February 28, 2013

Red Fort Baoli, New Delhi

Baolis or step-wells were constructed throughout India during medieval times for the purposes of pleasure as well as daily use. They were used as a retreat from the sweltering heat during summers & as a communal gathering point all year around. The baolis were an escape from the city’s heat & noise, & were a magical place for the inhabitants for whom the baoli functioned both as a religious space & a congregation point. There is at least one baoli in each of the medieval settlement of Delhi, many boast more than one. There is one even located in the busy marketplace we refer to as Connaught Place!!

It is therefore no wonder that the Mughal emperor Shahjahan, during the course of construction of his magnificent Red Fort, renovated & elaborately redesigned the Tughlaq-era baoli that pre-existed at the site of the fort complex. The Tughlaqs ruled over Delhi from AD 1320-1414, more than 200 years before Shahjahan ascended the throne. Before the construction of the Red Fort, another fortress called Salimgarh existed at that particular site (Shahjahan integrated Salimgarh with Red Fort & used it for housing his troops & prisoners), & some historians concede that the baoli might have also been used by the inhabitants of Salimgarh. Shahjahan, being a skilled architect-builder, worked on the baoli & turned it into a unique specimen of architecture serving both form & function.


The baoli is locked for public entry (perhaps because of the danger of falling down the deep reservoir is magnified when the number of visitors is increased, also because the place is said to be heavily infested with snakes, though we did not spot any) – I had the opportunity of exploring the elegant step-well when the photography club DHPC obtained permission to conduct a photo walk to the baoli.


Unlike other baolis that have steps going down to the water-level, this large baoli has two perpendicular staircases descending down. At the intersection is a circular pit built within an octagonal pit which is further built within a large square tank. The circular pit holds the water.


The steps go deep & are on each side lined by small chambers. The British, who became the white rulers of India after replacing the Mughals, occupied the fort & felt that they had no need for these chambers & filled up many of the arched-entrances with bricks, grilles & padlocks & converted the chambers into jail rooms. Officers P.K. Sehgal, Shah Nawaz Khan & G.S. Dhillon - the heroes of the Indian National Army (INA) that Subhash Chandra Bose instituted for freedom struggle were incarcerated here in 1945-46 during the course of their trial. The British even constructed a toilet for the prisoners within the baoli itself, it was dismantled along with other unflattering additions after the Archaeological Survey (A.S.I) took over the control of the baoli in the year 2002.


Unlike the exteriors, the interiors of the chambers are plastered & have started crumbling – at many places they show signs of damp-induced decay. From these chambers one can move into the passageways that lead to another side of the baoli & view the water reservoir – deep, dark & dank – I was scared out of my wits looking down the reservoir, afraid that the stone ledge underneath my feet will give way (I don’t know how to swim!!).

The baoli, built of Delhi quartzite stone, is relatively well-maintained, though it was being used as a dump yard till the year 2005 since the fort was under Indian Army occupation then. Although the garbage & the vegetation that hid the baoli from view are now gone, one can still spot cobwebs lining the grilles & the arches – however nobody visits the place anymore & this one concession can be made to the fort complex’s caretakers.

& artsy!!

Interestingly, this is the only baoli in Delhi where you can hear the sound of water trickling down – the water emerging from the ground is lifted up & allowed to fall back into the reservoir & also flow into the tank. Such was the ingenuity of the Indian architects at a time when taps & pumps were not even thought of!!

Emerging out, I walked over the ledges that exist high above the periphery of the tank. A scary but inspiring experience – the view down sent a shiver down my spine (I guess I am now afraid of heights too!!), but made me reflect upon the beauty of the structures that hide in plain view even in the most visited spots in Delhi.

I walk alone..

A 2002 Times of India report noted that the baoli would be converted into a tourist-cum-cultural spot, honoring the heroes of the INA & the freedom struggle (refer Times of India Article dated Oct 13, 2002) – it has been more than 10 years since that report was published, but the baoli still remains out of bounds for visitors. I sure hope the authorities can open the structure for the visitors to enjoy, of course after adding precautionary measures such as grilles next to the reservoir. Why keep the city’s heritage from its own people??

Location: Red Fort Complex
Nearest Metro Station: Chandni Chowk Station
Open: The complex is open on all days except Monday, however special permission is required to enter the Baoli.
Timings: 10 am - 4 pm
Entrance Fee: Rs. 10 (Indian), Rs. 250 (Foreigners)
Photography Charges: Nil (Rs. 25 for video filming)
Relevant Links - 

February 17, 2013

Nam Soon Club, Calcutta

The best things in life, though always close to us, are often hidden out of view by their simplicity. A few days before the Chinese New Year, I travelled to the China Towns in Calcutta to see the clubs (“Quan Ti”) set up by the first Chinese settlers to the country. These settlers came to India in the year 1780 as workers of the sugar factory set up by the Chinese sailor-merchant Tai Pak Kung aka Yong Achew who was granted land by the British. The British had then turned Bengal (& later the rest of the country too) into a colony, a trading outpost. The settler’s colony was christened “Achipur” after Achew – but Achew soon lost his fortunes & had to take heavy loans against his own personal signature from the British East India Company. Achew died broke & broken-hearted, however he stamped an unforgettable change in Bengal’s demographics - his fellow settlers soon moved out of Achipur & settled in the modern day Tangra & Tiretti Bazaar areas. Here they built more clubs - the clubs were set up with material donations from their communities & slowly took the form of temples dedicated to Chinese Gods (they were called churches during British rule). While other foreigners who arrived in colonized India have since disappeared, the Chinese stayed back & left a deep imprint on Calcutta’s society & traditions, especially the food & music. As the population increased, Tiretti Bazaar, once the largest Chinese settlement & an assortment of Chinese clubs, monasteries, opium-dens, gambling haunts, eateries & temples, soon turned into a maze of narrow, claustrophobic streets that wind back onto themselves & induce a feeling of being lost & trapped.

The small but striking doorway leading to the courtyard of the Nam Soon club, painted red & green & featuring the name of the club in Chinese characters, is a blink-and-you-miss thing despite its out of place decor & colors. Just like the Black Residence in the Harry Potter franchise, this doorway too is so well hidden that even those specifically looking for it would have trouble locating it.

Found it!

I visited the six clubs located in the Tiretti Bazaar area & the last & the most impressive was the Nam Soon, located at the far end of a narrow street lined with hand-pulled rickshaws & meat shops. The largest & the oldest among all the Chinese clubs in Tiretti Bazaar, Nam Soon was built in 1820 & has since been preserved in its original state. It boasts of a large courtyard, rooms for travellers & the aged, a vibrantly painted & well-maintained shrine, & a small school imparting the knowledge of Chinese traditions & language to several young children of Chinese descent. The club was originally built for the members of the Chinese provinces of Nan Hai, Phan Yu & Shun Tak who share similar traditions & compatible customs. Some of the members donated the idols & the objects used for rituals, others helped monetarily – the names of all these donors are preserved in the club still. Initially only men could register themselves as club members – the womenfolk had to depend on their husband’s/father’s membership at the time of ceremonies. But now the clubs have been thrown open to all.

Glitter glimmer

Inside the club, the presence of the young girls & a single boy is a welcome relief – not for reasons you might come up with!! But because all other clubs in the area have either none or very old residents. All the people, except for the caretaker who was very old, in the Nam Soon were in the age group 14-17 – strikingly beautiful, with Mongoloid features, jovial smiles & an amazingly fluent command over English. The boy insisted that the club was closed at that time of the day, but some magic words (“Delhi”, “Writer-blogger” & “Documenting”, not necessarily in that order) ensured the caretaker welcome me in gladly.

Here be dragons!

Like its outside, the club is very spacious on the inside too. In front of the shrine stand three red tables over which hangs a golden canopy. The canopy depicts Chinese scenes, complete with buildings topped with curving roofs, humans & birds. The last of these tables is embossed with birds, foliage & lions in deep golden, lush green & blazing yellow. All the d├ęcor in the room is blood red & a panel extends along the side walls through which thin poles project vertically. Each of these poles is vaulted by Chinese symbols – spears, fancy daggers, sacred scrolls & such. One pole on each side is fixed with a very thin, golden-painted plaque depicting mythical battle scenes, held in place by small, golden replicas of reindeer heads. 

But all that glitters...

The shrine is made up of three separate altars – the central, being the largest & more elaborately ornamented, houses a large idol of Kwai Yin, the Chinese Goddess of war, mercy and love. The other two altars house the idols of Kwai Yin’s war companions. As is the custom in Chinese churches, a large bell & an even larger drum hang on either side of the entrance. On one of the side panels is affixed a yellow Chinese man in a martial position & holding a hook in his hand – the man might have looked like a warrior were it not for his bulging belly & blood-red eyes!!


Back in the courtyard again, the children had started practicing the dragon dance – the girls were wearing dragon costumes & enacting scenes to the beats of a drum that another girl beat. There were two dragons – a large green one manned by two girls & a small pink dragon manned by a single girl. The boy informed me that they were preparing for the Chinese New Year performance & got busy clicking pictures of his friends. I looked at the eldest girl (who was the green dragon) dancing for permission to click - a smile & a nod made my day. Mesmerized I looked on (& photographed) as the two dragons moved to the beats – the green one being cowed down by the pink one. The performance lasted twenty minutes after which the girls took a small rest before starting again – it was then that I took my leave from the group & walked out of the club.

Happy Chinese New Year!

For a long time I walked, & thought, about the club, its beautiful girls & deep colors of tradition. A foreign language & traditions, resounding in the heart of what is largely a Bengali Muslim locality. The feeling of transportation to a different world, a different culture system, is so complete that the structures receding into the depths of anonymity leave a mark on the visitor – a deep respect for the varied cultures in this diverse country is blossomed. Infecting everyone with its contagious happiness, the club stands as a forgotten oasis in the middle of a crumbling poverty-stricken locale.

Location: Tiretti Bazaar Area
How to reach: From Esplanade Bus/Metro Station walk or take a taxi to Writer's Building. Turn right from Andrew's Church & walk straight. Ask for Kolkata Telephone Kendra - across the street on the left of the building is a narrow lane that leads to Nam Soon. Nam Soon is at the very end, tucked between other crumbling buildings & usually hidden from view by the wares hung out by other shops.
Open: All days
Entrance Fee: Nil
Photography/Video charges: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: About 30 min
Relevant Links -
Another Chinese church/club nearby - Pixelated Memories - Sea Ip Club
Other monuments/landmarks in the immediate vicinity -

February 08, 2013

Siri Fort Remains, New Delhi

Continuing with my journey through Delhi in a bid to find the remains of the seven magnificent medieval cities that defined the city, I often come across structures that are remnants of an age of lavish treasures & equally potent pleasures. These relics can mostly be seen standing like oases in the middle of modern, space-starved Delhi that has embarked on the path to become the cement & glass capital of a superpower in making. One such structure I had the pleasure of exploring up close were the remains of the fortress called Siri. Siri was built by Sultan Alauddin Khilji (ruled 1296-1316 AD), one of the most eminent rulers of the Khilji Dynasty. Alauddin was a militaristic ruler, never the one to shy away from wars & almost always victorious in the battlefield. He subjugated most of India & brought parts of Bengal, Deccan & Orissa under the control of Delhi Sultanate. Besides being a competent general, Alauddin was also a confident man whose ambitions knew no bounds – early in his life he wanted to start a religion in his own name & spread it by the strength of his sword, infused with his numerous victories he disregarded Allah, & he proclaimed that his authority to rule superseded the priest’s sermons & the religious command. The period was characterised by regular Mongol invasions & skirmishes along the northern borders of the country. Many historians concede that the Mongol invasions were not necessary a bad thing for the country’s population – the regularity of these attacks kept the king prepared for all possible scenarios & he made attempts to placate the public mood else they side with the invaders. Alauddin, fed up with the necessity of mobilizing his troops at the time of each new invasion, constructed this oval fortress over AD 1297-1307 to house his subjects & offer strong defence against the heavily armed Mongol armies. He was assisted by architects & artists of the Central Asian Seljuqian tribe who had made Delhi their home after being threatened by regular Mongol invasions in their own cities. The fortress (as well as other structures that Alauddin built, such as his own tomb & the magnificent Alai Darwaza, refer Pixelated Memories - Alauddin's Tomb Complex & Pixelated Memories - Alai Darwaza) bears an imprint of the Seljuqian-Turkish architectural traditions. The fortress became the second city of Delhi (Delhi boasts of seven major & one minor medieval city - the first being the Hindu capital of Lal Kot that was also the seat of Muslim sultans who preceded Alauddin). Siri’s given name was “Dar-ul-Khilafat” (Seat of Islamic Caliphate) – indicating the need for Delhi’s medieval sultans, including the agnostic Alauddin, to have their ascension to the throne of an Islamic domain granted by the Caliph.

Remains of Alauddin's Citadel in a public park - Notice the protected passageway between the walls for movement of the soldiers during action. 

When the fortress was being constructed, the Mongols under the leadership of Taraghi besieged the city in AD 1299. The siege was unsuccessful & the Mongols retreated, but Alauddin became a smarter man from his experiences. Next time the Mongols attacked, Alauddin gave them a chase & with the help of his more than able generals Malik Kafur & Ghazi Malik gave a crushing defeat to the fleeing Mongols. 8,000 soldiers, including generals, of the Mongol army were captured – the generals were trampled upon by elephants in the streets of Delhi & the soldiers were beheaded & their heads hung from the walls of the newly completed fortress. The fortress came to be popularly referred to as “Siri” from then on (“Sir” is “head” in Hindi). According to another legend, the heads were actually laid into the fortress’s foundations.

The Mongols again attacked Siri in 1306 AD, but the Governor of Punjab Ghazi Malik annihilated their entire army (Ghazi Malik went on to become the sultan of Delhi in 1320 AD under the title of Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq – he built the gigantic fortress called Tughlaqabad paving the way for Siri’s decline, refer Pixelated Memories - Tughlaqabad Fort). Alauddin ruthlessly took the battle to Mongol territories & attacked their kingdoms in modern-day Afghanistan – the Mongols, beaten & crushed, never attacked India again. Siri established Alauddin as the first emperor of a unified India since it was here from that he repelled the Mongol attacks & spread his rule to the far-flung areas of the country. Even Timur, who invaded India in AD 1398 talks about the invincibility of Siri & writes about the city’s brick & stone fortifications.

Once a soldier's walkway, today a pig sty!!

The fortress boasted of several impressive structures – Alauddin was a skilled builder & has to his name several water tanks, mosques, seminaries & even an unfinished, massive minaret in Qutb Complex. Alauddin also took it upon himself to renovate & expand existing structures within Delhi – the only Sultan other than Feroz Shah Tughlaq to take an active interest in the upkeep of Delhi’s monuments. Among Siri’s marvels, the most widely known was the “Hazar Sutan” – The hall of thousand pillars, profusely decorated with expensive gems & exquisite artwork. The impregnable fortress was built on a massive scale & even today one can see the remains of the walls, unassailable & complete with fire-shaped battlements, niches to fire arrows from & space within the walls for soldiers to pass through during the times of emergencies. The high walls were built of rubble & were several meters thick throughout. Seven huge gates were used for entry & exit purposes. Legend has it that seventy thousand workers were employed by Alauddin to finish the city in record time!!

One of the wall portions preserved by A.S.I in the archaeological complex

Sadly no remains of the structures within the city have ever been found. Later rulers, especially Sher Shah Suri, demolished & plundered the city to forage building material for the construction of their own capitals. The fortress, meant to repel foreign attacks, was brought down by the very people it was built to serve. Today, Siri’s rubble walls & bastions exist, but intermittently, around the Green Park area. One such portion is located near the Siri Fort Sports Complex, just opposite the Siri Children’s Museum. Identifiable by the characteristic red sandstone plaque that Archaeological Survey of India (A.S.I) installs detailing the history & architecture of a structure, the wall portions are part of a small sliver of a garden complex. The walls are at most one meter high, the bastions appear as if they have been surgically cut off. One can make out the extent of the wall & its girth, but that’s it – no other remains survive. The garden, though taken over by weed & vegetation, is still well maintained compared to several other monuments in Delhi. Colorful butterflies, big mosquitoes & strange insects buzz around the vibrantly coloured flowers around these wall remains. A few meters away, a wire fence separates these structures from the Sports Complex, where kids run about playing cricket, coaches shout orders & older guys exercise. Nearby also stands the beautiful Mohammad Wala Masjid (refer Pixelated Memories - Mohammad Wala Masjid). The fortress’s walls extend far off, I must have followed it for at least 200 meters, but the picture is the same throughout – walls & bastions demolished as if cut by a razor & the remains existing as a snaking line with bulges for bastions. The complex gate is usually under chain & lock as a protection against vandals, the key can be obtained from the caretaker who stays within the Museum on the opposite side of the road. The grilles that encompass these structures are coming off at places & one can simply squeeze in through the gaping holes.

Surgically cleaved - One of the bastions

Another portion of the wall is located within a park nearby. The park is used for recreation purposes, so unlike the previous one it is very well maintained – there are grassy turfs, flowering plants, shady trees & a gardener to look after it all. The wall portion is complete here – one can see the arrow holes, the battlements & even climb in the double-storied walls & walk in the passages in the walls that were meant for soldiers. Since the portion visible from the park can’t be climbed into that easily, I decided to go around & see the wall from its back side. A parking lot flanks the wall on the opposite side & here it has been reduced to a rather shabby state – the passages are filled with waste – both plastic & excreta, a small pit is full of what looks like sewage, must have been water accumulating since long, pigs laid in the water, basking in the overhead sun. The dilapidated dome of the Thanewala Gumbad (refer Pixelated Memories - Thanewala Gumbad) rises nearby, hemmed around by designer showrooms & apparel stores. The deplorable site & stench, the massive pigs (they were huge, I have never seen such large pigs before), & the garbage-choked passageways made me want to return. But I had to have a look at the passages – they were high at most places, but would then stoop low at points. At some points, even though the outer walls were straight, the passageways would curve. Sadly, even here not much of the wall remains & the passages end after a few metres. Outside into the sun again, I jumped down the walls back into the park & decided to do a recce of the remaining portion. Except for a few in the nearby Shahpur Jat Village, no bastions of the city have survived the later marauder-emperors. The wall in the park too is reduced to a short stone barrier after a few minutes’ walk. At the entrance of the park exists a Khilji-era well, now filled with waste & covered with heavy stones to prevent kids & drunkards from toppling down. From a distance, one can also spot the moat that surrounds the fortress – though now it is largely filled up & exists as lush grassy contours, it is perceivable nonetheless. A small rubble bridge spans the moat at one place, it has been conserved & maintained. Sadly the same can’t be said for another bridge nearby where the moat around is all stuffed up with waste, especially plastic wrappers & polythene bags. Such is the contrast that could be observed over so little a distance when it comes to monument conservation in India.

Small & sturdy - The moat & the bridge

Among all the structures that Alauddin built – his tomb & associated seminary (“madrasa”), his victory tower (“Alai Minar”, refer Pixelated Memories - Alai Darwaza), Siri, water tanks & palaces – only two survive intact – these being the Alai Darwaza (the striking entrance to the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque within Qutb Complex) & the Hauz Khas (refer Pixelated Memories - Hauz Khas Complex; Hauz Khas was originally a huge water tank meant to provide water to Siri’s population, later it was expanded to a retreat & a site for tomb & madrasa building by Sultan Feroz Tughlaq (ruled AD 1351-88)). Alauddin would not have cared less, he left his mark over Delhi’s psyche – one of India’s largest complex housing sports facilities, museums, auditoriums with combined seating capacity of 25,000 people draws its name from Siri. Sadly, the very complex meant to reflect upon Siri’s greatness proved to be its bane – unknowingly, a large part of the city structures were buried deep under cement when the sports complex & the residential village meant to house athletes participating in Asian Games 1982 were being built. Excavations are on, but it is very difficult to say that the structures would be intact. Also buried was the sister tomb of Mohammad Wala Mosque – the Bulbul Wali Mosque (Information courtesy – Vikramjit Singh Rooprai). The Government has also sanctioned the restoration & upkeep of existing portions of Siri, the result is exceedingly inspiring, especially when referring to the wall portions opposite the Children’s Museum. Hopefully, after the Archaeologists & the artists are done with their tasks, people would recognize the beauty of Hauz Khas-Green Park areas other than the swanky showrooms, attractive girls & luxurious cars. Though the last three are themselves worth checking out the area for!!

Surviving (barely!!)

Location: Green Park Area
Nearest Metro Station: Green Park Station
How to reach - 

  1. Wall portion near Shahpur Jat village - From Green Park Metro Station, take a bus for Shahpur Jat village. Opposite the bus stop is the park containing some of the above mentioned ruins.
  2. Wall portion within Siri Archaeological Park - After getting down at Green Park Metro Station walk/take an auto to Siri Fort Sports Complex. Just before the Complex is the Siri Fort Children's Museum. The archaeological area is opposite the Children's Museum.
Both the sites are located close to each other & one can walk from one to another. The ruins near Shahpur are closer to the metro station & can be visited first. One can ask for Siri Sports Complex from there on.
Open: All days, Sunrise to Sunset (both)
Entrance Fee: Nil (both)
Photography/Video charges: Nil (both)
Time required for sightseeing: About 30 min (both)
Relevant Links -

February 07, 2013

Karen Chase!!

The Mehrauli Archaeological Park, spanning almost 100-acres, boasts of monuments dating from almost all the dynasties of Delhi. Most of the structures here are in different stages of excavation, a few have been completely re-claimed from vegetation & are being restored by a joint venture of Archaeological Survey of India (A.S.I) & Indian National Trust for Arts & Cultural Heritage (INTACH). Among the famous ones are step-wells known as Rajon ki Bains & Gandhak ki Baoli, architectural novelties such as canopies, boat houses & ziggurats built by Sir Thomas Metcalfe, tomb of Ghiyasuddin Balban (ruled over Delhi from), & a mosque-tomb complex belonging to the 16th century saints Jamali & Kamali. Despite being there twice, I am yet to cover most of the structures within the park, since there are over 80 of them in number. I have so far seen only the major ones as I mentioned above. The place is more of a subdued forest, except that there is a trail running through the middle of the park & red sandstone markers indicating directions to the various structures & architectural details.

When I wrote the post about the Jamali Kamali complex (refer Pixelated Memories - Jamali Kamali Complex), I actually assumed that except for the history buffs I know, not many people would read it. It is a long post, complete with history, architectural details & the complex’s present state. So imagine my surprise when the American writer Karen Chase stopped by to give her feedback about the post. She was unable to post a comment in this blog itself (I believe that must be Blogspot’s occasional bug that makes commenting difficult) & hence sent me a brief mail. Here is what she had to say about the post –

I tried to post a comment on your blog but I must have done something wrong because it's not there. Anyway, I wanted to thank you for the wonderful and interesting post about the Jamali Kamali Mosque and Tomb. And the photos are great!” 

As I mentioned in that post itself, Karen has written a book titled "Jamali-Kamali: A Tale of Passion in Mughal India" (Mapin Publishing) about the homosexual relationship that the two saints, Jamali & Kamali, buried within the complex shared. This is still a debated point, since Kamali’s identity has been shrouded in history – some say he was Jamali’s spiritual companion, friend, brother or wife. Karen wanted to know why I described her book as “fictional” (within the quotes), since it is actually a fictional piece that springs from her imagination – only the characters used are as real as me & you. I just felt I need to underline that Karen choses to call her book fictional although it could actually be the true story. Even if Jamali Kamali were gay, they would have kept their intimate relationship out of public purview since that was a time of enforced social chastity & culture building. Jamali was the court poet for several emperors of India – from Sikandar Lodi to Humayun, he would not have wanted his image to be tarnished. Karen’s book has actually opened a new dimension – as is the case, most of the travel portals/websites tend to copy the same material over & over without doing any background research – details about Karen’s beliefs have been copied without any link back/reference to her, & many people have actually accepted the version that Jamali Kamali were gay lovers. Further, Karen told me that she came upon the fact when she herself visited the Jamali Kamali complex & the local guide told her about it – indicating that the locals have no problem accepting Jamali & Kamali’s relationship.

Jamali Kamali's Tomb

In more of our discussions, I & Karen felt that the modern Indian culture system that looks down upon homosexual relationships is at loggerheads with the ancient Indian societies – both Hindu & Muslim – after all, Hinduism has always been an erotic religion, worshipping the sex organs as Shivalinga (Shiva’s symbol, Shiva is the Hindu God of destruction & the cycle of creation & destruction of the universe), & the Muslim sultans too had a large number of wives, concubines, eunuchs & beard-less young boys. Jamali & Kamali’s history, even if they were homosexual should be socially acceptable – it is between two people how they want to spend their life & with whom, & no one has the right to dictate their own conventional beliefs & practices – sexual & otherwise too, on someone else.

Karen also forwarded me the first read of her interview that later appeared in the homosexual magazine “Bombay Dost” –

“Jamali-Kamali: A Tale of Passion in Mughal India came out from Mapin Publishing in India in 2011, when I went there to speak at the Jaipur Literary Festival. It was released in the US last year.

Jamali-Kamali is a book-length homoerotic poem that tells the story of Jamali and Kamali, two men who lived in 16th century Delhi. Jamali was a Sufi poet and Kamali’s identity is unknown, but according to Delhi’s oral tradition, he was Jamali’s male lover. Although the men existed, the book is a fiction about love, sex, separation and death. The Introduction is by the Mughal scholar Milo Beach, who was for many years the director of the Freer and Sackler Galleries (the museum of Asian art at the Smithsonian). My website www.karenchase.com has more information about the book. 

Jamali-Kamali came about as a result of a writing residency at the Sanskriti Foundation in Delhi in 2004. One day, I was taken with a group of artists to an archaeological site in the middle of the city. After tramping through an overgrown park and following a dirt path to the top of a hill, we arrived at the Jamali Kamali Mosque and Tomb. Inside the small tomb, two white marble graves sat side-by-side, inches apart. 

The historical marker noted that Jamali was a 16th century Sufi court poet. About Kamali, it said: identity unknown. The guide explained that, according to oral tradition, Kamali was Jamali’s homosexual lover. Jarred by the disjuncture and the story, I was drawn into another hemisphere, another century and another gender to breathe life into Jamali and Kamali." 

It is always nice to know people who see beyond today's trivial issues (such as the morality of same-sex love) & takes on history on her own terms!!

You can order Karen's books here -
  1. Scholars Without Borders - Jamali Kamali/Karen Chase
  2. Flipkart - Jamali Kamali/Karen Chase

The cover of Karen's book - This is the interior of the tomb

Relevant Links - 
  1. Pixelated Memories - Balban's Tomb
  2. Pixelated Memories - Jamali Kamali Complex
  3. Pixelated Memories - Metcalfe's Chattri
  4. Pixelated Memories - Metcalfe's Ziggurats

February 06, 2013

Khan Shahid's Tomb, New Delhi

When Muhammad, the son of Sultan Ghiyas-ud-din Balban, died, he left behind an inconsolable father, a bloodied battlefield & fallen heroes. The Mongols he fought against retreated to their mountainous domains in the face of the stiff resistance Muhammad’s army offered, the country was safe from the marauding plunderers & the blood-thirsty enemy soldiers. Muhammad was given the sobriquet of “Khan Shahid” – the martyred prince. His grief-stricken father’s health deteriorated rapidly – he was heart-broken & pined for his son. Soon Balban too was on his deathbed. His grip on mortal affairs loosening rapidly – Balban’s last order was for the commissioning of a magnificent tomb complex for his slain son.

Khan Shahid's Tomb

The octagonal tomb was to lie in a small garden. High walls were to surround the garden & stairs led to the entrance set in the wall. An artificial waterfall was created underneath the entrance, canals were laid to cool the area.

The entrance to Shahid's Tomb

Today the tomb exists in the midst of a litter of other tombs & mosques, no different from any other. The waterfall is defunct, the canals dry & filled with dry leaves & rubbish left behind by the visitors. Grass & weeds have overtaken the garden as well as the walkways. The tomb itself stands ruined, most of its walls have fallen, the remaining show signs of decay & are covered with lichenous vegetation. The medallions that decorated the walls, though still displaying signs of their once stunning beauty, have lost their graceful patterns & are almost lost. A dome perhaps once surmounted the tomb, but it is inexistent now.


Interestingly there is no sarcophagus within the tomb itself. A few graves are present in the surrounding garden but none of them belongs to Muhammad. Soon after his death, his father too passed away – the man so feared by his enemies had a tender heart after all. A massive tomb complex was built nearby to lay Balban to eternal rest & it was decided that Muhammad should also be interred with his loving father. An adjoining chamber was added to Balban’s tomb & therein was established Muhammad’s grave – built of stone & inscribed with Persian calligraphy. Even though Balban’s tomb itself lies in ruins today & his grave could not survive the wrath of time, Muhammad’s grave still exists, & that too almost in its original pristine condition.

Shahid's grave, within Balban's Tomb complex

Location: Mehrauli Archaeological Park
Open: All days, Sunrise to Sunset
Nearest Metro Station: Saket Station
Entrance Fee:
Photography/Video charges: Nil
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 & at one side, one can see a large domed-structure seated on a high hill (Azim Khan’s Tomb) rising high behind the trees & the traffic. Walking towards this structure, one comes to a recreational park called Ahinsa Sthal (“Abode of Non-Violence”), marked with a large signboard (or simply ask for Ahinsa Sthal from the locals & shopkeepers, check if they are aware of its location - they weren’t when I visited the area in December 2012). The unmarked entrance to Mehrauli Archaeological Park is through an iron gate opposite the Ahinsa Sthal.
Time required for sightseeing: About 30 min
Note – There are no facilities (toilets, food & drinking water) available within the Archaeological Park. While you can avail food & refreshments at one of the restaurants at Lado Serai, you can only find toilets at the shopping malls close to Saket Metro Station, almost a kilometre away.
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