Down Memory Lane | History & Culture

The Awadh Nawab’s dubious gift to Delhi

A view of Safdarjang’s Tomb at night

A view of Safdarjang’s Tomb at night  

Safdarjang’s Tomb is one of the last specimens of Mughal architecture

The last vestige of Mughal architecture exists on the road to the Qutb, which I revisited recently under balmy skies. It is Safdarjang’s Tomb and commemorates Mansoor Ali Khan Safdarjang, the second Nawab of Awadh.

Designed on the pattern of Humayun’s tomb, it is a poor imitation and does not stand in comparison with the older building at all, on either aesthetic and architectural levels.

The three-storey tomb in fawn-coloured stone also bears a faint resemblance to Akbar’s mausoleum at Sikandra, but lacks the magnificence of the latter. Even so, it is an interesting monument, situated amidst a garden of about 250 square metres, and enclosed by a wall at the corners of which stand octagonal towers.

Arcaded pavilions, named Moti Mahal, Badshah Pasand and Jangli Mahal, have been constructed on the northern, southern and eastern sides, like the pavilions in the outer quadrangle of the Taj. It is believed that these were meant for the accommodation of nobles who visited the mausoleum and could not return home quickly, because journeys took so long in the days of animal-driven carriages and travellers had perforce to camp for days on reaching their destination.

The tomb has a carved cenotaph in the central chamber within which is another chamber containing two unmarked graves, both with earthen mounds above them. In it lie buried Mirza Muquim Abul Mansoor Khan Safdarjang, and his wife Banu Begum.

The monument was built by their son Shujauddaulah at a cost of ₹3 lakhs with a lot of marble and other material being pinched from the mausoleum of the Khan-e-Khana and other Mughal buildings, to embellish the tomb.

Safdarjang was the Wazir of Oudh at the court of Mohammad Shah and later the head of the Shia Irani Party and Prime Minister at the court of Ahmad Shah (1748-1754). His opponents were the leaders of the Sunni Turani party. Safdarjang was dismissed because of his failures as Prime Minister and retired to Lucknow where he succeeded his uncle to the throne of Oudh.

He died at Faizabad in 1754 and his body was brought for burial to Delhi, as he had pined for his days of grandeur in the Capital and desired that he be laid to rest there.

Looking at the floodlit tomb now one is reminded of the nobleman and his life and times. His mausoleum is as haphazard as his own life was, with Mughal, Rajput, Iranian and Egyptian architecture jostling for space in the building.

His son, Shujauddaulah, who was reputed to have the biggest moustaches in the whole Mughal empire, rose to greater eminence, and as the Wazir of Shah Alam won back the position his father had lost to the Sunni Party.

In 1761 the Wazir played a big role, along with the Nawab of Bengal, to contain the power of the British and perpetuate the Mughal dynasty.

But the scheme failed when Shah Alam and his supporters were defeated at the Battle of Buxar. It was then that the English were granted the Diwani of Bengal after which they had the emperor in their clutches.

Safdarjang’s Tomb reminds us of all this and also of the handsome eunuch whom he proclaimed as Padshah after his dismissal by Ahmad Shah.

Safdarjang declared him to be the grandson of Kam Bakhsh, the youngest son of Aurangzeb. The monument has been aptly called “the last flickering lamp of Mughal architecture”.

The writer is a veteran chronicler of Delhi

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Printable version | Jun 4, 2020 2:55:09 PM |

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