December 13, 2012

Sanderson's Sundial, New Delhi

This post is part of series about Qutb Complex, Mehrauli, Delhi. The integrated post about the complex and the structures within can be accessed from here – Pixelated Memories - Qutb Complex.


In the vibrantly flourishing city that is Delhi, where a set of unbelievably giant astronomical instruments christened as “Jantar Mantar” was raised by a medieval vassal sovereign to allow scientifically-inclined minds to gauge the time of the day and also perform several astronomical calculations, a small sundial competes for importance and popularity. “Sanderson’s Sundial” exists as a forgotten, misplaced relic in a corner of the colossal Qutb Complex close to the exquisite tomb of Imam Muhammad Zamin, a medieval saint from Central Asia. A small instrument, it is crafted from white marble and fitted with a sleek blade whose shadow rotates according to the angle of the sunlight to indicate the time of the day. It is neither very stylish nor stunning in its composition or ornamentation; in fact, on the contrary, it is minimally inscribed with a simple Latin inscription that reads “Transit umbra; Lux permanet” (“The shadow passes, the light remains”).

In memory of Lt. Sanderson

Constructed in memory of Gordon Sanderson, Superintending Archaeologist of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), the Sundial stands testimony to his achievements and illustrious career in a country where archaeologists and historians are routinely forgotten and regarded with unconcern. Even during the colonial times (1857-1947) when the entire subcontinent from Afghanistan to Burma was managed and governed by British administrators and bureaucrats, the mundane existence of archaeologists was no different and most of them officiated as architects and engineers for the British Indian army from which they were drawn to undertake monumental conservation and repair efforts. Lieutenant Gordon Sanderson (1886-1915) of Machine Gun Battalion, 2nd Gurkhas (also known as Sirmoor Rifles), was appointed as the Superintendent of the Archaeological Survey, North-West Frontier Province (now Pakistan) by the Punjab Government to undertake extensive research, documentation and conservation projects for several renowned historical buildings in the provinces of Delhi, Agra, Allahabad, Bhopal, Lucknow, Ajmer, Bikaner, Gwalior, Jaipur, Jodhpur and Udaipur.

Lt. Gordon Sanderson (1886-1915) (Photo courtesy -

Prior to this, he was employed by the British government in Egypt and also penned a number of books and sketches about the architectural and archaeological features of several English cities. He is also credited with authoring several notable books, most significantly about the monuments of Delhi, especially the Red Fort complex and Qutb complex (both UNESCO World Heritage Sites), where he carried out extensive excavation and restoration work.

"Transit Umbra; Lux Permanet"

Only 28 years old, he participated in World War I (1914-19) as the commanding officer of 2/2nd Machine Gun Battalion and was martyred in action in France in October 1915. He was survived by his wife Agnes and two-week old daughter. The sundial was established as a memorial to his exemplary archaeological zeal following the conclusion of the Great War in 1919. His eminent books, especially “Delhi Fort: A Guide to its Buildings and Gardens” which has been considerably helpful in several of my articles pertaining to the Red Fort’s numerous pavilion-palaces, and excellent line drawings for which he achieved fame as a draughtsman are available on several sources on the internet and are still reverentially referred to by modern historians, cartographers and archaeologists.

A conjectural line-drawing of the colossal Qutb complex sketched by Lt. Sanderson depicting the extensive layout as it would have appeared had all the monuments initiated by successive rulers been completed. (Photo courtesy -

Location: Qutb Complex, Mehrauli, New Delhi
Open: Sunrise to Sunset
Entrance fees: Indians: Rs 10; Foreigners: Rs 250; Free entry for children up to the age of 15 years.
Photography charges: Nil
Video charges: Rs 25
Nearest Metro Station: Qutb Minar
How to reach: Taxis, buses and autos can be availed from different parts of the city. One can walk or avail an auto/bus from the metro station to the Qutb complex.
Time required for sightseeing: 10 min
Facilities available: Wheelchair access, Audio guides.
Other monuments within Qutb complex - 

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