July 31, 2014

R.K. Puram Trail, Delhi

Having visited all the major fortresses, regal tomb complexes and renowned shrines in Delhi, I wasn’t left with any sufficiently huge monument complex where I could cheerily spend an entire day (or at least, till the camera’s battery refused to go on anymore!) photographing, exploring and observing. Given that there are about 1300+ monuments scattered throughout Delhi, a majority in the unlikeliest of locations, it isn’t very difficult to hit upon heritage trails and filter out some groups of structures that stand individually isolated but in close enough vicinity to each other to be covered on foot in a few hours. One such trail is in R.K. Puram – now, R.K. Puram is a relatively well-off area, one of the few properly conceived, planned and executed localities in the city, and there are quite a few medieval tombs here sharing space with beautiful modern Hindu/Sikh temples, simplistic wall mosques and upcoming residential quarters – the last generating the well-documented urbanization pressure on the medieval structures and restricting most, if not all, of them to picturesque oases composed of small un/maintained garden tracts lost in a sea of humanity, commercial establishments, residential buildings and traffic-choked roadways.

Wazirpur Tomb Complex –

Huddled together - The five tombs at Wazirpur complex

Location: Sector– 5, R.K. Puram
Coordinates: (28.562767, 77.175042)
Wazipur Tomb complex, a congregation of Lodhi-era (AD 1451-1526) rubble-built structures located in R.K. Puram Sector –5 and nestled in an extremely small but beautifully landscaped green space consists of a cluster of five tombs the identity of whose occupants is unknown, two wall mosques (“qiblas”), a simplistic stepwell (“baoli”) (now) filled with rubble and garbage, an old well and a grave platform. One of the tombs here has been encroached upon by a family while the personalities buried in the rest are venerated by the local population who regularly leave behind reverential offerings – flowers, incense, earthen oil lamps (“diyas”) and sweets. The tombs are externally and internally exquisitely decorated with intricate stucco medallions skillfully crafted from plaster; the smaller wall mosque too has been ornamented with striking artwork and prettily niches, however the larger bears a rough rubble surface, unadorned and uneventfully executed. Surrounded by clusters of large trees – neem, ashoka, amaltas (Indian laburnum), arjun and frangipani, and inhabited by squirrels and several avian species like sparrows, pigeons and lapwings, the pristine little complex immediately proves endearing not because of the magnificent artwork or designs (which there aren't many), nor because of the superbly-maintained condition of the complex (which is only on paper), but because of the splendid silence and the charming serenity that it affords even to the most wretched of travelers and the most discerning of heritage enthusiasts. For further information, refer Pixelated Memories - Wazirpur Monument Complex

Munda Gumbad –

Munda Gumbad ("Bald Tomb") - A unique landmark on Delhi's cityscape

Location: Sector– 5, R.K. Puram
Coordinates: (28.561165, 77.178832)
A difficult find in the well-laid streets of R.K. Puram, the unbelievably massive but uncompleted tomb boasts of a slightly raised embossment in the center of its stone floor indicating the presence of a single grave deep underneath the high hillock on which it stands majestically. Located within a small square park immediately opposite the Kendriya Vidyalaya of the area, the huge tomb, with its unremarkably bare rubble walls that have been designed to give externally the semblance of a double-storied structure through the use of arched entrances, windows and ornamental niches, has been reduced to a miniature landfill by the nearby residents who dump polythene bags stuffed with domestic waste on a daily basis in the park and often alight fires to get rid of the excessive garbage. Peeping inside the tomb that has been identified to be a Lodi-era (AD 1451-1526) structure and watching the play of sunlight on the huge gaping hole that exists in place of the domed roof, one notices the employment of trabeate arches (stone ledges of gradually increasing sizes placed one over the other in ascending order to span space) for the wide doorways and squinch arches in the corners (to convert the square interiors into an octagonal and a sixteen-sided structure) to support the heavy dome and wonders why the handsome tomb was left incomplete – did the person who commissioned it face an unforeseen depletion of funds, or was there a change in the governance and the new administration looked down upon the person buried or the one who commissioned it, or perhaps some other calamity like a reign change or a miserable war? 

Locked away - Munda Gumbad interiors

One also wonders what would the tomb would have looked like if it were completed – the present structure betrays the conceiving of a gigantic dome resting on a sixteen-sided drum (base) and a filled up western wall that would have acted as a mihrab (wall faced by the devout while offering Namaz prayers since it indicates the direction of Mecca) – would the mihrab have been as wonderfully decorated with white marble, red sandstone and plasterwork as in several other monuments throughout the city, would the dome’s concave surface boast of stunning artwork in incised plaster, or would the walls have displayed a stone or plaster finish with an endearing use of eye-opening medallions and perhaps stone inlay work? The gentle, isolated giant of a tomb raises more questions than it answers – wish at least the locals could answer correctly about its location instead of making a seeker go around in circles!

Sri Venkateswara Balaji Mandir –

Location: Sector– 3, R.K. Puram
Coordinates: (28.558154, 77.181519)
At a slight walk from Munda Gumbad stands one of the finest temples in Delhi – boasting of an array of excellent sculptures depicting mythological and mythical entities, the Sri Venkateswara temple has been built according to traditional Hindu architectural practices and is detailed with design motifs and religious symbolism that is a landmark of South Indian temple construction. Apart from the lofty trapezoidal-pyramidal central shrine (“Gopuram”), passer-bys are also lured in the Vaishnavite temple complex by the numerous Garuda statues that mark the temple complex’s periphery walls – Garuda, a mythical being considered to be the steed of Lord Vishnu (the Hindu God of life and nourishment) is often depicted as a semi-bird, semi-human creature with a beak-like curved nose and huge, powerful wings. 

Sculptural extravaganza - Sri Venkateswara Temple

It is difficult convincing the priests and mendicants residing within to allow photography and even when the managing committee representative yields permission, clicking within the sanctum is out of question – anyway the temple remains locked in the afternoon and opens only in mornings and evenings, so I wasn’t even expecting the priests to open the sanctum for me. The singularly impressive sculptures that adorn the high soaring, pyramidal roof of the temple are unparalleled and display an impeccable diversity in terms of the figures represented and their features. There are several smaller shrines too within the complex, each topped by a slightly domed-roof done up with cross-patching patterns and also ornamented with divine figurines but the most common deity remained the Garuda that could be seen seated atop each small shrine along the front corners. The temple has been commissioned and is being maintained by the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD), an organization that also maintains several other temples throughout the country including the renowned Tirumala Venkateswara temple of Tirupati (Andhra Pradesh), and is dedicated to Lord Sri Venkateswara Swami (an incarnation of Lord Vishnu) and his consorts Bhumi Devi (Mother Earth Goddess and personification of fertility) and Laxmi (Hindu Goddess of wealth, beauty, prosperity and happiness). 

The entire pantheon consisting of the Lord and his consorts, guards and devotees, amidst religious symbolism and traditional motifs

Spread over 1.2 acres and built at the cost of 11.5 crores (115 million) rupees in 1979 on land granted by the government (renovated in 1994 and 2008), the majestic temple also consists of a “Nata Mandir” (music and dance hall) and a “Dhyan Mandir” (meditation hall). Through the exquisiteness of its rich idols and the unmatched skill that went into its fine construction, the temple has definitely found its way into my list of the must-visit shrines in the city, even though I too came across it without any planning or inclination – now am even hoping to take my mom there the next time we pass that way!

Bijri Khan’s Tomb –

Location: Sector– 3, R.K. Puram
Coordinates: (28.558578, 77.181717)
Seated on its immensely raised platform like a rippling warlord and overlooking the continuous flow of traffic whizzing around it, Bijri Khan’s impressive tomb is perhaps the most massive “unknown” tomb I’ve ever come across in Delhi – built at an unprecedented scale and conveying a sense of uninhibited strength and fortitude, the gigantic tomb cradles in its huge bosom five simplistic, unmarked and unadorned cenotaphs. In the news in the recent past for all the wrong reasons – having been ignored by the authorities, standing in a miserable state in a forlorn corner of its own with its ornamentation lost due to the vagaries of time and nature, scaled on one side by a slum settlement and forgotten by most heritage and monument enthusiasts, the tomb saw a flicker of better days when it was “restored” (in reality only plastered over on the insides and landscaped around the plinth level) thanks to the Commonwealth Games held in Delhi in the December of 2010, only to revert to its original isolated and uncared for condition – the slum still exists and it is quite a feat to find your way from the slum side to the tomb, on the other side is a palm reader’s shack while a wide road runs along the front face. 

Enormity exemplified! - Bijri Khan's simplistic but humongous tomb

An iron gate bars visitor entry to the tomb enclosure but the guard quickly appeared after I shouted for him couple of times, and though he reluctantly let me in when I stubbornly refused to go away and brandished knowledge of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) maintained monuments and laws, he became visibly agitated when I started clicking the structure claiming that he is not even allowed to let in people (yes, even those with genuine credentials), leave aside photography! Why, ASI why? Stepping through the gate and up the steps leading to the plinth, one is greeted by the sight of the guard’s innerwear drying on a clothesline – apart from that and the expensive illumination systems that appeared to have been perennially covered with a layer of mud, the tomb appears in a relatively well-off condition – even the interiors were spic and the plinth area was immaculately clean of debris and garbage unlike several monuments I already encountered on this trail. Sadly, the guard did not budge at all at the prospect of me heading upstairs to the tomb’s dome level and clicking – it would have been excellent to see that gigantic dome up close – in fact following this simple question, he began trailing me like a shadow lest I do something unpardonable, like perhaps clicking the other person who was snoring within the tomb’s precincts – how did he get permission to get in when others can’t?

Bijri Khan's tomb and its dwarf companion

There are no literary records available to indicate who Bijri Khan was – in all probability a very skilled military general or an extremely powerful noble – and why did he command such intimidating respect to deserve this giant tomb, but whosoever he was, he is extremely fortunate in death to have an ASI guard and then too such a diligent one – after all, there are literally hundreds of monuments decaying around Delhi’s ancient landscape! Along one side of the tomb, stands a very small structure, more of a "gumti" (little, domed room) than a tomb proper – though there is no grave within nor any other sign of identification or erstwhile adornment, it is conjectured that the structure functions in the capacity of a tomb – to whom it belongs is yet another mystery, perhaps to a servant or slave to Bijri Khan, or even to his favorite dog (yes, Delhi has its fair share of such inconceivable structures too!). Interestingly, if one is observant enough, one can spot a few signs of the original ornamentation along the front face, like a band of red sandstone chiseled to represent a line of geometrical flowers, besides the usual thick stone pillars carved up to create trabeated arches inspired by Hindu design motifs like auspicious vases and banana leaves that mark the entrances. It is hard not to be impressed by the enormity of the structure when even the red sandstone finial crowning the grand dome seems to convey a sense of superiority. Interestingly, the British, when they came to call the shots in the country, refused to be overawed by the tomb’s grandeur and converted it and the miniature gumti alongside too into fodder stores!

Somber bedroom - Bijri Khan's tomb interiors

Nearest Bus stop: R.K. Puram NAB (400 meters away)
Nearest Metro Station: AIIMS (5 kilometers away)
How to reach: Since the area doesn't lie on any existing metro line and the nearest metro station is actually very far, it is suggested to take a bus to R.K. Puram. Start at Wazirpur complex (refer Pixelated Memories - Wazirpur Monument Complex) and from there ask for Kendriya Vidyalaya school – Munda Gumbad is located opposite the school building. From here, proceed to R.K. Puram Sector– 3 bus stop – Bijri Khan's tomb is immediately at the bus stop, while Sri Venkateswara temple is a couple of meters away in one of the streets close to Bijri Khan's tomb.
Entrance fees: Nil
Photography/Video charges: Nil

July 23, 2014

Wazirpur Monument Complex, R.K. Puram Sector– 5, Delhi

The Wazipur complex, a congregation of Lodhi-era (AD 1451-1526) rubble-built structures located in R.K. Puram Sector– 5 and nestled in an extremely small green space that (thanks largely to the expansionist urbanization forces of the immediate vicinity) barely defines the boundaries till which the medieval monuments spread out, consists of a cluster of five tombs the identity of whose occupants is unknown, two wall mosques (“qiblas”), a stepwell (“baoli”) and a grave platform. The iron gate, installed to keep out vandals and anti-social elements, is kept semi-locked with a chain but ironically one of the tombs has already been encroached upon and a family of at least six resides within; they have also built a makeshift shanty close to the plinth on which the tomb stands but that is, I suppose, a good thing since they retreat to it every time someone shows up to photograph the structures, leaving only the mattresses, chairs, stoves and cooking utensils in the tomb! Stepping through the iron gate, one can either first head towards the rubble-built baoli and the smaller qibla, or climb up the stairs to examine the tomb cluster – the two sets are on either side of the pathway that demarcates the area.

The five musketeers! (Observe the rubble wall in extreme left - that is the larger of the two qiblas)

The shallow baoli, the simplest and smallest that I’ve ever seen in Delhi, is a fairly uncomplicated structure and possesses a domed turret on each of the two corners where it emerges from the ground. A staircase leads down to the tank level which is filled up with garbage, plastic bottles, polythene and wrappers as well as rubble and construction debris, but incidentally there is not a drop of water despite it being the rainy weather. Interestingly, stone-built water channels emerge from the baoli and end mid-stride in the middle of the green patch, a feature that is unique here – what purpose did they serve? Did the people who lived close to the baoli and/or were responsible for the maintenance of the lawns draw water from the tank and pour it in the channel so as to facilitate uniform distribution across the whole area? I have not an iota of an idea but they certainly do seem interesting. There are shallow chambers built along ledges in the side walls of the baoli where visitors used to sit when the baoli gurgled with the presence of water level which rendered it relatively cooler than the surroundings – at present, sunlight streams down to the tank level and scorches every square inch of the structure; even the pigeons that have made their homes in the niches around the tank wall remain cooped up in their shady nests as a response to the unbelievable heat and humidity. By rapidly flying out in large packs with an aggressive flapping of wings, they are sure to startle an innocent visitor who is quietly photographing the tank and the covered, arched chamber with arched openings in the back wall of the structure.

The simple, two-tier stepwell

Behind the baoli and separated from it by a couple of meters of lush grassy lawn is the smaller of the two wall mosques – a very high platform, part of which is occupied by a large cenotaph, with a thick wall along the western edge flanked by two short stretches of walls along the northern and southern edges. The western wall, possessing five arched niches (the central being the largest and deepest) makes up the little qibla (unroofed wall mosque where devotees face towards the wall which indicates the direction of Mecca (west)) of this striking structure. The thick walls are ornamented with kanguras (battlement-like adornments) on the top while tapering turrets once existed along the corners of each of the three walls, though much of the southern wall and its adjoining turret has since collapsed. Two small circular medallions bearing calligraphy inscriptions exist on either side of the central niche, while a row of miniature arched niches, very prettily designed and executed with varied geometric and floral patterns, runs alongside the top of the larger niches. The compelling designs along the face of the qibla makes it one of the most alluring structures in the entire complex despite its simplicity vis-à-vis the richly decorated tomb cluster – of course, visitors, the unwanted kind, never leave a chance to make a monument “prettier” still, and as evidenced by this small neglected wall mosque, have left an entire load of horrible, horrendous etchings and writings. Given that the complex enjoys a venerated status amongst the population of the nearby urban villages, some devotee had left sugarballs and lighted up an earthen lamp (“diya”) next to the grave. The caretaker/gardener, dragging a heavy water pipe which emerged from the old, flaking well close to the wall mosque, offered no answers when I inquired about the same and was intent on evading further questions – he soon disappeared into nowhere too! 

Graceful isolation?

Between the well and the small wall mosque is the simplest structure of all – a high platform on which sat two graves – being next to the park’s periphery, the platform, with the numerous trees that seemed to be overshadowing it, was inundated with leaves and brilliant golden-yellow Amaltas (Indian laburnum) flowers. Along this periphery, the tomb complex is on a slightly higher ground with respect to the road that runs alongside and the trees, planted on the road’s margins, all conspire to drape it with a green foliage veil, thereby turning the simple scene into one picturesque landscape. Several bird species – mynas, pigeons, sparrows, crows and lapwings can be spotted strutting around in the high grass or approaching and drinking from the numerous water pots kept throughout the complex by the caretakers, and if you are patient enough to spend a quarter of an hour or so trying clicking these super-quick feathered friends, you will definitely be rewarded with a few crisp shots. 

Sneaking on - Red-wattled lapwing

The tightly-packed tomb cluster can be characterized into – (1–3) three very similar tombs sharing a common plinth in the center, (4) the simplistic rightmost tomb seated upon its own separate plinth and (5) the surprisingly well-preserved leftmost tomb which stands slightly away from the other four and is not raised from the ground by a masonry platform. All five tombs have very similar architecture patterns – single square chambers ornamented on the outside with arched niches to yield double-floor appearances, topped by semi-circular domes which sit on high drums and are themselves surmounted by lotus finials (except in the case of the smallest tomb) and the use of kanguras and medallions along the faces as the only form of decoration – only the smallest and the leftmost tombs seems different in that the former only has an entrance along its western face while the latter is open on all four sides – the rest of the tombs have mihrabs (western wall of a structure that acts as a mosque by indicating the direction of Mecca) for western walls and arched entrances along all the other sides. The entrances of the smallest tomb appear to have been bricked in only recently and one can see traces of fresh plaster where the entrance should have been along the front face.

The baoli and the tombs as seen from near the grave platform

The three tombs in the center seem to have recently undergone restoration work – the plaster seems fresh and the medallions have been recreated out of incised plaster artwork, though the interiors appear to have been untouched and still display the raw, rough look with darkened, cobweb-covered walls, bird shit-drenched floors and fragmented medallions. The largest of the three tombs bears exquisite medallions around the front face arches though most of the rest of the faces still seem to be undergoing restoration–conservation work; there are two graves inside, one in each corner of a diagonal and both of them seem to be the subject of reverence as exemplified by the presence of sugarballs, marigold garlands, oil lamps, incense sticks and small piles of grains left behind by devotees – of the two, one is in very good condition and still bears decorative features as well as the wedge that recognizes it as a male grave, the other doesn’t bear any such characteristic feature and might very well be a female grave (unless of course, the features got eroded with time which seems highly unlikely considering the well-preserved state of the first one) – the latter seems to be more favored by the devotees and has been blackened around the head with greasy soot and oil from the lamps and lumps of sugar. I doubt if the occupant of the grave would have approved! While I was there, a sweeper lady came up with a broom and a pail of water and began cleaning up the tomb’s interiors – she scrubbed off much of the soot and grease and also removed the garlands, sweets and incense that was till now adding color to the monotonously antique and rugged structure. Neither she nor the young boy who soon appeared on the scene and began admonishing me for walking in the tomb with my shoes on told me if any government agency has employed them to look after the structures – for the sake of disclosure, let me clarify that am not against people's beliefs nor am I in the favor of preventing someone from worshipping at a particular place or shrine, but there should at least be some balance, sooner or later we will have to learn to let heritage structures be just that and not deface or encroach upon them nor try to convert them into temples or mosques or some other shrine.

Such colors, such vibrance!

The other two tombs are externally very similar to the largest, except for a few minor differences, and have also been plastered over recently – the smallest, with its bricked-up, darkened walls, seems to be in the worst-off condition and has been converted into a storage shed to stock bags full of cement, iron grilles, worn-out chairs and containers full of paint; the medium-sized one displays a profusion of intricate artwork that is not just limited to the exteriors, though its interiors too are being used to store cement bags.

The rightmost tomb, reached by a flight of stairs seems to be another shrine and has also been encroached upon – devotees had left behind incense and sugarballs, but a middle-aged, unshaven man was residing in a corner (complete with mattress, water bottles and a broken chair) and cooking on a stove. He too decided he was in need of a much-desired stroll when I walked in the tomb with my camera, by now I had begun asking myself if people are allergic to me or am I just plain ugly! I still do not understand what the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and its authorities in Delhi are doing if so many people are residing in heritage structures throughout the city (nay, the country)? What use is restoration work if people are anyway going to despoil the cenotaphs with grease and oils and light up fires inside tombs? 

Such has become the condition of "Incredible India!" that people are willing to live in tombs for lack of employment and residential opportunities!

The leftmost tomb, though not having been restored as yet and exposed to the rubble walls underneath the flaking plaster, is located immediately to the east of the longer qibla wall and displays the most excellent artwork of all five tombs both on its interiors and exteriors. The qibla wall, officiating as part of the periphery of the little tract of land in which these structures stand, has been completed out of unplastered random rubble masonry and boasts of nine double-arched niches set within larger square alcoves, the central being the largest and the penultimate ones on either side of it larger than the rest. The dome surmounting the tomb appears gently curved, resembling a budding female breast, while the artistic medallions and alcoves inside have been preserved in a condition superior to the rest of the structures. A glittering pearly-white Gurudwara peeps from behind the qibla wall while lofty telephone towers that look like monstrosities adjacent to these charming structures emerge from the ground nearby.

The exquisite medallions and kanguras (battlement-like ornamentation) adorning the front facade of the leftmost tomb

After about 45 minutes of going about and clicking the structures, the tomb complex becomes a bit boring, largely because, despite the presence of several structures, there isn’t much to explore about and admire – firstly, the structures do not retain most of the artwork that once embellished them and hence there isn’t much to gaze at and be overawed by; secondly, the structures are constrained in such a limited span of land that there are only as many photography compositions and angles that one can try without being too repetitive and mediocre; and lastly, given that the history behind these tombs – their construction, commission and the life stories of those buried within (Who are they? Why do people venerate them so? The three tombs seated on the common plinth might have been related somehow – if so, how? And what about the other two and the grave platform opposite?) – has been forgotten, or probably was never put to pen, and hence they do not capture a visitor’s interest as several other monuments that dot Delhi’s landscape sincerely do. Suggested only for enthusiastic dedicated heritage-seekers.

PS: Though it has been claimed that the tomb cluster allows wheelchair access, there is no way a wheelchair can be pushed in the aforementioned semi-closed gateway, nor up the (as of now) debris and construction material ridden ramps. Also, as is the case with most heritage structures in the country, there are neither toilets nor drinking water outlets – be prepared! 

The baoli's twin turrets and water channel

Location: R.K. Puram Sector– 5
Nearest Bus stop: R.K. Puram NAB (400 meters away)
Nearest Metro Station: AIIMS (5 kilometers away)
How to reach: Since the area doesn't lie on any existing metro line and the nearest metro station is actually very far, it is suggested to take a bus since the monument complex is just across the road from the bus stop. One just has to ask for directions and walk till Gurudwara Guru Nanak Sabha – the entrance to the monument complex is couple of meters prior to the Gurudwara.
Entrance fees: Nil
Photography/Video charges: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: 45min
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July 21, 2014

Hazrat Bakhtiyar Kaki's Dargah, Mehrauli, New Delhi

"To write about Sufism, or Islamic mysticism, is an almost impossible task. At the first step, a wide mountain range appears before the eye—and the longer the seeker pursues the path, the
more difficult it seems to reach any goal at all. He may dwell in the rose gardens of Persian mystical poetry or try to reach the icy peaks of theosophic speculations; he may dwell in the lowlands of popular saint worship or drive his camel through the endless deserts of theoretical discourses about the nature of Sufism, of God, and of the world; or he may be content to have an all-around glimpse of the landscape, enjoying the beauty of some of the highest peaks
bathed in the sunlight of early morning, or colored by the violet haze of a cool evening. In any case, only the elect few will reach the farthest mountain on which the mythical bird, Simurgh, lives
to understand that they have reached only what was already in themselves."
– Annemarie Schimmel, "Mystical Dimensions of Islam"

Unlike ordinary tombs – by ordinary I am referring to the tombs of emperors, military commanders, slaves, courtiers and so on – the tombs of holy men (“dargahs”) are almost always painted in brilliant, vibrant colors – glittering gold, blood red, shining silver and blinding blue – perhaps it has something to do with dargahs being living spaces, providing solace and a touch of belonging to weary souls in time of pain and suffering, often spawning a network of settlements and medieval-looking bazaars (markets) in the surrounding web of labyrinthine alleys and thereby providing support and livelihood to numerous dependants, and possessing a regular presence of hundreds, if not thousands, of faithful seeking advice or miracle from the saint who is considered only to be separated from the physical world by an invisible veil but otherwise present in the soul of the universe to answer the faithful and help them in times of despair by acting as a gentle medium between them and the almighty but beneficent divine. A common belief in Islam is that the tomb of a holy man sanctifies the area around itself for several miles and residence or burial in the said area is an easy-access direct shortcut to heaven – therefore prompting several others – from those at the lowest economic and social status in the society to the powerful and the affluent – to seek a tract of land for their burial in the vicinity of the venerated saint – many of these devotees too often renovate the saint’s tomb and/or add further features to the dargah complex thereby making it even more colorful and architecturally-artistically diverse, much like the saint’s following. I happened to observe these simple rationales following a recent visit to the dargah of Hazrat Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki located in the dry and over-congested narrow lanes of Mehrauli, the oldest continuous settlement in Delhi. Hazrat Kaki’s dargah is undoubtedly one of the most revered shrines in the city despite its relatively less fame and inconsequential influence in 21st-centuy life and religion – perhaps it has to do something with the location of Mehrauli in a far-off corner of the city or the fact that Hazrat Kaki hasn’t received equal adoration and attention from the mainstream – unlike Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, one of his successors, his dargah has neither featured in popular movies nor is a part of history/photography walks that are led by several clubs in the city – and yet it won’t be wrong to point out that Hazrat Kaki was one of the earliest and foremost saints responsible for the acceptance and adoption of Islam as a religion by the people in the Indian subcontinent – he did not spread faith and brotherhood through the blades of swords but rather through his uninhibited kindness and unending piety.

Hazrat Bakhtiyar Kaki's serene, pearlesque tomb. Notice the massive floral finial emerging from the dome.

Hazrat Khwaja Muhammad Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki Aushi, a Saiyyid by genealogy (implying belonging to the hereditary lineage of the prophet), is considered to have been born a saint and was reverentially entitled to the honorifics Hazrat Malik-ul-Mashaikh Qutb-al-Aqtaab (“Lord Chief of the learned saints and the arbiters of Islamic jurisprudence”). The esteemed saint, born in AD 1173 in a small township known as Aush (in modern-day Krygyztan), influenced Islam and its acceptance in the Indian subcontinent in an immense, unprecedented manner by laying down the laws of Sufism and the spiritual and physical obligations of the saints of the order – he was the first religious student of the venerable saint Khwaja Garib Nawaz Moinuddin Chishti of Ajmer and as such holds the enviable position of one of the most respected holymen in the subcontinent, the spiritual preceptor of the popular line of Sufi saints known as the Chishtiyya Order in India and the master of Hazrat Fariduddin Ganjshakar who in turn trained the magnanimous saint Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, the patron saint of Delhi whose Dargah is amongst the defining landmarks of the city and its culture (refer Pixelated Memories - Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah). Having lost his pious father at the age of a year and a half, the boy showed a deep interest in learning and achieved distinction in spiritual and theological studies besides other subjects; he was educated by several conscious teachers besides his learned mother before coming in contact with Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti who was then visiting Aush and accepted the former as a student of religion after noticing the yearning for divine knowledge in him. The young boy received highly-treasured tutelage from Khwaja Chishti and became well-versed in several subjects and divine matters through the education imparted by several learned scholars from the Indian subcontinent and central Asia under the guidance of Khwaja Chishti while they stayed at Baghdad – travelling far and wide with his master and on occasion with other highly-esteemed scholars in his bid to receive as much comprehension as he could, he soon came to be accepted amongst the leading scholars and one of the most educated and practical of monastic saints the region had ever produced. On the completion of his education, Khwaja Chishti moved to India and Hazrat Qutbuddin, unable to bear the anguish of separation from his master, followed soon; recognizing his skilled comprehension and unyielding piety, Hazrat Moinuddin Chishti sent his favorite student to Delhi to spread Islamic faith and bring followers close to religion and the divine by acting as solace for his poor and suffering devotees. 

Looking within - The beneficent saint's mortal remains rest here eternally, while he looks onto his followers from beyond a veil that renders him invisible

Legend goes that so devoted and regular was he towards his prayers that when he got married and ignored his prayers for several consecutive days, the Prophet himself was forced to send a divine vision to another pious man to inquire why Hazrat Bakhtiyar had abandoned his spiritual duties – deeply repentant and embarrassed over his loss of control under influence of worldly matters, the saint immediately divorced his wife and resumed his faithful prayers with renewed fervor – he did marry again several years later but never again neglected his prayers and religious obligations. Hazrat Qutbuddin gained a wide following, coming in touch with Sultans, merchants, travelers, spiritual seekers as well as the poor and the needy – streams of wealth flowed through his monastery everyday though the beneficence of his affluent devotees and passed on to relieve the despair and starvation of the poverty-stricken faithful – despite the abundance of riches and his ever-standing bidding to intimate him of the arrival of any faithful in need of monetary/spiritual aid at any time of the day, the saint spent his life in extreme poverty and hunger, stressing on the basic tenet of Sufism of staying close to suffering and starvation to understand the needs and condition of the poor in the bid to achieve union with the divine by alleviating poverty and suffering – subsisting on baked bread dipped in water, he did not even take a nickel from the donations to fulfill his and his family’s needs, the result being that his humiliated and tired wife was forced to beseech the local baker’s arrogant wife for mere morsels of leftover bread – once the baker’s wife reduced Hazrat Qutbuddin’s wife to miserable tears by incessant taunts over her husband’s inability to provide for her and the family; Hazrat Qutbuddin, on hearing about the entire episode, forbid his wife to ever ask anyone again for food and instead ordered her to take as many loaves of bread (“Kaak”) as she required from his prayer alcove – to the utter surprise and admiration of the people of the household, the alcove was always supplied with these loaves notwithstanding how many were already withdrawn from it – though the appearance did cease following the announcement of this miracle (belief is that miracles must be kept to one’s self else they never repeat and/or cease to yield the desired result), the neighbourhood people, attributing this ethereal presence of bread loaves to divine intervention, began adoringly referring to the saint as “Hazrat Kaki” and the name stuck! 

Forgotten - An enclosed, medieval cemetery in a corner of the dargah complex near Zafar Mahal 

The saint travelled a lot and came in contact with several learned mendicants and scholars during his sojourns which further helped mature his experiences and realization and fermented in him a pressing urge to seek further command over sacred matters – he never failed to mention these mendicants and dervishes in his sermons and included their teachings too in the lessons he imparted to his disciples – despite his knowledge and ecclesiastical status, he never discriminated between the pious and the evil and often inquired if Allah would reserve his blessings and grace only for the holy and the irreproachable, then who would look after the wicked and sinful.

Hazrat Kaki’s settlement in the suburb of Kilokheri evoked wide interest in the population and gained him an array of impressive followers, including the then Sultan Shamshuddin Iltutmish (reigned AD 1296-1316), who, after initially failing to convince the honored saint to settle in his magnificent city, used to wait upon his spiritual highness twice a week to receive spiritual guidance and understanding – impressed by the Sultan’s dutiful seeking and noting the wastage of regal time which could be better utilized in judiciating over public and legal matters, the saint eventually did move to the outskirts of the city and began staying in Mehrauli. It is said that upon his arrival one fine day, the righteous sultan found the benevolent saint in a disheveled state and upon learning that the same was caused by the lack of potable water for the purposes of drinking and ablutions immediately ordered for the construction of a striking stepwell – the same still exists near Hazrat Kaki’s Dargah and is referred to as “Gandhak ki Baoli” on account of its water possessing miraculous healing powers due to the concentrated presence of sulphur (“Gandhak”) in it (refer Pixelated Memories - Gandhak ki Baoli). Myth is that Sultan Iltutmish also ordered construction of the mighty Qutb Minar as a tribute to the inspiring personality of Hazrat Qutb Kaki – however, this is contested by scholars who point out that the minaret was in all probability built by Iltutmish’s predecessor Sultan Qutbuddin Aibak (for other myths associated with this victory tower which has been hailed as a landmark striking piece of architecture in the country, refer – Pixelated Memories - Qutb Minar). 

An abundance of graves and simple wedges indicating burial of a person at the spot is the defining feature of the dargah complex

His stay at Delhi brought Hazrat Kaki in a bitter conflict with the Sheikh-ul-Islam (an authority on Islamic legislature and jurisprudence) Nazmuddin Sughra (a brother disciple of Hazrat Chishti) – the latter, annoyed and jealous of the former’s growing fame amongst the masses and proximity to the emperor as well as the who’s who of the city, began bitter-mouthing and back-bitching about him. Hazrat Chishti arrived in the city soon thereafter to stay with his favorite disciple but pledged to take him back with him to Ajmer on learning about the growing enmity with Hazrat Sughra who was a renowned scholar and legal authority par excellence in his own right – on the day of departure, the teary-eyed and heartbroken population of Delhi gathered at Hazrat Kaki’s monastery and beseeched Hazrat Chishti to spare them the bitter pain of estrangement from their adored patron saint – moved by the overwhelming demonstrations of the poor and the pleadings of the rich and mighty, Hazrat Chishti ultimately relented to allow Hazrat Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki to reside in Delhi and spread the love of faith and philosophy, but being aware via a divine intervention of his approaching death, he bid Hazrat Kaki visit him at his Ajmer monastery in a few days. While at Ajmer, Hazrat Chishti bestowed his “Khilafat” (caliphate/spiritual emissary) and blessings on Hazrat Bakhtiyar Kaki and asked him to return to his peaceful abode at Delhi as the chief of the Sufi order of Chishtiyya – Hazrat Chishti passed away a few days after Hazrat Kaki’s return to Delhi, leaving him heartbroken and much anguished. His parting advice to Hazrat Kaki was a set of basic tenets to be followed as chief of the Order – 
  1. A Sufi must appear content outwardly even when he might be poor and hungry. 
  2. A Sufi must feed the poor to their heart's satisfaction. 
  3. A Sufi must always remain sorrowful inwardly and pray for the poor and those afflicted by greed and grief, but outwardly he must appear cheerful and contented before the world. 
  4. A Sufi must always forgive and treat his enemy with all due affection and kindness. 

Hazrat Qutbuddin continued to look after his devotees and became even more magnanimous towards the poverty-stricken and offered much needed solace and kindness to the grief-stricken; despite his own self-imposed poverty, he never partook of whatever wealth came his way but with much affection and liberality distributed it amongst the faithful; such was his grace that none retired from his monastery empty-handed, every visitor received what s/he seeked – financial assistance, spiritual or worldly advise or scholastic guidance – he would ask his disciples to distribute water to visitors in case there was nothing else to offer. 

Hallowed - One of the three mosques within the complex

Hazrat Kaki never wrote down his teachings in the form of a book or sermon but the principles that he and Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti developed – renunciation of material needs and worldly desires, strict self-discipline and regular prayer regime, participation in musical congregations (“sama”) and the utilization of the same to bring people to the folds of the faith, reliance on unsolicited offerings for basic livable subsistence, independence from rulers and rich patrons, steering away from administrative and policy decisions of the state, rejection of monetary and land grants and lastly, generosity and beneficence towards others irrespective of economic, social or religious position or gender – were adopted as the central tenets of Sufism in the subcontinent. Khwaja Sahib’s teachings and sayings were compiled in a short publication “Fawaid-us-Salikin” by his spiritual descendant Fariduddin Ganjshakar in which a summary of his interactions with other distinguished mendicants and saints, mystical instructions and divine experiences has been furnished. About the saint, it has been written that he was habituated to sleep little, talk little and eat little, devoting most of his waking hours to fervent prayers and administering to the faithful through sermons, guidance and assistance. He had memorized the entire Quran and would recite it faithfully at least twice a day in the last few days of his pious life. Hazrat Kaki was very close to his friend Qazi Hamiduddin Nagauri who too was a disciple of Hazrat Chishti – it was Qazi Hamiduddin who taught Hazrat Kaki the recital of Quran at the beginning of the latter’s spiritual education; the two became dear friends immediately and would undertake long voyages to far-away centers of Islamic faith and learning together. Qazi Hamiduddin was the erstwhile king of Bukhara (in modern-day Uzbekistan) but became disillusioned with the material world when, through divine intervention, a deer spoke to him while he was on a hunting trip, beseeching him to spare him and inquiring what answer would he offer to God on the day of judgment when pronounced guilty of the murder of an innocent being – he immediately gave up the throne and began to strive for religious instruction and holy wisdom, travelling as far as Baghdad (Iraq) to acquire learning. On a visit to the Medina shrine, he heard himself being referred to as Qazi Hamiduddin of Nagaur by an invisible mystical existence – he couldn’t fathom the portent of this prophesy but considering it divine will, immediately headed towards India where he was accepted under the proficient holy tutelage of Hazrat Chishti who later entitled him as “Sultan Tariqin” (“Master of the Sufi way”). Regarding the arrival of Qazi Nagauri’s arrival at Hazrat Chishti’s monastery, storytellers say that when the latter was about to initiate the holy education of Hazrat Kaki, a divine realization dawned upon him proclaiming that the young boy’s education would only be commenced by Qazi Nagauri – soon thereafter the Qazi arrived at the monastery and was entrusted with the boy’s care and training. Interestingly, such impressive was Hazrat Kaki’s prowess in matters of faith and spirituality that he asked Qazi Nagauri to begin his education from the second half of Quran since he had already learnt the first half while he was in his mother’s womb! Qazi Nagauri later came to Delhi with Hazrat Kaki and they both started living together with their respective families and initiated the initial Sufi scene in this ancient city – the orthodox Muslim scholars and priests were opposed to the idea of music, dance and universal harmony irrespective of religious and social differences and challenged them to do the same in Baghdad first and then return to Delhi – Qazi Hamiduddin returned to Baghdad, a great center of religion, commerce and learning in those days, and established Sufi faith there. He returned to Delhi amidst much admiration and veneration and went on to become one of the leading saints of the subcontinent, sharing the mantle of Sufism with his dear friend and trustworthy confidante Hazrat Kaki; impressed by his admirable countenance and unyielding faith in the divine, Sultan Iltutmish designated him the chief judicial authority (“Qazi”) of Nagaur (Rajasthan), therefore fulfilling the divine prophesy. 

Sparkling magnificent - The last of the three entrance gateways to the dargah complex 

“Kushtagaan-e-khanjar-e-tasleem raa, Har zamaan azz gheb jaan-e-deegar ast” 
“For the victims of the sword of divine love, there is a new life every moment from the unseen”

The year was 1237 AD - just a year since Hazrat Chishti’s demise – Hazrat Kaki too passed away after having become ecstatically spellbound while listening to the above mentioned couplet while attending a devotional music and dance congregation (“sama mehfil”) and immersing himself in an unprecedented state of joyous worship for several days from which he relieved himself only to offer the customary prayers five times a day. Throughout his life, Hazrat Kaki, like his predecessors and successors, had emphasized on musical traditions – conjecture is that he associated these devotional couplets to the role of music in Hindu worship and considered in effective in facilitating development of a spirit of syncretism and ridding the inhibition over visiting and praying at shrines of a faith different than the one one professes to – it is only fitting that he died while listing to the music he so cherished. Qazi Hamiduddin Nagauri and Sheikh Badruddin Ghaznavi (dearest people for Hazrat Kaki, but I couldn’t retrieve much trustworthy info on their lives – various sources seem to contradict each other) were next to him when he passed away in this extraordinary manner, conferring upon him posthumously the entitlement “Shaheed-e-Mohabbat” (“Martyred to love”). His will specified that the funeral prayers could only be led by a person who had never skipped the (non-obligatory) afternoon prayer nor performed any sinful act in the eye of Allah – the funeral congregation fell silent upon hearing these requirements and in the end it was none other than Sultan Iltutmish who led the prayers since amongst the thousands present he was the lone soul who adhered to these preconditions. The simple tomb that was built then has been repaired several times by well-meaning devotees – emperors, military commanders, court officials, medieval officialdom, spiritual seekers and enlightened faithful – the structure that exists today appears as if it has been erected very recently. The tomb complex is the earliest funerary shrine in Delhi with several additions made to it throughout medieval and modern history and yet most structures within appear pretty new given the paint jobs and the ornamentation with which the caretakers (who are all Khwaja Sahib’s direct descendants and suffix their names with the title “Qutbi”) and devotees have adorned them.  

Colorful, eye-catching prayer material for sale just outside the dargah

Unlike the narrow alleys (draped with cubbyhole-shops offering everything from chaddars (vibrantly-colored, intricately-embroidered cloth sheets that are wrapped on a saint’s tomb as a mark of respect), sugarballs, skullcaps, prayer materials and memorabilia) that pave the way to Hazrat Nizamuddin’s Dargah, Hazrat Kaki’s tomb complex is led to through a proper street lined with large commercial establishments offering eatables, hardware items and construction material – in fact, the medieval-era brilliantly-colored and dimly-lighted, narrow alleys are nowhere to be seen and the small bazaar that actually stocks traditional prayer material and offerings to the saint consists only of only about half a dozen or so shops! There aren’t many visitors here either – so much for the esteemed Hazrat Sahib who enjoyed such an exalted position in the mystical-spiritual scene that Hazrat Chishti himself had decreed that no visit to his tomb would bear fruit unless the devotee first pay obeisance at Hazrat Kaki’s tomb (a tradition late followed by Hazrat Nizamuddin with respect to his favorite disciple Amir Khusro, refer – Pixelated Memories - Amir Khusro's Tomb). Immediately on stepping into the tomb complex, one notices, besides the unmatched brilliance and an unparalleled but subdued riot of colors, an abundance of graves – only a few are surrounded by tomb proper, the rest are in such large numbers, cropping up in straight, defined lines along the shiny white marble floors or covered with dashing chaddars in almost every corner and peeping out from behind locked gates and run down walls, that they seem to appear to be a part of the dargah’s decoration! Walking along the short path that leads to the first gateway that marks the outer periphery of the dargah complex, if one hasn’t yet climbed up the stairs and started admiring the huge collection of assorted prayer materials and not very flamboyant chaddars that a guy sells right at the gateway's periphery, one can step into a small rectangular "muhajjar" (tomb open to the sky) on the right side just a couple of meters before reaching the staircase – the lone, large grave is drenched in light blue color and so are the walls and the arched alcoves near the head of the grave, though the latter are largely blackened now due to the lighting of oil lamps (“diyas”) in them frequently; the repeated chores of paint and whitewash have largely filled in the star and foliage shaped peepholes that convert the outer wall of the muhajjar into a jaali (stone lattice work), though atleast these are better maintained on the outside. The gateway is a simple white structure painted over the central protruding rectangle in blue with green patterns for ornamentation and a line of calligraphy running along the high arch and loudspeakers propped up atop the its rectangular minarets.

The simplistic blue and green entrance to the complex. The funerary zone begins right from this gateway with the first tomb being a small enclosed structure in the right foreground.

Stepping through the first gateway, one reaches an open square and even though the second gateway (“Baab-e-Khwaja” or “The Saint’s Gateway”), even more exquisite than the first with its multicolored floral patterns and calligraphy inscriptions as well as painted over arches and kanguras (battlement-like ornamentation), is clearly in view, one is tempted to run along either towards the side where several graves compete for space with dirt-poor beggars, frail old men, women and devotees of all hues and types, or though a narrow passageway that leads to the dargah complex’s secondary tombs. We first headed towards the open space – there were a few tombs scattered around – one of them, painted white and green and possessing an intricate stone latticework for its four walls, rests on a white marble plinth with a heavy curtain draping the entrance (entry is forbidden to male visitors so the female devotees sitting clustered just outside the entranceway  informed me); near the tomb are beautiful slender male graves inscribed with striking calligraphy on their entire surface except the tops where magnificent floral artwork manages to peep through layers of fragrant red, white and orange flowers that some faithful left there. Opposite the tomb are several more graves and chambers where the descendants of Hazrat Qutb reside in all probability. 

The well-kept, quiet interiors of the dargah are a surprise, especially considering the presence of hordes of devotees in other religious places throughout the city. The tomb photographed here belongs to a female follower of the Khwaja Sahib and male entry within is prohibited. 

Walking into the narrow passageway that emanates from the eye-catching gateway and turns its way half-stride to reveal a large courtyard sprouting scores of graves – the centerpiece is a majestic-looking pavilion tomb with very splendid artwork on all sides, a heavy but skillfully cut marble panel set atop its front face between two slender marble minarets and domed kiosks (“chattris”) topping all four corners. We later headed into this courtyard – most of the graves here are antique though it is very difficult to judge given the frequent paint jobs that they have been subjected to; a canopy of foliage delicately hangs between the graves and the open sky, neither engulfing them completely nor exposing them to the elements; the majestic tomb is divided into two halves internally by means of a stone partition, each half has a calligraphy-embossed cenotaph and the interiors are as ornately covered as the exteriors with colorful lamps for company in each half; just within the iron grille that separates this funerary zone from the rest of the courtyard is a narrow, dust-laden and cobweb-covered staircase that leads underground, perhaps to the real graves placed in the crypt below.  

The intricately adorned pavilion tomb standing aside from one of the several funerary clusters within the complex

The portion of courtyard free from graves is flanked on two opposite sides by two mosques – the first is a simple rectangular structure, warmly painted cream inside and layered with deep red carpets; the other mosque seems older, it has tall minarets, a grass green dome influenced by Central Asian architectural traditions and a wide, protruding chajja (eave); between the two mosques hangs a spiderweb of hollow iron poles surmounted upon several more poles used to spread a cloth canopy cover when the summer becomes scorching enough to make walking barefoot on the marble unbearable (one is required to leave their footwear either at the numerous shops leading to the dargah or the official designated shoe-counter at the first periphery of the tomb complex); a massive minaret emerges from the ground along a corner of the first mosque – with its three floors with circular and angular flutings, the minaret is an exact replica of the magnificent Qutb Minar except for the three passageways that bud out from it on all three levels – since the bottom most layer has alternate circular and angular flutings, the passageway at its head too consists of both, while the second and third floor have only angular and circular flutings respectively and hence the passageways too take a similar shape. The best view of the minaret can be had from Zafar Mahal, the pleasure palace of the last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah “Zafar” II (ruled AD 1837-57), nearby (a post on it too will follow in future). 

The minaret adjacent to the mosques, view from Zafar Mahal. Built to imitate nearby Qutb Minar, the minaret's rough exteriors give it an appearance as if it is still being built. I doubt if any muezzin climbs it today to call the faithful for prayers.

There is another mosque too in the dargah complex – this one, painted deep vibrant red, sits on a high plinth and is led to by a massive, thick gateway with a perfectly semi-circular entrance arch and white marble plaques embedded around the arch describing the mosque’s construction and commission in Persian calligraphy. The monotony of the brick-red paintwork is broken by thick blue kanguras and even thicker, pillar-like minarets at the entrance and deep-green doorways inside. The mosque retains signs of beautiful artwork done in incised plaster breaking into a pattern here and a bloom there, most of these designs have largely lost their exquisiteness given the thick layers of paint that embellish them and yet it radiates a subdued charm that promises to engulf an onlooker into a world of silent thoughtfulness and appreciation. The open mosque has a portion of it covered by a protruding roof supported on pillars with graceful engrailed arches stretched between consecutive pillars, reminiscent of the renowned pavilions and palaces within the Red Fort complex (refer Pixelated Memories - Red Fort). The simple and yet thought-provokingly graceful mosque becomes the bedchamber of numerous wandering mendicants and resident dervishes who sneak into its cool, shady corners to escape the furious summer sun and catch some winks in the scorching afternoon.  

Pretty! - Patterns embossed on the mosque's courtyard walls  

Heading back into the narrow passageway that led to the Khwaja’s sacred tomb, one comes to the final gateway – a bewilderingly magnificent golden gateway with exquisitely embossed silver gates, immensely skilled floral artwork along the corner panels and beautiful calligraphy in gold inscribed within black and red margins. Thick white marble lattice screens separate the visitors from the central courtyard, women devotees are not allowed in the courtyard where the tomb stands and most of them can be seen sitting and praying next to these screens, many would also tie red-yellow threads to these screens beseeching the saint to grant their wishes (the threads have to be removed once one’s desires come true) – it is difficult to click the tomb from here because of the inhibition offered by the thick screens but the view, with the tomb veiled by this ornately symmetrical patchwork, is simply astonishing. The marble screens as well as the beautiful mosques were later additions made by the Emperor Farrukhsiyar (reign AD 1713-19). This marks the beginning of the holiest of areas in the entire hallowed complex – past the screens, one comes face to face with the courtyard in one corner of which stands the saint’s simple tomb – supported on twelve golden pillars and topped by a massive circular dome, the spellbinding tomb has an end-to-end cloth sheet thrown over it – even the glittering pillars cannot match the dazzle of the saint’s grave where the brilliance of the decorative sequins and the vibrance of the large colorful cloth beads that tie the sheet to the pillars of the marble railing that surrounds the grave appears otherworldly despite their simplicity and subdued glimmer. The dome’s interiors are done with beautiful mirror work with symmetrical but colorful calligraphy and geometrical patterns adding further charm; but the most impressive feature of the tomb is its endearing finial which appears like a full-blown blooming golden floral outburst. The thick marble minarets and pearlesque onion domes of Moti Masjid (“Pearl Mosque”) that the Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah I (ruled AD 1707-12) built in a clear imitation of his father Aurangzeb Alamgir’s personal mosque in the sprawling Red Fort complex (refer Pixelated Memories - Red Fort Complex) peep from behind the boundary wall of the courtyard. 

Exquisite mirror work along the dome's concave surface

Apart from dozens of wedges symbolizing the presence of graves underneath throughout the open courtyard, the courtyard boasts of another twelve-pillared pavilion tomb (“baradari”) in one corner of it along the side adjoining the saint’s tomb – this particular tomb, also adorned internally with alluring mirror work with a small chandelier sprouting from a floral motif in the center of the roof adding further grace, belongs to Sheikh Abdul Aziz Bistami, a Sufi saint belonging to the Suhrawardy Order, from whom Hazrat Bakhtiyar Kaki purchased the land for building this final resting place – legend is that once Hazrat Kaki was returning from Id prayers with his followers when passing through this very spot he became spellbound and immersed in the gripping world of thoughts; he was reminded that more devotees were waiting for him at his monastery and escorted back but he immediately sent for Abdul Aziz and proclaimed that he smelt the fragrance of love from this particular patch of ground; the entire land was duly purchased and the pious Sheikh Aziz too was accorded a place of honor with his grave located so close to the Khwaja’s. A very bewitching qibla (wall mosque) displaying a red and black medallion adorned with several inscriptions enclosed within a layer of mirror work that is further framed by a protruding arch and enclosed within silver and blue floral patterns is built in the portion of the periphery wall overlooking Sheikh Abdul’s tomb. Opposite Sheikh Aziz’s tomb is a small dark chamber embedded deep in the periphery wall and slightly lower than the tomb courtyard, a large steel lamp holder stands solo in this chamber but there was not a soul lighting earthen lamps here; at least the dark recess afforded a majestic view of the entire shrine as well as the onion domes of the Moti Masjid peeping from behind the high walls (refer Pixelated Memories - Moti Masjid, Mehrauli). It is a wonder that this entire place, offering silence and solace amidst such humble serenity with these mystical giants for spiritual guidance and these splendid structures for a visual adrenaline rush are so isolated, so forgotten by devotees and tourist circles alike. 

The small, flamboyantly-decorated wall mosque next to Sheikh Aziz's tomb

The dargah is also the site for the annual “Phoolwalon ki Sair” festival (“Walk of the flower-sellers”), usually held in the months of October/November as a mark of interfaith harmony and syncretism – the history behind this unique event is that once Mumtaz Mahal, the bereaved queen of Emperor Akbar Shah II (ruled AD 1806-37), prayed that if her arrogant son Mirza Jahangir, guilty of insulting British high officials as well as shooting his pistol (and missing) at the British Resident (negotiator) of Delhi Sir Archibald Seton, could return from his exile at Allahabad, she would offer a chaddar at Hazrat Kaki’s dargah and a flower “pankha” (ornamental fan for hanging over a shrine) at the nearby Yogmaya temple (Hazrat Kaki’s dargah and Mehrauli as a whole saw a resurgence in popular culture and architectural sphere during the reign of the later Mughals). The wish having been fulfilled, the queen started this legendary tradition that has since been held continuously for almost two centuries, except for a brief lull during British rule, and has brought members of different communities residing in the area closer to each other facilitating peaceful cohabitation and dialogue. High-profile dignitaries like the Chief Minister and Governor of Delhi attend the festival with their entourage and it is the Hindus who offer the chaddar first at the shrine of Hazrat Kaki and Muslims who adorn the Yogmaya temple with the beautiful pankha. Incidentally, Akbar Shah II decided to be buried adjacent to the open marble enclosure (“muhajjar”) that houses the mortal remains of Bahadur Shah I close to the dargah and adjacent to the Moti Masjid; also buried alongside Akbar Shah II are Shah Alam II and Mirza Fakruddin (son of Bahadur Shah “Zafar” II) – the graves and the mosque can be accessed from the “Ajmeri Darwaza” (“Doorway opening towards Ajmer”), a soothing blue entrance way with shards of tiles patched together to generate a handsome yet serene effect. Zafar too desired to be buried here and had even earmarked a patch of grassy land in Akbar Shah II’s muhajjar for his cenotaph but he was exiled to Myanmar by the British where he spent his last few years in exile and was buried in a nondescript unmarked grave. The Emperors Shamshuddin Iltutmish and Alauddin Khilji are also buried nearby in the shadow of the soaring Qutb Minar, the individual posts about their eminent tombs can be accessed from here – Pixelated Memories - Iltutmish's Tomb and Pixelated Memories - Alauddin's Tomb & Madrasa Complex

The beautiful but unkempt Ajmeri Darwaza. Children could be seen playing cricket around it and vegetable sellers set up stock just outside the courtyard abutting the gateway and Moti Masjid mosque.

The Urs of Khwaja Sahib (death day celebrations) is also held with much pomp and grandeur every year at the dargah – death is considered to be an auspicious occasion in Sufism, referred to as a wedding where the saint leaves behind his physical form to become one with the divine and hence a cause for celebration – the entire dargah complex is beautifully decorated with flowers, sparklers and fairy-lights and Qawwali mehfils (Sufi devotional music congregations) are held all night long. The dargah also boasts of a still continuing association with the dargah of Hazrat Moinuddin Chishti at Ajmer – every year, devotees of Hazrat Chishti begin assembling at Hazrat Kaki’s dargah almost a month before Hazrat Chishti’s Urs celebrations; as mentioned earlier, Hazrat Chishti had it proclaimed that visit to his tomb complex would be incomplete without first visiting Hazrat Kaki’s tomb complex, hence these devotees begin assembling here and wait for the full moon night when the date of Hazrat Chishti’s Urs date is decided upon according to the traditional lunar calendar following which they proceed on foot to Hazrat Chishti’s Dargah (over 400 kilometers away!) – every mendicant, saint and devotee in this colorful congregation is armed with a wooden stick topped with a fluttering green flag and hence it is known as the “Festival of Sticks” (“Chadeeyon/Chhadiyon ka Mela”). For those who cannot make it to these special events, there is always the regular Qawwali night held every Thursday evening in the Dargah complex when the Dargah’s resident singers dish out the harmoniums and tablas and render devotional songs and heartbreaking couplets. 

Colorful and artsy - The second of the three entrance gateways to the dargah

Heading back, we were directed to the small alcove built into the terrace overlooking Hazrat Kaki’s tomb and led to by a beautifully ornamented gateway with floral motifs painted on the white walls – probably the most beautiful structure in the entire dargah complex and literally the humblest despite its glittering adornments, shimmering paintwork and the shine of several locks on its pillars (similar to the red-yellow threads, these too are tied by devotees pleading with the saint to act as an interlocutor between them and God and have their wishes granted) – this is the tomb of one of the Khalifas (“spiritual emissary”) of Hazrat Bakhtiyar Kaki. Most websites dedicated to Sufism, Islam and Delhi refer to it as the tomb of Hamiduddin Nagauri, Hazrat Kaki’s close companion and spiritual guide, but Qazi Nagauri is buried in the far away city of Nagaur in Rajasthan where he preached throughout his lifetime – his dargah there is an important part of the Sufi pilgrimage circuit; the tomb’s old caretaker couldn’t offer me any answers when I pointed this anomaly to him; perhaps the identity of this revered saint has been forgotten through the tides of time. One sighs with relief with the firm belief that Hazrat Kaki’s identity would never be forgotten in this ancient city of cities, come what may and even in the face of dwindling follower count and the relinquishing of matters of faith, history and humanity by the general public in the bid for economic and social welfare – after all, don’t the Khwaja Sahib’s followers contend that no harm would ever come to Delhi as long as his dargah stands erect since he loves this city even after death and showers blessings on it everyday from his seat in heavens. 

The highly ornate and glittery tomb of Hazrat Kaki's caliph

Location: Near Mehrauli Terminal bus stand
Nearest Metro Station: Qutb Minar
Nearest Bus stop: Mehrauli Terminal
How to reach: One can walk from the bus terminal (approx. 10 min away) or take an auto from Qutb Minar/Saket metro stations (charges approx Rs 40)
Entrance fees: Nil
Photography/Video charges: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: 45 min
Advisory: Since the dargah complex is a religious shrine, it is advisable to be properly dressed, especially for women. Both men and women visitors are required to take off their footwear at the gateway (can be kept in bag or deposited at one of the numerous shops/shoe counter) and cover their heads with handkerchiefs/skullcaps/dupattas.
Relevant Links - 
  1. Dargahsharif.com - Hazrat Khwaja Qutubuddin Bakhtiyar Kaaki R.A.
  2. Delhibyfoot.in - Chhadeeyon ka Mela
  3. Ghumakkar.com - In the mystic alleys of Delhi (II) – Phool Wallon Ki Sair
  4. Google books - "Sufism: Heart of Islam" by Sadia Dehlvi
  5. Hazratbakhtiyarkaki.com - Other mazaars in the Dargah premises
  6. Sufiwiki.com - Qutbuddin Bakhtiar Kaki
  7. Timesofindia.indiatimes.com - Article "Attack took place close to emblem of Indian secularism" (dated Sep 28, 2008) by Sameer Arshad
  8. Timesofindia.indiatimes.com - Article "Say it with Flowers: Phoolwalon-ki-sair" (dated Nov 2, 2006) by Pranav Khullar
  9. Timesofindia.indiatimes.com - Article "Where religion does not define identity" (dated Oct 23, 2008) by Radhika Oberoi
  10. Travel.cnn.com - Article "The Sufi music tour: Where to hear qawwali in India" (dated Feb 14, 2012) by Divya Dugar
  11. Tribuneindia.com - Article "Singing in praise of the Lord" (dated March 7, 1999) by Devi Singh Naruka
  12. Wikipedia.org - Hazrat Moinuddin Chishti