June 22, 2012

Razia Sultan's Grave, New Delhi

Although Delhi as a whole is a heritage city, filled with tombs, forts & citadels of kingdoms & dynasties long gone by, the area known as Shahjanabad (Old Delhi) is brimming with such treasures. The narrow lanes, teeming with crowds are filled with heritage & history that is lost from the collective psyche of masses & trodden upon on a regular basis, discovered only to be lost again. The twisting & turning roads & paths lead to some monuments & structures, ignored by authorities, known only to residents & some select few who can feel the aura of romance & mystery surrounding them, & once you see these structures you are lost uncomprehending in their beauty & craftsmanship of those who built it. However there is one such place in Shahjanabad that doesn’t invoke any feelings of beauty or astonishment, but of pity. The grave of Empress Razia Sultan is located in center of an area called Bulbuli Khana/Pahari Bhojla & is a difficult find for those who are not familiar with these roads & their sudden curves that may either end nowhere or bring you back to your starting point. When I had decided to go see the grave of the only woman ruler of India (in fact the entire Asia) I did not even know where to start looking for it. The details on Wikipedia about the location of the tomb are incomplete & other pages I searched for are also as inaccurate. Google maps show the location of the grave only 700m from Jama Masjid (refer Pixelated Memories - Jama Masjid), however as I was standing next to Jama Masjid & trying to flag down rickshaws to take me to Razia’s grave & asking the local shopkeepers & vendors for its location, I realised even the people here are not sure there is some grave or tomb whatsoever built for some lady called Razia. Illiteracy levels remaining very high in this part of Delhi, people did not even know that India was once ruled by a woman other than Indira Gandhi. This post would be my tribute to this forgotten empress & direct all fellow wanderers to her grave’s location.

These aren't just anonymous graves!!

First, some details about Razia - She was the daughter of Shams-ud-din Iltutmish (ruled AD 1211-36) who belonged to the Slave Dynasty that was established to administer almost the entire country with Delhi as its capital by Qutub-ud-din Aibak. When Iltutmish was on his deathbed, he faced a unique dilemma - his sons were unworthy of the power that would come with being the Sultan of India & unfit for ruling such a vast country. As a consequence, he named his daughter Razia as his heir apparent. However after his death, the nobles, averse to being dictated by a woman, put his eldest son Rukn-ud-din Feroz Shah on the throne. But as Iltutmish had predicted, Rukn-ud-din neglected the royal business altogether & spent his time & energy satisfying his sexual urges. Rukn-ud-din's wily old mother & Iltutmish's widow, Shah Turkan, ran the whole show. Frustrated with the new Sultan, the population pressurized the nobles to install Razia as the Empress. She ruled with an iron hand, consolidating the empire & adding more strongholds through wars & treaties. She checked the noble’s powers & openly disregarded all religious customs & beliefs of that time, her support for her Hindu subjects against state oppression & taxation made her a thorn in the Turkish nobility’s side. Though supported by the army & general citizenry, this brave lady was hated by her brothers & the nobility, the former thought she had usurped the kingdom from them, while the later didn’t want to take orders from a woman. She fell in love with a slave named Jamal-ud-din Yaqut & was openly defiant of the court traditions in consorting with him. In AD 1240, at the end of her fourth year of reign, Malik Altunia, the governor of Bhatinda (Punjab), following in the tradition of other provincial governors revolted against Razia. She marched against Altunia with her trusted confidant Yaqut, but Yaqut was murdered by Altunia's men & Razia herself imprisoned. Her brother Bahram Shah was put on the throne of Delhi. Seeing no way out of the quagmire but one, Razia offered to marry Altunia if he supported her against her brothers. Altunia agreed to the pact & as a husband fought beside her against her brothers. They marched against Bahram Shah, but were deserted by their supporters. The couple was chased & killed by Bahram's men near Kaithal (Haryana). Some accounts say she escaped the scene with her husband & moved from place to place in despair. As a result of this ambiguity in accounts, no one is sure as to what fate Razia met finally. Three spots have emerged as contenders to Razia’s final resting place. The first is Bulbuli Khana/Pahari Bhojla in Old Delhi where many believe she was laid to rest by her brother. However many scholars argue she may be buried after being looted & decapitated by Jats in Siwan in Kaithal & a third set of scholars believe she, along with Yaqut, was killed by her brother’s henchmen & buried in Tonks, Rajasthan. Ironically, Bahram was later dethroned for being a weak ruler.

The only sign that this is an ASI-protected monument

Since I had decided to visit all three sites starting with the one in Old Delhi first, here I was standing outside Jama Masjid with a copy of Google Map to the grave. However either the rickshaw pullers did not know the way to the place, or if any did, demanded exorbitant amounts of money. Asking from shop to shop if there was any shortcut or some other route, I had lost all hope after drawing a blank everywhere. Finally a shopkeeper told me that Razia’s grave was located very near his residence. He advised me to take a rickshaw to Pahari Bhojla & get down there & take a left from the first meat shop I encountered. In the lane I was supposed to ask my way to Bulbuli Khana which was some distance away & from there ask for Razia’s grave as everyone there knew about it. The man was kind enough to even call a rickshaw for me & bargain the price. The rickshaw is supposed to charge only Rs 15 from Jama Masjid to Pahari Bhojla per person.

Finding my way from Pahari Bhojla to Bulbuli Khana was easy. However once we had reached Bulbuli Khana, Razia’s grave was again “just” out of sight. Asking for directions from shopkeepers & even passer-by’s I moved from one place to another, until I finally met a shopkeeper with an entire shop of multi-colored beads in different sizes & shapes. His shop was mesmerizing & kept me spellbound for what seemed like an eternity!! When I had difficulty comprehending the complex directions he was explaining (Go straight, turn left from chicken shop, then right, right, left..& so on) he decided to accompany me to the grave. Though I protested that he should not leave his shop like this & tend to it, he brushed them aside saying it was also his duty to help others. Bless his soul, really why are people like him & the first shopkeeper disappearing from Delhi. Criss-crossing our way through the maze of narrow lanes & by-lanes, I had a tough time keeping up with the jovial man. Taking photographs of almost everything that I found unique, we finally reached an extremely narrow street where at max 2 people could walk side-by-side, a small lane that extended from the end of the street led to an iron-grille gate that formed the entrance to Razia’s “tomb”, marked by A.S.I plaques (in Hindi & English). There was no grand domed structure for this tomb, no plaster work, no marble or inlay on any of the graves. In fact the graves, set on a pedestal, l look more like crumbling stone mounds, lying in the open with the sky for roof & enclosed by the walls of houses that surround them. It is said the second grave belongs to Razia’s sister, Shazia, who was killed alongside her. No one is sure which grave belongs to whom. Little is known about Shazia, whose life, unlike her sister’s, remains shrouded in mystery. At first sight, the scene makes one fill with pity & anger, the empress of India’s grave is no different than that of any ordinary wayside person. Unlike the tomb of her father in another part of Delhi (refer Pixelated Memories - Iltutmish's Tomb), Razia's tomb has been ignored throughout time, first by her brothers & relatives, then by subsequent generations of kings & A.S.I after India got independence. But after some time, the place fills you with peaceful vibes, one of the walls facing the graves has been turned into a wall mosque (Qibla). A small make-shift wooden bathroom has been built some 2 meters away from the grave. The neglect, the ignorance is shameful. But it is bliss too. The place is void of tourists, the least visited place of importance in Delhi’s history. In death, as in life, Razia is neglected & uncared for by everyone.

The wall mosque

Spending some time taking photographs & sitting on the mats kept there for the devotees who frequent the mosque, I was there for an hour & except for a lady talking to her boyfriend on phone, no one came to the place. She too left on noticing my presence. Coming back the way I had come, through the narrow lanes & mazes, I realize the A.S.I probably cannot do anything for the place. Shahjanabad is so densely populated that creating tourist facilities & renovation of the graves would be a formidable task. It was difficult for a Delhi resident like me to locate this forgotten place, how & why would tourists come here? But then at least A.S.I could take care of the place, employ a caretaker to clean the place which is now the residence to several pairs of pigeons & rats. Only the wanderers & birds visit this place now. Despair hangs in the air around. A fate not fit for an empress.

Does he know the history of the place??

Nearest Metro Station : Chandni Chowk
How to reach : Take a rickshaw from Jama Masjid to Pahari Bhojla & walk from there to Bulbuli Khana. One can ask directions from the shopkeepers, however it is better to enlist someone for help. The graves are located quite some distance away from Bulbuli Khana.
Open : Everyday, sunrise to sunset
Entrance Fee: Nil
Photography/Video Charges : Nil
Time required for sightseeing : 20 minutes
Relevant Links -

  1. Pixelated Memories - Iltutmish's Tomb
  2. Pixelated Memories - Jama Masjid


  1. Hello Sahil,

    I have found this article extremely helpful. Am an author and am writing a book on Razia Sultan and was wondering if I could use the photographs in my book. If you agree to it, I can speak with my publisher to credit you for the photographs. Kindly let me know at the following email id:rashmiswarupjohri@gmail.com

    Warm Regards

  2. Wow!! This is great Rashmi! I always thought Razia must be a wonderful woman, powerful, good-looking & intelligent. All the best for your forthcoming book.

    Please find the photo details in your mail.

  3. It is really sad seeing how the grave of other emperors are beautifully built and Razia sultan ' s tomb is ignored by all and most of the people dont even know about it.
    this clearly shows the stereotype view of the people towards woman.

    really sad............

  4. Philippe Launay-DebnathSeptember 09, 2014

    This is the problem of India: be aware of its prestigious past

    1. Very true Philippe - However people are more concerned with idiotic questions regarding the mythological past (were there nuclear weapons at the time of the Mahabharata War?) and not with the real past, letting it rot and turn to ruins like the tomb here!

    2. Philippe Launay-DebnathSeptember 09, 2014

      You are right ! Most of this people ignore the real significance of the Holy books, ask many Indian what do they know about Mohenjo Daro or Harappa they won't able to reply .
      We have Internet , I can speak to you from Geneva to Delhi but most people are ignorant , superstitious or prefers imitate westerns or a supposed way of them
      Also , 750 years of foreign occupation to India did not help to have a strong cultural knowledge , that is why I deeply appreciate to know young Indian like you spending their time to better learn their own history!

    3. Philippe Launay-DebnathSeptember 09, 2014

      Dear Sahil , the real ignorant are the people who pretend they know everything !

    4. Mr.Phillippe Launay-Debnath, In my opinion it is the Archaeological Department (of Central and Rajasthan State) who is responsible for the mystery of the real location of Razia Sultan's grave.Dr. Syed Sadique Ali,Lecturer in Urdu, Government P.G.College, Tonk (Rajasthan) discovered two graves while working on a UGC project. The graves have so many signs and archaeological proofs that if the concerned departments have so far paid due attention to this matter,the mystery of the actual location would have been solved. Dr. Sadique has also written a book in Hindi and Urdu on this subject in 2007. In his book he has proved that Razia did not die a day after she was defeateddby her brother's army in Kaitahal. The real and contemporary source is the book " Tabquaat-e-Nasiri" written by the Minhaj Siraj the courtier of Razia's father, Razia herself and her successors.It is due to blunder made by Major H.G. Reverti in translating the aforesaid book (Tabquat-e-Nasiri). In the original Book which was written in Persian, it is clearly mentioned that Razia was defeated, injured and absconded from the battle field on 24th Rabi-ul-Awwal,638 Hijrah(the third month of Islamic calendar) i.e.13th October, 1240 A.D. and was killed by someone on 25th Rabi-ul-Aakhir,638 Hij.(13th November,1240 A.D.). It means one Islamic month and one day after her defeat.So it was not possible for her to remain in Kaithal for 31 days.The discussion is has so many other aspects to prove that the real grave of Razia is in Tonk(Rajasthan) and nowhere else.Many scholars from the country and abroad have visited the site. The RTI Commissioner has also ordered the Archaeolgy and Tourism departments to take over the tombs, with no use, because the Government of Rajasthan has not taken any notice.I hope that it will be proved that the grave situated in Tonk is the real one, if some expert of Arcaeolgy comes from the Central Government of India or from abroad to very the facts, historical as well archae0logical mentioned by Dr.Sadique Ali .
      Syed Sabir Hasan Raees. (email: sabirtonk@yahoo.co.in)