Dome Diaries #1- Teaser

By R. Akarsh and Stuti Ghosh.


“To move, to breathe
  to fly to float;
to gain all while you give
to roam the roads of remote
   to travel is to live.”

There is no special day to explore a city like Delhi. Pick any day and place, you are sure to get surprised by what Delhi has to offer. Lying in deep slumber are stones and walls that are quietly telling us stories of the glorious past, of the events they witnessed, of the masons they were touched by and the rulers they bear within. These speak of our tangible and intangible past. In the course of filling up the Dome Diaries, we aspire to leave no stone ‘unheard’ and bring to you the heritage of Delhi, but first a sneak peak from our Mehrauli edition…

  Adham khan thrown from Agra palace walls, opaque water colour and gold on paper, Mughal, ca. 1586-89 © V&A Images.
Adham khan thrown from Agra palace walls, opaque water colour and gold on paper, Mughal, ca. 1586-89
© V&A Images.

…Currently under renovation, this tomb was built in 1562 by Emperor Akbar for his foster brother-Adham Khan. There is an interesting story behind this beautiful monument. Adham Khan was the son of Akbar’s foster mother Maham Anga. In order to fulfil his political aspirations, Adham Khan murdered Ataga Khan, who was another wet nurse, Jiji Anga’s husband and one of Akbar’s favourites. Outraged at this, Akbar had Adham Khan violently executed by being thrown off the ramparts of the Agra Fort. Shortly afterwards, Maham Anga too died. The monument is supposed to have the tombs of both the deceased. However, only one characteristically male cenotaph survives, that too being a replacement. The question remains as to why Akbar had a grand monument erected for someone he had ordered to be executed. Maybe because Adham Khan was an important Mughal noble or perhaps because he was Akbar’s foster brother and his mother was a considerable influence on the Emperor.

Adham Khan's Tomb, locally known as 'Bhool Bhulaiyya'
Adham Khan’s Tomb, locally known as ‘Bhool Bhulaiyya’

The tomb has a distinct style of Mughal architecture that resembles the vocabulary of the earlier sultanate, particularly the Sayyid’s. It is an octagonal tomb with a courtyard having three-arched facings on all sides. Inside the courtyard, all entrance arches to tomb are corbellings fitted within larger true arches and stand for the Indo-Islamic vocabulary of architecture.

Jahaz Mahal, Mehrauli.
Jahaz Mahal, Mehrauli village.

Another interesting site deeper in the Merhauli village is the Hauz-e-Shamsi. Built by Iltutmish, the powerful sultan from the Mamluk dynasty in the 13th Century, this tank was a rather divine solution for the water shortage in Mehrauli. Divine, because the prophet himself came in the Sultan’s dream riding on a horse guiding him to excavate a tank on this spot. The ecstatic sultan is recorded to have gone in search of this place and decided on this spot upon seeing the hoof prints of the prophet’s horse. This tank was known to overflow tremendously in the rainy season. Today in one distant corner of this shrunken tank stands a pavilion that marks the hoof prints of the prophet’s horse. Allauddin Khilji, from the following Khilji dynasty is known to have erected this pavilion in the fourteenth century.

Jharna, Mehrauli village.
Jharna, Mehrauli village.

The other architectural marvel around the Hauz is Jharna. Built in the 1700 as a Mughal pleasure garden, the Jharna, as the name suggests employed hydraulic aesthetics in the most imaginative way. The overflow from the Hauz was directed into a depression east wards and was made to fall (hence the name Jharna) through pavilions into a pool through slits near the roof, forming a curtain of flowing water. It was especially famous among the Mughal women who would come all the way from Shahjahanabad, the then capital city, to enjoy the cool retreat in Mehrauli. Two late Mughal emperors also built pavilions around the Jharna, one was by the poet king Zafar, the other, a twelve pillared pavilion, by Akbar II. This was an important venue of the festival Sair-e-Gulfaroshan/ Phoolwalon ki Sair just as the Jahaz Mahal is today. However, this once beatific pleasure garden has now started to crumble.

There are still many more places to visit in the Mehrauli village including the beautiful Zafar Mahal, and we shall cover them in a later edition coming very soon! But for now, let’s head towards the Mehrauli Archaeological Park. Take the road keeping the Jahaz Mahal on the right and the Jharna on the left, and walk straight until it opens at the main road, where, turn left and keep walking until you see a small board welcoming you into the Archaeological Park. Upon entering the park, you’ll see a gateway to another dilapidated structure on the right.

True arch; Balban's tomb, Mehrauli Archaelogical Park.
True arch; Balban’s tomb, Mehrauli Archaelogical Park.

This is the famous tomb of Balban, a powerful Mamluk Sultan in the 13th century. The tomb is famous among historians and art historians especially for one reason, that its makers employed for the first time the technique of making true arches. So were the earlier arches false? Um, yes. Until the advent of the Delhi Sultanate, arches were not exactly a part of the indigenous architecture. Dominated by the style of Post and Beam Architecture, the indigenous artisans were unaware of the advantages of true arches, especially in dome making. So it wasn’t until Balban’s tomb in the 13th century that true arches were used, and as can be seen in the arches made prior to this, the masons used the corbelling technique of placing one stone over the other horizontally, slightly pushing them inwards from either sides to make an arch. (This will be discussed in detail in another edition very soon!) Balban’s tomb has no dome over it and no cenotaph; this must have been damaged when the former must have collapsed on it. In an adjacent chamber is laid Khan Shahid, Balban’s favourite son, whose cenotaph is still present, though in a crumbling state.

Jamali-Kamali mosque and tomb, Mehrauli Archaeological Park.
Jamali-Kamali mosque and tomb, Mehrauli Archaeological Park.

Another spectacle close by, is the mosque and tomb of Jamali Kamali. This is of great significance in the evolution of Indo-Islamic Architecture; built in 1528, the mosque chronologically stands exactly in the middle of the transition from the Sultanate to the Mughal times. The alternating use of the red sandstone and the white marble facing, on the Delhi quartzite with ornamentations in the fluted pilasters, spandrel medallions and multiple sized arches are all the features to look for in detail. The western wall is the most decorated wall with the mihrab, the arch indicating the direction to Mecca, decorated with Quranic inscriptions. Close to this mosque is the cubical tomb of Sheikh Fazlullah, the sufi saint who wrote under the pseudonym Jamali. Within the small yet most profusely decorated tomb, is laid another male cenotaph, as indicated by a fluted carving over it. No one knows however, who is buried within. But popular vocabulary has labelled it to be the grave of Kamali, probably only because the name rhymes with Jamali. This tomb is therefore called as the tomb of Jamali-Kamali. The roof on the inside is breathtakingly carved with plaster and painted with vibrant colours. Tiles too of bright blue, green and yellow have been used as embellishments to this marvel.

The Mehrauli Archaeological Park is home to many spectacles like the Rajon Ki Baoli, which is one of the most beautiful baolis in Delhi, and Quli Khan’s tomb, which was rightly called Dilkusha. To know more about these places and much more, stay tuned for the next post on Dome Diaries coming soon, where we begin writing from the earliest phase of Delhi’s history making.

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