I had thought that this leg of Dilli Darshaning was going to be of interest mostly only because it would take me to localities in south Delhi that I’d never been to before, while the buildings themselves would be nothing to write home about (or in this case write a blog post about). This is because common lore dictates that Delhi under the Sayyids and Lodhis became a “Necropolis”, a city filled with tombs and graves and nothing much else.
Throughout the 14th and 15th centuries, neither the Sayyid nor Lodhi sultans had the resources to construct new cities like their predecessors, so they stayed instead in the existing palaces and forts of Delhi. Then, at the end of the 15th century, Sikander Lodhi moved his capital from Delhi to Agra, further restricting the possibility of new palace/fort/city construction activity in Delhi. Agra stayed as the seat of power (shared sometimes with Lahore) for the Lodhis and subsequent Mughals till Shah Jahan built Shahjahanabad in the mid-17th century, with the brief interlude of Humayun and Sher Shah Suri constructing Dinpanah in the mid-16th century.
So, the extensive and multiple fort, palace and city construction that went on in the early Sultanate and Tughlaq times basically came to a halt from the early-14th to mid-17th centuries (again apart from the construction of Dinpanah and possibly “Dilli Sher Shahi”, both of which didn’t stay as the center of power for more than a few years).
However, during all these years, Delhi still maintained it’s role as the favored final resting place of many Sayyid, Lodhi and Mughal rulers and nobles. Therefore, while the population of Delhi and it’s non-tomb building activity dwindled, tomb construction carried on in full swing, as evidenced by the many many tombs spread all over Delhi, thus leading to it’s reputation as a necropolis.
With all of this information as background, I set off seeking these tombs without much anticipation of discovering any fun things architecturally, since in my mind the tombs were more or less similar once they were categorized into different types, and so if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all! While the tombs did end up being more interesting than I had thought, the real surprise of this leg were the various mosques, both big and small, from this time period that are strewn about the city.
Sometimes these mosques accompany the better known tombs, and sometimes they stand on their own, but many of them are real architectural gems that unfathomably do not find their way onto too many guide books. There is such a great collection and variety of these mosques, that I think Delhi tourism could use them as a promotional tool separate from all the other architectural attractions of Delhi. One possible reason for the lack of promotion of and awareness about these mosques is the “bigger is better” attitude of architectural tourism promotion (which indeed is also often the attitude of architectural historians). Most of these mosques are not very big (relatively speaking), and so are ignored.
I’m going to start a “Dilli Darshan Debriefing” series of posts, where I’ll digest and analyze the stuff I’ve encountered in my Dilli Darshan explorations, and one of the posts will definitely be about all these mosques. But here we look first a those more famous tombs.
These are the “usual suspects” of Sayyid and Lodhi period architecture. I’ve been wondering what the best way is to organize these tombs for discussion in this post – whether I should introduce them according to the area they’re situated in, or according to their basic architectural type. I chose the latter, as this allows for a better visual narrative.
There are three basic types of tombs – octagonal, square and pavilion or chattri.
My count for octagonal tombs in Delhi is at six, with two built for Sayyid sultans, one for a Lodhi sultan, one built earlier during Firoz Shah Tughlaq’s reign, and two for Mughal courtiers. As an aside, by the time of the Mughals the relatively small octagonal tomb design was considered too infra dig for the great Mughal emperors, and was used early on just for these two courtiers.
So only three of the six octagonal tombs were built by the Sayyids/Lodhis, but this is a good place to showcase all six. In a future Dilli Darshan “Debriefing” post I’ll compare the situation and condition of these six tombs, but for now I’ll stick to a brief visual comparison.
The first octagonal tomb built in Delhi is of course Khan Jahan Tilangani’s (late 14th c.), which I had mentioned in the Nizamuddin post, and which is now almost completely invisible due to encroachment.
The next octagonal tomb is the Sayyid sultan Mubarak Shah’s tomb (mid-15th c.), which is now surrounded on all sides by the urban village of Kotla Mubarakpur. A fence around the tomb makes it inaccessible, and also keeps one from getting any decent views of it.
In a completely contrasting setting is the tomb of Muhammad Shah (first half of 15th c.), the Sayyid successor of Mubarak Shah above. This tomb is within the extensive Lodhi Gardens, so called because of all the monuments located in it, and thus much better preserved and displayed. It is the only octagonal tomb without an enclosing wall, but the tomb itself is nice, and with beautiful ceiling details.
Sikandar Lodhi’s tomb (early 16th c.), also within Lodhi Gardens, lacks the chattis (rooftop pavilions) of Muhammad Shah’s tomb, but has an imposing wall around it (probably big enough to be called a Kotla – a small fort) with a quirky but nice wall mosque attached, and tilework detailing on the interior.
Isa Khan’s tomb (first half of 16th c.) was built in the Mughal period (more precisely during the 15 year Sher Shah/Salim Shah interregnum during Humayun’s rule), and is still my favourite Delhi octagonal tomb. There’s more about it in the Nizamuddin post.
The last octagonal tomb is Adham Khan’s (second half of 16th c.). This tomb is different in scale, detailing and overall effect than it’s predeceasing octagonal tombs, though it maintains a basic stylistic continuity. I discuss this tomb and it’s differences further in the Mehrauli post.
A majority of the Sayyid and Lodhi tombs are of the square variety. As we’ll see in the photos, these tombs were different stylistically from earlier Tughlaq tombs, being much larger and more ornate.
Up first are Poti ka Gumbad (late 14th c.) and Dadi ka Gumbad (late 15th c.) in Green Park/Hauz Khas. The earlier, smaller tomb is Tughlaq while the larger, later tomb is Lodhi. The difference in scale is typical of these two periods, as is the more austere decorative treatment in Tughlaq architecture, and the more ornately decorative Lodhi architecture.
Dadi ka Gumbad and Poti ka Gumbad
Another example of Tughlaq and Lodhi tombs side by side is the David-and-Goliath pairing at Bijri Khan’s tomb (15th c.) in RK Puram.
Barah Khamba (14th c.) is a Tughlaq-era structure near the Dadi and Poti Gumbads, and has stylistic simiarities with the earlier Tohfewala Gumbad (early 14th c.) in Shahpur Jat (though this might have been inacurately restored), and later Sayyid/Lodhi-era tomb (15th c.) in the Mehrauli archaological park.
Bagh-i-Alam ka Gumbad (late 15th c.) is the most imposing tomb in the Hauz Khas park.
Munda (bald) Gumbad (15th c.) in RK Puram.
The Wazirpur group of tombs (late 15th c.) includes five tombs set close together, near some wall mosques and a baoli
Bade Khan ka Gumbad and Chote Khan ka Gumbad (late 15th c.) in South Extension I.
Sheesh Gumbad (late 15th c.) in Lodhi Gardens, very similar in style to Chote Khan ka Gumbad, but the bottom half of it’s stonework is good enough to have been left exposed.
Mohammadpur-Tin-Burj (late 15th c.) in Mohammadpur (urban) village. This monument has the usual build-right-up-to-the-monument encroachment situation happening, creating an interesting balcony effect at the rear of the structure. This is the structure visible from the main road just behind Bhikaji-Cama Place. Another, smaller and more obsqure, Lodhi-era tomb in Mohammadpur has the other usual encroachment situation: build-right-into-the-monument.
Zamrudpur village has another example of build-right-up-to-the-monument encroachment.
“Pavilion” tombs are open tombs also known as chattris (literally “umbrellas”) or twelve-pillared tombs. They were present in Tughlaq architecture, such as in Shah Alam’s tomb enclosure and the Hauz Khas madrasa (both mentioned in the Firoz Shah post), and carried on into the Lodhi period.
The tomb and mosque enclosure of Makhdum Sahib (late 15th c.) in the Hauz Khas/Mayfair Garden area is a wonderful place, and situated right in the middle of a residential colony (but luckily surrounded by a large garden). It is similar to Shah Alam’s tomb and mosque enclosure (late 14th c.) in that both have low enclosing walls with similar mosques and pavilion tombs.
Returning for a minute to Kotla Mubarakpur, and to the urban village-bashing that I’ve taken such a liking to in this Dilli Darshan string of posts. Kotla Mubarakpur is now a famous market for construction-industry related goods, and not too many people know of the tomb at the heart of the village that gives it it’s name, and even less about the still-surviving mosque that goes along (or once went along) with the tomb.
Like so many of Delhi’s urban villages, this village started inside the mid-15th c. walls (Kotla) surrounding the tomb, and then grew well beyond it. Only fragments of the wall now remain, and just a bit of the south entrance gateway. The mosque within the Kotla, which was not aligned with the tomb to begin with, is now visually and contextually completely separated from the tomb, and completely surrounded by the village. Standing in the small, unevenly shaped open space that exists in front of the mosque, one can almost physically feel the tension between the authorities trying to preserve that open space, and real estate forces laying siege on the space from all sides, standing right on the edge of it, and pressing in constantly to try and claim it.
The tomb itself, as mentioned before, is fenced up and now inaccessible, with a circumambulating street seperating the village buildings from the tomb.
I had visited a few urban villages before this, but Kotla Mubarakpur really took the idea of narrow streets with kissing buildings overhead to a new level for me. The buildings here actually touch for large lenghts, creating dark, dank and forbidding cave-like passageways, and new caves are being formed seemingly every day here.
And finally we get to the beautiful mosques from this period. We’ve already seen the mosques in Mayfair Garden and Kotla Mubarakpur, which are similar to each other in style. These next few come in various shapes and sizes, and have some stylistic similarities, but together make a motley crew of very attractive mosques.
The first few mosques here are from the late 15th c. & early 16th c., which means that they were built at the end of the Lodhi period, just before power transferred to the Mughals, and we can see the evolution of Lodhi mosque design. More mosques from this time-period are described in the Mehrauli post. At the end of this post are a few scattered wall mosques around RK Puram, some still in use and some much altered, and a few other Sayyid/Lodhi era structures around Hauz Khas.
Nili Masjid (early 16th c.) in Hauz Khas.
Muhammad Wali Masjid (late 15th c.) near Siri fort
Moth ki Masjid (early 16th c.) in Masjid Moth, near South Extension
Mosque of Bara Gumbad (late 15th c.) in Lodhi Gardens
Some Lodhi-era wall mosques in the RK Puram area.
And to end this blog, some more structures from the Hauz Khas area.