April 17, 2015

Serai Shahji Mahal, Malviya Nagar, Delhi

“Without history you were nothing, a nobody, one of those fluffy seed-heads floating in the summer breeze, unaware of your origins, careless of your destination. Meaningless, mythless, shapeless.”
– Anita Rau Badami, “Can You Hear the Nightbird Call?”

Delhi's least known monument

A Sufi of the Naqshbandi sect of saints and a very high-ranking official (“Mansabdar”) in the courts of Mughal Emperors Jalaluddin Akbar (ruled AD 1556-1605) and Salim Jahangir (ruled AD 1605-27), Sheikh Farid Bukhari was the formidable Governor of Punjab and Gujarat and commanded a personal cavalry of 5,000 superlatively skilled and armed horsemen. An assiduous builder of medieval mile markers (“Kos minar”, refer Pixelated Memories - Kos Minar, Faridabad), inns (“serai”) and resthouses for weary travelers for whose comfort and wellbeing he was ever concerned, he found himself in Emperor Jahangir’s good books in AD 1622-23 after he helped put down a royal rebellion mounted by Prince Khusrau (later Emperor Shahjahan (ruled AD 1627-57)) and was consequentially bestowed with the title "Murtaza Khan" ("The Chosen Khan"). Ruins of one of the resthouses he built in Delhi lies unambiguously forgotten in the village of Begumpur abutting the posh Malviya Nagar locality in an area where massive trees with gnarled branches grow wild and metalled roads fail to even arrive in the vicinity. Christened as Serai Shahji Mahal, the complex seems to be on the very threshold of welcoming a decidedly better existence for itself now that the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has eventually woken up to the task of restoring and conserving its decrepit structure.

And the least known mosque

The massive building comprises of a small rectangular courtyard around three sides of which exist immensely small, low-roofed chambers while the fourth is occupied by an equally claustrophobic mosque surmounted by three pyramidal spires (old photographs however reveal curved Bengali-style roofs – another of ASI’s monumental conservation gaffes? The memory of the conversion of the soberly green-domed Sabz Burj to brilliant glittering blue are not far! (refer Pixelated Memories - Sabz Burj)). The courtyard itself has become a dedicated funerary zone since within and around the rectangular enclosure that runs along its entire length are located numerous graves belonging to Sheikh Farid and his immediate family and followers – though the Sheikh demised in AD 1615 in Pak Pattan (Pakistan), his body was decently brought to Delhi and interred within the Serai complex. One is surprised to note that graves are situated even within some of the chambers – could it be that the entire complex was turned into a noble burial ground at one point and consequentially ceased to be an inn?

Reduced by the vagaries of time

Diagonally opposite the entrance, in the corner adjacent the mosque, gracefully rises a double-storied bulwark of a tower comprised of single square rooms, though presently utterly ruined yet brandishing its flamboyant lavish ornamentation consisting of decorative alcoves, stylishly arched entrances, slender openings, exquisite plasterwork medallions and adornment brackets – their beauty garishly contrasting against the otherwise ruined nature of the complex and their survival against the unrelenting forces of nature stemming immense bewilderment. The most curious are the highly intricate red sandstone brackets that support the eaves (“chajja”) existential alongside the front facade of the unusually-designed tower. Ironically though, notwithstanding its ornamental features, nomenclature and Sheikh Farid’s most benevolent intentions, the structure would never even in the wildest of its fantasies would have conjectured itself to be referred to as a palace (“mahal”) – the rapacious citizens of Delhi, not averse to occasionally vandalize, spray paint and encroach upon it (among other monuments) would agree!


Location: Begumpur Village, Malviya Nagar (Coordinates: 28°32'22.7"N 77°12'37.4"E)
Open: All days, sunrise to sunset
Nearest Metro station: Hauz Khas
Nearest Bus stop: Laxman Public School, Hauz Khas
How to reach: From Laxman Public School/Hauz Khas Metro station Gate 2, proceed via Maharishi Dayanand Marg for Begumpur village immediately across the arterial Outer Ring Road/Gamal Abdel Nasser Marg. The Serai is located near Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission's (DERC) offices. Ask locals for directions to the "Mahal".
Entrance fees: Nil
Photography/Video charges: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: 30 min
Another monument located in the vicinity -
  1. Pixelated Memories - Bagh-i-Alam ka Gumbad 
  2. Pixelated Memories - Begumpur Masjid
  3. Pixelated Memories - Deer Park
  4. Pixelated Memories - Hauz Khas complex
  5. Pixelated Memories - Kali Gumti
  6. Pixelated Memories - Nili/Neeli Masjid
  7. Pixelated Memories - Tohfewala Gumbad
Suggested reading - 
  1. Timesofindia.indiatimes.com - Article "Archaeological Survey of India favours group notification of bylaws" (dated Feb 12, 2014) by Richi Verma 

1 comment:

  1. Harsh JainJune 22, 2016


    Firstly, Let me congratulate you on writing such a wonderful blog. I have read your blog almost in its entirety, which made me wonder Are all historic places I Delhi in south of it?? Aren’t there any historic places near where I live?. This lead to research and finding 2 places Mughal's Shalimar Bagh in Shalimar Bagh, Delhi and one place about 1st struggle of independence of 1857 near fruits and vegetable market Azadpur. May be you would like to visit and write about these Places.

    Harsh Jain