17 August 2013

Chandranath Shiva Temple, Hetampur, Birbhum


One of the most beautifully ornamented temples that I’ve come across my travels, Chandranath Shiva Temple is also one of the smallest standalone temples that I’ve ever encountered. Despite its miniscule size, the temple’s magnificence leaves one awestruck – at first glance the temple is so indecipherable from its surroundings that one does not even stop by to admire the sheer brilliance of the craftsmen who built it. Surrounded by a small courtyard that complements its splendor through its simplicity, the extraordinary temple is hidden behind a row of trees that have come up around it & are now competing with each other to see which one amongst them scales the height of the temple first. Camouflaged by the foliage that surrounds it & also by the now-blackened terracotta tiles that adorn every square inch of its structure, the temple is not easily distinguishable from its surroundings – we (me, Kshitish & Aakash - yep, they had disappeared for sometime but have started travelling again. Am glad!!) passed it once while on our way to the Hetampur Rajbari (“Royal Palace”) & did not even notice it, it was only when we were returning & inquiring with locals about the temple’s precise location that we chanced upon it inadvertently. Were it not for the graceful pinnacles of the temple rising above the foliage & acting as a beacon for confused visitors, we would have been completely at sea in this small village.


Terracotta dazzle!! - One of the best photos I clicked of the temple


The pinnacles have been designed in the Bengali Navaratna (“Nine jewel”) style where small domes rise around a central larger dome from a common base – a rounded pyramidal pinnacle surmounts the corners of the three sides facing to the front, the simplistic fourth side unadorned by either terracotta panels or pinnacles & hemmed in by the courtyard. Each of the pinnacle is crowned by a human figurine, it appears to be a lady with her hands outstretched – indicating that the temple’s architecture is also influenced by English traditions & art apart from the Bengali architectural style – certainly the British were officially ruling over the whole of Bengal & were the virtual rulers of the whole subcontinent in 1846 when the temple was constructed (11 years later the British would defeat the Great Mughals & the smaller independent kingdoms in the First war of Independence/Sepoy Mutiny & become the actual rulers of the subcontinent). Similar figurines adorn the gateway of the Rajbari which is situated close by. Significantly, a vintage portrait of the temple hangs within the Rajbari – perhaps it was the Nawab of the Hetampur house who commissioned this graceful temple & possessed refined tastes that came up with the fusion of traditional Bengali & English art & architecture. 


The temple's singular design, especially the pinnacled-roof, is pretty uncommon even in these parts. Notice the double courtyard extending in the front.


The cramped sanctum offers space adequate enough for only two people to stand in – a white Shiva linga (a thick phallus that is supposed to represent & worshipped as Shiva, the gentle but fierce primordial deity of the Hindus, the supreme soul who is also responsible for the destruction of the universe at the end of its lifecycle) seated on a beautiful base accompanied by a slender trident (Shiva’s weapon of choice) is all that there is inside the unadorned sanctum apart from a calendar that hangs on one of the walls. The terracotta panels that decorate three of the temple’s four sides are surprisingly intricate – apart from geometrical & floral patterns, the sculpted panels depict Indian deities, European gown-clad women & hat-wearing men & royal seals complete with a shield & lions. The walls of the temple, covered in soot & grime, blackened with time reflect its antiquity, but conspire to hide its sheer brilliance. The terracotta panels reveal patterns & mythological figurines carved with great skill & passion – gaping with astonishment & admiration at this little specimen of unmatched native art & architecture, we couldn’t help but wonder if more such temples wait for us in Bengal. The temple is flanked on one side by a shop & on the other by a house that easily dwarfs it; opposite it extends a row of shops. A small hand-pump outside the temple is the source of drinking water for fatigued travellers like us. Though the temple has made it to the list of State-protected heritage structures, however I doubt if any financial aid or expert conservation assistance reaches this small structure in the middle of a poor village along the highway (SH 14). Hetampur is like most of the Indian villages/townships scattered around the countryside - dust covered, solemnly quiet, remote & forgotten.


Patterned brilliance!!


Sadly, I could not find any information about the temple’s construction or who commissioned it, perhaps the Nawab of Hetampur could have guided us in this quest, but he was not in very good health when we visited the place – having himself suffered a stroke some months back, the old man was nursing his wife who has recently suffered a stroke & is confined to bed rest – that he permitted us to photograph the Rajbari & document its deplorable condition despite the pains that have befallen them is a big honor for which owe them our gratitude. I still wouldn't suggest a trip exclusively to visit Hetampur - there isn't anything to do & you'll be bored to death. One can instead opt for a zig-zag tour covering Hetampur-Kankalitala or Hetampur-Nalhati, but you'll have to travel long distances in rickety buses. If you are a monument/architecture buff who would not stop at anything to see one of the most splendid temples in the area, then this place is definitely for you. Happy travelling!!

Location: Hetampur village, Birbhum
How to reach: SBSTC Buses are available from different parts of Bengal to Hetampur. Alternately one can reach Suri, the headquarters of Birbhum & take a bus from there to Hetampur (1.5hr approx. distance). The temple is a short walk from the Rajbari (which is known to everyone, so ask your way around)
Entrance Fee: Nil
Photography/Video charges: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: 20 min
Advice - Stay away from the beer, even the bottled & branded ones, available at the numerous road-side eateries ("Dhabas") here, you are going to regret it later like we did!!
Suggested - 
  1. Europeana.eu - Chandranatha-Shiva Temple at Hetampur, Birbhum District.
  2. Youtube.com - Some remarkable terracotta temples of Hetampur & Illambazaar

14 August 2013

General Post Office, Calcutta


"Driving southward down the western side of Dalhousie Square we have the General Post Office and some magnificent commercial buildings on our left. The dome of the Post Office is one of the most conspicuous land-marks of Calcutta. The building was designed by Mr. W. B. Granville, and completed in 1868. The flight of steps at the corner formed by Koila Ghat Street and Charnock Place (i.e., the western side of Dalhousie Square), and the spacious Corinthian Colonnade scarcely fall short of being impressive."

- Rev. Walter K. Firminger, "Thacker's Guide to Calcutta"


“Calcutta?? What’s there to see in Calcutta??”
I’ve lost count of how many times my friends have exclaimed this statement in astonishment, especially when I mention having visited some monument/structure that not even most Calcuttans would have heard of. For most Indians, it would be either Victoria Memorial or Howrah Bridge or the Durga Puja celebrations that define Calcutta – that’s the very problem with Indian tourism – by letting one or two monuments/places to become the representatives of a city/state, we relegate the rest of the architectural heritage that city/state might possess to obscurity. But can a couple of places define Calcutta’s art & architecture in its entirety – what then of the famous St. John’s Church Complex where Calcutta’s history, in the form of the mortal remains of Job Charnock (the guy who established the city as a bastion of British supremacy in India), is buried?? Or the gigantic Tipu Sultan Mosque close to the Esplanade Square that was built by the exiled family of the mighty sovereign of Mysore? The invisible Chinese clubs of Tiretta Bazaar & Thai monasteries of Tangra that bring to the fore the flavors of Asia in this ancient city? But, the most endearing thing about this beautiful city is that here the heritage is not hidden from the masses, it isn’t the exclusive of tourists – Calcutta’s interesting & equally amazing history is part & parcel of the city’s everyday life – the city breathes its history, it knows how to live it. In fact, the city folk have amalgamated the city’s architectural & cultural heritage so integrally into their daily life that structures such as the Church of St. John or the General Post Office (GPO) haven’t been turned into isolated tourist spots that remain only skeletons of their erstwhile magnificence & glory; instead these structures still serve the city’s population in their original capacity, be it administration, relaxation or worship.


Calcutta General Post Office, view from Writer's Building


I agree that at times it is hard to appreciate Calcutta’s beauty; the city has turned into a congested mess with its traffic & crowds – the whizzing yellow taxis, the people scurrying to reach their destinations, the hawkers & the beggars – nobody is ready to stop for even a minute; leave alone photographing a structure without swarms of people buzzing around it, at times the milling crowds make it difficult to even get a full view of a structure. But though now dilapidated, these structures still bring to the front the glory the city enjoyed first as the headquarters of the mighty British East India Company & later as the capital of entire Indian subcontinent when it had been colonized by Britain.

The GPO, a magnificent white building, with a huge dome gracing its front end & Corinthian columns (slender fluted columns, topped by decorative leaves & scrolls) along its sides, is a brilliant example of the simplistic Edwardian architecture that was prevalent in Britain from 1901-14. What attracted me to the post office?? Didn’t I tell you of my interest in philately?? What better place to buy stamps to satiate my philatelic appetite than one of the oldest post offices in the country, one that reeks of history from each of its crack & crevice. The building was designed by Walter L. B. Granville (1819-1874), the same architect who also designed the Indian Museum (refer Pixelated Memories - Indian Museum), Calcutta High Court & the University of Calcutta (later destroyed). I have added links to the architect’s life history as well as the museum that I had visited on an earlier occasion in this article’s footer. The construction of the GPO started in 1864 & it was handed over to the postal department in 1868. It was commissioned by the British Government of Bengal to ease the administration of the postal & telegraph network of the province of Bengal; it has since then served as the chief post office of Bengal. 


Believe it or not, that magnificent dome looks small but is actually 220-feet high!!


Sadly, the crowd at the GPO began thinning after the advent of modern lines of communication such as email, telephones & SMS texting – the GPO has fallen on bad times & the bulk of post passing through it has reduced drastically, the structure remains more of a tribute to the glorious past. It stands at the centre of all posts passing through Calcutta, but also as a memorial to the city’s erstwhile position at the world stage. The GPO also has further gory history associated with it – it is built at the site of Fort William, the British outpost at Calcutta, that was the site of the “Black Hole Tragedy” of 1756 AD – a singular event where several British men & women were imprisoned in a small dungeon by then Nawab Siraj-ud-Daulah, leading to several deaths by asphyxiation & panic – an action that provoked the army of East India Company led by Robert Clive to attack the Nawab & impose heavy sanctions on him. The Company then became the virtual rulers of Bengal (of course, now the scale of the tragedy & the motives behind Clive’s attack are also under dispute – see post Pixelated Memories - Black Hole Memorial for the complete details). Along one of the staircases of the GPO, brass plates have been embedded in the floor to mark the dungeon where the “Black Hole” incident took place – however not many people are aware of this aspect of the GPO’s history. This is where the British rule in India started, sadly the brass plates are imperceptible & difficult to spot, just like the country’s history remains remote to the masses.


The plaque & the brass lines added to remind visitors of the Black Hole Tragedy (Photo courtesy - Rangandatta.wordpress.com)


Standing in the courtyard of the GPO, one can see history writ all over its newly whitewashed walls, the massive pillars seem to reflect pride & might at having carried the weight of the huge dome as well as the load of the entire communication service of Calcutta. The GPO has spawned an entire class of traders around its premises – there are some who sell envelopes, first-day covers, post cards & currency coins (the Reserve Bank is situated next to the GPO), others read & write letters for the uneducated, many others would perform legal paperwork & prepare documents for their patrons, some would even bring along their makeshift offices (consisting of rickety wooden tables & chairs) along with typewriters to draft letters for those who aren’t so fluent with the language of official communication.

One can see the GPO’s 220-feet high dome, complete with the big clock that graces its face & the Sanchi three-lion motif (the emblem of Indian state) from across the large water tank (locally known as “Lal Dighi”) that separates the GPO & the magnificent Writer’s Building (office of the Chief Minister of Bengal, refer Pixelated Memories - Writers' Building). Along with Writer’s Building, St. John’s Church (refer Pixelated Memories - St. John's Church) & the Raj Bhavan (residence of the Governor of Bengal), the GPO has become one of the defining landmarks of BBD Bagh Area, an old locality boasting of colonial architecture complete with pillars, idols, & imposing facades. 


I'm in love with this place!! - The Philatelic Bureau associated with the GPO building


On the inside, the GPO is much like any normal government office in India – clerks manning their stations, bundles of files stacked on & around their tables, many of these covered with thick layers of dust, gunny bags filled with papers & documents stacked along the corners, slow-rotating fans that creak more than they rotate, long queues of visitors lining up to get their work done. A Postal Museum was added to the GPO in 1884 & has on display a collection of stamps and postal artifacts such as letterboxes & seals. The GPO also boasts of a Philatelic Bureau which is a stamp collector’s delight, it was here that I bought stamps & first-day covers worth Rs 500 (as an indicator, except for the stamps, the entire trip cost me Rs 300, including Rs 200 for travel from Durgapur!!). The place is decked up with stamps on all sides, even the walls are adorned with large replicas of newly issued stamps, posters & information bulletins about Indian postal system.


It has even featured on a stamp.. (Photo courtesy - Indianpost.com)


Postage stamps worth 40 paise depicting the GPO were also issued by the postal department on its centenary celebrations in 1967 & 68. Several of those stamps I have in my possession, which brings me back to the question that my friends always pose to me, I answer it with another question - Isn’t it worth visiting a building that has been commemorated on stamps & still stands as a living testimony to the postal department’s establishment & continuing tradition of service to the citizens?

Location: Crossing of Netaji Subhas Road and Koilaghat Street, B.B.D Bagh Area. Ask your way around to Writer's Building from Esplanade Bus/Metro Station (refer Pixelated Memories - Writers' Building for identification). Traverse the pathway running along the tank opposite the Building to reach the GPO. Don't forget to photograph the ducks & swans that waddle in the tank!
Nearest Bus & Metro Station: Esplanade
Timings: 9am - 5pm
Entrance Fee: Nil
Photography/Video Charges: Nil
Relevant Links - 
  1. Pixelated Memories - Black Hole Memorial
  2. Pixelated Memories - Charnock's Tomb
  3. Pixelated Memories - Howrah Bridge & Railway Station
  4. Pixelated Memories - Indian Museum
  5. Pixelated Memories - Nam Soon Chinese Club
  6. Pixelated Memories - Sea Ip Chinese Club
  7. Pixelated Memories - St. John's Church
  8. Pixelated Memories - Tipu Sultan Mosque
  9. Pixelated Memories - Victoria Memorial
  10. Pixelated Memories - Writers' Building
Suggested Reading - 

07 August 2013

Atgah Khan's Tomb, New Delhi


It is not difficult to imagine strikingly impressive monuments could be concealed within the folds of the lanes & by-lanes of Nizamuddin Basti area which hides within its bosom several jewels that glitter with their stupendous architectural magnificence & heritage antiquity. One such ornate structure, hidden pretty nicely in plain sight, is the tomb of Atgah Khan, foster-father to the Mughal Emperor Akbar (ruled AD 1556-1605) & a powerful noble in the court of both Humayun (ruled AD 1530-40 & 1555-56) & Akbar. Interestingly, the mausoleum stands next to the Dargah (Tomb) of Hazrat Nizamuddin, the patron saint of Delhi & can be seen from different points within the Dargah complex (refer Pixelated Memories - Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah), & yet it is one of the least visited & least known structures in all of Delhi – the reasons for this second-class status being the greed of the citizens of Delhi who are ever so ready to encroach upon such structures & convert them into residential/commercial spaces & the apathy of the Government agencies who turn a blind eye to the atrocities committed upon these centuries-old monuments & indeed even permit further construction/vandalism in return for a few green-colored pieces of paper.


Strikingly symmetrical!!


Khan-i-Kalan Shamsh-ud-din Muhammad Khan was the son of a simple farmer in Ghazni (modern-day Afghanistan). He joined the army of Emperor Humayun & rose to become one of his close confidantes & administrators. When Humayun was overthrown by Sher Shah Suri, the Governor of Bihar, in the year 1530, Shamsh-ud-din stood by his lord through thick & thin. Humayun went through several difficulties, faced many struggles, conflicts & rebellions while he was out of power, his own brothers betrayed him & tried to arrest him. Crossing over the dreadful Thar Desert that marks parts of Rajasthan & Pakistan, Humayun’s wife Hamida Begum’s horse died & she being pregnant at that time, Humayun had to lend her his own horse. Nobody offered Humayun their camel or horse; he walked through the scorching heat & sand of the desert in what he described in his memoirs as the lowest point in his life while his courtiers & ministers rode their stallions. Through all this Shamsh-ud-din stood firmly by Humayun’s side. Pleased with his steadfastness & loyalty, Humayun declared Shamsh-ud-din the foster-father (“Atgah”) of his new-born son Akbar & Shamsh-ud-din’s wife Jiji came to be known as Anga (“Foster-mother”). They looked after the young prince like their own son while Humayun was seeking asylum & military assistance from the Shah of Persia.


Details of the marble & stone work at the lower half of the tomb


Akbar grew up with Mirza Aziz, Shamsh-ud-din’s son & Quli Khan & Adham Khan , the sons of Akbar’s other foster-mother Maham. When Humayun returned to power in the year 1555, he elevated Shamsh-ud-din “Atgah” Khan to the position of general of his army. Atgah Khan retained his position when Akbar ascended the throne in AD 1556 & also held immense power & influence over the royal court. Mirza Aziz Kokaltash (“Koka” = “foster-brother”) too rose to become an army general, & so did the brothers Adham & Quli. Atgah Khan also married his daughter Mah Banu to Abdul Rahim Khan-i-Khanan, another powerful general & one of Akbar's "Navratnas" ("Nine Jewels") (Both Mah Banu & Abdul Rahim were also later buried close to Atgah Khan's Tomb, refer Pixelated Memories - Abdul Rahim Khan-i-Khanan's Tomb). Much to the chagrin of Maham Anga who wanted all the power to be consolidated in the hands of her own sons, Akbar immensely respected Atgah Khan & sought his opinion in all important decisions. In 1561, Akbar raised Atgah Khan to the coveted position of “Wakil” (“Minister”), a step that greatly displeased Maham Anga & Adham Khan & finally culminated in the murder of Atgah Khan at the hands of Adham Khan when he was investigating some of the corruption charges against the latter (the views of Adham’s brother Quli about Atgah Khan are not known, history is silent about his life & actions though his tomb still exists in the far-off corner of Mehrauli Archaeological Complex, refer Pixelated Memories - Quli Khan's Tomb). Blinded alike with fury & fear of the consequences of his actions, Adham then burst upon Akbar with his sword unsheathed. Infuriated, Akbar had Adham Khan arrested & thrown down the ramparts of his fortress in Agra, twice for good measure – many scholars believe that it was Akbar himself who threw Adham down. Atgah Khan was given the honour of being called a martyr & his death is so recorded as martyrdom in “Akbarnama” (“Chronicles of Akbar”) by Akbar’s court chronicler-historian Abu Fazl.


The striking sandstone & marble ornamentation at the upper half of the tomb


A magnificent mausoleum was commissioned within the complex of the Dargah of Sheikh Nizamuddin for Atgah Khan by his son Mirza Kokaltash on the orders of the Emperor who was aggrieved by the heinous murder of his most trusted lieutenant & minister. The tomb’s architect was Ustad Khuda Quli who presided over its construction; Ustad Baqi Muhammad was entrusted with sculpting the marble slabs that were to be laid on the sandstone walls with intricate calligraphy drawing upon Quranic verses.

The strikingly symmetrical medium-sized square tomb, built of red sandstone, ornamented with decorated slabs of white marble, & completed in the year 1566-67 is splendidly ornamented with medallions, tessellation art & calligraphy. It is surmounted by a high dome & is decorated in several different patterns, each adding to its charm & further adding a layer of admiration for Mughal art & architecture in the eyes & mind of the visitor. The marble that covers the tomb’s exteriors is inlaid with red & blue-hued stone, painstakingly chiseled in several patterns. The inlay work is more profuse near the base of the tomb. The most admirable feature of the tomb that catches the eye of anyone aware of Islamic art are the two hexagonal medallions that flank the arched niche that marks each side of the tomb – the symmetrical pattern laid on the medallion is a classic example of the tessellation art practiced throughout Islamic world by skilled artists & craftsmen – the word “Ali” has been repeated six times in each medallion. One of the sides has an entrance built into it with a wooden door that has been locked perennially by the Archaeological Survey of India (A.S.I); the rest of the niches are marked with intricately designed latticework (“jali”). Speaking tomes about the time & effort that went into designing & crafting this piece of architectural delight, even the red sandstone that covers the exteriors is patterned & chiseled throughout with amazing dexterity – the repeating floral motifs appear flawless to my eye & the introduction of inlaid marble slabs to break the monotony of the sandstone works wonders & adds a graceful flamboyance to the otherwise subdued mausoleum.


Jewel Box!!


Since going inside the tomb is not possible, I could only peep through these jalis & look at the sarcophagi that line the interiors of the mausoleum (there are five or six graves in there), the interiors are said to possess excellent designs done in blue paint, however the same could not be seen from the outside. The tomb still retains much of its original decorative elements, though much of it has been spoiled by vandals – now there are just gaping holes & crevices at places where once was a smattering of stone inlaid in marble. The tomb stands in a small patterned courtyard that separates it from the matchbox-like, shabby houses that have mushroomed all around it. The courtyard was once pretty large, the architects had intended it to stand in a large open ground so the visitors can take in its sheer beauty & magnificence, but has been encroached upon on all sides leaving only a couple of feet on each side of the tomb. The present size of the enclosing courtyard makes it difficult to photograph the tomb fully & as naturally as one would like to, on many occasions I had to step through debris & piles of construction & animal waste in order to get a vantage view of the structure. The courtyard is laid with red sandstone & inlaid with marble, but is filled with rubbish & garbage, small mountains of daily waste mark each of its corner, the problem of waterlogging is extensive & three of its four sides of the courtyard had large puddles of muddy, brackish water accumulating alongside. The surrounding houses have come right up to the level of the surrounding walls, in certain places one can even see the original, small decorative windows that must once have added grace to the enclosure, now embedded into the walls of the houses & filled with cement & dust.


Archive image of the tomb. On the right are the Dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin & the Jamaat Khana Mosque. The graves visible in the foreground have no doubt been lost to the rapidly expanding basti (settlement), since now only houses surround the tomb in all directions (Photo courtesy - Facebook.com/Humayun's Tomb - Nizamuddin Basti Urban Renewal Initiative)


A small, roofed pavilion stands within the courtyard, next to one of the enclosing walls – the eight pillars still retain much of their original artwork, the walls too display traces of artwork around the shallow niches that ornament them, however the damage wrought on it by the residents of this neighbourhood is intense – a small room next to the pavilion has been broken into, part of the wall that surrounded it has been demolished & the room converted into a makeshift incinerator for burning paper & wood, the walls are all blackened with soot, the pavilion itself reeks of melancholy & a sorrow bordering on desperation, crying out for protection from this fate that it does not deserve.


I can still smell the putrid smoke. The pavilion is being subjected to a treatment that is disgusting, to say the least.


Perhaps expounding on the once glorious days that the mausoleum & the associated structures around it enjoyed, a wall next to the pavilion still retains much of its original tile work – the simplistic designs that mark the wall consist of three ornamental arches crafted out of red, plaster bricks that have been embossed on the underlying rubble wall. The arches are surrounded by intricate floral & geometrical patterns done with yellow & blue glazed tiles. Perhaps this wall acted as a Qibla (an open wall that points to Mecca (West) & is faced by Muslims for the purpose of prayer), indeed the wall is parallel to the Jamaat Khana mosque which is the principal mosque of Nizamuddin Dargah complex & is visible from Atgah Khan's Tomb. One can even climb over some portions that have caved in close to the Qibla wall & step onto the roof of the adjoining house to get an “aerial” view of the Nizamuddin Dargah complex & the Jamaat Khana mosque.


The Qibla wall - Notice the patterns & the floral design above the central arch


Opposite the aforementioned pavilion is a domed structure, however this one has been encroached upon to such an extent that nothing except the blue-ish dome is visible now. I could not even fathom a way to reach the structure. Perhaps somebody lives inside it now, it certainly looks like it has been included within the plan of the houses that have sprung up around it. This structure is close to where the archival image I posted above must have been taken from.


What's that blue-domed structure in the background?? Can someone enlighten me?


Astonishingly, though the mausoleum is now locked for visitor entry, the crypt below it where the bodies of Atgah Khan & his family are actually buried has been occupied by several families for the past several years (decades if they are to be heeded). Perhaps that explains the glares & the watchful eyes that I encountered when I made my way to the mausoleum, I was led by the neighbourhood kids but the elders who sat gosipping around the tomb courtyard, looked shocked & anguished as if I have stepped in their courtyard. Somehow the municipal corporations even issued permissions & bills to retrofit the tomb to fix electrical & water connections inside it. The crypt chamber itself has been modified to make way for closets & doorways, the walls & the floor are now lined with ceramic tiles, the foundations have been demolished to make way for additional rooms. One would have thought it couldn’t get any worse than this, but the surprising thing is that one of the families that inhabit this burial chamber is that of the watchman employed by the ASI to safeguard this medieval-era jewel from encroachers!! Despite the numerous articles that have been published about the condition of the tomb in leading newspapers since way back in 2009 (see links below), the ASI has failed to evict one of their own who has taken to damaging this stunning structure instead of protecting it. ASI has not yet responded to my mail to them regarding this whole scenario & it was actually Ratish Nanda of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) who told me about this watchman connection when I talked to him about the plight of the structure (AKTC has been entrusted with the restoration & conservation of the monuments falling within the Humayun’s Tomb Complex-Nizamuddin Basti-Sunder Nagar Area. Hopefully they would soon take up structural conservation of the mausoleum as part of its ongoing projects). I had to resort to posting my original mail to ASI here with the hope that they would be jolted into taking some action about it –


Don't say I did not tell you!!


Interestingly enough, the ASI Director-General replied to me rather quickly when I wrote to him several months back about an internship in monument conservation with them, wish the staff at ASI were as quick in their response when it came to monuments & heritage structures which are supposed to be their prime concern. Sad times that we live in, a lone structure that once stood within the Nizamuddin Dargah Complex has been separated from it by upcoming houses, taken to the verge of a catatonic shift in terms of plan & layout by the encroachments, & yet the authorities fail to wake up. & I thought my blog could make a difference by educating ordinary folk about our cultural & architectural heritage, I’m disappointed in you ASI!! I always thought you people were the real heroes – maintaining thousands of forgotten structures & excavation sites throughout the country, often with the meager resources that are allocated to you & in the face of civic/police inaction & incompetence in providing you assistance, but the recent actions of your own men should be enough to put you to shame.


The Mughals & their pavilions - I am reminded of Hira Mahal in Red Fort Complex after looking at this one.


Location: Nizamuddin Basti Area, very close to the Dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin (refer Pixelated Memories - Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah)
How to reach: There are two ways leading to the tomb – the first is from the Dargah itself, the second is through the labyrinthine maze of narrow lanes that fold upon themselves around the Dargah. Either case, it is better to ask for directions & guidance from the locals – the shopkeepers or the kids in & around the Dargah.
Open: All days, Sunrise to sunset
Entrance fee: Nil
Photography/Video Charges: Nil
Advice: Since you might have to cross through the Dargah area, it is better to take off one’s footwear & carry them in your hand/bagpacks. You have the option of depositing them with any of the numerous shops that line the lanes outside the Dargah, however you will need them in case you are visiting the mausoleum on a scorching summer day since the stone & marble floor of the tomb courtyard would be simmering like a frying pan. It is also advisable to be dressed modestly & keep one’s head covered with skullcap/dupatta (cloth used by Indian women to cover their head).
Relevant Links -
  1. Pixelated Memories - Abdul Rahim Khan-i-Khanan's Tomb
  2. Pixelated Memories - Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah
  3. Pixelated Memories - Hira Mahal, Red Fort
  4. Pixelated Memories - Humayun's Tomb Complex
  5. Pixelated Memories - Quli Khan's Tomb
  6. Pixelated Memories - Red Fort Complex
Suggested Reading -
  1. Business-standard.com - Article "A tomb in today's times" (dated September 15, 2007) by Gargi Gupta
  2. Hindustantimes.com - Article "Digging next to Atgah Khan’s tomb" (dated October 09, 2011) by Nivedita Khandekar
  3. Indianexpress.com - Article "Akbar-era monument suffers neglect" (dated April 05, 2011) by Sweta Dutta
  4. The MIT Press - (pdf download) Tessellations in Islamic Calligraphy by Mangho Ahuja & A.L. Loeb
  5. Theglobeandmail.com - Article "India's ancient mausoleums are home sweet home to some" (dated June 08, 2009) by Stephanie Nolen
  6. Timesofindia.indiatimes.com - Article "Illegal stay hits Mughal tomb" (dated May 16, 2011)
  7. Timesofindia.com - (pdf download) Article "At home in Akbar-era ASI 'protected' tomb" (dated March 5, 2009) by Richi Verma & Neha Lalchandani
  8. Wikipedia.org - Tessellation (Ornamentation art involving the use of Glazed Tiles to cover a plane)