October 16, 2015

Mubarak Shah Saiyyid's Tomb, Delhi

“Na kisi ki aankh ka noor hun, na kisi ke dil ka qaraar hun,
Jo kisi ke kaam na aa sake, main who ek musht-e-ghubar hun
Paie fateeha koi aaye kyun, koi chaar phool charhaae kyun,
Aa ke shamaa koi jalaye kyun, main wo be-kasi ka mazaar hun”

(“I’m the light of no one’s eye, the joy of no one’s heart am I.
That which can be of use to none – just a handful of dust am I.
Why should someone sing my dirge, or come lay a wreath?
I’m the mausoleum of helplessness, better left in dark.”)
– Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah “Zafar” II
(Reign AD 1837-57)

One of the city’s oldest monuments, and then too not just a mere medieval edifice but the mausoleum of Sultan Muizuddin Mubarak Shah Saiyyid, the resourceful sovereign emperor (ruled AD 1421-34) who reigned over vast territories extending throughout northern India and contiguous sections of Pakistan, is a picture of gross mistreatment and semi-urban squalor in the heart of Kotla Mubarakpur, the fortified citadel he adoringly commissioned which is presently classified as an overpopulated, densely inhabited urban village (an oxymoron of course!) where an unfeasibly enormous number of multistory box-like, uninhabitably ramshackle residential buildings have so thickly mushroomed all around the mausoleum with such an unrestrained unconcern for civic facilities like roads, electricity and drainage that there are numerous stretches in the administratively unregulated colony where the buildings inch so dearly close to each other and tilt in such an alarmingly precarious fashion that they unbelievably render the clear sky a minute sliver of light peeping through – in fact, so dense is this semi-urban agglomeration, renowned as a commercial hub for sourcing construction material and interior furnishings, that Google Maps very nearly becomes worthless here considering that primarily there are no roads snaking through a majority of the urban village’s expanse, and where there are, the buildings have cropped up so close that no satellite can possibly visualize the road’s existence! Although the word “Kotla” translates to fortifications, which have long since disappeared under opposition from the relentlessly vicious forces of burgeoning urbanization and cataclysmic commercialization of land space, I shall nonetheless continue to refer to the urban village as the same for lack of a better term capable of indicating the delineation of the region’s boundaries.


Mubarak Shah is said to have inherited a perilously fragmented empire from his shrewd father Sultan Khizr Khan Saiyyid (reign AD 1414-21) and the country was still healing from the tremendously brutal wounds inflicted by the remorseless Mongol invader Timur who aggressively plundered Delhi and all the magnificent cities that led to it in AD 1398. Nonetheless, Mubarak Shah proved to be a formidable emperor and an able administrator who incontestably commanded the unquestionable loyalty of a powerful army and continuously undertook fierce punitive expeditions throughout his short reign against rebellious governors and local Hindu chieftains who had transformed the country into a perennially explosive keg. Unlike his forever-cautious father, he also possessed the resolved pugnacity to forfeit any allegiance to Timur and his equally ruthless descendants. Sadly though, he did not show the same cunning in appointing government officials – unchallenged by any administrative or financial checks and balances, powerful local chieftains and conniving court nobles ran the entire country like their own personal fiefs and soon enough, his prime minister ("Wazir”) Sarwar ul-Mulk, blinded alike by his own considerable influence and his contempt for the government of the day, physically assaulted and assassinated the Sultan soon after he dismissed him from service. The magnificent octagonal mausoleum is said to have been planned by Mubarak Shah himself during his lifetime but was commissioned after his demise by his nephew and successor Sultan Muhammad Shah Saiyyid (reign AD 1434-44) – wretchedly however, the massive edifice is so thoroughly surrounded by cramped multistory residential buildings and shop clusters that it is presently impossible to observe any aspect of it appreciably well and one has to eventually rely upon Muhammad Shah’s own strikingly beautiful mausoleum to properly visualize the former’s erstwhile impressiveness (refer Pixelated Memories - Muhammad Shah Saiyyid's Tomb, Lodi Gardens).

A sliver of magnificence

The satellite view of Kotla Mubarakpur on Google Maps facilitates an interesting observation – the tomb, or its enormous dome rather, stands out prominently in the center and the entire unregulated colony separated from it only by a circumambulating street has developed around it in such a cheek by jowl manner that the contours of the beyond belief narrow streets and the numerous rows of houses turn correspondingly along its octagonal peripheries as if reluctant to let waste even a single square inch of encroachable land! On the ground, owing to the presence of several shops dealing with construction material such as cement and the like, an impenetrable cloud of bleached dust and cement which imparts an unpleasantly hazy appearance to everything perpetually hangs over the road and is stirred up furthermore by the continuous passage of pedestrians, cyclists and children wantonly sprinting around. Good-naturedly hoping to prevent defacement and suspected demolition of the medieval monument but also perhaps in no small measure attempting to escape their own fundamental obligation towards its protection and conservation, Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has erected a high iron-grille all around its peripheries, although that laughably doesn’t in any way prevent the locals who stack gunny bags of sand and cement all around it – I suspect that ASI assumes that like an impermeable shield, the thick cladding of invasive plants and weeds emerging from the monument’s roof and immense dome would unarguably protect it from the relentless pressures of urbanization and vandalism!

Overlooking history - Mubarak Shah's immediate neighbor is a lavatory!

The mausoleum is nonetheless opened to visitors every Thursday since the locals refuse to accept that this grand edifice entombs a short-lived emperor and continue to regard it as the hallowed shrine of a medieval Sufi saint. A small, gated opening in the iron grille can be used for entry and egress on other days as well, but the day I visited the gate was locked and there was no caretaker to be seen around – neighborhood shopkeepers assured me he had merely gone for tea and should be back soon – I’m till date not sure how much tea did he drink since he did not return in the hour and a half I spent snooping around on the monument from people’s rooftops.

A fine monument built in the architectural style ubiquitously favored by the Saiyyid dynasty royalty, it consists of a large octagonal chamber surrounded by a spacious pillared veranda running parallel to each side and surmounted by a high, slightly protuberant but nonetheless graceful dome. Among the features displayed by the tomb are a continuous, badly damaged eave (“chajja”) along the roof supported by equally spaced brackets, “chattris” (umbrella domes mounted on slender pillars) raised on the parapet above each of the sides, strong buttressed tapering pillars dressed with grey Delhi quartzite stone along each corner of the octagon (to afford enhanced structural stability) and three arched entrances on each side along the edge of verandah.

Claustrophobic! - Enroute to Mubarak Shah's mausoleum

The parapet, the sixteen-sided drum (base) of the dome and the eight-sided drums of the smaller domes of the chattris – each is distinguished by a very prominent row of “kanguras” (battlement-like ornamentation); elegantly tall slender ornamental turrets emerge from each corner of the drum of the central dome and stylishly punctuate the row of kanguras at this level, thereby further accentuating the overall image of a fascinatingly detailed, architecturally opulent funerary structure otherwise subdued in terms of grandeur and colorfulness. The only exception to the overall lack of flamboyance is an intriguingly unusual, bright red sandstone kiosk peppered with white marble highlights crowning the massive dome. Each side of the mausoleum except the western is pierced by an entrance whose heavy stone lintels culminate into painstakingly sculpted exquisite floral patterns; the western wall is filled in with a stone latticework screen so that it functions in the capacity of a mihrab (western wall of a religious/funerary structure indicating the direction of Mecca and faced by the faithful while offering prayers).

The funerary mosque associated with the mausoleum has been so irrevocably and horribly swallowed by the aforementioned surge of modern constructions that it has become irreversibly separated physically and contextually from the mausoleum and to reach it one does have to do significant legwork through successively narrower streets that invariably end in cul-de-sacs or lead to directions other than the ones one wishes to proceed to. Soon enough, climbing atop rooftops of the substantially taller buildings (of course after asking permission!) in order to navigate is the only option one can consider.

The funerary mosque - A monument swallowed by urbanization

The mosque has been relegated to the wretched existence of a local dumping ground carpeted with mounds of polythene bags stuffed with foul-smelling rotten organic wastes, shards of broken beer bottles and even excreta that the locals projectile as obnoxious missiles from their terraces to the huge cobblestone-paved courtyard adjoining it or leave lining the outer sides of the walls that enclose it (where they do not adjoin other houses – several neighborhood buildings in fact share walls with the mosque’s peripheries! So much for the government’s Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act!). But make no mistake – the monument has not been entirely abandoned by mankind – children use occasional clearings in the garbage-stuffed courtyard as a playground and perhaps considering that not many others would venture close to a place that insufferably stenches of rotten wastes, accumulated runoff water and putrid excreta, the covered portion of the mosque is thoughtfully utilized as their very own hangout zone by local alcohol and marijuana addicts who can be seen, bottles and joints in hand, even in broad daylight whiling away their time playing cards and gossiping along the corners. One cannot help feeling heartbroken at the gruesome sight of the delightfully simplistic mosque’s present shameful existence and miniscule probability of improved future prospects.

Surmounted by three domes, the rectangular structure is accessible via five arched entrances supported on crudely crafted double-pillars that were a characteristic feature of the militaristic Tughlaq Dynasty (reign AD 1320-98) who preceded the Saiyyid supremacy. The mosque features exquisite plasterwork medallions, a wide eave (“chajja”) supported on heavy stone brackets, kangura patterns and (on the inside) sorry remains of miniature alcoves styled into numerous intricate geometric and floral patterns. The subdued grandeur, formality of architectural plan and the overall artistic starkness are heartbreaking and confer on the monument a distinctive dignity that refuses to be intimidated to submission even by its unforeseen fall from graceful sophistication to the station of a foul-smelling, visually unappealing garbage heap.


Along one side, a staircase layered with shards of beer bottles and cigarette packs leads upstairs to the mosque’s roof from where one can rummage upon the elusiveness of even the minutest trace of optimism for the pitiable mosque while at the same time feel dwarfed by the towering buildings that flank it on either side and grievously observe and photograph the sheer scale of unwarranted devastation inflicted by inconsiderate locals.

The mausoleum is generally regarded to be the second (of only six!) octagonal tomb to be built in Delhi (three others have been previously documented on this blog here – Pixelated Memories - Adham Khan's TombPixelated Memories - Isa Khan's Tomb Complex and Pixelated Memories - Muhammad Shah Saiyyid's Tomb). It is also the first instance of a mausoleum to be conceived surrounded by an enclosed fortified garden (which has vanished long since). Also, the funerary mosque associated with the mausoleum is accepted to be the only one built during the Saiyyid Dynasty reign (AD 1414-51) to have survived. Given the excellent statistics associated with them, it is profoundly unacceptable that the mosque-mausoleum languish in such decrepitude and conservational poverty. I do not oppose the local population’s right to venerate the mausoleum as a shrine and frequent it on a daily basis if they so wish but I do feel offended by the sickeningly disgusting treatment they have meted out to the somber mosque. Also, agreed that ASI works with a very mediocre budget and does not have the resources or skilled manpower to feasibly undertake conservation and restoration works, but it can at the very least provide a semblance of security and cleanliness to the monuments under its aegis – and if it cannot, I can mirthlessly only suggest that they lock and board up the monuments and prevent any and every form of entry to them until they can accumulate sufficient resources to safeguard and manage them satisfactorily – at least, we wouldn’t lose another monument to encroachments and general lackadaisical attitude of the populace and civic authorities. So shameful is the present scenario that post observing the deplorable circumstances of the two remarkable edifices and the all-encompassing neglect heaped by the civic authorities on them specifically and Kotla Mubarakpur in general, one instantaneously forgets any significant hopes of restoration and preservation and barely wishes that they at least miraculously survive for the next generation to witness.

Oh, the irony!

Location: Kotla Mubarakpur, near South Ex.I
Nearest Bus stop: South Ex. I
Nearest Metro station: AIIMS
How to reach: Walk/avail an auto rickshaw from South Ex. Ask for "Gumbad" after reaching Kotla Mubarakpur village. The mosque is more difficult to find and one has to climb the rooftops of neighborhood buildings to check the orientation and directions.
Entrance fees: Nil
Photography/Video charges: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: 30 min
Relevant Links - 
Other monuments located in the vicinity - Pixelated Memories - South Ex. Trail
Another Saiyyid-era monument in the city - Pixelated Memories - Muhammad Shah Saiyyid's Tomb
Suggested reading -
  1. Footlooseindilli.blogspot.in - Tomb of Mubarak Shah - Kotla Mubarakpur
  2. India-seminar.com - Article "A millennium of building, 50 years of destruction" by Ratish Nanda
  3. Indianexpress.com - Article "The lost cities of Delhi" (dated Sep 27, 2009) by The lost cities of Delhi Alokparna Das 
  4. Sarsonkekhet.in - Dilli Darshan: Sayyid and Lodhi Delhi