03 January 2012

Sabz Burj, New Delhi


“A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret, that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it!”
– Charles Dickens, “A Tale of Two Cities”

Although only historians, heritage-enthusiasts and conservationists are concerned about the existence and condition of the enchanting Sabz Burj ("Green Tower"), the unusual medieval structure looms over millions of people who either travel or had on an occasion traveled on the ever-crowded arterial Mathura Road where it gracefully protrudes in the middle of a traffic roundabout, it's striking presence in so public a space forcing passer-bys and eager tourists to grant it a second look and admire it with appreciation and amazement. Its history and character of course are also a mix of interesting and crazy –
  1. Barring the name, the enthralling monument is not green at all! In fact, the vividly-colored dome of the structure is actually blue!
  2. Nobody knows – or bothers to guess – what purpose did it serve – it could have been a mausoleum, or a pleasure pavilion, or even served a functional purpose, but not a fragment of its history is known.
  3.  And although it's not known why it was actually built, what we do know is that it was utilized in several unimaginable capacities (including as a funky police station for a few years during British reign!) that were totally alien to its original purposes.
And despite all this, the beautiful tower has miserably garnered much less popularity than it ideally should have.


Secretive - The Sabz Burj


Locally referred to as "Neeli Chattri" ("Blue umbrella") and often confused with the Nila Gumbad ("Blue-domed tower") monument that exists a few miles away (refer Pixelated Memories - Nila Gumbad), the octagonal structure is medium in height, its deep blue dome glistens in the sunlight and even brings one to consider it a far-off cousin of the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (aka Blue Mosque) of Istanbul. Technically, it is "Baghdadi" in nature, more influenced by Central Asian than Indo-Islamic architecture and consists of alternating wide and narrow sides – each side possessing an arched recess, though entrances have been built only along the wider sides and the narrower ones are ornamented with incised plaster and paint patterns. It is said that no two recesses are decorated alike, but I could not verify the same as entry to the grassy circle that surrounds the tower is prohibited – high railings surround it and a guard, who refuses to open up saying he is not allowed to, is always present on duty inside (Sigh! Another example of a monument snatched from the public!) The double dome rests on a very high drum (base) – in fact, the tower is one of the very first examples of the use of double-dome in Delhi (the first recorded construction of double-dome in India is in Kashmir – the tomb built by Zain-ul-Abidin for his mother in AD 1465). Originally it possessed vibrant green tiles covering its dome and drum, thus lending it its characteristic name "Sabz Burj", but a restoration fiasco by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) witnessed it ending up with brilliant blue tiles, although one can still spot the remnants of green, yellow and blue tiles in varied patterns on the drum.

The structure was supposedly built between AD 1530-50, though it is not known who commissioned it. Most historians now state with a fair degree of certainty that it could also have been built somewhere in early 15th century, 100 years before its accepted period of construction. 6 years after its last possible window of construction, Hamida Begum initiated the construction of a magnificent tomb for her deceased husband Humayun (ruled AD 1530-40 and 1555-56) close to Sabz Burj and eternally changed the nature of the surrounding area as well as Indian architecture – today the entire area is classified under Humayun's Tomb Complex, a World Heritage Site that boasts of several hundred graves, tombs and mosques (refer Pixelated Memories - Humayun's Tomb Complex ).


Exquisite - Patterns on one of the recessed niches (Photo courtesy - Igougo.com/Phileasfogg)


This mysterious and beautiful piece of architecture is there for enthusiasts to adore day and night and happens to be one of those few structures that make me fall in love with Delhi again and again on every encounter. Throughout the day, a barrage of cars, autos and buses surrounds it, after all it stands on the intersection of two of the busiest arterial roads of Delhi – Mathura Road and Lodi Road. Roads branch off on either side of it, the first leading to Humayun's Tomb complex and the other to Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah (refer Pixelated Memories - Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah). Chemical treatment a few years back ensured that the structure retained its cream-pink finish. More recently, it was restored as part of the monumental urban makeover for the Commonwealth Games 2010 that were held in Delhi. Illumination was also appended on the roundabout around the tower to make it more popular among tourists and to promote night travel.


Be wary of the traffic!


Location: Intersection of Mathura Road and Lodi Road, near Humayun's Tomb complex
Nearest Bus Stop: Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah
Nearest Railway Station: Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah, also about 2 kilometers away
Nearest Metro Station: JLN Stadium Station, though it is approximately 2 kilometers away.
How to reach: Buses and metro are available from different parts of the city. Walk/avail an auto from the metro/railway station.
Entrance: Prohibited
Photography/Video charges: Nil
Other monuments located in the immediate vicinity -
  1. Pixelated Memories - Abdul Rahim Khan-i-Khanan's Tomb 
  2. Pixelated Memories - Atgah Khan's Tomb 
  3. Pixelated Memories - Chausath Khamba 
  4. Pixelated Memories - Ghalib's Tomb 
  5. Pixelated Memories - Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah 
  6. Pixelated Memories - Humayun's Tomb Complex
  7. Pixelated Memories - Lodi Road - Jawahar Lal Nehru Stadium Trail 
  8. Pixelated Memories - Nila Gumbad
Suggested Reading - 

1 comment:

  1. Police Station! Now I sure have a story to tell others when traveling by it.

    ReplyDelete