February 06, 2016

Khas Mahal, Red Fort complex, Delhi

This article is part of a series about Red Fort, Delhi. Refer Pixelated Memories – Red Fort complex for the composite post.


“The Mughal buildings which remain…without their carpets, awnings and gorgeous trappings they look strangely uncomfortable: cold and hard and white, difficult to imagine back into life. Today, as the pavilions lie empty and neglected, they look like ossified tents – silk turned to stone. The Emperor is dead; the courtiers have dispersed. The whole structure has crumbled. The gorgeous canopies have rotted, the bamboo supports have snapped. The dazzling inlay of precious stones was long ago picked out with daggers.”
– William Dalrymple, “City of Djinns”

Conceived as the most extravagantly described, opulently adorned and painstakingly sculpted residential pavilion within the magnificent Red Fort complex, the dazzlingly resplendent “Aramgah-i-Muqaddas” (“The Most Auspicious of Residences”), more popularly referred to as “Khas Mahal” (“Royal Palace”), was envisaged as Emperor Shahjahan’s personal palace. Indeed, so unbelievably outstanding are its numerous ornamental features, so superlatively detailed are its delicate stone filigree screens and so meticulously sculpted are its various decorative elements that sycophantic royal chroniclers could not resist drenching it in such explicably grandiose prose, such inordinately lavish praise that one would have condescendingly dismissed their flattering words as superfluous hyperbole were one not witnessing festooned throughout the gorgeous edifice the incomparable spectacle of mesmerizing poetry described so dexterously in cold stone.

Externally perceptible as being only moderately-proportioned vis-à-vis other mammoth palaces and luxurious residential edifices scattered within the spellbinding complex, the palace’s incomparable majesty does not really feature in most fastidiously descriptive texts and effusively reminiscent photo-features, comprehensible of course in light of its incomparable splendor’s characteristic elusiveness to being comprehended in mere words. The fascinatingly detailed individual features – the rococo explosion of impenetrably intertwined vegetative scrolls, highly exquisite red sandstone lattice screens, vibrantly multi-hued floral motifs and hundreds of other imaginatively conceived geometric patterns – seamlessly culminate in a whole that unfailingly is, in terms of visual composition, irresistibly enthralling and densely impermeable.


The entire outstanding palace is fragmented into three divisions – “Tasbih-Khana” (prayer room), “Baithak” (dining/living room, also otherwise employed in the capacity of a “Toshkhana” (regal wardrobe)) and “Khwabgah” (bedroom) – and gurgling soothingly through the center of each is the “Nahr-i-Bisht” (“Stream of Paradise”) which once upon a time, heavily intoxicated by the mesmerizing sight of these elegant regal residences, gracefully gushed through the imperial seraglio.

In the Khwabgah would often sit notable rhapsodists, regaling with their fantastical tales and mythological folklore, lulling to regal slumber the powerful emperor who reposed on a comfortable couch separated from them by rich curtains. Along the profusely ornamented inner wall, outlined by extravagant festooning of sculpted foliage and floral patterns, is the fabulous fortress-palace's most renowned pictorial depiction – a tremendously exquisite representation of “Mizan-i-Adal”, or Scales of Justice, ostentatiously accompanied by several seemingly-brilliant stars and framed within a scythe-like sharp crescent moon.

Contiguous with the outstanding palace along its (formerly) river-facing side is Muthamman Burj, a semi-octagonal tower crowned by an attractive, immaculately rounded onion dome. Its present limestone-plastered surface luminously glistening unblemished white in the sunshine, the dome was originally lavishly gilded with gold, thus the nomenclature “Burj-i-Tilla”. A protruding window (“jharokha”) built into the wonderful tower was where the royally-attired emperor would appear to his subjects every morning for the traditional “darshan” (public appearance). The original jharokha was ordered to be rebuilt by Emperor Akbar Shah II in AD 1808 and an engraved inscription to the effect notes thus –

“Muinuddin Abu Nasr Akbar Ghazi, king of the world, conqueror of the age, and shadow of God,
on the face of Muthamman-Burj, built anew such a seat that the sun and moon sew their eyes on it.
May the seat of Akbar Shah be of exalted foundation. Year 1223 Hijri”

The imperial seraglio - Khas Mahal (left) and Rang Mahal.
Muthamman Burj is conspicuous by its onion dome.

Ferocious elephant and lion fights were regularly organized on the sand stretch underneath this tower for the enjoyment of the mighty sovereign. The elephant-trainers (“mahouts”) goaded their animals fearlessly and would often themselves be brutally and mortally crushed between the massive charging beasts, nonetheless they were propelled into the fearsome melee by two considerations – unbridled appreciation and pecuniary reward if they won, and financial support and professional assistance for their families if they lost. On the morning of May 11, 1857, however, there were no fierce animal-fights and yet the sand stretch swarmed with endless humanity – mutineers of the 3rd Light Cavalry of British East India Co.'s army had assembled here and were being addressed from the emperor’s window by Captain Douglas.

Via the small “Khizrabad Gate”, a steep flight of stairs descended, from underneath the beautiful domed tower to the riverfront, and was only privately used by the emperor, especially when embarking on boat journeys on river Yamuna adjacent.

The flawless sparkling white marble of Khas Mahal has miserably descended to mottled rotting cream-brown, the dexterously adorned walls have been irrevocably spoiled by avaricious plunderers-conquerors, the impressive inlay of semi-precious multicolored stones, agates and carnelians has wretchedly been despoiled, and the vibrantly sparkling porcelain-ware and the traditionally designed vases sporting fragrant colorful flowers too have disappeared, yet the handsome regal palace resiliently, though sharply in contrast with its present despondent existence, retains its irrepressible flair of royal dignity, unrestrained prosperous flamboyance and matchless artistic originality.
The shadow of heaven?

One cannot however helplessly fail to cringe at its unwarranted fall, more especially so considering that unanimously did numerous ingratiating court chroniclers and eminent calligraphists leave behind glittering tributes to its original illustriousness. Reiterated here for emphasis is the resplendent legend inscribed on its entrance arch by the distinguished royal calligraphist Sa'adullah Khan –

“Praise be to God! How beautiful are these painted mansions and how charming are these residences: a part of the high heavens they are! I may say the high-souled holy angels are desirous of looking at them!
If the residents of different parts and directions of the world should come to walk round them, as they walk round the Ka’aba, it would be allowable; or if the beholders of the two worlds should run to kiss their highly glorious threshold as they kiss the black stone at Ka'aba, it would be proper.

The commencement of this great Fort, which is higher than the palace of the heavens and is the envy of the wall of Alexander; and of this pleasant edifice; and of the Garden of Hayat Baksh, which is to these buildings as the soul to the body, and the lamp to an assembly; and of the pure canal, the limpid water of which is to the person possessing sight as a mirror showing the world, and to the wise, the exposer of the secret world; and the water-cascades, each of which you may say is the whiteness of the dawn, or a tablet containing secrets of the Table and Pen of Fate; and of the fountains, each of which is a hand of light inclined to shake hands with the inhabitants of heavens, or is a string of bright pearls made to descend to reward the inhabitants of the earth; and of the tank, full to the brim of the water of life and in its purity the envy of light and the spring of the sun, announced in AD 1639, the 12th year of the holy ascension, proved to be the harbinger of happiness for men.

The completion of it, at the expense of fifty lakh of rupees, by the power of the auspicious feet of the sovereign of the earth, the lord of the world, the originator of these heavenly buildings, Shihabuddin Muhammad, the second lord of felicity, Shahjahan, the King, the champion of the faith, opened in the 21st blessed year of the accession, the door of grace to the world.”

Mere pitiful remnant this?! Unbelievable!

Location: Red Fort, Old Delhi (Shahjahanabad). The fortress, located at an extremity of the renowned Chandni Chowk street and connected to all parts of the city via regular bus and metro services, remains open everyday from 9 am to 6 pm, followed by a light-and-sound show.
Nearest Metro Station: Chandni Chowk
Nearest Bus stop: Red Fort
Nearest Railway Station: Purani Dilli
How to reach: The fortress is a mere half kilometer from the metro station and about a kilometer from the railway station. Walk from either of them. The bus stop is located immediately across it and is connected to all parts of the city via regular bus service. There are regular trains throughout the day to Purani Dilli on Delhi circular railway line and from the neighboring suburbs.
Entrance fees (inclusive of museum charges): Indians: Rs 15; Foreigners: Rs 250
Photography/video charges: Nil. Tripods not allowed without prior permission.
Relevant Links -
Composite post about the fortress complex -
Pixelated Memories - Red Fort complex
Other edifices/museums located within the fortress complex -
  1. Pixelated Memories - Baoli, Red Fort complex
  2. Pixelated Memories - Chatta Chowk, Red Fort complex
  3. Pixelated Memories - Diwan-i-Am, Red Fort complex
  4. Pixelated Memories - Diwan-i-Khas, Red Fort complex
  5. Pixelated Memories - Freedom Fighter Museum and Salimgarh Fort complex
  6. Pixelated Memories - Hira Mahal, Red Fort complex
  7. Pixelated Memories - Mumtaz Mahal and Rang Mahal, Red Fort complex
  8. Pixelated Memories - Naubat Khana, Red Fort complex
  9. Pixelated Memories - Sawan–Bhadon Pavilions and Zafar Mahal, Red Fort complex
  10. Pixelated Memories - Shah Burj and Burj-i-Shamli, Red Fort complex
Other monuments/landmarks located in the immediate vicinity -
  1. Pixelated Memories - Jama Masjid
  2. Pixelated Memories - Gurudwara Sis Ganj Sahib
  3. Pixelated Memories - Sunehri Masjid (Chandni Chowk)
  4. Pixelated Memories - Sunehri Masjid (near Red Fort)
Suggested reading -

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