Down Memory Lane Metroplus

The roof of the matter

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As the restoration work in Mehrauli Archalogical Park gets approval, let’s look at the grave issue

The decision to renovate and restore monuments in the Mehrauli Archalogical Park was long overdue, though late it is nevertheless welcome. Among the tombs to be renovated is that of Ghayasuddin Balban which dates back to 1286. Just like the older tomb of Illtumish, this one also doesn’t have a roof. But since mausoleums of such important personages couldn’t have been built roofless, it is fair to assume that the roofs collapsed during the course of the centuries after weathering many a monsoon or invasion by hostile forces. It would be in the fitness of things if the ASI takes up the challenge of restoring them as also that of Alauddin Khilji. This will no doubt be a daunting task as no depiction of these tombs, complete with the roofs, is available but architectural trends in those days and guesswork may be of some help.

When one visited the tomb of Alauddin, one found that a mongoose had made its home there in a hole. That was over 40 years ago. A recent visit to Balban’s tomb revealed that a whole mongoose family was active in it. Illtutmish’s tomb had a chameleon, a big one, which changed colour frequently, with its throat getting knotty as if it was about to shoot the poisonous “goli” which, as erroneously believed, the “girgit” uses to attack those who try to impede its path. One of the caretakers, however, disclosed that mongooses are pretty common in the area and hide in Illtutmish’s tomb too. And this, he thought, was a welcome sign since it kept snakes away, for no snake however venomous would like to meddle with a mongoose. Otherwise snake-bite cases in and around dilapidated monuments are not uncommon during the rainy season.

One thing that ASI must keep in mind while renovating Balban’s tomb is that the Slave ruler spent a considerable part of his life at his estate in Hansi (now in Haryana). Surely the ruins at the place if renovated, could throw fresh light on this stern and able administrator. His palace, Kushaki Lal in Nizamuddin is in a pitiable state and despite some repairs is still far from being labelled as “restored”. Sikandar Lodi’s tomb in Lodi Park is also to be renovated but what about the tomb of his son, Ibrahim Lodhi in Panipat, the only tomb of the dynasty not in Delhi? Open to the elements, this tomb can hardly be called a mausoleum.

It was built courtesy Babar who, after the First Battle of Panipat, sent out his men to find out the fate of his rival. They discovered the body of Ibrahim among the slain, for he had died fighting gallantly and the Mughal invader could not but salute his bravery. Babar had the body buried in a mud grave which was later built upon by Ibrahim’s mother (the Sultana Begum). She had been taken into protective custody by Babar, who later allotted a special place to her among the ladies of his harem. But bent on avenging her son’s death she bribed a cook to mix the dreadful poison Kalakuta in the Mughal emperor’s food. Babar became seriously ill but somehow survived. The effects of the poison, however, it is said, led to his early death. A debatable point but worth consideration.

Ibrahim Lodhi’s tomb should also get a roof and the buildings at Sikandra in Agra, where Sikandar Lodi wanted to establish a new capital, too need to be reclaimed. The tank he built is now known as Guru-ka-tal and the tomb of Khwajasarai Itibari Khan, the royal eunuch who tortured Shah Jahan in his last days in the Agra Fort, has become a gurudwara. Actually the Khwajasarai had converted a Lodi monument to serve as his future tomb. Nizam Khan Sikandar Lodi was the greatest king of the short-lived dynasty and preserving his legacy so close to Delhi should not be difficult. But one thing that no renovation can probably restore is the missing grave of Balban. The grave of one of his sons and that of another relative can be traced in the mausoleum but not the Slave Sultan’s. It is said that he was cursed by a dervesh that after death there would be no trace of his remains as he had punished a holy man on the mere suspicion of witchcraft. But this is just a myth. May be a successor king, the elements or vandals were really responsible for the vanished grave. Still it takes away from the sanctity of the monument.

(The author is a veteran chronicler of Delhi)

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2020 12:11:23 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/the-roof-of-the-matter/article6229012.ece

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