June 14, 2012

Nila Gumbad, New Delhi


Standing right next to Platform 1 of the Hazrat Nizamuddin Railway Station, New Delhi is a beautiful blue-colored tomb. Looking over a railway junkyard, a small slum & the platform, the tomb is silent witness to all the atrocities that have been committed against it & stands largely neglected in the midst of all the surging humanity that passes it every day. With its entrances blocked with cement, doors locked, plaster flaking & tiles falling off, the tomb presents a very sorry picture. But despite its dilapidated condition it looks magnificent & forces one to imagine what it would have looked like in its days of glory.

Popularly called the Nila Gumbad (“Blue Dome”) because of the brilliant colour of its dome, the tomb was built by Abdul Rahim Khan-i-Khana for his servant Miyan Fahim in 1624-25. Abdul Rahim was a general in Mughal emperor Akbar’s court (ruled AD 1556-1605) & was brought up by the emperor himself after the death of his father Bairam Khan (also a general in Akbar’s army). Rahim was also a very famous poet & composed couplets in Hindi, Persian & Urdu, popularly known as “Rahim ke Dohe” which are today taught in Indian schools as part of Hindi curriculum. Fahim grew up with Abdul Rahim’s son Feroze Khan & died alongside him too while fighting against the rebellion by Mughal general Mahabat Khan, during the reign of emperor Jahangir (ruled AD 1605-28).


The Nila Gumbad


The tomb sits on a 1.5 meter high pedestal & is reached by climbing a couple of stairs. It is shaped like an unequal octagon, resembling rather a large square with its corners knocked off. The wider sides of the octagon are pierced by arched doorways. The narrower sides have recessed arches that have paint work in red and white, reminiscent of bricks. The tomb, built of local quartzite stone, is plastered both internally & externally & at one time the tomb must have been very beautifully decorated with coloured tiles, but now only a portion of a wall facing the Railway Station shows remnants of the impressive designs & geometrical patterns.


Let's go somewhere!!


Also all except one entrance to the tomb have been blocked using cement. The tomb has certainly been treated very cruelly & nothing has been done to restore the structure or at least put up a boundary wall near it to prevent encroachments & slum dwellers from setting up their settlements along its walls. The high pedestal is on one side surrounded by a slum, a service road on another & a railway junkyard on other 2 sides.


The patterns


A lone security guard looks after the place, & would promptly open up the locked grille if you request him. Once inside, I was hoping to see an unkempt chamber with one or more graves. But two reasons again strengthened my belief that almost anything is possible in Delhi - one, the square chamber was very beautiful, the sunlight filtering through the windows created patterns of light & shadows. The beautiful roof still has its plaster work & mesmerized me immediately. So much so that for 5 minutes I just gazed at it & spent the next 20 photographing it from different points & angles. Second, there is no grave or sarcophagus inside the tomb!! Odd, why is it called a "tomb" then??


Say "Aahh..!!"


After exiting the chamber, I spent some time observing it, taking photographs. There is a huge finial on top of the dome, the dome too is losing its tiles. The guard disappeared after a few minutes leaving me alone. A small tract of wild vegetation hides remains of a large wall with some rooms built on one side. A similar wall is visible across the road, perhaps they had been joined once but destroyed when the road was built. Large rods of steel lie next to the tomb, a very thin dusty track is being used by motorcyclists to cross the railway track. Everything around the tomb suggests a general callousness, maybe the people inhabiting the region have gotten used to its presence & do not anymore think twice before passing from near it. The ignored tomb just stands sentinel to the passing trains & whistling engines. I read the ASI & Indian Railways are locked in a legal battle about the custody of the space around the tomb. Apparently the ASI wants to restore the tomb & build a garden around it after diverting the road that passes along it to the other side of the tomb. The Railways are reluctant as this would require the destruction of existing Station & its relocation along with the rail lines to some other location. Plans to integrate the 16th-century tomb with Humayun’s Tomb complex have finally got off the ground with the signing of a MoU between the ASI & railways which allows the service road bifurcating the two monuments to be shifted to the other side of the tomb. The work is being undertaken by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) & will also include repairing of cracks and tile work on the dome, reopening of doorways now blocked with masonry, removal of cement repairs made in the 20th century, restoration of the decorative plasterwork, & rebuilding of collapsed portions of the northern & western arcade walls (refer Times of India article - "Nila Gumbad gets a facelift & heritage corridor"). The northern arcade, is thought to have protected the monument from Yamuna that once flowed near Humayun’s Tomb but later changed course & shifted away. So far I did not observe any signs of any kind of construction or restoration activity.


The narrower walls display medallions & paintwork resembling red bricks


Again what interests me the most about monuments in Delhi is how many of them are interconnected to each other. After Akbar's death, a struggle for supremacy ensued between his sons, with each possessing his own armies & retinue of generals. Abdul Rahim was opposed to Jahangir's accession to the throne of Delhi. After Jahangir did became emperor, the first thing he did was punish all those who opposed him & those he considered blackguards. He ordered the execution of two of Rahim's sons & their bodies were left to rot at Khooni Darwaza (refer Pixelated Memories - Khooni Darwaza) to act as a warning to future traitors & mavericks. Guess Abdul Rahim & his other sons did make up with the new emperor later, since Feroze Khan did support Jahangir against Mahabat Khan & Jahangir also allowed for the construction of a magnificent mausoleum for Rahim about 2 kilometers away from Nila Gumbad & very close to his own grandfather Humayun's tomb complex (refer Pixelated Memories - Humayun's Tomb Complex).


Ignored!!


Moving along the road next to the tomb, one encounters the boundary wall of Humayun’s Tomb  & its back entrance with the hanging jharokhas (projecting chambers/windows) that the royal family might have used to view the river Yamuna. Moving further along, one comes across Gurudwara Damdama Sahib, Chilla-Khanqah Nizamuddin (refer Pixelated Memories Chilla-Khanqah Nizamuddin) & the main entrance to Humayun’s Tomb Complex. It is disheartening to see that so very near to the World Heritage Site of Humayun’s Tomb Complex, the Nila Gumbad is languishing in anonymity & ignorance.

Edit June 15, 2013 - AKTC has finally started work on the restoration of the Nila Gumbad. The structure might be included within the Humayun's Tomb Complex or an extended heritage zone also including an unknown Mughal Tomb (refer Pixelated Memories - Unknown Tomb, Nizamuddin Area), Batashewala Mahal & several other structures. Fingers crossed!!

How to reach: The easiest way would be to take a local train to Hazrat Nizamuddin Station, the tomb is bang next to Platform 1. Nearest Metro Station would be JLN station, but that’s quite some distance away. The tomb is situated near the back side of Humayun’s Tomb Complex & one can walk along the Complex boundary to reach it.
Open: Entry to visitors is not allowed. But try to convince the guard to open it for you during the day time.
Entrance Fee: Nil
Photography/Video Charges: Nil
Time required for sight seeing: 30 minutes
Relevant Links -

  1. Pixelated Memories - Chilla-Khanqah Nizamuddin
  2. Pixelated Memories - Humayun's Tomb Complex
  3. Pixelated Memories - Khooni Darwaza
  4. Pixelated Memories - Unknown Tomb, Nizamuddin Area

1 comment:

  1. sad to see a monument forgotten in the tide of time. even i was not aware of such a tomb. thanks for writing about it and increasing my knowledge!

    ReplyDelete