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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3 comments:

  1. Excellent details... finally managed to visit these monuments...

    ReplyDelete
  2. Finely detailed account of the site. Thanks very much. We recently visited the tombs and were equally confused about the people lying there in those tombs. Must be some nobleman and family from the Lodhi era. Also visited the nearby Birji Khan (?) tomb in RK Puram.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Finely detailed account of the site. Thanks very much. We recently visited the tombs and were equally confused about the people lying there in those tombs. Must be some nobleman and family from the Lodhi era. Also visited the nearby Birji Khan (?) tomb in RK Puram.

    ReplyDelete