Shah constructed a host of mosques, with domes of all shapes and sizes, right up to Kali Masjid (originally Kalan Masjid) where the best nahari is sold, according to old Delhi wallahs. Taimur was fascinated by the buildings of the slave kings, the Khiljis and the Tughlaqs. He had come from a place where domes predominated and yet the work of Indian craftsmen so impressed him that he took away several hundred of them to beautify Samarkand.

The Sayyids, despite their short rule, added to the buildings of Delhi, with Kotla Mubarakpur coming up as the new capital in preference to Mubarakabad on the Yamuna bank. Kala Gumbad is sometimes mistaken for his tomb but it is actually that of Mubarak Khan and built in the Lodhi period in 1481. Mubarak Shah Sayyid's tomb is known for its wide dome which overshadows other characteristics of the mausoleum, quite unlike the stately dome of Mohammed Sayyid. The Lodhis also built lots of domed mausoleums like the Shish Gumbad, but it was during the Moghuls that the dome reached it's perfection.

The dome that graces Humayun's Tomb became the role model for the dome of the Taj Mahal, whose majesty has not been matched anywhere else perhaps. To return to the Tughlaq period, the Phoota Gumbad got its name at a later date when its dome cracked. The Kala Gumbad near it was so named after years of elemental fury made the dome black. The third domed building got the pseudonym of Anjan Gumbad. So all these three buildings lack proper names but are still heritage sites. ASI has done well to take up their renovation at last and save them for posterity, lest they be demolished to make room for modern structures.

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