Mehrauli is a large urban village that grew around the shrine of the 13th c. Sufi saint Bakhtiyar Kaki, much like Nizamuddin grew around the shrine of Nizamuddin Auliya (also 13th c. though a little later than Bakhtiyar Kaki). Kaki’s shrine was just outside the walls of Lal Kot, the fortified city within which the Qutb Minar is situated, and Mehrauli has grown right up to the edge of the now ruined fortifications.
Just like at Nizamuddin, innumerable tombs and graves were built around Bakhtiyar Kaki’s Dargah, though probably not as many as at Nizamuddin, and this dargah is also still an active Sufi pilgrimage site (though, you guessed it, not as active as Nizamuddin)!
Since it is located just outside Lal Kot, there are many structures in and around Mehrauli that date back to the 13th c. The Mehrauli Archaeological Park, which borders the eastern edge of Mehrauli village, is a trove of Lodhi-era mosques from the 15th c and early 16th c. And since the later Mughal rulers used Mehrauli as a getaway from the hubbub of urban life at Shahjahanabad (where the Mughal court was located), as did some of the British, there are many 18th c. and 19th c. structures and retrofits from late-Mughal and early-British times. Chief among these are Zafar Mahal, which the Mughals used as a palace, and Thomas Metcalf’s personal palace/countryhouse near the Qutb Minar that he called Dilkusha (heart pleasing).
All this means that Mehrauli has a smorgasbord of buildings from Delhi’s different historical periods, a large urban village to explore that contain a dargah and palace, forest lands surrounding the village that hide a plethora of ancient buildings, and is overall quite an interesting place to scout around.
Bakhtiyar Kaki’s Dargah
Kaki’s Dargah is in the middle of Mehrauli, and the various adjunt graves and tombs around Kaki’s own tomb occupy a large contiguous “sacred” space (i.e. you have to take your shoes off) within the village. There is a Naubat Khana (16th c.) some distance away from the dargah complex, which implies that there must have been a large walled compound around the dargah at some point.
The current northern gateway to the dargah complex, with devotees and shops selling devotee paraphernalia. I went to the dargah on a Thursday, the most crowded day to visit a Sufi shrine, and have a separate post with more images of activity at the dargah.
From further away, the marble dome reveals the tomb’s late-Mughal lineage (as do the shape of the columns and interconnecting arches, but not their decorations). The high wall capped with barbed wire (in the image below) very abruptly separates the shrine from the Mughal Zafar Mahal and Moti Masjid, discussed later in this post.
This was the palace that the later Mughals used as a getaway from Shahjahanabad. It’s not very big as Mughal palaces go, signifying the decline of the Mughal empire in the 18th and 19th c, though the royal family must have used other structures as well. The palace was built adjacent to Bakhtiyar Kaki’s shrine, with the Moti Masjid mosque placed right next to the shrine as a private mosque for the royal family. The tall wall from the image above that so abruptly divides the dargah from the palace is a modern addition that was built to separate the two compounds, isolating the archaeologically important palace from dargah visitors. In doing this however, Moti Masjid has now become part of the palace complex, and is no longer accessible from Kaki’s shrine.
Mehrauli, being bigger than most urban villages (which usually consist of a set of narrow thoroughfares running through them), has a main road going through it, on both sides of which the village extends. To the north, this road enters the village at the edge of Lal Kot’s walls, where the mid-16th c. tomb of Adham Khan is located.
Looking towards Mehrauli from Adham Khan’s tomb
Adham Khan’s tomb from Mehrauli’s main street
Adham Khan’s tomb is the sixth octagonal tomb in Delhi, and while it has stylistic similarities with the five earlier tombs, it is different in many ways, and those earlier five are much closer to each other stylistically than this one is. Below is a brief look at how.
Comparing Adham Khan and Isa Khan’s tomb
To compare Adham Khan’s tomb with the earlier octagonal tombs, I’m considering Isa Khan’s tomb to be representative of the earlier tombs, even though those had some differences between them. Isa Khan’s tomb was built in 1547, and Adham Khan’s just a few years later in 1562. The latter tomb was built during the Mughal ruler Akbar’s rule, and Isa Khan’s during the time that Akbar’s father Humayun had lost the fledgling Mughal empire to Sher Shah, which was a 15 year interruption to the powerful Mughal dynasty.
Even though these tombs were built so close together chronologically, Adham Khan’s tomb is a deviation from earlier octagonal tombs, though it seems like it’s builders still wanted it to look like it was in the tradition of those earlier octagonal tombs. Maybe the change in regime meant a change in the available pool of builders, and the new ones did not have the same design and construction tradition and knowledge as the previous builders, or the designers and patrons just wanted to try something, like Monty Python, a little different. A good subject to research for a future Dilli Darshan Debriefing post!
From the facades of the two tombs, what becomes evident is: the missing chattris (cupolas) on the roof of Adham Khan’s tomb; the missing bracketed chajja (overhang) over Adham Khan’s arches; the replacing of heavily battered buttresses at the corners Isa Khan’s tomb with engaged octagonal columns at the corner of Adham Khan’s tomb; the more uniform arch layout in Adham Khan’s tomb; the plainer decorative treatment on Adham Khan’s facade; the elongated proportions of Adham Khan’s tomb versus the more squat proportions of Isa Khan’s (which results in the drum below the main dome becoming visible in Adham Khan’s tomb); the difference in scale, with Adham Khan’s tomb seeming overall larger than Isa Khan’s, though I haven’t verified this yet (this is not that evident in the images because there is no one standing near Isa Khan’s tomb for scale).
Adham Khan’s tomb facade
Isa Khan’s facade
When looking closer at the facades of the two tombs, the difference in corner treatment becomes more prominent. The heavy batter of Isa Khan’s large corner buttresses is replaced by engaged octagonal columns in Adham Khan that, unlike the butteresses, do not seem to be carrying any structural load, and are there just to frame the facade. These octagonal columns do however form a more continuous vertical element with the small turrets (called guldastas – literally bouquets) that cap the eight corners of these tombs. In Isa Khan’s tomb the bracketed chajja (overhang) visually separates the buttress from the turret.
Difference in decorative treatment. The austerity of Adham Khan’s tomb resembles that of a Tughlaq tomb, but without any of the wall batter.
The images below, of the tomb’s outer walkways and the doorways to the inner chamber, depict what I think is one of the main distinguishing features between the two tombs. The decorative treatment as well as the placement of structural components in Isa Khan’s tomb have a dynamic and sculptural quality to them which make the tomb seem much more three dimensional and opulent, from a distance as well as close-up.
For the interior, I used an image from Muhammad Shah’s tomb instead of Isa Khan’s, since the latter is very dark inside and details are difficult to capture on camera. The interiors are quite similar between the two tombs (Adham Khan’s and Muhammad Shah’s), but again there is a lack of vibrancy in Adham Khan’s tomb, similar to the difference in outside treatment. Structurally, Adham Khan’s tomb has a second, 32-sided drum below the dome, which Muhammad Shah’s lacks.
All in all, I would say that the main difference between Adham Khan’s tomb and the earlier octagonal tombs, apart from scale and proportion, is a lack of vibrancy and sculptural quality when it comes to Adham Khan’s tomb. This is evident when looking at the tomb from afar (due to the missing chattris and chajjas, uniformity of arches, subdued ornamentation and lack of battered buttresses) as well as close up (due to the less dynamic ornamentation and placement of structural components). The more intimate scale of earlier tombs also adds to their sense of dynamism.
This lack of vibrancy and dynamism in Adham Khan’s tomb might partly be a result of different or “improved” structural techniques used in the tomb, which allowed for a taller structure and elimination of the need for buttresses, leading to a neater, more vertical structure, which also had the effect of making the building more plain.
All this while the latter and earlier tombs still have so much in common!
The Rest of Mehrauli Proper
Now back to exploring the heart of Mehrauli. Chaumachi Khan’s tomb (16th c.) is a Mughal tomb with a little bit of open space around it. Modern buildings in Mehrauli are often more robust than at other urban villages, indicating the larger amount of space available here.
Chaumachi Khan’s tomb in it’s raised setting
Chaumachi Khan’s tomb
The tomb with a small turret visible behind it. This would have been a corner of the enclosing wall of the tomb. The wall has obviously been torn down and the large residential building on the right built in it’s place, but the turret was spared for some reason
Corner turret. The building behind it seems to have been built in a way that avoids the turret
On the other side, the buildings come much closer, encroaching upon the space within the erstwhile enclosure, so there are no turrets
Clothes drying near Chaumachi Khan’s tomb
Hijron ka Khanqah is a small enclosed courtyard on Mehrauli’s main road, which contains many graves. The wall mosque of the enclosure dates back to the Lodhi-era, while the other rooms around the courtyard seem to be Mughal.
The Lodhi-era tomb below is on the main road, and was converted into a government medical dispensary. From the architecture of the retrofit, the conversion seems to have taken place either during the British period or soon after it. A marble tablet embedded into the compound wall of this structure commemorates local soldiers who fought in World War I, implying that the building was in use (either as dispensary or otherwise) during British times.
Haveli entrance, Mughal
Tomb, Mughal, now used partly as a convenience store
House in Mehrauli, with a combination of colonial and “desi art deco” features
Buildings grow smaller and the scene turns more “rural” as we approach the edge of Mehrauli, and the situation at the edge itself is identical to what the landscape would be like in a village. In this way, Mehrauli repeats what happens in most cities and towns in India, which have urbanized cores that turn rural at the edges before giving way to open land. Of course this is an overly simplified model and the reality is much more varied, but this basic model holds true in most cases.
Fragment of an old wall at the edge of Mehrauli
The “rural” edge of Mehrauli visible behind the gathered kids
North of Mehrauli
The reason why Mehrauli has a “rural edge” (as discussed above) that other urban villages do not, is because Mehrauli is surrounded to the north and north-west by a large forested area known as Sanjay Van, and to the south-west by open land. Therefore, while other urban villages have the neighborhoods of “planned” Delhi at their borders, Mehrauli has open land, which allows it a more ambiguous edge.
Sanjay Van, the forest land north of Mehrauli, also hides many historic structures within it. A path from the village center leads to a 13th c. idgah that was built outside the fortifications of Lal Kot, for large prayer gatherings by Lal Kot residents. This idgah, like other idgahs in Delhi, is a tall, long wall with multiple arched niches and an open space in front of it.
North of the idgah, in the middle of the forest is a grave platform, under which is said to be the chillah (place of meditation) of Baba Farid, successor to Bakhtiyar Kaki and predecessor to Hazrat Nizamuddin in the Chisti order of Sufi saints. The chillah is in a small cave under the large, multi-leveled grave platform. The graves themselves are now covered with multi-colored tiles.
Further on from the chillah are the ruins of Lal Kot’s walls, with some more graves strewn about the landscape near the walls.
Also north of Mehrauli, within the walls of Lal Kot, is a small urban settlement near the Jog Maya Mandir, with some 19th c. buildings around it, like the one below.
Jahaz Mahal, which lies on that one main road through Mehrauli I wrote about earlier, marks the beginning of what I’ve called “south Mehrauli” here. There are various historic structures in this area, but the village is expanding (or has expanded some time ago) into this area towards Andheria Morh (where Mehrauli and it’s main road re-link with Delhi), which I think is a bad idea because this area is contiguous with and can easily be incorporated within the Mehrauli Archaeological Park, which I talk about later in this post.
Jahaz Mahal is a 15th c. structure built on the banks of Hauz Shamsi, a large 13th c. tank at the southern end of Mehrauli. The tank is now a quarter of it’s original size, and unfortunately extremely filthy at the edges. Jahaz Mahal must have been used as some kind of pleasure pavilion.
Jharna (which means “stream” or “waterfall”) is a small early-18th c. and later Mughal pleasure garden/pavilion compound, through which overflow water from Hauz Shamsi used to pass.
Sohan Burj is a 15th c. Lodhi-era building with an attached wall mosque. The building could have been used as a madrasa or meeting hall. The building looks very much like a Lodhi mosque, but of course is facing the wrong direction to be a mosque, and the adjoining wall mosque faces the correct direction (west).
Mehrauli Archeological Park
This archaeological park borders the entire eastern edge of Mehrauli, and is a really good idea. There are plans to improve the park, and I really hope they do that well. It contains many scattered monuments, and some of them are extremely interesting and attractive. Right now the park is overgrown with keekar trees, which I guess are charming in their own way, but really need to be replaced with a more diverse set of trees.
Madhi Masjid (15th c.), one of the many mosques in the park, is well preserved and quite unique. It has a grand entrance gateway with steps leading up to the gateway, a large courtyard beyond, and a beautifully decorated wall-mosque style qibla wall, but with rooms on either side of the open-air mihrab.
Jamali Kamali (mid 16th c.) is the best known historic building in the park, but I didn’t like it as much as the other mosques. The stylistic similarities between this mosque and the slightly earlier Moth-ki-Masjid and slightly later Qila-i-Kohna mosque (among others) are obvious, but both those other mosques as well, I feel, are nicer than this one.
Jamali Kamali is also famous for a very well preserved tomb interior next to the mosque, which is kept locked and only opened by a caretaker, who I’m uncertain was in a bad mood because I didn’t tip him for showing me the tomb or because it was just a very hot day out. In retrospect, I should have tipped him!
Rajon ki Baoli (early 16th c.) is a beautiful baoli (stepped well) in the park, and has an attached mosque which might be my favorite in Delhi. It is a small, intimate mosque, with beautifully etched plaster work. I usually prefer stone or inlay to etched plaster, but the effect on this mosque is very nice!
Bagichi ki Masjid (early 16th c.) is an enclosed wall mosque in the park, with a small entrance gateway and large corner turrets. Many of the mosques in the park are “occupied”, i.e. are being used as residences-cum-mosques, and there is a dispute between the Wakf board (which oversees mosques and other Islamic structures) and the ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) over use of and rights to these mosques. It will be interesting to see what happens to the mosques in the park, since the ASI is planning an overhaul of the park with the 2010 Commonwealth Games in mind.
For my part, I entered this mosque, which from the photos and text of my guidebook appeared deserted, and was soon confronted by a hoard of boys of various ages (say from 8 to 18) who very sincerely told me that I could not take photographs because this is Wakf land, and would not listen to my arguments that it was not and that this was an “open” public mosque. They called an adult on their mobile phone, who also reiterated that I could not take any photos etc etc, so I had to leave without a detailed look at the structure, though I got in some wide shots of the place before all this happened.
I’ve wanted to visit Balban’s tomb (13th c.) from my undergrad days in architecture, when I read that it was considered to be the first building in India with true arches. The structure is very ruined, oddly shaped, and most likely has been heavily restored, so some of the fun of discovery was lost, but it was good to finally see the structure!
My last stop for this Mehrauli post is Dilkusha, the “country house” of Thomas Metcalf at Mehrauli. Metcalf worked for the East India Company, was an agent at the Mughal court, and an important figure in Delhi society during the first half of the 19th c. By that time the Mughals were more or less puppet rulers under the British, so Metcalf would have been a powerful figure. His main residence was north of Shahjahanabad, and he moved to Dilhusha whenever the Mughal royal family moved from Shahjahanabad to Mehrauli.
The grounds and gardens of Dilkusha are extensive, and at the center of it all is the main house, which was constructed around the 16th c. tomb of Quli Khan (brother of Adham Khan from earlier in this post). Metcalf bought the tomb and built around it to construct his house, and also built other strucutres close by. Metcalf’s house seems to have been mostly demolished and the original tomb is now exposed. The follies (readymade, fake ruins) strewn around Dilkusha’s grounds are famous, and extend all the way from Jamali Kamali to the Qutb Minar.
Quli Khan’s tomb/Dilkusha, with the Qutb Minar in the background. The semi-circular arches in front of the tomb’s base are British (and would be part of Metcalf’s house), and can be contrasted with the pointed archs of the original tomb.
This is a really interesting set of ruins near Metcalf’s house. They are British, and lie right next to the Lal Kot walls, below Chaumukha Darwaza. They were probably staff quarters or stables or some such service/auxilarry building