02 January 2013

Azim Khan's Tomb, New Delhi


Though no one is exactly sure who Azim Khan was, most historians conjecture that he was a general in the army of Mughal emperor Akbar (ruled AD 1556-1605). Historical accounts state that when Akbar’s valiant generals were leading his mighty armies to annex small kingdoms along the fringes of the great Mughal empire in order to further his expansionist policies, his foster brother & powerful general Adham Khan was busy satiating his own blood lust & carnal desires - he would enslave the women in the lands he captured for the Emperor & add them to his harem. His terrifying reputation preceded him - women in the conquered kingdoms preferred to commit suicide rather than face him. The kingdom of Malwa (Central India) had gained independence during the reign of Akbar's father, Emperor Humayun (ruled AD 1530-40 & 55-56). In 1561 AD, Akbar decided Malwa had enjoyed sovereignty for too long & decided to subdue it. He sent a large army led jointly by Adham Khan & General Pir Muhammad - Adham Khan invaded the kingdom under Akbar's banner but sullied the victory by refusing to send the spoils of the war to the emperor. He fell in love with Queen Roopmati, the wife of Baz Bahadur (literally “Brave Hawk”), the defeated king of Malwa. Baz Bahadur was defeated & fled the battle scene, but before Adham Khan could touch the queen, she committed suicide by jumping into a pyre (“Jauhar”). Adham Khan, in all his fury & in mood for vengeance, unleashed a pogrom - the historian Badauni who had accompanied the army to Malwa noted that the undisciplined soldiers displayed ruthlessness of an extreme order by killing captive enemy soldiers along with their wives & children - not even the Saiyyids (claiming descent from Prophet Muhammad) who had welcomed the Muslim armies were spared but burnt alive along with their holy books. Enraged, emperor Akbar himself decided to proceed to Malwa to subdue Adham Khan. This is where the lines between history & conjecture begin to blur - belief is that the emperor's massive force was led by none other than Azim Khan, the protagonist of our story. Adham was defeated, his powers curtailed for a period of time & he was ordered not to lead any military campaigns in the near future. However, strangely, most historical records & contemporary accounts are silent about the valour & the feats of Azim Khan. Following the victory, Azim was crowned with the title of “Akbar” (meaning magnificent) & rewarded by the emperor. Interestingly enough, Azim also means “the magnificent one”, & I am not sure how he prefixed his name with this new title. “The magnificent among magnificent, most magnificent one”??


The Tomb of the "Most Magnificent One"


It is said that the Sufi Saint Salim Chishti met Emperor Akbar at a hill in the city of Agra & told him that if he prayed with true faith, the saint himself would come & stand next to him to ask God to grant the Emperor's wishes. Akbar's wives were finding it difficult to conceive & when a son was born to him, he considered it a blessing by the saint & named his newborn Salim after him. Touched by the saint’s religious tolerance & policy of benevolence, the emperor went on to build the former's tomb (Fatehpur Sikri) near his newly envisaged capital at Agra. After Akbar’s death, Azim was retained as a nobleman in Akbar’s son & the new Emperor Jahangir Salim’s court. Azim became a follower of Hazrat Nizamuddin who he said appeared in his dreams & urged him to give up his life of war & violence. Hazrat Nizamuddin resided in Delhi in early 14th century & belonged to the Chishtiyya order of Sufism (to which also belonged saint Salim Chishti). Following Nizamuddin's teachings, Azim started on the path of broad-minded religiosity & forbearance, giving up his earlier life as a soldier & starting in the direction of spirituality as a mendicant. After a course of some years, Azim came to be known far & wide for his penances & people started to revere him & came to him to ask for guidance as well as solutions to their problems. To prevent people from flocking to him & disturbing his peace of mind, somewhere in early 17th century Azim decided to build a residence-cum-tomb for himself atop a summit of a hill surrounded by pointed rocks & barren land. His decision to reside on the chosen hill was guided by the fact that it was accessible only to a select few because of its height & almost unscalable vertical walls, & also because it reminded him of the story of Akbar meeting Salim Chishti atop a similarly unscalable hill (the lore doesn't tell us how did Azim, Akbar & the Sufi used to climb these hills in the first place if they were so high & dangerous).


History's Mysteries - Shrine of a General??


Centuries later, when Britain converted India into one of her colonies & let its men amok on the face of the country, the British soldiers converted this tomb into a hill-top resort meant for late night partying. They would come here in groups, often with mistresses, bring along booze & servants, & make merry. Most of these parties were held at the end of the winters, before the Brits departed from Delhi to their summer capital in nearby hill city of Shimla. They took pride in displaying their climbing & physical skills to their friends & considered scaling the hill’s sheer walls a mark of their strength & manhood.

After the British departed from the country, along came the Archaeological Survey of India (A.S.I.), the agency entrusted with the upkeep, protection & beautification of monuments within the country, who after initially ignoring the tomb for decades, recently decided to build a staircase leading up the hill to reach the tomb. The staircase is complete now, its wide steps have been set so as to match with the surrounding hill sides & present a picture of harmony. But still the tomb lies deserted, ignored by passer-bys as well as tourists arriving at the nearby World Heritage Site of Qutb Complex. Perhaps people still find the steep climb daunting. Whatever might be the reason, Azim Khan’s Tomb would have made even Count Dracula envious were he to visit Delhi. The Count’s fortress in Transylvania, covered by a thick pal of fog & chill, invites no visitor. Azim’s Tomb on the other hand lies unvisited despite being in open view & visible from a very busy highway on one side (the Mehrauli-Gurgaon Road).


Inside Azim's Tomb - Too meager for Dracula??


The square tomb is pierced by entrances along its three sides, however these entrances lie perennially locked by grilles in a bid to keep out vandals/scribblers who are so numerous throughout the city. The dome, topped by an inverted-lotus finial, rests on an octagonal base (drum). The tomb walls, as well as the drum, feature kanguras – ornamentations that resemble battlements, protruding vertically. Squirrels run around the tomb, feeding at rice & nuts left for them by the caretakers/locals. An earthen bowl filled with water was kept nearby. Wild yet beautiful flowers grew on the hill side, often in tandem with thorny bushes & desert plants that inhabit such rocky & barren lands. When I visited the structure, I found the caretaker assigned by the A.S.I. asleep on one of the benches placed there for the tourists. Were he awake too, he wouldn’t have been able to open the tomb for me since A.S.I. sealed off the iron-grilles barring its entrances with nuts & bolts - perhaps they felt that locks can be easily broken into. Clever chaps!! The tomb, plastered & cream-ish in colour, is now blackened because of the rains & vegetation, despite being restored just some time back by the A.S.I. The fear of the precipice surrounding the tomb ensures that not many people wander off to its rear sides, I did, & what I saw again put to shame the deeds of fellow Delhites. The walls of the tomb were defaced with graffiti & the love letters that wandering Romeos saw fit to emblazon here. I must have been there for only about 30 minutes, taking in the charm of the place, adoring the sights visible in the distance - the Qutb Minar, the tomb of Adham Khan, Mahavira statue atop Ahinsa Sthal etc, when there arrived a group of college kids with a bottle of alcohol & disposable glasses, & no marks for guessing where they decided to hang out – at the rear of the tomb!!


I feel sorry for Kishor, a worthless bastard!!


The fourth wall of the tomb, the one overseeing the most dizzying cliff-face, does not have an opening & instead its interior functions as a mihrab (wall faced by Muslims while praying, indicating the direction of Mecca). Inside, beautiful patterns cover the ornamental arches, the dome rests on a layer of small, arched alcoves meant for decoration. While there is no sarcophagus inside the tomb, two graves lie outside - the larger of these two has calligraphic inscriptions along its sides - both of them however are in a run-down condition, broken, crumbling & exposed to the fury of nature. It has been claimed that the grave inside is buried deep within the hill right underneath the chamber, though this also remains mere speculation. Strategically placed stone benches flank the graves outside.


Look what I found!!


Even today, a lot of monuments that aren’t so well known, or are not deemed that high in terms of heritage &/or architectural value, are looked after by families & caretakers who live nearby (not on Govt.’s payroll). These people either consider themselves the blood family of the occupant/builder of these tombs/structures, or are religious followers & part-time priests. In the absence of Govt. funds & upkeep, these people often protect these structures from hoodlums & demolition. One such family looked after the tomb of Azim Khan but they were forced to migrate to Pakistan at the time of India’s independence from British rule in 1947 & subsequent partition to create Muslim-dominated Pakistan & Bangladesh. Gone with them are all the records & the history of the inhabitant of the tomb, & no one is left to care for it & defend it from inebriated fellas & rowdy vandals. Perhaps they could have shed some light on the mysterious occupants & their lives. The tomb should have qualified as a religious spot since Azim too became a man of God later in his life, but even that is contested since the officials have not yet been able to ascertain if it is actually the tomb of Azim Khan or someone else. Perhaps it never will be found out for sure. No documentation exists for the tomb, & all the stories are actually passed down from elders to the subsequent generations in the nearby villages, & of course distortions & fantasies encapsulate the kernel of truth that these stories possess. Such is the sad state of affairs that so many heritage structures & buildings find themselves in the national capital!!

PS: If time permits, do visit the nearby Ahinsa Sthal ("Abode of Non-Violence", refer Pixelated Memories - Ahinsa Sthal). The view of Azim Khan's Tomb from the heights of Ahinsa Sthal is simply breathtaking.


The view from Ahinsa Sthal


Location: Lado Serai, Mehrauli
Open: All days, Sunrise to Sunset
Nearest Metro Station: Saket
How to Reach: After getting down at Saket Station, one can walk to Lado Serai Bus Stop. Buses are available from different parts of the city for Mehrauli & one can alight from the bus at Lado Serai stop itself. The Lado Serai stop is situated at a crossroad & Azim Khan’s Tomb is visible behind the trees & the traffic.
Entrance Fee: Nil
Photography/Video charges: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: About 30 min
Relevant Links -

17 comments:

  1. Wonderful. Have you visited Adham Khan's tomb? I went there some time back: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151319576663134.522633.556393133&type=1&l=77d7d5b0bb

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    1. Hey Prakash, welcome to "Pixelated Memories".
      I have not yet been to Adham Khan's Tomb - there are so many monuments in Mehrauli that it is going to take me a lot of time to document & classify all of them. Hopefully, will visit Adham's Tomb next vacations.
      Keep commenting & help me expand the list of places I have to visit :)

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  2. Hi Sahil,

    Could you please let me know the source of your story? Until now, I haven't heard or read anyone who has identified this monument. Would be grateful if you could share your sources, etc.

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    1. Hey Nikhil, almost all the information is available on the internet on various sites - however I believe it is all just a lore - if I was sure of the stories mentioned I would have stated them as facts, however as you see I did point out that these are just legends &/or unreliable.
      ASI classifies the monument as the tomb of one Akbar/Azim Khan, the rest is I suppose mostly conjecture.
      For almost all my posts, besides referencing various sources on the internet, I draw upon guide books issued by ASI, India Habitat Center, INTACH, & some history & semi-fiction books such as those by V.D. Mahajan, Amaresh Mishra, William Dalrymple, Khushwant Singh & the likes.

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  3. Well written. I appreciate your effort in detailing the monuments and wish I could join you if not for this job in Bangalore. :(

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  4. Thank you Rizwaan for dropping by..
    You should traverse the monuments in Karnataka in that case - there is an abundance of them there - Hampi, Amruthpura, Hassan, Mysore, Sravanbelagola & the likes!!
    Do let me know if you step across some hidden piece of heritage there!!

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  5. Hi Sahil,

    How do you actually enter the tomb from the road?I havent seen any entrance during my drives.

    Great reserach work went into the writeup. Excellent.

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  6. Hey anon individual, If you are at the Lado Serai crossing, go straight towards Ahinsa Sthal. A big board will announce the place, keep walking straight on. To reach Azim's Tomb, enter the small service road on the left & keep walking.

    Thank you for your generous feedback!

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  7. AnonymousMay 14, 2013

    Hi Sahil,

    I missed seeing your reply. I was checking the post today. Finally after several trips to Mehrauli - Village, Archeological Park, Qutb Complex - we finally made it to the Azim Khan tomb on Sunday. All as a part of following Lucy Peck's book on Delhi Monuments!

    Since there is no way to the tomb from Ahimsa Sthal, we backtracked a few metres. We found a gap in the boundary wall, then followed a trail, followed with some rock climbing and we made it to the back of the tomb. On our way out, we climbed down the steps, took a trail on the left and emerged in the back of the bus stop on Anuvrat Road metres away from Ahimsa Sthal!

    It is a nice place and view is awesome. Yes with two benches broken and shattered beer bottles all around!

    I write my experiences on Ghumakkar.com and you get steady diet of feedback too.

    Keep Writing!

    Nirdesh

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  8. Hey Nirdesh,

    I cant express how happy I am to have you here!! I have read your articles on Ghumakkar, I was prompted to attempt to get in Sunder Nursery after reading your wonderful post about the same. Sadly, the guards there did not let me go close to the structures or photograph them saying they are closed for public entry & they would lose their jobs if I publish the photos..

    Concerning Azim Khan's Tomb - I climbed up the tomb after entering a small service lane a few meters after Ahinsa Sthal (when coming from Lado Serai). The lane is actually not so easily distinguishable as a thoroughfare, though it is cemented. On one side are some buildings, on the other a small thickly vegetated patch of land. The forested portion is literally covered with ruins about which I did a separate post (http://pixels-memories.blogspot.in/2013/01/unmarked-ruins-mehrauli-new-delhi.html). I sincerely hope you did get a chance to see these too!!

    When I was at Azim's Tomb, the benches were in perfect condition, but I shuddered to look at the walls which were filled with our city's love-torn Romeo's scribbles. It is harsh considering that the tomb has been restored recently.

    Eager to read your article about Azim's Tomb at the earliest.
    Regards

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  9. AnonymousMay 17, 2013

    Hi Sahil,

    I am surprised about Sunder Nursery new rules. When I was there two months ago, only Sunderwala Burj was locked but nobody prevented me from taking photos. The next door Bada Batashewala Mahal is undergoing renovation and therefore entry is closed.

    I dont know if I will be able to write a complete post about Azim Khan's Tomb. You seem to have covered things which even ASI wouldnt know of - maybe about the Archeological Park as a whole. At least the tomb has a guard now until 8 in the evening.

    How can I write to you directly? I was conversing with Vikram through emails today. They are doing fantastic job about upkeep of the monuments. He has invited me to the walk this Sunday in Mehrauli Village. Are you going to be there?

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  10. Hey Nirdesh,

    Once again it is a pleasure to have you here!!

    I was at Sundarwala a few days back, they did not even let me go close to the monuments saying they are out of bounds for public. & Batashewala I was at the previous year, lets just say that the guards have fierce dogs to help them guard the place & I walked a bit too close for comfort!!

    Azim's Tomb always had a guard, he sleeps in the corner while kids spoil the walls or carry beer bottles. For this post & others, I guess I just read a lot, I accumulate facts from so many sources that cataloging them all in the "Suggested Reading" part would be difficult - at times I myself am surprised when I piece together posts that are longer than other's or refer to facts that not many know. Blogging is still new to me.

    You can contact me via email (biohazardsahil@gmail.com) or on facebook (facebook.com/biohazard.ahuja). I won't be able to attend the Mehrauli photo walk as I have some prior commitments, but I would be travelling to some part of the city once or twice every week. If you leave me your mail/Fb Id, I can apprise you of the same too. Eager to meet you Nirdesh!!

    Regards

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  11. The historic timeline does not fit. Khwaza Moinuddin Chistie was a contemporary of Md. Ghori / Prithwiraj Chauhan in early 12th century and Akbar was in 16th century. How could they have met each other? Likewise Nizamuddin Auliya was a contemporary of Giyas Ud Din Tughlaq in 14th century - still about 250 years before Akbar.
    Also the sufi saint who blessed Akbar was Salim Chistie (not Moinuddin Chistie) from the same Chistie order.
    Other than this, loved the narration and the pics

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  12. Dear Sir

    Thank you for stopping by & pointing out the inconsistencies in the article. I have already begun re-researching & rewriting the entire post. Your continued interest & constructive criticism shall be appreciated in future as well.

    Warmly,
    Sahil Ahuja

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  13. Asif MuhammadSeptember 09, 2014

    May be you could have it more good with a HDR touch, could be more fair enough with the image ! just a thought !

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    1. Asif I don't own a tripod, getting a HDR might be tad difficult with hand-held.

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  14. really excellent narration sahil.

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