June 18, 2013

Sea Ip Club, Calcutta

Relegated to a corner where it can be conveniently forgotten amidst the bustle & noise that defines a regular day in the life of a Calcuttan, & accompanied by the ruckus raised by hundreds of vehicles that ply close to it, the din raised by the forever-chattering passer-bys, the peddlers trying to make some extra rupees & a heavy smoke that emanates from the vehicles as well as the smoldering piles of garbage heaped close by, the Sea Ip Club is unique – as a structure it is relatively young compared to many of its counterparts in this old (nay, ancient) city, as a relic of a culture it belongs to the Chinese community who are almost marginalized in the city that has been the bastion of Hindus, Muslims & the British, & as a symbol of faith it is referred to as a church/temple only by those who are not very intimate with its history (it is a “Quan Ti” or a men’s club, & not a church/temple even though it is used for congregational purposes by the Chinese community who have called Calcutta their home for almost two & a half centuries).

Sea Ip Club

As the Chinese poured into Calcutta when it was modeled by the British into a colony, they began constituting clubs & groups catering to the social & cultural needs of the different demographics that formed the bulk of the recent immigrants. The community built a niche, an enclave for itself, complete with traditional architecture, customs, language & practices - there were dragon & lion dances to be seen, dragon motifs all around, paper lanterns embossed with Chinese characters, brilliantly painted homes, signposts & doorways. Chinese food with its unmistakable aroma & flavors became the most famous item, closely followed by the celebration of Chinese festivals – the New Year, Rice Pudding Festival & the Moon Festival. One of the largest groups that settled in Calcutta & became an inseparable constituent of its homogenous identity were the Sea Ip (“Si-yi”, literally “Four Districts”) who hailed from the Guangdong Province in China, spoke Cantonese & were exceptional carpenters. Members of the community set up the Sea Ip Club for recreational purposes with donations raised from amongst them in the year 1905. The Sea Ip Club is one of the largest of the Chinese Clubs in Calcutta, though not as large as the Nam Soon Club about which I have done a previous post here – Pixelated Memories - Nam Soon Club

Spread over two floors of a small red-colored building that looks more like a shop than a club or a religious structure, the Club boasts of a meeting place on its ground floor & a shrine dedicated to Kwan Yin, the Chinese Goddess of war, mercy & love (isn’t writing war in conjugation with traits like mercy & love an oxymoron??). It is the shrine that interested me when I chose to visit the Club on a chilly February morning a few days before the Chinese New Year. As I had feared, the Club was closed for some much-needed repairs & a cleanup drive as a run up to the upcoming celebrations. Thankfully, some of the local men of Chinese descent were present in the Club, discussing matters of family & daily life when I reached the Club. Following much persuasion, I was allowed to visit the shrine under the watchful gaze of the caretaker & cleaner of the Club (I think her name was Kamala, nonetheless apologies for forgetting not remembering it clearly).

The shrine consists of an idol of the Goddess seated within a much larger ornamentative frame that is crafted exquisitely & painstakingly in traditional Chinese style. Next to the larger frame is a smaller one in which sits another idol. However the idols are not alone in their placement – though they take up the prime center space within their respective frames & catch the eye almost immediately, the central idol shares space with several smaller porcelain idols of other deities while the idol in the adjacent frame is flanked by traditional Chinese porcelain vases.

Kwan Yin, the Chinese Goddess of war, mercy & compassion

More eye catching than the idols are their large, impressive frames that are carved with vegetation, dragons, humans & several species of birds & are decked with brilliant red Chinese lanterns & wind chimes. A large, golden canopy hangs in the front portion of the sanctum & beneath it rests a small table on which are placed more idols, candle-holders & a metallic joss stick holder. Except for the two idols within the shrine that look like they are made of metal, all the other idols in the sanctum are made of porcelain & painted in vibrant reds, blues & yellows. Near one of the walls stands a large cupboard stuffed with several more of the porcelain idols (there are “Laughing Buddhas” here too!!) that can be viewed through the glass display window. The walls are decked with several traditional ornamentations & hangings, including metallic plates that are surmounted on poles & marked with heads of metal reindeers, spears, fish motifs & bands of cloth embroidered with Chinese characters. Though the ceremonial red candles (“Lap Chok”) & the fragrant joss sticks (“Siang”) have all fizzled out even before they could burn properly, the sanctum is filled with their fragrance. The cleaner lady throws buckets full of waters on the windows to get the dirt off & inadvertently wets me too (thankfully no harm to the camera, though my wet socks ensure my feet are shriveled up & have turned pink by the end of the day!!).

Close up of the frame that encloses Kwan Yin's idol

On closer inspection, the idols within the frames look more Hindu than Chinese – wrapped up in pink clothes, a garland of marigolds & another of rupee notes round their necks, headgear resembling the traditional Hindu “mukuts” & LED panels to top the headgear which remind one of the peacock feather that Krishna (said to be an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, the Hindu God of life, sustenance & preservation) donned on his headgear. Are the Chinese trying to blend in with the local population?? Perhaps a better question would be why should they try to blend in & not preserve their unique & beautiful culture.


There isn’t much to do except photograph the shrine, one can go out in the balcony that overlooks the space outside, but then except for a few hand-rickshaws stacked next to each other, the occasional beggars & the peddlers, & the steady stream of traffic that flows like a never ending stream next to the Club, there isn’t much to see here too. The cleaner lady asks me to get out of her way unless I wish to be soaked wet again. I humbly follow orders. Her wide smile enters her glistening eyes when I look terrified at the thought of being drenched with pails of cold water again. I realize that we are quicker in our movements when we are afraid (as in my exit from the shrine) than when we are excited (as in my clambering up the stairs to reach the shrine).

The plethora of porcelain idols that grace a side cupboard in the sanctum

The crowd of the old men gossiping downstairs has thinned, though it wasn’t even a crowd when I came in, I could have counted them on my two hands. Perhaps that says something about the Chinese community & their steadily diminishing numbers in Calcutta following migration in search of greener pastures such as Australia & Canada & a bid to avoid humiliating persecution & deportation during the Sino-Indian War of 1962. Today only about 3,000-4,000 Chinese are left in Calcutta, at one time there were more than 20,000. Though we Indians pride ourselves when it comes to ours being a secular, all-encompassing & all-accepting society, we haven’t been fair to the Indians of Chinese descent (they are Indians, as naturalized as me or my grandparents who came to India from Pakistan in 1947), a case that can also be made by looking at the sad state of the Sea Ip Club. Dejection often makes us look at the brighter side of things, I couldn’t find any except the hope that my article brings to light the state of a marginalized community & their places of congregation/worship to the notice of many who might be in a position to do some good. Amen!

Scene marked on one of the panels in the sanctum

Location: India Exchange Place (Extension), close to the Kolkata Improvement Trust (KIT) Building, Tiretta Bazaar Area (Pronounced Tiretti Bazaar)
Open: Sunrise to sunset
How to reach: From St. Andrew’s Church in BBD Bagh Area (refer post Pixelated Memories - St. Andrew's Church for identification), ask directions for Poddar Court, it lies straight ahead into one of the roads that emanate from the Church. From Poddar Court, ask for KIT Building, Sea Ip is next to it.
Entrance fee: Nil
Photography/Video charges: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: 30 min
Relevant Links - 
  1. Pixelated Memories - Nam Soon Club
  2. Pixelated Memories - St. Andrew's Church
Suggested Reading - 
  1. Academia.edu - pdf download "The Chinese of Calcutta" by Sipra Mukherjee
  2. Jawharsircar.org - pdf download "The Chinese of Calcutta"
  3. Rangandatta.wordpress.com - Chinese Temples of Tiretta Bazaar
  4. Themeridiansociety.org.uk - pdf download "The Chinese from Bengal"
  5. Wikipedia.org - Chinese community in India
  6. Wikipedia.org - Siyi dialect

June 13, 2013

Hauz Khas Complex, New Delhi

Though he himself was an illiterate man with unabashed contempt for learning & arts, Alauddin Khilji, Sultan of India from 1296-1316 AD, took it upon himself to convert Delhi into a citadel of intellect & craftsmanship, hiring over 30,000 builders & artists, patronizing 47 of the most gifted men of his time in his court & enabling the acquisition of knowledge & skill from neighboring nations. His work force of builders could raise a fortress in 2-3 days flat!! (I think that is quite exaggerated, but then 30,000 is no small number either). Among his court nobles were the notable poets Amir Khusroe & Amir Hassan, the historians Kabir-ud-din & Amir Arsalan & the theologians Ruknuddin & Qazi Mughlis-ud-din. He was also a devotee of Nizamuddin Auliya, the patron saint of Delhi. Despite these qualities, Alauddin was by heart a military warlord & a clever strategist, who built his city Siri on the lopped-off heads of over 8,000 Mongols who dared attack his capital (read more here - Pixelated Memories - Siri Fort Remains). He consolidated his empire at a time when almost the whole of Asia was reeling under frequent Mongol attacks & raids, he invited talent from the furthest confines of Asia & Africa, turned his court into a refuge of the learned & the talented. It is thus a fitting tribute to Alauddin, the patron of the learned, that Feroz Shah Tughlaq (ruled AD 1351-88), the master builder-architect Sultan of Delhi, constructed a magnificent center of learning next to the hauz (“hauz” is “water tank” in Persian) commissioned by Alauddin to provide water to his subjects residing in Siri. Alauddin had this tank (dimensions 600 X 700 X 4 meter cube) dug up to collect rainwater when his city was being built & christened it Hauz-i-Alai, but over the years the tank had become silted due to lack of maintenance & neglect. An acute water shortage forced Feroz to build a new citadel at Ferozabad at the bank of river Yamuna & he also had the Hauz-i-Alai tank de-silted & repaired. Following this, he undertook extensive construction activity in the area around the tank. Feroz always liked building things, he would build fortresses & hunting lodges, establish cities, repair mosques, tombs & minarets – he left his mark everywhere he visited in the form of sturdy structures crafted with impeccable artistry & fine taste. He too showed a great zeal for the cause of education & it was in his time that “the capital of Delhi, by the presence of unrivalled men of great talents had become the envy of Baghdad, the rival of Cairo & the equal of Constantinople” (Zia-ud-din Barani, traveler-historian).

Alauddin's Tank, now much reduced in size

The newly renovated tank was christened “Hauz Khas” (“Royal Tank”) & Feroz Tughlaq’s double-storied madrasa (institute of Islamic learning) came up next it in AD 1352. Its architects were Malik Ghazi Shahna & Abdul Haq. The large, architecturally impressive madrasa built of rubble was christened Madrasa-i-Feroz Shahi & went on to become one of the foremost institutions of learning in the world. Learned men, theologians & teachers would come from within the country & abroad to the madrasa, large-scale seminars were organized regularly, the esteemed students would learn various subjects including arts, theology, history, philosophy, calligraphy & mathematics. The madrasa had an associated mosque for use by the students, teachers & visitors – though not as large as the mosque Feroz had built in his citadel of Ferozabad/Feroz Shah Kotla (refer Pixelated Memories - Kotla Feroz Shah), it certainly looks distinguished even now despite being in a ruinous state for several centuries. The madrasa was well-funded & well-equipped, its first Director was Jalal-ud-din Rumi, himself a very learned & renowned man. Though now in ruins, the madrasa was originally covered with plaster & brilliant stucco work, the walls were painted in bright colors like red, the domes were painted golden. The vibrant colors were reflected by the water of the tank & the overall effect was that of striking brilliance. The rooms of the madrasa used to be covered with fine Persian rugs, the doors were of sandalwood. Gardens filled with flowering plants & fruit-bearing trees surrounded the complex. Alauddin’s tank was the site where Feroz’s predecessors Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq & Muhammad Juna Tughlaq encamped when they fought against & seized Delhi from Khusrau Khan in AD 1320. Feroz’s madrasa-tank complex became the site where the Mongol invader Timur encamped when he sacked Delhi in AD 1398. Even Timur sings paeans to the glory & affluence of the madrasa & its surrounding village Tarapur (literally "The Abode of Happiness").

Past the streets of the upcoming Hauz Khas Village, lined with high-end boutiques, eateries, coffee houses & showrooms that sell everything from cars to home décor, often hailed as the arrival of Delhi on the stage of luxurious living & Bohemian culture, the entry to the historic site of the madrasa is through a rubble arch that comes as a surprise at the end of the narrow lane teeming with cigarette-smoking youngsters, short skirt wearing girls, English-speaking men & women who would drive a hard bargain unmindful of the wads of cash they carry in their pockets (the place is still referred to as a “Village”, mind you!!). Oh & BMWs zip past kids whose protruding rib bones would put any pulchritudinous model to shame. Perhaps the absence of a ticket counter too contributes to this feeling of surprise. Behind the façade of glamour & wealth, the centuries-old secluded madrasa nestled in a quaint little complex, a symbol of man’s eternal quest for knowledge & education, suddenly finds itself transported into an era where modern-day students throng to its hallowed grounds not for world-class education, but to make out & find an escape from the oppressive burden of socializing & maintaining modesty.

In through the arched entrance, one arrives straight into a small garden, landscaped with grass, dotted with a few tombs - everything cramped into a small area & hemmed in on three of its sides by residential apartments & showrooms. The fourth side overlooks the tank dug up by Alauddin, which even though it has been greatly reduced in its size as a result of the demands of an ever-expanding urban Delhi, is still a vast body of water flanked by lush greens where the ducks waddle by quickly, perhaps afraid that their quacks would disturb your contemplation. The whole tank, visible from the entrance, comes as a surprise to hardcore Delhiites like me who have a hard time imagining a large lake & green lands in the center of Delhi. The larger part of the complex & the lake, including the madrasa’s huge entrances & the associated gardens, have been lost to encroachment, what survives is now being protected by the government by transforming it into a park-cum-tourist spot.

After the lake, the first thing one notices is a cluster of five pavilions, each unique in its own stead, located just across a railing opposite the entrance. Three of these Tughlaq-era pavilions are actually tombs, perhaps belonging to the teachers who taught in the madrasa, a fact that becomes clear as soon as one climbs into one of these pavilions & notices that a shallowly-marked grave rests in the center of the pavilion, merging seamlessly with its bottom. Most historians believe that the simplistic tombs were built in such a fashion to enable pupils to sit & study in the “presence” of their dear departed teachers. Wouldn’t the students be horrified, I wonder??! Of the three tombs, one is four-sided, another six-sided & the last eight-sided, each with a large, simple dome that rests on a drum (base) that is “2n” sided, n being the number of sides of the tomb. Both the roof of the tomb & the drum are decorated with kanguras (battlement-like projection that serve ornamentation purpose). Austere & unornamented, these tombs are charming in their own stead. One thing that they do seem to prove is that teachers are usually relegated to humble lives & simpler farewells in our society – both medieval & modern. The large, hemispherical dome rests on thick pillars & the overall picture is that of striking symmetry. On the inside, the domes have lost most of their ornamentation & are actually falling apart at the places, the only embossment still retained are the bands of calligraphy that mark the base of the dome. Even these bands are discontinuous. Pigeons & parrots – those wanderers whose favorite haunts are tombs & old monuments – nest in the holes in the dome.

The pavilion tombs & the cylindrical pavilion (right)

The other two pavilions are cylindrical in design & are not large enough to accommodate graves within. The purpose of these pavilions is not clear, however it has been argued that these were part of some of the larger structures of the madrasa, now lost, given the presence of heavy projecting stone beams attached to their dome drums. Several men sat in the cylindrical pavilion in the far of corner of the grassy patch, deep in discussion they were. I wondered if the students too would sit here in Tughlaq’s time, a cup of tea or sherbet in their hands, discussing concepts & exams like we now do in our college canteens.

After having photographed the pavilion-tombs I was in a bit dilemma – next to the pavilion-tombs stands the comparatively larger, slightly pinkish tomb of Feroz Shah Tughlaq & next to it stretches a portion of the magnificent madrasa, but on the others side of the entrance were more, smaller, domed pavilions that beckoned me with their colonnades. 

Feroz Shah Tughlaq's Tomb

I decided to see the colonnaded pavilions first as these were relatively smaller & could be photographed quickly. That & the presence of hot girls sitting in the shade of the pavilions!! This particular cluster of pavilions is made up of three interlinked domed-structures that form a T-shaped building, a dome mounted on each corner of the T. The pillared halls of the two arms of the T form a long arcade, the last side actually looks a bit out of place. The entire structure stands on a high platform, there is a small tank (now dry) at the base of the platform & the ruined remains of a staircase with large windows exists close by from where one can descend to the lower levels of the madrasa.

The three-domed pavilion

The roof of the T-cluster is supported by strong square pillars, after all the whole structure has existed for more than 650 years. Though the purpose of this building too is not known, it is conjectured that it was used as a seminar room when the classrooms of the madrasa fell short of accommodating all the students present. Some historians say the structure too housed graves, though none can be seen now. Obvious to all this, the structure is fairly famous with tourists & youngsters trying their hand at modeling & photography which can be gauged by the number of young boys & girls posing & photographing each other here. Interestingly, after the fall of the Tughlaq Dynasty following the death of Feroz in 1388 AD & subsequent raid on Delhi by Mongols led by Timur in 1398 AD, the structures fell in disuse & were used as residential accommodation by the population that settled in the complex.


Next to the T-cluster are the remains of the in-house mosque of the madrasa that was used by the students & teachers residing here. Led to by a large, domed gateway, the open mosque consists of a Qibla wall (western wall of a mosque that indicates the direction of Mecca, faced by Muslims while praying) fixed with overhanging windows (“jharokhas”/wickets). The windows are unique to this mosque as elsewhere the Qibla/Mihrab walls are continuous structures with no openings & fairly rich in ornamentation & calligraphy. Sadly the gateway to the mosque is barred with iron railing, an ASI-installed board nearby details the mosque’s architectural features but nobody around knows or cares to know why entry to the mosque is disallowed. Perhaps the authorities did not want the couples who frequent the complex to make out in a mosque. A crumbling staircase next to the mosque leads to the lower level of the madrasa, from here one can have an unhindered view of the tank & the jharokhas that ornament the mosque. Small cells line one side of the alley, the other side, now in a totally run-down state, perhaps once had arched openings from where the resident students could enjoy the cold breeze & the whiff of food that would come wafting from around the tank. The cells are now taken up by couples searching for places to get cozy with each other.

The mosque as seen from the tank level

One can see the ducks & the pintails waddle around in the water below, a few capsized boats bob on the surface of the still water that is disturbed only by the ducks & not even ruffled by the wind. At the very end of the alley, one can climb down the stairs to reach the ground floor of the madrasa but the staircases are blocked by means of extremely sharp barbed wires. I tore my jeans trying to navigate myself on the ledge along the wire. Sad & frustrated, I walked back & climbed the stairs leading to the mosque & T-cluster. The small structure in front of the small tank near the T-cluster also does not lead down to the ground floor, though a dark & narrow, downward spiraling staircase leads to the first floor of the madrasa. At least from here the view of the other wing of the madrasa (perpendicular to this wing which consists of T-cluster & the mosque) with the pinkish-creamish tomb on one corner & a domed tower made of black-ish stone on the other is splendid.

The tombs & one of the wings of the madrasa

Back near the entrance, I head to Feroz’s tomb. I had never actually imagined that the Sultan of India would opt for such a simple resting place for himself. The square tomb, much larger than the rest, is a very simple structure, quite in line with Tughlaq-era structures that were known for their straight, fortified walls & battlement ornamentation. It forms a pivot to which the two perpendicular wings of the madrasa connect to (in effect, the madrasa is L-shaped) & looms above the rest of the structures. The tomb is built with quartzite rubble finished with plaster to give it a smooth, white appearance. The dome rests on an octagonal drum (base), the finial topping it is small & circular. Both the drum & the roof are detailed with a row of red sandstone kanguras (battlement-like ornamentation). Though not built in a defensive pattern, Feroz’s Tomb is only ornamented around the entrance & that too in a very dignified, somber manner – the entrance is set in a larger niche, a small jaali (stone latticework), calligraphic detail & medallions – that’s about it. Interestingly, the entrance is not arched, but trabeate in nature – stone ledges panning the distance between two ends – an architectural style that is very common in Hindu & Buddhist structures (the Muslims employed arches in their palaces, tombs & mosques). Even more interesting is the presence of a small courtyard marked by a stone railing which is reminiscent of Buddhist temples & viharas of that era. Feroz belonged to the line of Qaraunah Turks (as the Tughlaqs were known as) who prided themselves for being born from Hindu mothers & Turkish fathers & therefore “possessing both Hindu modest & Turkish virility”, he was the son of a Rajput Hindu mother, his prime minister Malik Maqbul Telangani was a convert from Hinduism & so was the architect Abdul Haq – perhaps all these factors had a role in influencing Feroz’s choice of a tomb built in Hindu-Buddhist pattern.

The emperor's tomb

Three steps led inside his Tomb, the interiors are vast & better decorated than the exteriors. Feroz’s grave lies in the center, on one side sleep his son & grandsons. In the corners, squinch arches are used to convert the square tomb’s roof into an eight-sided polygon so as to support the dome. This is again a step back in terms of architecture because by Feroz’s time, native Indian artists had mastered Islamic building techniques & knew how to build true arches & domes. Squinch arches were prevalent half a century before Feroz’s time during the reign of Sultan Shamsh-ud-din Iltutmish as is apparent from his tomb (refer Pixelated Memories - Iltutmish's Tomb). The dome rests on a band of calligraphy which further rests on another band with regular geometric patterns. It is marked with medallions in several sizes, each inscribed with calligraphy drawing upon the Quran & the Hadiths, arranged around two concentric stars with a large medallion for their center.

Quranic verses & Hadiths - Feroz's blanket

The particular verses inscribed on the medallions & the arches in Feroz’s tomb make their appearance as architectural additions for the first time here, they weren’t used as part of Sultanate architecture before. They are then seen in structures built during the reign of Sikandar Lodi (ruled AD 1489-1517), another sultan of Delhi who took an active interest in repairing structures built by previous sultans. It is now believed that it was Lodi who added these medallion embellishments to Feroz’s tomb when he had it repaired in the year 1507-08. Among these verses is one of my favorites, Quran Sura 109 –

"Say: O disbelievers!
I worship not that which ye worship; Nor worship ye that which I worship.
And I shall not worship that which ye worship. Nor will ye worship that which I worship.
Unto you your religion, and unto me my religion."

One of the domed entrances of the madrasa close to Feroz's Tomb

Next to Feroz’s Tomb is another domed structure that is part of the second wing of the madrasa & leads into it. Yet another domed chamber exists close to Feroz’s Tomb near the edge of the madrasa’s wing, this one however is barred by an iron door. Another portion of the madrasa, separated from the rest of the complex by a wall with a break for an entrance, has been converted into the office of the Archaeological Survey of India (A.S.I.), this is the only place in the complex where a water cooler dispensing cold water has been installed. This wing of the madrasa has several interconnected chambers & a number of overhanging windows (jharokhas) overlooking the tank – couples can be found sitting in these deep windows arm-in-arm, cooing into each other’s ears & glossing over their sweet dreams. This invasion of the medieval-structure by couples seems traumatic at first, tragic afterwards, acceptable later. Unmindful of the history of the structures or the scorching heat of Delhi’s summers, they would sit here in each other’s laps for hours. Some would also scratch their names on the walls, others resent the presence of photographers. An hour into the complex, one’s thoughts range from feeling sympathetic towards the couples who too need space to meet each other, hold hands & kiss, away from the eyes of unrelenting parents, gossiping relatives & those members of our society who proclaim themselves guardians of modesty & culture to feeling frustrated with them for looking at any history-loving &/or camera-toting person with distrust. Seriously, people if you want some privacy, get a room!!

Teeming with couples!!

The lower level of the madrasa can be reached by a staircase, the double colonnades here are in a better preserved condition, the pillars are all intact & so are the medallions. Most of the chambers on this level are only dimly illuminated by sunlight & the passageways that connect these chambers are totally dark. Consequentially, the passages are infested with bats & it is actually better to not make any noises when traversing these passages. The dark is so bad that you can’t even make where you are headed & might have a jolt or two when you encounter a step in the passage (It is better to pretend that the bats aren’t there, I was fine till someone pointed them out to me!!).

I found this pavilion tomb the most striking

After much asking around & consulting guards, I finally found a way to the tank. The route takes you out of the complex from the entrance you came in from, then across a series of shops in a narrow side lane that leads to more shops. At the end of these shops there is an even narrower lane that opens into a makeshift dump yard for electronic goods & construction material. The place has been marked as their territory by some of the best graffiti artists in Delhi – Daku, Iron Curtain, 156. Then guided by a few of the shopkeepers, I headed towards the right on another narrow lane that finally terminated into what looked like an entrance to a park (this point connects the nearby Deer Park to the Hauz Khas Park, I later found out. I shall be writing about the structures within Deer Park soon). Off a bridge, I finally reached the tank & saw the madrasa spread out in front of me.

Graffiti "Delhi style"

The lake is still, the partially submerged dead trees & capsized boats bob up & down. Ducks swim from one side to the other effortlessly. Colorful birds appear once in a while, only to disappear even quickly. Visitors to the complex, sitting in the large overhanging windows, glance down my way only to go back to their conversations & gossips. A few impoverished kids run around, unmindful of the history of the ruins that surround them. Ignorance they say is bliss. If the kids knew the stones they are playing with were laid on the orders of the sultan of the entire country, powerful enough to have their whole city destroyed & charred, would they still play here with the same enthusiasm??

Lucky to live alongside centuries-old heritage!!

A high & sharply inclined staircase can lead one up to the mosque, but the entrance from here too is barred by barbed wires. That did not deter some of our monument-spoilers to deface the mosque – they simply scribbled names & love letters on the exterior walls of the mosque. @$%^%^& (had a run in with some of those vandals at Deer Park too earlier that day, nasty creatures). On the other side, one can go around the madrasa & the black dome tower. The dome tower formed one of the original entries to the complex from the tank level, however now the staircases that led up are gone & the dome tower can only be reached by climbing through uneven land layered with thorny vegetation interspersed with glass shards from beer bottles. A small hovel exists close by & as with all slums, there are no sanitation facilities & the stink is simply gross. I did however climb through the slope & have photographs to prove it too. For those not so eager to see these structures from different sides, all entrances to the madrasa from the tank have been blocked, but one can go around the structures, sit on the tall grass, look at the ducks, feed them with tidbits, enjoy the cool breeze or simply contemplate how those boats in the tank capsized. The madrasa & the tombs present a magnificent picture, providing numerous point of views & different perspectives to a photographer’s delight. & while you are at it, don’t forget to check out the Munda Gumbad (“Bald Dome”), a double-storied structure that once was in the center of the tank but now stands away from it directly opposite Feroz’s Tomb but on the other side of the tank (thus giving us an estimate of the original size of the tank). I forgot that this structure exists too & will now have to go all the way to the complex (a good 2 hour journey by auto & metro from my home) just to see this one structure. But it would be worth it!!

Plan of the complex (Photo copyright - Anthony Welch)

The tank had dried up several years back as the sources that fed it were diverted for other uses. In 2005, Indian National Trust for Art & Cultural Heritage (INTACH) & Delhi Development Association (DDA) launched an extensive program to develop the lake again using treated sewage water. The program has been a huge success & now the water level of the tank is maintained constant with the aid of treated water & feed from nearby storm water drains. Several steps were also taken up to maintain the continuity of an active ecosystem around the lake including introduction of several fish species & regular cleaning of the tank to remove debris & decaying organic matter. The area around the complex was developed as a residential & commercial zone catering to the city’s wealthy. The market is one of the most expensive in all of Delhi & there are numerous art galleries, upscale boutiques, showrooms & restaurants.

Exquisite!! - A gift from Sultan Sikandar Lodi to Sultan Feroz Tughlaq

You have several options at your disposal once you are done with photographing monuments - visit one of the many eateries in the area & pleasure your taste buds, collect your thoughts sitting in one of the overhanging window of the madrasa (do this only if you can be cautious, there are no barricades to prevent you from falling), sit down near the tank with a cigarette (or a joint!!) between your fingers, or befriend some girls there like I did & let small talk relax you after a long day.

Open: 10 am – 6 pm
Nearest Metro Station: Green Park, however it’s quite a walk away (2.5 km) & it’s better to take an auto from the metro station.
How to reach: Take an auto or walk from the Green Park Metro Station. Ask the locals for directions. If going by car, keep in mind that parking inside the Hauz Khas “Village” is only allowed for the “villagers” & the rest have to park their cars at a parking lot near the village entrance.
Entrance fee: Nil
Photography/Video charges: Nil
Relevant Links -
  1. Pixelated Memories - Amir Khusro & his Tomb
  2. Pixelated Memories - Feroz Shah Kotla
  3. Pixelated Memories - Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah
  4. Pixelated Memories - Iltutmish's Tomb
  5. Pixelated Memories - Siri Fort Remains
Suggested Reading - 

June 06, 2013

Amir Khusro & his Tomb, New Delhi

An analysis of Khusro's devotion to Hazrat Nizamuddin, the patron saint of Delhi, his service to the several sultans of Delhi, his major works & contribution to Indian literature & music scene. This article is part of the series about Nizamuddin Dargah Complex, New Delhi (refer Pixelated Memories - Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah)

Dedication - This post is dedicated to Sunidhi Trivedi, one of the most beautiful girls I know & a gentle soul, whose very presence in my life is the reason why I am aware of Khusro's verses. If it wasn't for her, those verses would have had remained mere words for me. 700 years after Khusro passed away, I still resort to his refined words about affection & respect whenever I feel my own are failing me.


Amir Saif-ud-din Balkhi lived with his family & friends in Central Asia where he rose to become the leader of his tribe, the “Lachin”. Living under the shadow of recurrent Mongol attacks, the family was perpetually afraid for their life & property & decided to migrate to the relatively calm lands of India. At that time, a very intelligent & very generous Sultan named Shamshuddin Iltutmish ruled over India. Iltutmish provided shelter to the dislodged princes, artisans, scholars and rich nobles. Saif-ud-din was appointed as a high official in Iltutmish's court where Saif-ud-din was able to meet the high & mighty. After Iltutmish's death, his successors retained Saif-ud-din & in court he struck a chord with Imad-ul-Mulk Rawat Arz, a powerful warlord & the commander of several thousand men (& later a war minister in the court of Ghiyasuddin Balban (ruled AD 1266-86)). Saif-ud-din soon married Rawat’s daughter & they had three sons – Aiza-ud-din Ali Shah, Hisam-ud-din & Abul Hassan. The youngest son, Abul Hassan Yamin-ud-din Balkhi, was born in Patiali (Etah) in 1253 AD & was an intelligent & well-behaved kid. He later came to Delhi with his parents & fell in love with the city at once. He had a life of affluence & power, but he immersed himself in thinking over mysticism & matters of the soul & very soon his thoughts found expression through prose & poetry to which he took like a duck takes to water. When he was eight years old, Abul’s father suggested that he take a young mendicant named Syed Muhammad Nizamuddin as his spiritual master. Abul agreed to accompany his mother to the saint’s Khanqah (meditation chamber) in Ghiyaspur on the outskirts of Delhi (at that time Delhi referred to the fortress of Lal Kot-Qila Rai Pithora that was built by the Hindu Rajputs who ruled over Delhi before the Muslim invasion in AD 1192) on the condition that he would himself choose if he wishes to enter the saint’s tutelage or not. Upon reaching there, he posed a quatrain in Persian as a question to Nizamuddin –

"To aan shahe ke ber aevane qasrat. kabootar ger nasheenad baz garded;
Gharib-e-Mustamande ber der aamed, beaayed andaroon ya baz garded"
("You are such a great king that, if on the roof of your grand palace a pigeon were to sit, it becomes a hawk. A poor and humble soul has come to your door, should he enter or should he go away?")

Immediately on hearing this, Nizamuddin replied back in the same verse –

"Be aayed andaroon marde haqeeqat, ke baa maa yek nafas hamraz garded;
Ager abla buad aan marde nadaan, azaan rahe ke aamed baz garded"
("Do come in, oh truthful soul, so that we may become close and trusted friends. But if you are ignorant and have no wisdom, then you better go back the way you came.")

Abul was impressed by the mendicant’s answer & was convinced that that young man should be his spiritual teacher. Thus began a long & close friendship between the teacher & the student. Nizamuddin continued to live in his Khanqah while Abul became a poet who would travel with his patrons where they would command him to go. Over time, the boy’s poetry improved, he found fame & wealth & though he began to amass wordly riches while his mendicant-teacher ate dry bread & wore torn clothes, they together embarked on a journey of spiritual discovery through the path of Sufism, becoming a pillar for each other in times of need & grief. Nizamuddin soon found his calling as the beloved saint of the city of Delhi whose inhabitants began to adoringly call him Hazrat ("His Holiness") Mehboob-i-Ilahi (“Dear to God”) Sultan-ul-Mashaikh ("Leader of the Sufis") Sheikh Nizamuddin Auliya. Abdul, on the other hand, took up the pen-name “Sultani” & “Khusro” & is even today known by this name as Amir Khusro Dehlavi. His love for the city of Delhi, where he was brought up & where he learnt & mastered all that he could & met the powerful & the mighty, prompted him to suffix his pen-name with the word “Dehlavi”, meaning “belonging to Delhi”.

Hazrat Sheikh Khwaja Syed Nizamuddin Auliya (right) & Amir Sultani Abul Hassan Yamin-ud-din Balkhi Khusro Dehlavi (left) (Photos courtesy - Signatureholidays.co.in)

It wasn’t that Nizamuddin did not come in contact with money & worldly possessions – wealthy devotees made rich donations at his Khanqah, but Nizamuddin remained unaffected by it. He was like a lotus bud growing in a pit, surrounded by muck & grime but untouched by it – he would donate whatever would reach him to the poor & needy who came to his door, his own subsistence would be dry bread & water, & sometimes he would not have even this meager meal in solidarity with the poor & the destitute. Such was his piety that he would even forgive those who hated him or hurt him & even bless them with all the riches & the happiness of the world. He would spend most of his time in prayers & fasting, each day brought him more closer to Allah than the previous. Despite his increasing fame & following, Sheikh Nizamuddin made it a point to shun the company of the powerful, even the emperors. He claimed “My Khanqah has two doors, if a king comes in from the first, I leave from the second” (His Khanqah does actually have two doors, it still exists in Delhi, read about it here - Pixelated Memories - Chilla-Khanqah Nizamuddin). Khusro, on the other hand, rushed to greet & welcome the affluent.

Khusro wrote his first collection of poems at the age of 17. He enrolled himself as a soldier in the retinue of Malik Chajju, a nephew of then Sultan Ghiyasuddin Balban. Impressed by his skills, Chajju made Khusro his court poet. Later, Bughra Khan, Balban’s son, absorbed Khusro as a poet at his court. 4 years later, Balban, accompanied by Bughra & Khusro, decided to lead a campaign to Lakhnauti (Bengal) where his deputy Tughril Khan had rebelled. After Tughril was killed & his followers executed, Balban returned to Delhi while leaving Bughra in-charge of the Sultanate’s dominions in Bengal. Khusro then moved on & entered into the service of Muhammad Khan, another son of Balban, who was then sent to Multan (modern-day Pakistan) to counter the Mongol parties that would raid the countryside & drained the Sultanate’s resources. Amir Khusro also enrolled as a soldier in Muhammad’s army & accompanied him to Multan. In AD 1286, Muhammad was killed while fighting against the Mongols. By the time enforcements arrived from Delhi, the Mongols had already spread rape & plunder far & wide & also took many people as slaves, including Khusro. He somehow escaped from the clutches of the retreating Mongols & made his way back to Delhi. Grief-struck, Khusro composed eulogies for Muhammad who was given the sobriquet of Khan Shahid ("The martyred prince"). Soon thereafter, Balban passed away pining for his dear son (In effect, the whole scenario was of Balban’s own making, the complete story can be read here - Pixelated Memories - Balban's Tomb & Pixelated Memories - Khan Shahid's Tomb). Khusro continued to write poetry & compiled some of his early works while being patronized by several rich & powerful Amirs of his time. Balban’s grandson Muiz-ud-din Kaiqubad ascended the throne but proved to be an utterly worthless fellow devoted to the gratification of his sexual & alcoholic desires. He was soon overthrown by Jalal-ud-din Feroz Khilji (ruled AD 1290-96), an Afghan warlord & a general in Balban's army. By now Khusro had composed several major works of poetry, writing both in Hindustani & Persian. A prolific writer, he produced an impressive set of poetic works, riddles & couplets. Impressed by his work, Jalal-ud-din Khilji rewarded him lavishly & frequently & also employed singing girls to narrate the stories & ghazals written by Khusro to him every night. Khusro continued to climb the stairs of fame & wealth, but his heart was still struck at the door of Nizamuddin. As much as he amassed his wealth, he realized that it is only the dry bread of his master’s hearth & the water from his well that satisfied him. Spiritually inclined himself, Khusro seldom, if ever, missed his prayers & observed all fasts. He would recite the Quran regularly & was also a philanthropist. His love & faith for his master & their discourses opened the hallowed portals of mysticism for him & his poetry too continued to be colored with his Sufi beliefs. At the same time, he continued to cater to the royals & the nobles, producing stately poems & introducing new forms of music, verse & rhythms. Among the bulk of verses that he wrote, my favourite & one of the most touching verses I have ever heard is (always works on girls!!) –

"Khusro baazi prem ki, main kheli pi ke sang, Jeet gayi to piya mere, haari to pi ke sang"
(“I play the game of love with my beloved/ If I win he is mine/ If I lose I’m his”)

Amir Khusro on an Indian stamp released on October 24, 1975 (Photo courtesy - Rainbowstampclub.blogspot.in)

Amidst widespread public horror & disbelief, & following numerous court intrigues & battles for supremacy, Sultan Jalaluddin was murdered by his own nephew Alauddin Khilji (ruled AD 1296-1316). Alauddin then had Jalaluddin’s sons & chamberlain blinded & his wife imprisoned. Alauddin gradually established himself as the first true Muslim ruler of India, spreading his domination throughout the country (with the exception of Gujarat, Kashmir, Orissa & a small portion at the tip of the Indian peninsula). Khusro was employed by Alauddin as the court chronicler & travelled with him on his military campaigns to Chittor, Ranthambor & Malwa. Alauddin was never defeated militarily & was given the title of Alauddin Sikandar Sani (“Alauddin, the equal of Sikandar/Alexander”), & yet Khusro reported the campaigns truthfully & audaciously, never failing in his account of the battles or the war excesses that may have been committed then, finally publishing his account of several of Alauddin’s military & administrative victories in his book “Khazain-ul-Futuh”(“Treasure of victories”). Thankfully, the pious & God-loving Khusro was not asked his views after Alauddin’s Deccan (Central India) campaigns when the Sultan’s victories so turned his head that he began considering starting a new religion in his own name (Alauddin’s beliefs & subsequent turnover can be read about here - Pixelated Memories - Alauddin's Tomb & Madrasa Complex). Khusro also composed “Aashiqa”, a poem about the love story of Alauddin’s son Khizr Khan & Deval Devi (who was the princess of the Hindu kingdom of Gujarat & had escaped a previous campaign against her kingdom in AD 1299, but was captured & brought to Delhi from her wedding ceremony when Alauddin sent his trusted eunuch & army commander Malik Kafur to conquer Devagiri in AD 1307. Though forcibly married to Khizr Khan, she did accept him as her husband finally). Apart from Khusro, Alauddin also patronized several other poets, historians & theologians, including Khusro’s master Sheikh Nizamuddin & Amir Hasan, the poet & Khusro's competitor (perhaps that explains why Khusro opted for his pen-name, there was already a poet by the name of Amir Hasan - it is said that Khusro knew him from his days as a soldier-poet in Bughra Khan's & Muhammad Khan's retinue & they both travelled to Bengal & Multan with the princes).

Khusro's Tomb, part of Nizamuddin Dargah Complex, New Delhi

Alauddin’s death was followed by great upheaval through the capital & its power circles. Malik Kafur had Alauddin's 6-year old grandson Shihab-ud-din Umar placed on the throne & himself began acting as the reagent while at the same time imprisoning Alauddin’s wife & sons Khizr Khan & Shadi Khan. Both of Alauddin’s sons were blinded by Kafur in the tryst for throne, several nobles & commanders were also murdered. It took more than a month to subdue & eliminate Kafur & place Alauddin’s other son Qutbuddin Mubarak Shah (ruled AD 1316-20) on the throne of Delhi. An unworthy successor to his father, Mubarak had his brother Khizr Khan, cousin Asad-ud-din & nephew Shihab-ud-din Umar murdered. Though he did not fast or pray, he declared himself Imam & took up the titles "Commander of the faithful" & "Viceregent of God". Even the mighty Balban & the warlord Alauddin Khilji had acknowledged the legal sovereignty of the Turkish Caliphate over the Islamic Indian territories, but Mubarak decided to end it. He showed animosity towards Nizamuddin Auliya & disrespected him, but despite this Khusro continued to serve Mubarak & penned his “Nuh Siphr” (“Nine Skies”) dedicated to Mubarak Shah. At times, this Janus nature of Amir Khusro amazes me – how can he be a faithful to Nizamuddin while also serving his enemies?? & yet Nizamuddin trusted Khusro more than his life, he considered Khusro to be a close associate, so much so as to exclaim that he can get fed up with everyone around himself, even his own self, but never with Khusro!!

Qutbuddin Mubarak came under the influence of Hasan, a convert from Hinduism who was once a shepherd, but Mubarak raised him to the position of prime ministership & gave him the title of Khusro Shah. This Khusro was a clever & ungrateful man & he beheaded his own master & ascended the throne of Delhi. Sadly for him, Turkish nobles & army commanders did not like the idea of the administration being in the hands of Indian Muslims & the governor of Punjab Ghazi Malik assisted by his son Muhammad Juna Khan besieged Delhi & had Khusro Shah killed even before he could complete 6 months of his reign. Thus ended the reign of the Khiljis & began the rule of the Qaraunah Turks aka the Tughlaqs. Ghazi Malik ascended the throne of Delhi with the title of Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq (ruled AD 1320-25). He went on to build one of the most formidable fortresses of Delhi, Tughlaqabad, it was the construction of this fortress that brought Ghiyas-ud-din in a direct conflict with Nizamuddin & the latter prophesied his death & the abandonment of the fortress (for the complete tale of the conflict & the fortress’ details, refer Pixelated Memories - Tughlaqabad Fort). Interestingly, Tughlaq continued to patronize Amir Khusro & the latter repaid the favour by composing “Tughlaqnama” (“Book of the Tughlaqs”) where he examined the military & administrative policies of Tughlaq. Khusro’s works still form a major source of contemporary historical narrative & chronological description for historians.

Graceful calligraphy - The roof of Khusro's Tomb's anteroom

Tughlaq did pass away as prophesied by Nizamuddin, some historians claim that his own son Muhammad Juna Khan plotted to kill him & usurp the throne. Unlike his father, Sultan Muhammad Juna Tughlaq (ruled AD 1351-88) was an ardent devotee of Nizamuddin & even built the large congregational mosque (“Jamaat Khana”) in what is today the Nizamuddin’s Dargah Complex. By this time, Sheikh Nizamuddin had become the patron saint of Delhi & developed quite a following. People came from far & wide to visit his Khanqah & ask for his blessings. Muhammad Tughlaq wished that Nizamuddin should be buried in the Jammat Khana that he built, but that was not to be as Nizamuddin wanted something else & Muhammad Tughlaq (or anybody else) did not dare disobey him (more on that later). Muhammad Tughlaq became the seventh Sultan to patronize Amir Khusro starting from Ghiyas-ud-din Balban. Khusro literally saw Delhi's history in front of his eyes, attributing all his success & recognition to the blessings of Nizamuddin.

More than his relationship with sultans, it is his relationship with Nizamuddin that interests us. Throughout his life, Khusro remained a firm believer in Nizamuddin’s spiritual prowess. Nizamuddin was touched by Khusro’s gestures & poetry & would have wanted them to be friends even after death for he commented “If religion would allow it, I would prefer me & Khusro were buried in the same grave”. Once Khusro was travelling to another part of the country & Nizamuddin was meditating & listening to the people’s grievances at his Khanqah when a very poor man came to him asking for alms. Nizamuddin did not have anything to give to the man except his torn slippers & blessings. The dejected man agreed to take them. He was on his way to some other part of the country when he met Khusro returning from his travels accompanied by camels loaded with royal wealth. Khusro immediately went to him & exclaimed “I smell my master, I smell my master”. On hearing the entire story about how Nizamuddin gave away even his slippers in charity, Khusro traded his entire belongings & treasure that he had accumulated for his master’s slippers!! When Nizamuddin heard of this, he admonished Khusro, saying “You bought them cheap, my dear friend”.

Here lies Khusro, a true friend & even faithful student

Besides being a court poet & chronicler, Khusro was also employed as a special envoy by the sultans, given his proficiency in the native languages as well as Persian - could speak Turkish, Arabic, Sanskrit & several vernacular languages then prevalent in northern India including Khari Boli, Braj Bhasha & Awadhi.. A few months after Muhammad came to throne, he called upon the services of Khusro & sent him on an official tour of Bengal. While Khusro was away, Sheikh Nizamuddin passed away. The year was AD 1325, Nizamuddin was buried in the courtyard of Muhammad Tughlaq’s Jamaat Khana according to his wishes, with half the city in attendance, tears welling their eyes, shrieks of grief filling their throats. When Khusro heard of it, he came rushing back to Delhi. But Nizamuddin had given clear instructions to be followed after his death – Khusro was not to be allowed to come near his grave, for he feared that his body would forget the laws of the mortal world & break open the grave to embrace Khusro. Further, Khusro was to be buried close to Nizmauddin & if any devotee wanted to pay obeisance to Nizamuddin after his death, he would have to first pay his repects at Khusro’s grave. Bereaved, Khusro respected his master’s last wish, did not go near the grave, blackened his face, tore his clothes, rolled through dirt, threw dust in his hair & mourned for his friend, himself wishing to die soon. He broke into an impromptu doha (quatrain) on seeing his master’s grave –

“Gori sove sej par, Mukh par daley kes; Chal Khusrau ghar aapnay, saanjh bhaee chahu desh” 
(“The fair maiden rests on a bed of roses, Her face covered with a lock of hair; Come Khusrau let’s go home now, darkness settles on the world now.”)

Such was his passion for his master & grief over his death that Khusro resigned from his plush job & donated all his wealth to the poor & the needy. Mourning, he pined for his friend & his health deteriorated. Six months later, he too passed away with Nizamuddin’s name on his lips. He was buried close to Nizamuddin in the courtyard of the Jamaat Khana built by the Sultan. In fact, Khusro’s tomb is the first thing that comes into view as soon as one enters the Dargah complex. The unusual event of the combined death of the two marked a very high point in Sufism & contributed to the development of the legend behind Khusro’s untamed devotion & passion for his master.

Inside Khusro's Tomb (Photo courtesy - thedelhiwalla.com)

Khusro is today remembered as a legendary poet, composer, musician, linguist, inventor of musical instruments & historian. He was also a scholar of astronomy, literature, grammar, philosophy, logic, religion & mysticism. He wrote in Persian, Hindi & Urdu. In addition to verses, ghazals, qawwalis, riddles & short stories, he wrote over 90 books in his life time – it is said that he was so prolific that he would compose at least one ghazal every day & he could compose verses with words given to him in the course of a conversation. He is also credited with compiling the first dictionary (“Khaliq-i-bari”) consisting of Hindavi (Hindi & Urdu) & Persian words. He is credited for inventing theTabla (Indian drum) & Sitar (Indian lute)(There is some debate about the later though, some scholars believe that it was Khusro Khan, a descendant of the musical maestro Tansen on his daughter’s side. Tansen was the court poet of Mughal emperor Akbar (ruled AD 1556-1605)). An intellectual giant, Khusro's love & passion for Nizamuddin is documented through several oral & written anecdotes. Though his indulgence in material possessions might confuse those who study him today as being at loggerheads with his spiritual inclination, his love for Sheikh Nizamuddin somehow seems to justify & even nullify his actions. He reveled in duality – he would serve brutal & calculating emperors, but was also the companion to the gentle & benevolent Nizamuddin who disliked emperors, he would seek company of the wealthy & the powerful, while also partaking the meager meals served at Nizamuddin’s Khanqah - somehow he balanced it with finesse. His prowess in the world of mysticism & spirituality is undisputed, so is his respect & love for his teacher. A great poet, Khusro is considered the inventor of classical Hindustani music including the Ragaas & is credited for modifying Qawwalis to transform them into the form we know today. He is in fact considered to be the “father of Qawwalis” & also the self anointed “Tooti-i-Hind” (“Parrot of India”). Most of the classical music forms still widespread in India & Pakistan can be traced back to the rules introduced by Khusro to govern rhythm & melody. His poetry is still sung today at Sufi shrines throughout the Indian subcontinent. Even the mystical dance performed by the Sufi dervishes, spinning on their toes with their hand raised towards the sky, is traced back to Khusro – he wanted to dance but dancing is forbidden in Islam, so Sheikh Nizamuddin suggested this form of dancing to symbolize an urge to reach God (sky) while pushing the materialistic world (Earth) away with their toes.

Amir Khusro on a Pakistani stamp released on October 24, 1975 (Photo courtesy - Rainbowstampclub.blogspot.in)

Irrespective of any distinction of religion, faith or sex, millions of followers today accord the status of a Sufi saint to Khusro too. His name is accorded the same respect & titles as his master & the ruler of hearts Hazrat Nizamuddin – he is now Hazrat Amir Khusro Dehlavi (Rahmat-al-Alai/blessed by God"). Every visitor to Nizamuddin’s Dargah is first ushered to Khusro’s Tomb, which is a small rectangular structure with a small pyramidal roof on top. The roof is built of marble & is topped with two small flower vases also sculpted in marble. The tomb is an enclosure built with intricately carved marble filigreed screens (“jalis”) & is further surrounded by another enclosure of even more exquisitely carved red sandstone screens. All visitors can enter the outer enclosure, however women are not allowed to enter the inner enclosure & they sit in the space between the two praying & beseeching the saint for the fulfilment of their desires. The women tie sacred red thread (“roli”) to the jali as a mark of their respect & with the belief that this would urge the saint to fulfill their wishes at the earliest. When a devotee’s wish is fulfilled, they are expected to return to the Dargah & remove one of the threads. Much of the architecture here dates to a much later period – the inner enclosure is said to have been built in the year 1496 by Mehdi Khwaja, the Mughal emperor Babur’s brother-in-law by replacing the original, simpler structure that stood here (though I read this statement passed off as a fact on many online sites & ebooks, I cannot vouch for its correctness – Babur came to India in AD 1526, while the tomb is dated to having been built three decades earlier), the outer enclosure was added in AD 1605-06 by Tahir Muhammad Imad-ud-din Hasan in the reign of Babur’s great-grandson Jahangir (ruled AD 1605-28). Since then, the tomb has been renovated several times & also subjected to frequent paint work. The outer screens are covered in layers & layers of paint now & the designs, dates & names that were once etched in the sandstone are buried deep under the paint now. A large board, struck to the tomb, informs devotees that they are required to first pay the customary visit to Khusro’s tomb before they visit Nizamuddin’s tomb. Announcements are made over the microphone in the Dargah complex about the same.

Inside Khusro's Tomb (Photo courtesy - thedelhiwalla.com)

The tomb is small & it is difficult to accommodate many people inside at the same time, & given the number of visitors that the complex commands, the tomb is always filled with those with a wish yet to be achieved. A tall grave, covered with a brilliant golden-hued embroidered cloth sheet ("chaddar") & rose petals, exists just outside the inner enclosure. I always wondered who is the person buried here?? Is it someone Khusro knew – perhaps his wife?? Or his poet son Malik Muhammad or perhaps his daughter Afifa?? Finally I asked the caretakers of Khusro's Tomb about this mystery - the grave belongs to Shamshuddin Mehru, Khusro's nephew. But even the caretakers are not aware as to where were Khusro's wife, son & daughter buried - all they can say for surety is that they were not buried with Nizamuddin Dargah Complex. Urdu verses are inscribed inside the enclosure & on the roof, mostly in praise of the poet & Sheikh Nizamuddin. Khusro sleeps underneath a large grave in the inner enclosure & is perennially covered with colorful chaddar & layer of rose petals that are offered by the devotees. Both the chaddar & the petals can be bought from the merchants who have their shops in the narrow lane that leads to the Dargah. It is said that the letters that Khusro & Hazrat Nizamuddin wrote to each other when Khusro was away travelling to different parts of the country were also buried alongside him. The inner enclosure is splendidly ornamented with colorful glass arranged in symmetrical patterns & illuminated brilliantly with several CFL lights. The tomb is a sight worth seeing, its beauty cools the eyes, an oasis of peace despite the hordes of visitors moving & talking around it. The only sight that is a bit disappointing is the faithful women sitting around the inner enclosure with their fingers intertwined around the crevices of the jali & head resting on it. Khusro is known to have laughed & joked with women who would ask him to amuse them with his riddles, & now women who believe that even his grave can do wonders cannot enter the tomb.


Khusro’s Urs (death anniversary of a saint, an occasion of celebration since it marks the unshackling of the saint from wordly desires & their communion with God) is celebrated 6 months after Nizamuddin’s Urs every year – it is calculated according to the lunar calendar & falls on the 16th day after Id-ul-Fitr. Even today, the Qawwals (“Qawwali singers”) who gather at one or the other of the numerous dargahs that dot the subcontinent begin singing poetry by first reciting the quatrain that Khusro uttered on seeing Nizamuddin’s grave. Every Thursday evening, the courtyard of Nizamuddin’s Dargah complex plays host to a gathering of Qawwals who come from far & wide to sing in order to pay their respects to both Khusro & Nizamuddin. The complex sees huge presence of visitors on special occasions that are associated with the two saints, such as their Urs & Basant Panchami (the Hindu festival celebrating the advent of spring).

What I doubt is the visitors to the dargah even understand what was Khusro’s relationship with Nizamuddin. Does a layman know who Khusro was & what his contribution to Indian music & spiritual scene was?? In this age of instant love when SMS, phone calls & Facebook chats define the blossoming of love, do the youngsters even relate to Khusro & Nizamuddin’s love?? Half of them would not even know who Khusro was, even though there is an increase in those professing a belief in Hazrat Nizamuddin who has been transformed into a cult figure by the Bollywood movie “Rockstar” & its song “Kun Faaya Kun”. & what about the man who vandalized Khusro’s Tomb in the year 2005 & broke the glass panes & light fittings?? (& I thought that those who scriible on monuments are idiots & deserve to be punished!!) Perhaps now is the time to try & involve the locals & the youngsters with Khusro’s legacy, something that the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) is trying to do in all earnesty through its Jashn-i-Khusrau (“Celebration of Khusrau”) musical events & awareness campaigns. AKTC has worked hard to conserve & restore the monuments within the Humayun’s Tomb Complex & Sunder Nursery Complex. Work is on in Nizamuddin Dargah complex & the surrounding settlement. Lets hope Khusro’s name is further propagated & his life & deeds given to critical academic emphasis.
Personally, if I had to ask something from Hazrat Khusro Dehlavi, it would be an opportunity to experience the Qawwali programme on a Thursday evening in the Dargah – let’s see when this wish comes true!!

Location: Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah, Nizamuddin (West)
Open: All days, sunrise - sunset. Also open throughout night on celebrations such as Nizamuddin’s Urs, Basant Panchami
Nearest Metro Station: Jorbagh (however it is some distance away & one needs to take an auto)
Nearest Railway Station: Hazrat Nizamuddin Railway Station
How to reach: Take an auto from the metro station/railway station to the Dargah. If you are eager to walk a few kilometers (approx 2 km) in order to see some of the other medieval structures that exist close to the Dargah (including Chila-Khanqah Nizamuddin), take the straight road that is flanked by the rubble walls of the Humayun's Tomb Complex  from Platform 1 of Nizamuddin Railway Station. Keep walking till you reach a small domed-tomb (Sabz Burj, see for identification Pixelated Memories - Sabz Burj) standing on a traffic-roundabout, turn left, cross the road & enter into the narrow lane that leads inside the basti. Keep walking straight to reach the Dargah.
Entrance fee: Nil
Photography/Video charges: Nil. However its better to take permission for the same from the caretakers of the Dargah, the office is right next to Amir Khusro’s Tomb.
Time required for sight seeing: 20 min
Relevant Links - 

  1. Pixelated Memories - Alauddin's Tomb & Madrasa Complex
  2. Pixelated Memories - Balban's Tomb
  3. Pixelated Memories - Chilla-Khanqah Nizamuddin
  4. Pixelated Memories - Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah
  5. Pixelated Memories - Khan Shahid's Tomb
  6. Pixelated Memories - Sabz Burj
  7. Pixelated Memories - Tughlaqabad Fort
Suggested Reading - 

  1. Abdaal.wordpress.com - Of Sufism
  2. Angelfire.com - "Walking the mystic alleys" by Yousuf Saeed
  3. Aparnaonline.com - A Relationship Par Excellence: Amir Khusrau and Nizamuddin Aulia
  4. Ektaramusic.com - Amir Khusrau: Bibliography
  5. Hindu.com - Article "Khusro must be turning in his grave" dated Feb 21, 2005 by R.V. Smith
  6. Allpoetry.com - Amir Khusro (Must read)
  7. News.outlookindia.com - Article "Man arrested for vandalising Amir Khusro's tomb" dated Feb 8, 2005
  8. Scribd.com - Amir Khusrau, Memorial Volume by Govt. of India
  9. Thedelhiwalla.com - Amir Khusro
  10. Thehindu.com - Article "Chasing Khusro" by Omar Rashid dated July 23, 2012
  11. Wikipedia.org - Amir Khusrow