June 23, 2015

Mehrauli Archaeological Park, Delhi

“When you’ve lived with someone for so long, the first few weeks after the break-up are strange times indeed. You have two options: you can either sit huddled up in a corner, a bottle of gin in one hand, a fag in the other, howling the lyrics of all those love songs or you can get up, get dressed and get out. I chose Option Two. I went out. Every night. Every single night, so incapable was I of staying home and facing my solitude. I went to the cinema, the theater, pubs, clubs, wine bars, restaurants, galleries, cultural talks, city walks – the opening of a tin of tuna if I thought there’d be people there. Even the gym held a certain appeal, for verily it is written: misery loves company. When I did find myself home alone, I had the TV and the radio blaring and was on the phone non-stop. Bewitched, bothered and bewildered was I.”
– Wendy Salisbury, “The Toyboy Diaries”

My recent break-up, heartrendingly painful as it was, pushed me to seek solemn solace in the streets of my beloved Delhi – my feet traversing paths that they had tread on numerous occasions previously; my mind, numbed as it was with recollections and idealizations, longing for company and asylum in delicate restaurants, magnificent monuments and forgotten corners that the city graciously offers to those who pry through its hordes of unmentionable secrets. I found myself once more in the beautifully pristine, wilderness reclaimed, forgotten and secluded Mehrauli Archaeological Complex where lie scattered, amidst the considerable remnants of large settlements and massive trees with gnarled, all-encompassing branches, magnificent ruins of enormous mausoleums, mosques and step-wells pertaining to almost a millennium of construction that cannot but be nonetheless regarded as only a fraction of architectural and cultural heritage in the immensity that is the grand city’s historical existence – and yet, despite its unmistakable reputation as being one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements within the city, the area possesses the unenviable notoriety as being a potentially unsafe, spine-chillingly haunted dark forest, redolent of death and destruction, where the trees bend closer to whisper dark secrets and even the birds too maintain a hushed unmentionable silence.

Haunted territory - Mehrauli Archaeological Park

I realized I hadn’t yet penned an article reflecting upon the complex’s renewed lease of life at the hands of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) who are exhuming the remains of structures, colossal and small, from underneath layers of earth and vegetation where they were buried for centuries since soon after the area was abandoned by the general population following the revolt of 1857 (First War of Independence/Sepoy Mutiny) and the implications that followed – in fact within the park complex, it isn’t surprising at all to come across huge chambers, buried underground in their entirety, their arches and collapsed roofs peeping through the grass and shrubbery, nor is it inconsequential to realize that here, of all places, in this distant corner of the city, ornamental British monuments (“follies”) exist next to splendid, miniaturized Mughal-era (AD 1526-1857) mausoleums, tell-tale distinctive Lodi-era (AD 1451-1526) mosques and even earlier still settlement ruins and mausoleums inspiringly dated to the Slave Dynasty reign (AD 1192-1290). I have indeed penned individualized posts about most of the major structures within the complex and here of course, they shall be interconnected along with a map depicting the presence of each of these structures, nonetheless it is the smaller, regrettably insignificant structures that I shall dwell upon here since it is these that I somehow find the most surprising and bewitching, not because of their commendable architectural and artistic features, but simply because there is such an overabundance of them that I feel astonished at the existence and requirement for so many of them – wall mosques (“qibla”) of varied dimensions and artistic ornamentation, yet retaining the overall similar structural features; rows upon rows of enclosed chambers, stables and residences; smaller mosques, many of them now encroached upon, refurbished, rebuilt and repainted to function as madrasas (Islamic seminaries) and residences for local Muslim priests and scholars; and such diminutive domed structures that I’m apprehensive of regarding as funerary structures and would have, if I was qualified enough, classified as guardhouses or some such similar functional building.

Fragments of an eventful history

It is said that the region was crisscrossed by trade routes that connected Delhi to central Asia and beyond and thus was frequented by caravans consisting of camels, horses and pack mules laden with aromatic spices, luxurious silks, precious jewels and royal gifts; mendicants and learned dervishes, their thirst for knowledge and religious mysticism unquenched and their pursuance of the same drawing them to the erudite sages and masters of Indian peninsula; regal messengers and couriers with their secretive messages and exclusive gifts and mementoes. It was here that Sultan Ghiyasuddin Bahauddin Balban (ruled AD 1266-86) decided to commission a beautiful, sober mausoleum for his deceased son Muhammad “Khan Shahid” and where he himself was laid to eternal rest in a grand and architecturally prominent tomb after he mournfully expired bereaving the latter’s demise (refer Pixelated Memories - Khan Shahid's Tomb and Pixelated Memories - Balban's Tomb). The establishment of a small rural settlement adjacent the trade route prompted the renowned Sufi mystic Sheikh Fazlullah Jalaluddin Khan “Jamali” Kamboh Dehlavi to establish his monastery here and construct the massive mosque complex (and later his artistically remarkable mausoleum), still thoroughly famed as Jamali-Kamali and presently the epitome of architectural heritage within the park where, seated upon an expansive incline, it prominently occupies the position of honor as the single outstanding monument which architecturally and artistically inspired nearly all the lavish mosque complexes that chronologically followed it (refer Pixelated Memories - Jamali Kamali Complex). I generally make it a point to enter the park complex through a small obscure opening in the periphery wall slightly offset from the intersection of the arterial, perennially crowded Mehrauli-Badarpur and Mahipalpur-Gurgaon roads at Lado Serai since the path quickly takes one past these two major set of ruins (two motorable entrances also exist – the first adjacent the renowned Qutb complex (refer Pixelated Memories - Qutb Complex) and the other on the other side of Balban’s tomb projecting from the Mahipalpur-Gurgaon highway).

Flamboyance personified - Within the mausoleum of Sheikh Jamali Kamboh Dehlavi

The large settlement that existed here must also have possessed several inns and resthouses for weary travelers which might explain the presence of such large stables and it is quite possible that many of them did construct smaller, individualized wall mosques in the vicinity to cater to the religious needs of their influential patrons. In one of the furthest corners of the complex where the comprehensive folds of thick, impenetrable vegetation gives way to an open ground used by the local kids for games of crickets, exists the thoughtfully landscaped, beautifully adorned mausoleum of Mirza Quli Khan, a foster brother of Mughal Emperor Akbar (reign AD 1556-1605) (refer Pixelated Memories - Quli Khan's Tomb). Sir Charles Metcalfe, the Agent (negotiator) of British East India “trading” Company at the royal court of Emperor Bahadur Shah “Zafar” (reign AD 1837-57) purchased this monument and had it luxuriously converted into his summer retreat and guesthouse retrofitted with additional “follies” (ornamental architectural entities eponymously designed to appear ruined/monumental) such as “chattris” (umbrella domes surmounted upon slender ornamental pillars), gingerbread hut-like guardhouses, adornment bridges and stepped pyramids (“ziggurats”) – one such chattri was also conceived and commissioned upon a slightly rolling hillscape immediately opposite the attractive Jamali-Kamali complex (refer Pixelated Memories - Metcalfe's Chattri).

Unbelievably contrasting with the magnificently multi-hued and symmetrically ordered rose garden that has been established within the park periphery abutting its extremities along the Lado Serai-Qutb Complex connecting road, past the portion of the park where there still is some semblance of civilizational presence, past the region where the winding serpentine pathways have been shrouded with layers of red soil and cobbled stone and there do exist varieties of flora and fauna apart from lithe goats, ubiquitous Kikar trees (Prosopis juliflora) and ever-garrulous Jungle Babbler birds (Turdoides striata), the thoroughly-vegetated 200-acre complex transforms into a threatening, dark and forgotten patch of forest crisscrossed by deep sewage channels, untrodden pathways and desolate remains of decrepit mausoleums (most of which have been documented on this blog in the past, follow the links mentioned at the end of this article). Nearby appear like mirages two majestic step-wells (“baolis”), since christened “Rajon ki Baoli” and “Gandhak ki Baoli” as a consequence of their association with masons (“Rajon”) and Sulphur (“Gandhak”) (refer Pixelated Memories - Rajon ki Baoli and Pixelated Memories - Gandhak ki Baoli).

Detritus from an age of sophistication - One of the disintegrated Qibla walls within the complex

Several of the predominantly small, single-floored structures, vibrantly painted white bearing highlights in green, continue to function as mosques in this part of the complex and bear names such as “Choti Bagh wali Masjid” (“The Mosque within the Small Garden”) and “Neem wali Masjid” (“The Mosque with the Tamarind Tree”) – the entire area within the park complex and beyond was originally referred to as “Nazir ka Bagh” (“Nazir’s Garden”), though sadly it is no longer remembered who Nazir was or what age did he live in, however the Muslim Waqf Board (the custodian of Islamic funerary zones) inherently claims most of the park as its property on account of it largely being an enormous funerary land, leading to tussles with the ASI and Indian National Trust for Cultural and Architectural Heritage (INTACH) and counter-accusations of encroachment and monumental damage (point in case – Pixelated Memories - Choti Masjid Bagh wali). One does reverentially hope that the issues are quickly resolved and the complex can be conserved and the monuments restored to present a larger, better preserved archaeological and heritage zone in continuation with the majestic Qutb Complex adjacent. Nonetheless, observing the immensely satisfactory restoration drive affected upon several historically important monuments, especially the hallowed Jamali-Kamali complex, one is subconsciously reminded of the below mentioned phrase from Bible (John 11:25) –

“I am the Resurrection and the Life, saith the Lord; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.”

Situated like an eagle’s nest upon an eyrie and overlooking the massive expanse of the archaeological complex from across the Gurgaon-Mahipalpur highway exists the formidable mausoleum of Azim Khan, another foster brother and army general in the court of Emperor Akbar (refer Pixelated Memories - Azim Khan's Tomb). The entire area, in fact, is literally dotted with monuments, shrines and mausoleums, considerable and minor, and can be unarguably regarded as one of the foremost sites of civilizational heritage in the beautiful cityscape – a postcard image of Delhi that was, frozen to portray the amalgam of political and financial power, majestic architecture and exquisite artworks nestled amidst lush foliage and vast landscaped plains – this truly is a representative of Delhi, The City of Cities, the City of Djinns!

White with green highlights - Neem wali Masjid

Location: Lado Serai intersection
Nearest Metro station: Qutb Minar
Nearest Bus stop: Lado Serai
How to reach: The park's entrance is immediately opposite Lado Serai bus stop at the intersection of Mehrauli-Badarpur and Badarpur-Gurgaon roads. Walk/avail an auto from Qutb Minar metro station or avail a bus from Saket metro station. Visually appropriate sandstone markers indicate the routes to different monuments inside the park.
Photography/Video charges: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: Approx. 6 hrs
Note – There are no facilities (toilets, food or drinking water) available within the complex. While one can avail food and refreshments at one of the restaurants at Lado Serai, toilet facilities can only be availed at the shopping malls close to Saket Metro Station, almost a kilometer away. The park remains deserted in the evenings and is best avoided then by female enthusiasts.
Monuments within the park complex -
  1. Pixelated Memories - Balban's Tomb 
  2. Pixelated Memories - Chaumukh Darwaza
  3. Pixelated Memories - Gandhak ki Baoli
  4. Pixelated Memories - Jamali Kamali Complex
  5. Pixelated Memories - Khan Shahid's Tomb
  6. Pixelated Memories - Lodi-era Canopy Tomb
  7. Pixelated Memories - Lodi-era Tomb
  8. Pixelated Memories - Metcalfe's Chattri
  9. Pixelated Memories - Metcalfe's Ziggurats and Guardhouses
  10. Pixelated Memories - Mughal Tombs and Choti Masjid Bagh wali
  11. Pixelated Memories - Rajon ki Baoli
  12. Pixelated Memories - Rectangular Canopy
  13. Pixelated Memories - Ruins, Mehrauli Archaeological Park 
  14. Pixelated Memories - Settlement ruins
  15. Pixelated Memories - Quli Khan's Tomb
Other monuments/landmarks located in the vicinity -
  1. Pixelated Memories - Ahinsa Sthal
  2. Pixelated Memories - Azim Khan's Tomb
  3. Pixelated Memories - Hazrat Kaki's Dargah
  4. Pixelated Memories - Moti Masjid
  5. Pixelated Memories - Qutb Complex
  6. Pixelated Memories - Unmarked Ruins, Mehrauli
Suggested reading -
  1. Indianexpress.com - Article " Years of neglect and many talks later, Mehrauli park will get a touch-up" (dated Dec 30, 2010) by Sweta Dutta 
  2. Milligazette.com - Article "Heritage Park in Mehrauli area is Waqf land" (dated Aug 02, 2014) by NA Ansari
  3.  Thefirstmail.in - Article "Demarcate area of Mehrauli Archaeological Park & Waqf land: HC" (dated May 20, 2015)
  4. Thehindu.com - Article "Unkempt and uncared for" (dated Jan 12, 2013) by Sohail Hashmi 

June 12, 2015

Sheikh Yusuf Qattal's Tomb, Saket, Delhi

"Tha woh to rashke hoor-e-behesti hameen mein Mir!
Samjhe na hum to fahm ka apne qasoor tha"

("That hoor from paradise was part of my being, Mir.
I did not understand and blame my utter lack of comprehension of the ultimate truth.")
– Mir Taqi Mir, Urdu poet (lived AD 1723-1810)

Past the narrow streets of Khirki Village – sewage and sludge-drenched, garbage-shrouded, perennially crowded and recently touched up with vibrant, brilliantly multi-hued graffiti artwork – exists a small expanse of land, minimally layered with dry, withering grass and near continuously peopled with marijuana and smack addicts and teenagers playing extremely boisterous games, that seems to have got estranged in time eons far-off in history, where even the loud noises of the teenagers and the perpetual flow of traffic, physically so close, feel immensely distant and passer-bys appear like shadows traversing the same geographical reality and yet mere fragments of imagination and visual illusion. In a corner of this open space exists a diminutive, extremely handsome structure, built in AD 1527, whose very existence, albeit meager and nearly unknown to outsiders, is radiant with the beautiful secret it holds in its miniscule bosom – this is the mausoleum of Sufi saint Sheikh Yusuf Qattal, a prominent mendicant who amicably resided in the area during the reigns of Sultan Ibrahim Lodi (ruled AD 1517-26) and Badshah Zahiruddin Muhammad “Babur” (ruled AD 1526-30).

A touch of flamboyance

I had returned to my beloved Delhi for a mere fortnight after almost six months in Bangalore and Delhi Instagramers Guild, my photography club, had organized a walk at Khirki Masjid nearby (refer Pixelated Memories - Khirki Masjid) when we spotted the structure – for me, it was symbolic of what I really adore about the city – an epitome of the unequaled architectural, cultural and spiritual heritage that it possesses, a repository of knowledge and visual composition dating back centuries and yet dominating the monotonous landscape, a promise that while the entire cityscape and its surroundings were rapidly mutating (I’m still surprised by how much the city has changed in just 6 months!), it essentially remained the same.

Externally, the vermillion red, square structure is exquisitely detailed with patterns in red sandstone and plasterwork, including “chajja” (eaves) and unbelievably intricate “kangura” patterns (battlement-like ornamentation, here highly stylized). The roof still displays remnants of magnificent blue tile work and is surmounted by a large dome. The twelve pillars that support the structure are spanned by delicate stone lattice screens (“jalis”) sculpted in multiple fine geometric patterns that throw up a kaleidoscope of light and shadows in the interiors where local devotees, of all faiths and religions, leave behind reverential votive offerings of sweets, incense sticks, marigold flowers and bowls of “halwa” (extremely sweetened semi-solid confectionary conceived from clarified butter, sugar and flour) to appease the saint, whom they locally refer to as “Peer Baba” (“Old Dervish”), so he might implore God to grant their wishes (though stories of the mausoleum being eerily haunted also abound!).

Light and shadows

The western wall of the mausoleum, again elaborately sculpted from stone but recently outrageously painted ghastly green-white against the vivaciously flamboyant red of the building, functions in the capacity of a “mihrab” (western wall of a religious/funerary structure that indicates the direction of Mecca and is faced by the faithful while offering Namaz prayers) and bears the Islamic Kalima legend –

“La Allah illah Allah, Muhammad rasool Allah”
(“There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his messenger.”)

The mausoleum is recorded to have been commissioned by Sheikh Alauddin, the grandson of the unparalleled Sufi saint Sheikh Fariduddin Ganjshakar (“Baba Farid”, the spiritual mentor of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, the patron saint of Delhi), and is architecturally regarded as a relatively unpretentious cousin of the magnificent tomb of Imam Zamin located within Qutb Complex in nearby Mehrauli (refer Pixelated Memories - Imam Zamin's Tomb). Besides the mausoleum exist equally modest remains of a congregational chamber and a low rectangular mosque, the latter bestowed with three arched openings and remains of intricate plasterwork adorning the interior surfaces, the unwelcoming exteriors however presently thoroughly drenched with miserable whitewash – the state of monumental conservation-restoration efforts in the country can at best be described as paradoxical, occasionally as regressive – red sandstone plaques affixed near the ground entrance affirm that the structures have been recently restored by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and National Culture Fund (NCF) with financial collaboration from PEC Ltd (a public sector undertaking of the Delhi Government’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry), and yet the mosque has been immediately, retrospectively overtaken by the local population and tragically repainted as a mark of their unbenevolent acquisition of it. Recent restoration work however also involved the removal of centuries of accumulated soil and debris from around the structures and it has been revealed that they originally stood upon a really high plinth which was submerged underground over time and now has been intermittently exposed.

Spot the blues

Throughout its expanse, the open ground surrounding the mausoleum is pockmarked with a smattering of smaller wall mosques and graves of long forgotten personalities who saw their burial in the vicinity of the saint’s sacred sarcophagus as a means of reaching paradise. The only other ruin that can verily be described as comparatively significant is a set of six pillars arranged in a hexagonal pattern and flanking a single tombstone – quite possibly the remains of a “chattri” mausoleum (umbrella-dome surmounted upon simplistic pillars), the dome of which has long since ceased to exist, but the pillars remain to present an uniquely unusual appearance. But the population possesses only as much consideration for these such ruins as the people interred within have need – in the immediate vicinity has come up a majestic, ethereally beautiful five-floor high graffiti mural portraying a physically and sartorially pre-Columbian feminine figure whose weightless heart is prevented from flying off by being bound to a staff! – I couldn’t really understand the symbolism, but the scene is nonetheless gratifying, especially considering that it does momentarily distract one from the heaps of cow dung, garbage and broken automobile parts surrounding it. Oh Delhi!

Blossoming amidst ruins

Location: Khirki Main Road, Khirki Village. Close to Select Citywalk, Saket (Coordinates: 28°32'02.2"N 77°13'08.7"E)
Open: All days, sunrise to sunset
Entrance fees: Nil
Nearest Metro station: Malviya Nagar
Nearest Bus stop: Khirki Village
How to reach: Enter Khirki Village from the narrow uneven lanes projecting immediately opposite Select Citywalk Mall on the Press Enclave Road side. The massive Khirki Masjid (locally referred to as "Qila", refer Pixelated Memories - Khirki Masjid) is visible immediately upon entering the village. The mausoleum is located towards its rear side and can be accessed by following the road running beside it for a few hundred meters.
Photography/Video charges: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: 20 minutes

June 07, 2015

Chausath Khamba, Delhi

The unusual history of the unequivocally fascinating reign of the Mughal Empire (AD 1526-1857) in the Indian subcontinent can best be described by borrowing from Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities” –

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

Count the pillars - Chausath Khamba

In AD 1562, Khan-i-Azam (“Lion of the Kingdom”) Mirza Aziz Kokaltash, the Governor (“Subedar”) of Gujarat, bereaved and bewildered following the ruthlessly gruesome murder of his father Shamshuddin Atgah Khan, commissioned a soberly grand, exquisitely ornamented and spellbindingly detailed mausoleum for the latter near the sacred shrine (Dargah) of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, the patron saint of Delhi (refer Pixelated Memories - Atgah Khan's Tomb and Pixelated Memories - Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah), and in the immediate vicinity also had constructed a single-floor glittering white marble square edifice, christened “Chausath Khamba” after the sixty-four simplistic rectangular pillars that supported its structure, where the family could stay, surrounded by flowering trees, grassy lawns and centuries-old, vividly multicolored historical monuments and shrines, on the occasions when they visited the Dargah and the beloved father’s mausoleum.

Besides being an exceptionally formidable military commander during the reign of Emperor Jalaluddin Akbar (reign AD 1556-1605), Mirza Aziz, being the son of the former’s wet nurse Jiji Angah, was also regarded as the Emperor’s foster brother (“Koka”) and therefore deputed to Gujarat as the Governor, a position he steadfastly retained during the successive reign of Emperor Jahangir (ruled AD 1605-27). However, he supported his son-in-law, Jahangir’s son Khusrau Mirza, in AD 1606 in a rebellion against his father and was consequentially punitively stripped of his distinguished titles and powers and expelled from the royal court. His life history nearly mirrors that of Abdul Rahim Khan-i-Khanan, one of the foremost poets that the subcontinent ever produced and also an exceedingly mighty General in the Mughal armed forces, who too was posted in Gujarat by Emperor Akbar and was later socially and militarily chastised by Jahangir when he opposed his rebellion and subsequent ascension to the throne. Interestingly, Rahim too is buried in the neighborhood, though his majestic mausoleum has borne the brunt of the brutal ravages of time and humanity (refer Pixelated Memories - Abdul Rahim Khan-i-Khanan's Tomb).

Camouflaged - A gem in the poor settlement

The ethereally beautiful, minimally adorned and highly symmetrical "Chausath Khamba" pavilion possesses along its sides pink-white marble panels sculpted into filigree screens composed of multiple recurrent motifs while the roof, though externally flat and demarcated by wide eaves (“chajja”), culminates into twenty-five small marble concave domes surmounting each smaller square formed by the pillars. Upon his own demise in AD 1623, Mirza Aziz was laid for eternal sleep in this handsome edifice in an ornately sculpted marble sarcophagus and was soon followed in the tradition by his sons and wife, the last being buried in a corner distinguished by a low division built between the pillars surrounding it and identified by the sarcophagus’ plain surface (as opposed to the male graves which portray a narrow wedge-shaped projection (“takhti”) along their top surface). Other relatives were buried in large, relatively simpler and minimally ornamented sandstone graves around the structure. The renowned poet Mirza Ghalib too chose to be buried in a plot adjacent the structure and his small mausoleum, also conceived of white marble, would have continued to strikingly complement the former (which is presently regularly utilized for musical evenings and cultural exhibits) had the two not been later separated by a monstrously ungainly rubble wall (refer Pixelated Memories - Ghalib's Tomb).

A different perspective

Over time, as the historic settlement developed and shaped into a semi-urban Muslim ghetto, the entire area around the structure was overtaken by the unrelenting forces of urbanization and commercialization till what remained were narrow patches of grass lawns that did little justice to the magnificent beauty of the pearlesque heritage structure. Recently, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC), financially supported by the German Embassy in India, extensively documented and restored the monument to its original enchanting glory in a conservation-beautification project that lasted nearly four years and frustratingly prevented me from visiting the epitome of artistic ingenuity every time I was in the area. Irresistibly drawn to its thrall, I eventually did visit it a few days back and was unexpectedly rewarded by nature for my patience in the form of a peafowl couple of which the vivid-blue peacock hopped upon the gravestones and ran around the pillars and passages while bright unrelenting sunlight filtered down in kaleidoscopic patterns through the sculpted stone screens. I couldn’t have asked for more!

Need I say more?

Location: Nizamuddin Basti, adjacent Urs Mahal/Ghalib's Tomb, a few meters walk prior to the Dargah complex
Nearest Metro station: JLN Stadium
Nearest Bus stop: Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah
Nearest Railway station: Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah
How to reach: Quite simply walk in the Basti towards the Dargah complex from the Mathura Road side (Bus stop/Humayun's Tomb complex) and ask for Chausath Khamba/Ghalib's Tomb. It's not even five minutes walk away.
Entrance fees: Nil
Photography/Video charges: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: 30 min
Other monuments located in the immediate vicinity - 
  1. Pixelated Memories - Abdul Rahim Khan-i-Khanan's Tomb
  2. Pixelated Memories - Atgah Khan's Tomb
  3. Pixelated Memories - Ghalib's Tomb 
  4. Pixelated Memories - Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah
  5. Pixelated Memories - Humayun's Tomb Complex 
  6. Pixelated Memories - Nila Gumbad 
  7. Pixelated Memories - Sabz Burj
Suggested reading - 
  1. Civilsocietyonline.com - Article "Going wow in Nizamuddin" (dated Dec 2012) 
  2. Deccanherald.com - Article "Heritage monument gets a makeover" (dated Nov 19, 2014) by Azaan Javaid 
  3. Indianexpress.com - Article "Chausath Khamba tomb reopens after four years of painstaking work" (dated Nov 17, 2014) 

June 04, 2015

Satpula, Malviya Nagar, Delhi

“We never know the worth of water till the well is dry.”
– Traditional saying

As mentioned in several of the preceding articles on this blog, the Tughlaq Dynasty (reign AD 1320-98) rulers were some of the most prolific builder-architects that the city ever witnessed in its several millennia long history and left behind tell-tale signs of their prodigious existence in the form of massive fortress-citadels, colossal mosques, fortified tomb complexes, unusually beautiful Islamic seminaries, huge hunting palaces, inspiring pleasure pavilions and majestic waterworks. Of the last, built to counter the city’s perennial water shortage, the foremost example would be the nearly forgotten Satpula (“Seven-arched bridge”) sited near South Delhi’s Khirki Village which, despite the Government’s best efforts and the Archaeological Survey of India’s (ASI) repeated interventions at conservation and restoration, presently finds itself in an ominous predilection in that it has long ceased to exist in the popular imagination of heritage enthusiasts and history-philes and has become a popular haunt for alcoholics, marijuana-addicts and paint-wielding vandals who are attracted to it with the same propensity as moths to a flame. The colossal megastructure, not unlike other Tughlaq-era buildings that bear their penchant for structural enormity, defensive capabilities and an emphasis on functional characteristics, was conceived in AD 1340-43 by Sultan Muhammad Juna Tughlaq (reign AD 1325-51) as a gigantic three-tiered weir bridge designed to control stream flow characteristics of a rainwater-fed water channel draining into the mighty river Yamuna in order to bring extensive neighboring areas under the scope of agriculture and irrigation to sustain the local population. The remarkable rubble masonry structure’s prominent location at the protruding south-eastern corner of the enclosing walls of “Jahanpanah” (“Refuge of the World”), the Sultan’s cherished capital, rendered it ideal for transformation into a buttressed defensive structure.

Glorious ruins

Along one of its unusually desolate, nearly ruined longer sides of which a crescent-shaped portion has long collapsed, the weir bridge consists of seven arched, chamber-like openings on the lowest level and two additional similar openings on each flank built on successively perceptibly higher levels. These are surmounted by a decrepit second-level which is composed of a row of arched chambers flanked in the corners by extremely constricted staircases leading within the structure to the confines of the lower chambers. Lastly, the two corners are crowned with forsaken identical octagonal corner towers which, besides functioning in a strictly protective militarily capacity (thus the ubiquitous presence of tall narrow arrow-hole slits), also doubled into “madrasas” (Islamic seminaries disseminating knowledge of religious scriptures, jurisprudence and mathematics) during peace time and are intermittently simplistically ornamented with floral medallions and bands of graceful geometric plasterwork patterns. On the other side runs the smooth, finely finished wall punctuated by eleven thick diamond-shaped projecting buttresses which supported the sections where originally fitted the wooden sliding sluice gates (since disintegrated and disappeared) which could be vertically raised/lowered through the assistance of ropes in order to alter the flow, however the actual mechanism for the working of the bridge cannot be understood as a consequence of extensive damage suffered by the lower levels and the application of cement on the higher ones as integral to past conservation/restoration efforts.

Medieval water management

The ASI recently restored the unticketed monument as part of a Commonwealth Games 2010 prompted conservation drive focused on Khirki Village whereby the entire existential expanse of the monument was re-strengthened and revealed by removing soil and debris accumulation from around it and the huge open space around landscaped into a tree-lined, grass-shrouded lawn equipped with low-lying open-air auditoriums and viewing pavilions from where the massive immensity that the bridge is can be more readily appreciated. The substantial space underlying the structure continues to be utilized as a cricket ground by local teenagers while alcoholics can be seen even early morning sitting, gossiping and sharing a few pegs within the larger ruined chambers. The complete picture at present is that of ignorant isolation, heartbreaking miserableness and mediocre historicity with little visual composition to attract one’s attention to – but besides the emphasis on medieval engineering and water management techniques, the fascination with the structure’s heritage also stems from folklore that states that the renowned Sufi saints Hazrat Nasiruddin Mahmud “Roshan Chirag-e-Dilli” (“Lamp of Delhi”) and Sheikh Yusuf Qattal (both of them buried in the immediate vicinity) used to perform their daily ritualistic ablutions (“wazu”) in the weir’s waters and the same has since been considered spiritually blessed and possessing medicinal healing properties (refer Pixelated Memories - Sheikh Yusuf Qattal's Tomb for a note on the latter’s life). Strangely enough, I couldn’t spot even a single drop of water, healing or otherwise, on either side of the bone-dry reservoir. And yet the board outside the complex comprising of meandering pathways and unutilized pavilions refers to it as “Satpula Lake District Park”! So much for our cultural, architectural and natural resources.

And not a drop to drink!

Location: Near Select Citywalk Mall, Press Enclave Road, Malviya Nagar (Coordinates: 28.531676, 77.223503)
Open: All days, sunrise to sunset
Entrance fees: Nil
Nearest Metro station: Malviya Nagar
Nearest Bus stop: Saket District Court/Khirki Village
How to reach: Walk/avail a shared auto (Rs 10/passenger) from the metro station to Select Citywalk Mall. The monument is located approximately 500 meters from the Mall on Press Enclave Road that runs immediately opposite the latter. Though most of the bridge cannot be viewed from the road as a consequence of the makeshift shanties and hutments impeding the view, the location is prominently marked "Satpula Lake District Park".
Photography/Video charges: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: 30 minutes
Other monuments located in the immediate vicinity –
  1. Pixelated Memories - Khirki Masjid 
  2. Pixelated Memories - Sheikh Yusuf Qattal's Tomb
Other Tughlaq-era monuments in the city –
  1. Pixelated Memories - Begumpur Masjid 
  2. Pixelated Memories - Feroz Shah Kotla 
  3. Pixelated Memories - Hauz Khas complex 
  4. Pixelated Memories - Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah 
  5. Pixelated Memories - Khirki Masjid 
  6. Pixelated Memories - Tughlaqabad - Adilabad - Nai-ka-Kot Fortress complex
Suggested reading –
  1. Archnet.org - Satpula 
  2. Thehindu.com - Article "Heritage locked up behind bars" (dated Sep 21, 2013) by Sohail Hashmi