July 07, 2012

Ghalib's Tomb, New Delhi

A very little known fact about Delhi is that its most famous poet Mirza Ghalib is buried within the city limits. Ghalib’s Haveli (mansion) in Old Delhi/Shahjanabad is a famous landmark, however very few people know that the poet is buried in a large courtyard on the way to Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah (refer Pixelated Memories - Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah) in Nizamuddin Basti. A small signboard, hidden amongst the numerous flower sellers points to the entrance of the courtyard. A plaque informs us in Hindi, Urdu & English that Mirza Asad Ullah Baig Khan Ghalib lies buried here. Asad (Lion) & Ghalib (Dominant/Superior) were the poet’s pen names.

Ghalib's history

Inside a single tomb stands along one side. Surrounded by numerous graves outside the tomb including that of his father-in-law Mirza Ilahi Bakhsh, Ghalib rests peacefully in his newly renovated shrine. The grave is covered with a beautiful green cloth embroidered with Quranic verses using gold thread. The marble tombstone is inscribed in Urdu, the language Ghalib composed in. Ghalib was buried at this very spot when he died in 1869. However the grave did not have any decoration or distinction from those surrounding it except for a small marble plaque. In 20th century, the architect Nawab Zain Yar Jang of Hyderabad designed & executed a small sparsely decorated structure. Unable to withstand the ravages of time, weather & greedy locals who encroached on the courtyard from all sides, even that structure would have been destroyed had the Aga Khan Trust for Culture & Heritage Conservation along with A.S.I. not decided to renovate all heritage structures within the Nizamuddin Basti area & develop the region around them. Today the entire tomb has been restored to glory, & finally Ghalib has been given the tomb he deserved.

Little Wonder..

An interesting fact about Mirza Ghalib, a lover of wine, gambling & women, is that he never wanted nor asked for recognition of his literary works & spent his last days in extreme poverty. Except for the fact that the poet-emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal ruler of India, conferred on him the title of court poet & royal historian & incorporated him in the court nobility, all the fame & recognition he gained as a poet of Urdu & Persian was posthumous. Fiercely proud of his reputation as a gambler-drunkard, he loved the city of Delhi for all its charms & follies & stayed here till the day he died, even though all influential individuals had left the city after the British ransacked it during the 1857 Mutiny. He wrote a lot about that period of Delhi’s history & his writings & letters are still preserved & studied because of their relevance. The songs & ghazals he wrote are still widely acclaimed, many have been converted to songs. Ghalib changed the function of Ghazals as poetic expression of anguish & love to expression of philosophy & several other subjects.Even the Indian Prime Minister used certain Ghalib couplets to colour up a speech he gave in the Parliament House.

Shh.. Ghalib sleeps here!!

Even though the mausoleum has been renovated by the Aga Khan Trust & work is going on in the adjoining Chausanth Khamba, there is no caretaker around. A dog sleeps inside the tomb, behind the tombstone. Rose petals showered on the grave cover the dog. Sunlight filters in from the beautifully carved stone meshwork (jali). The square tomb standing on a small plinth looks enchanting & certainly honours the world-renowned poet with its magnificent design. The artists who worked on the tomb must have been highly skilled. The courtyard, made of red sandstone & inlaid with black & white marble, is overshadowed by surrounding buildings, the din & crowd of the bazaar outside ignore the tomb, the shrill cries of the flower & prayer material sellers disturb the tranquillity inside. On the other side of the courtyard is a large marble plaque that is carved with a couplet by Ghalib –

When nothing was, then God was there, 
Had nothing been God would have been; 
My being has defeated me, 
Had I not been, what would have been 

The courtyard view

Perhaps Ghalib, the liberal mystic & a sceptic of the literal interpretation of Islamic scriptures, found his peace in heaven. Or maybe he just stayed behind on this realm in his beloved city as he would have wanted to & as reflected by his couplets about religion & heaven –

“In paradise it is true that I shall drink at dawn the pure wine mentioned in the Quran, but where in paradise are the long walks with intoxicated friends in the night, or the drunken crowds shouting merrily? Where shall I find there the intoxication of Monsoon clouds? Where there is no autumn, how can spring exist? If the beautiful houris are always there, where will be the sadness of separation and the joy of union? Where shall we find there a girl who flees away when we would kiss her?” 

Ghalib's companions

Open: All days, Sunrise to Sunset
Nearest Metro Station: Jawahar Lal Nehru Stadium Station, however it is some distance away.
Nearest Railway Station: Hazrat Nizamuddin Railway Station
How to reach: Take an auto from the metro station to Nizamuddin basti. A straight road leads to the Nizamuddin Dargah Complex. Ghalib’s tomb is located enroute to the Dargah Complex opposite Ghalib Academy of poetry & literature (a double-storied pale-yellowish coloured building). Or walk from Platform 1 of the Railway Station along the rubble walls of Humayun’s Tomb Complex. The road leading to the tomb is across the road from the complex after crossing Sabz Burj (use the Pedestrian Subway to cross the heavily congested road). The road can easily be recognized as half of its entrance is blocked by a fruit juice seller & is lined by a number of makeshift shops. Since the distance between the tomb & Railway Station is around 2 km, those who are not habitual to walking can take a rickshaw.
Entrance charges: Nil
Photography/Video charges: Nil
Time required for sight seeing: 30 minutes
Relevant Links - 

  1. Pixelated Memories - Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah
  2. Pixelated Memories - Humayun's Tomb Complex
  3. Pixelated Memories - Parliament House
  4. Pixelated Memories - Sabz Burj

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