February 18, 2014

Bagh-i-Alam ka Gumbad, Deer Park, New Delhi

Though Bagh-i-Alam ka Gumbad literally translates to “the tomb within the garden of the world”, there is nothing grand or striking about Deer Park in which this imposing tomb stands to consider it a garden of worldly beauty – in fact, it isn’t even a garden, the unruly tracts of vegetation, the massive trees with their twisted branches and gnarled trunks, the all-invading thorny shrubbery and the dense foliage give it the appearance of a forest. The only exception to this pervading sense of being in a small forest is brought about by the presence of jogging tracks and physical training equipments thrown in at intervals with boards and signages explaining to the visitors the purpose and guide to the equipment – in that sense, it is indeed the garden of the world, striving to keep people healthy so they remain in this mortal world a bit longer!

Masculine and towering

The number of visitors that this magnificent tomb attracts would put many of the more famous monuments in the city to shame, but the latter can keep heart as most of these visitors are either couples who are looking for a quiet spot for a quick make out or vandals on a lookout for space where they can carve their names and love letters – the massive entrances set within three of the four walls of the tomb (the fourth acts as mihrab – the wall that indicates the direction of Mecca and is faced by Muslims while offering prayers) are barred with grilles to keep both categories of people out. Of course it escapes the attention of civic authorities that the grilles would also prohibit the entry of monument lovers and heritage enthusiasts.

The largest of the three tombs in Deer Park (the other two are Tohfewala Gumbad and Kali Gumti), the structure is built with locally quarried stone – the red and grey stone blocks are fitted together to create a striking patchwork that further plays with sunlight to present a picture filled with brilliance and glimmer bouncing off each of the fragments. Externally, the single chamber gives a semblance of being divided into floors through the use of arched niches set on three levels – only the niches on the ground level and adjacent to the entrance act as windows, the rest are filled in with the same dressed stone that faces the rest of the structure – the niches are deep-set and couples were engaged in various physical activities in many of them (of course I do not mind, nor should you, reader!).

A beauty, overshadowed

The entrances are trabeated (stone blocks of gradually increasing sizes kept on top of smaller blocks so as to span a distance and give the appearance of a rudimentary arch). Arched windows exist above the entrances and these display remnants of vivid blue tiles which were used to break the monotony of the grey and red stonework but in my opinion fail to do the job, especially on a scorching summer afternoon. Both the entrance and the window are set within a larger arched niche which is further housed in a rectangular frame projecting outwards through the wall face. The roof and the drum (base) of the hemispherical dome are decorated with a line of kanguras (battlement-like ornamentation).

I had the pleasure of encountering two guys sitting on the staircase leading to one of the entrances and trying to light up a marijuana joint but failing repeatedly – they definitely were not engineers; engineers know how to light joints (as I demonstrated to them a few minutes later). The reason for recounting this is to point out that engineers don’t frequent the park (owing, perhaps, to the lack of girl friends that most of them face!?) but the park has become the haunt of marijuana/alcohol consumers. Peering in through the grilles, one can make out the design of the simplistic mihrab within as well as the intricate patterns in blue, red and white incised plasterwork that adorn the dome interiors – a huge central medallion depicts beautifully-executed floral patterns set within concentric circles of calligraphy and geometrical motifs. The medallion is further enclosed within two concentric stars done with bands of red paint – each vertex of the star is bound on both sides by vertices of the other star and a small teardrop shape medallion graces each of the vertices.

Dome interiors: Plasterwork details

The teardrop medallions also follow the scheme of the larger medallion – floral designs set within a band of calligraphy and geometrical motifs. The designs invoke a sense of awe at the brilliance of the artists who worked on these patterns and crafted them with unmatched grace and precision. The mihrab bears an inscription referring to the construction of the tomb – it was commissioned by one Abu Saiyyid in AD 1501 to house the mortal remains of a mendicant Sheikh Shihab-ud-din Taj Khan. Sultan Sikandar Lodi reigned over Delhi at that time and his rule saw many mendicants and saints arriving from Afghanistan, Persia and beyond settling in Delhi. Imam Zamin, who is buried in the World Heritage Site of Qutb Complex, also arrived in Sikandar Lodi’s reign (refer Pixelated Memories - Imam Zamin's Tomb).

A colorful teardrop

Adjacent to the tomb is an exquisite Qibla (wall mosque) with a large courtyard meant to seat the devotees bound to it. The Qibla has five arched niches set within larger rectangular indentations – the central of these niches is the largest both in terms of height and width. The wall extends and folds along the edges so that an additional niche also flanks the two sides of the courtyard adjacent to the Qibla. The entire length of the wall is topped by pretty neat leaf-motifs; smaller niches line the wall and would have perhaps once also provided holds for keeping small lamps; two neat rows of graves line the prayer space; light and shadows playfully create patterns along the courtyard. The wall shows signs of cracks and in many places the plaster has flake off to reveal the underlying layers of rubble – still it’s in pretty good condition if compared to the other two tombs in the park.

Prayers, graves and desolation

The central niche is flanked towards its back by turrets that convey masculinity despite their slenderness; towers exist at both ends of the Qibla wall. The towers are octagonal and thick but not solid – there are arched entrances built right through them. It is from behind the wall that one notices that these structures have largely been consigned to vegetation – foliage reaches right upto the Qibla, trees overshadow the tombs and in many instances the branches simply droop over the structures.

It is actually a pity that such splendid structures are hidden from general public and allowed to become the haunts of vandals and anti-social elements; had these been located elsewhere in the kind of garden settings that these were envisaged with, they would have been the treat of the place and a joy to behold.

Tower view

Even today the structures would prove to be magnetic towards visitors, but if only the park is well maintained and the portions of it that have become overly vegetated cropped and landscaped along with the provision of visitor facilities like clean drinking water and toilets – though there are water taps located right next to the park entrance, either they weren’t working or looking at their condition one began to suspect if they are hygienic and the water served clean. There are no toilets even in the famous Hauz Khas complex adjacent to the park, so fat chance of the introduction of such facilities here. As I said, it’s a pity, except that the pity doesn’t come from the authorities who have convinced themselves that only a handful of monuments in the city deserve their attention and conservation efforts and have turned a blind eye to the rest. Makes you think that the Ministry of Culture and Tourism is actually a farce – all they are concerned with is the tourist flow and would actually restore only those monuments, organize such concerts and events where tourist footfall is expected and conveniently forget the rest.

Forgotten - Mihrab within the tomb

Location: Deer Park
Nearest Metro Station: Hauz Khas
How to reach: One can walk from the metro station; availing a autorickshaw is advisable since the distance between the two is roughly 2 kilometers.
Entrance fees: Nil
Photography/Video charges: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: 20 min
Relevant Links -

  1. Pixelated Memories - Imam Zamin's Tomb
  2. Pixelated Memories - Kali Gumti, Deer Park

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