September 10, 2015

Adham Khan's Tomb and Mehrauli PHC, Delhi

“Through me the way is to the city dolent; Through me the way is to the eternal dole;
Through me the way among the people lost;

Justice incited my sublime Creator; Created me divine Omnipotence,
the highest Wisdom and the primal Love;

Before me there were no created things, Only eterne, and I eternal last.
All hope abandon, ye who enter!”
– Dante Alighieri, 13th-century Italian poet, “Inferno”

Regarded as the oldest continuously inhabited area in the entire city, Mehrauli can be unquestionably considered as an unbelievable visual confluence of unimaginably desolate medieval monuments and a rapid groundswell of burgeoning urbanization and shimmering modernization engaged in a mighty clash so extraordinarily slow progressed that compared to the rest of the cityscape this entire area literally appears to have been transformed into a photographic frame struck in time eons ago allowing viewers a brief, uninterrupted glimpse into the idyllic life that was without any pretensions of relentless concrete and cement development, obnoxious pollution and miserable deforestation.

Behold enormity! - The mausoleum of Maham Anga and Adham Khan

Scattered around the area are hundreds of monuments – some exceedingly beautifully ornamented, some painstakingly perched upon high near-unpassable eyries, some quite humiliatingly submerged underneath an onslaught of years of accumulated stinking sludge and everyday excreta, some unassuming edifices relatively well-maintained either by the government or a religious organization as a ruin of heritage importance or a sacred shrine or a commemorative edifice, and lastly, a few depressingly decrepit monuments taken over by the local community which, like the dedicated memory of ancient days, continue to function as community centers where locals would everyday converge and share gossip of daily business and happenings occurring in the neighborhood. In this part of the country, opposite Mehrauli bus terminal, different facets of everyday life, the different modes, the different professions can be discerned in the very streets – anticipating business and cursing the sweltering summer heat or the biting winter cold, there are the fruit and vegetable sellers, the flowers and garland sellers, the plumbers, laborers, electricians, masons, the cigarette and betel leave sellers, the beggars, the eunuchs, the rickshaw drivers, the street cleaners, the garbage collectors, the prostitutes, the pimps, the policemen and the pickpockets, the unemployed, the old and the disabled, the ear cleaners, the car washers, the laundrymen and the newspaper men – one can see each of them, attired and arrayed in the bustling, perennially crowded marketplace.

Painted perfection!

Magnificently protruding from the ground like a massive towering overlord, overlooking this continuous flow of people and professions for the past half a millennium, is the visually prominent enormous cream-white mausoleum of Mirza Adham Khan, a foster brother of the Mughal Emperor Jalaluddin Akbar (reign AD 1556-1605), whose life seems so incorrigibly entwined with that of numerous other protagonists interred in different parts of the graceful city that his tale, despite its emotionally disturbing and barbaric overtones, is unarguably one of the most frequently heard. Adham Khan and Quli Khan (also buried nearby, refer Pixelated Memories - Quli Khan's Tomb) were the adored sons of Maham Anga, the favored foster mother of the Emperor. Much to Maham Anga's undisguised chagrin, the Emperor immensely respected Shamshuddin Atgah Khan, the husband of his other foster mother Jiji Anga, sought his opinion in all important decisions and in AD 1562 raised him to the coveted position of “Wakil” (“Chief Minister”) thereby allowing him to investigate and document the military excesses and financial embezzlement perpetrated by Adham as an army General – infuriated, the latter brutally murdered Atgah Khan in cold blood and then, blinded alike with fury and fear of the consequences of his unsavory actions, burst upon the bewildered Emperor with his sword unsheathed, prompting the infuriated Emperor to immediately have him arrested and thrown down the ramparts of his fortress in Agra, twice for good measure – several historians argue that the incensed Emperor, thus provoked and yet grievously confused since Adham was his own esteemed milk-brother, himself threw him down to ensure his immediate demise.

Sigh! When will this city ever learn?

This however wasn’t the first time that the uncontrollable Adham had got into administrative and disciplinary troubles with the Emperor – legend has it that it that when the Emperor’s armies led by his valiant generals were furthering his expansionist policies and annexing small kingdoms in different parts of the country, Adham would capture a territory for him and enslave all the women in the captured land to add them to his own harem – such was his terror that women in the conquered kingdoms preferred to commit suicide rather than face him. Predictably, he invaded the kingdom of Malwa in central India under the Emperor’s banner, massacred its armies and killed the king Baz Bahadur (literally “Brave Hawk”) – however, before he could touch their Queen Roopmati with whom he had fallen in love, she committed suicide (“Jauhar”) by jumping into the pyre lit for her husband’s cremation – furious and desirous of vengeance, Adham unleashed a vicious pogrom and killed hundreds of innocent inhabitants of Malwa until the Emperor was forced to himself march to Malwa with a large army led by Azim Khan, another of his numerous mighty Generals (also buried nearby, refer Pixelated Memories - Azim Khan's Tomb), to subdue Adham who was then defeated, ordered not to lead any military campaigns in the near future and his territorial and executive powers curtailed for a period of time. Killing Atgah Khan however was to be the last indiscretion on the part of Adham – neither filial love nor the unmatched influence of his ambitious mother could save him from the Emperor’s wrath.

Dominating Delhi's skyline - Qutb Minar

Bereaved beyond measure and consolation despite putting up a brave front (she notably exclaimed to the Emperor “You have done well” when he recounted to her the events leading to Adham’s gruesome execution), Maham Anga, whose health was already failing for the past several months, too died mere forty days later pining for her treasured son and the guilt-ridden Emperor was therefore prompted to order the construction of the enormous mausoleum that was to entomb both mother and son. Atgah Khan, of course, was posthumously bestowed with the title of “martyr” and interred in a delicately beautiful mausoleum close to the Dargah of the 14th-century Sufi saint Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya and the breathtaking magnificent mausoleum of Emperor Humayun (refer Pixelated Memories - Atgah Khan's Tomb, Pixelated Memories - Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah and Pixelated Memories - Humayun's Tomb complex). Adham however was labelled an unfaithful traitor and buried in far-flung Mehrauli in an octagonal mausoleum reminiscent of the architectural style of the numerous dynasties of Delhi Sultanate who preceded the nearly uninterrupted 330-year Mughal reign – the close proximity to the Dargah of the 13th-century Sufi saint Hazrat Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki was to be his lone concession (refer Pixelated Memories - Hazrat Bakhtiyar Kaki's Dargah).

A touch of ornamentation

The whole structure rises from an immense plinth delineated at the corners by octagonal bastions with enough space within them for several people to stand in shoulder-to-shoulder. The fortified walls of the thick-set plinth and the bastions bear traces of exquisite ornamentation, primarily strips of red sandstone sculpted into scrolls of floral patterns and flourishes which have somehow survived the ravages of time and nature. The octagonal mausoleum, vertically exceedingly prominent relative to its architecturally similar predecessors, is externally very minimally ornamented with just the bare minimum of traces of adornment – plasterwork medallions composed of inscribed calligraphy and floral decorations, unaesthetically thick tapering turrets protruding from the corners of each of the sides of the octagonal structure as well as the sixteen-sided drum (base) of the colossal dome, decorative “kangura” patterns (battlement-like leaf motif ornamentation) and an unusually pointed, highly polished glittering red sandstone finial crowning the apex. The cream-white thick walls, plastered over in tatters wretchedly revealing the layers of red-grey bricks underneath (despite being very recently conserved and restored (re-plastered) on the occasion of the 19th Commonwealth Games (CWG XIX 2010)), are buttressed for structural stability and surrounded on every side by an exceptionally wide colonnaded passageway that visually lends the entire structure a discernibly squat appearance despite its perpendicular towering existence. The interiors are unbelievably straightforward – a single, unprepossessing narrow gravestone, positioned thus sometime in the last century itself (on the orders of the Viceroy Lord Curzon who initiated restoration and conservation of numerous monuments throughout the country during his viceregal reign (1899-1905)), marks the location of Adham’s mortal remains, nothing however indicates that Maham Anga too was buried here – overhead, an ethereally beautiful painted medallion in blues, reds and blacks scatters an otherworldly artistic luminescence.

Symmetrically ungainly! So unlike the other Mughal edifices!

In every other direction, the local vandals have resorted to beautifying the mausoleum by inscribing it with nonsensical chalk pattern designs and heartfelt love letters. From past the limitless sea composed of the crowns and tresses of hundreds of thousands of vibrant green trees comprising the ridge forest extending immediately beyond the mausoleum’s peripheries, the richly illustrated towering Qutb Minar (refer Pixelated Memories - Qutb Minar) sternly overlooks the cruel desecration of the punitive sepulcher of the equally ferocious General. Legend goes that before her demise, Queen Roopmati had thus cursed Adham Khan that never a woman shall visit his grave or risk being harshly rendered devoid of conjugal happiness throughout her life – the mausoleum is however conspicuously distinguished today as a fascinating exemplar of a local community center regularly frequented by hordes of schoolchildren lolling their time after school, near-continuously chattering girls gossiping in rapid-fire Hindi amongst themselves, old men and women dressed in flawless white mumbling to themselves and the occasional camera-toting tourists – the curse and the numerous assertions of the monument being terrifyingly haunted seem to have been irreversibly forgotten, remembered only in folktales and contemporaneous historical accounts – perhaps a consequence of the burial of the doting Maham Anga with her cherished, although often wayward, son? Locals nonetheless do warn visitors to not stay overnight inside the mausoleum.

Serving the dead and the living - Mehrauli Primary Health Center

In vernacular parlance, the mausoleum is referred to as a “Bhool Bhulaiyya” (“Impenetrable Maze”) – some say it’s because its thick walls possess unfathomably convoluted passages amongst themselves, especially along the first floor, others say it’s because members of a marriage retinue explicably lost their way in the forest beyond its extremities never to be found again – though somehow I seem to have missed witnessing these passages, I’m nonetheless more inclined to side with the second opinion since the first seems too unbelievably far-fetched and also one has to take into consideration that at one point in its history, early 19th-century to be exact, the mausoleum was desecrated and converted into a country residence by Major Blake of the Bengal (British) Civil Services who had, enchanted by the subdued magnificence and unperturbed by the macabre stories pertaining to the personalities interred within, demolished the graves and installed comfortable beds and dining tables in their place. Incredibly afterwards, the structure bewilderingly served in the unusual capacities of an army guesthouse, a police station and a post office! Of course, Major Blake wouldn’t have chosen to reside in a labyrinthine maze, nor could have been a guesthouse/police station/post office run from such perplexing a premises.

Interestingly enough, this was not the only monumental edifice thus violated and recycled for worldly purposes inherently different from those that it was originally conceived to serve – couple of meters from the mausoleum exist two small monuments – a miserably crumbling pink-red mosque possessing a very finely-proportioned onion dome and a curious yellow mausoleum that from its distinctive appearance is discernible to belong to the short-lived Lodi Dynasty reign (AD 1451-1526) – while the former, wretchedly decrepit and thoroughly ruined, has been converted to a residence, the latter officially functions since the early 1930s in the governmental capacity of Mehrauli Primary Health Center (PHC) managed by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD)!

Commemorating forgotten history?

Additional chambers have been constructed around the original structure of the PHC and drenched in coats of blindingly brilliant yellow paint; verandahs shielded from the elements by wide corrugated iron sheet eaves (“chajja”) and lined with stone benches for patients and their relatives to sit on run around it and its exterior walls have been faced with grotesque white bathroom tiles – in its entirety, the picture of a shameful transformation and more significantly an unabashed contempt for architectural heritage and landmarks. Like the medieval monument, the desolate walls encompassing it were also once painted sunshine yellow like the structures they enclose, but presently reveal almost a rainbow spectrum of multicolored flourishes – yellowish-orange where the paint is still retained albeit discolored and darkened over time, green-grey where it has been entirely obliterated and compelled to reveal the layers of cement underneath, brown-red where the bricks peep through and bluish black-green where strands of moss have colonized the surface. A marble memorial tablet embedded in the wall notes –

“From the Zails of Mehrauli and Badarpur, 1261 men went to The Great War (1914-1919). Of these, 92 gave up their lives.”

(Zail – A revenue unit employed to demarcate areas during the British reign (AD 1857-1947))

So unsettlingly ironic is the British concept of historicity and commemorative remembrance that they had the temerity to inscribe an epigraph to themselves and their wars on the walls of a monument they unflinchingly overtook and mutated thus. This then is perhaps the “Kali Yuga” (“Age of Decay and Obliteration”) the Hindus refer to!

Squalor and decay!

Location: Immediately opposite Mehrauli bus terminal
Nearest metro station: Both Qutb Minar station and Saket station are equidistant.
Nearest Bus stop: Mehrauli
How to reach: Take a bus from the either of the metro stations to Mehrauli. Adham Khan's tomb is opposite the bus terminal and the PHC monument is barely couple of meters away.
Open: All days, sunrise to sunset
Entrance fees: Nil
Photography/Video charges: Nil
Relevant Links - 
Edifices in Delhi associated with Adham Khan and his family -
  1. Pixelated Memories - Khair-ul-Manazil Mosque (built by Maham Anga)
  2. Pixelated Memories - Tomb of Azim Khan (who defeated Adham Khan at Malwa)
  3. Pixelated Memories - Tomb of Quli Khan (Adham Khan's brother)
Edifices in Delhi associated with Atgah Khan and his family - 
  1. Pixelated Memories - Tomb of Atgah Khan
  2. Pixelated Memories - Tomb of Abdul Rahim Khan-i-Khanan (Atgah Khan's son-in-law)
  3. Pixelated Memories - Tomb of Mirza Aziz Kokaltash (Atgah Khan's son)
Other monuments located in the immediate vicinity of Adham Khan's Tomb -
  1. Pixelated Memories - Ahinsa Sthal
  2. Pixelated Memories - Azim Khan's Tomb
  3. Pixelated Memories - Gandhak ki Baoli (only couple of meters further away)
  4. Pixelated Memories - Hazrat Kaki's Dargah
  5. Pixelated Memories - Mehrauli Archaeological Park
  6. Pixelated Memories - Moti Masjid
  7. Pixelated Memories - Quli Khan's Tomb
  8. Pixelated Memories - Qutb Complex
Suggested reading -
  1. - "The punishment of Adham Khan by the justice of the Shahinshah"
  2. - Article "Healthcare in the lap of Lodi-era history" (dated June 23, 2013) by Nivedita Khandekar

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