Another Visit to Khan Jahan Tilangani’s Tomb

The Aga Khan Trust has started restoration work on parts of the mid-14th c tomb of Khan Jahan Tilangani, located in Nizamuddin basti. Tilangani was prime minister during the rule of Firoz Shah Tughlaq.Though the parts of the tomb that are being worked on are out of bounds to the general public for now (I think), I was lucky enough to get a tour of the site and take some photos. The restoration work is going to be laborious and time-consuming for multiple reasons, one being the narrow lanes around the tomb, which necessitate that the supply of materials and removal of debris be done manually, from and to a distant location. Hopefully after a few years the fruits of all this labour will be sweet.

Tilangani’s tomb was the first octagonal tomb built in India, and is the first in a series of five octagonal tombs that were built in Delhi from the mid-14th to mid-16th c, spanning the Tughlaq, Sayyid, Lodi and Suri eras. There is a sixth octagonal tomb in Delhi from the Mughal era (the prominent tomb of Adham Khan in Mehrauli, also known as Bhul Bhulaiya, mid-16th c), but this last one is stylistically a little different from the earlier five, even though it was patterned on them. These five tombs are among my favourite monuments in the city, not least because they form a stylistically cohesiveness set that can be compared and contrasted. For this reason I always relish any chance to examine them in detail.


Photos from Earlier Visits to Tilangani’s Tomb

For the past many decades there have been multiple families living in different parts of Tilangani’s tomb, after partitioning its various spaces. They have also constructed walls outside and around the tomb, surrounding it and blocking line of sight. So in my first two visits (the recent visit was my third) I only got to see small sections of the tomb’s outer walls from street level. On the second visit I climbed onto a neighboring terrace for a view of the tomb’s roof from a higher vantage point. Also, in these earlier visits I only got to see the tomb from the northern side.

On my first visit in March 2009, I only got fleeting glimpses of the tomb, hidden behind modern construction:


On the second visit in November 2014 I got a little bolder and saw more of the tomb, including the state of the domes on the roof:


Isa Khan’s Tomb for Reference

Just across the road from Tilangani’s tomb, but in another world in terms of heritage siting, sits Isa Khan’s tomb from the mid-16th c. Part of the Humayun’s Tomb complex, this is the last of the five octagonal tombs in the Delhi series. The main features of the series are on clear display here: the octagonal outer walkway surrounding the octagonal central chamber; each of the eight sides/faces of the structure spanned by three arches; the prominent buttress of the corner pillars; the continuous bracketed chajja (sunshade) running above the arches; and the smaller chattris (or small domes in some cases) surrounding the large central dome.

A closer look at the corner buttress and repeating three-arch design on each face of the tomb:


The Recent Visit to Tilangani’s Tomb

My third and most recent visit to Tilangani’s tomb in January 2018 was to the areas that the Aga Khan Trust has been able to procure. This is on the south side of the tomb (as opposed to the north side I had visited earlier). In all the various projects that the Aga Khan Trust has undertaken in Nizamuddin, they have worked in conjunction with the residents of the area, including when families have had to be relocated. This instance is no different. They have been able to access and clear the central chamber via one of the arches of the outer walkway. Slowly they hope to gain access to the other portions of the outer walkway as well.

(Note: A few photos from a subsequent visit in March 2018 have been added at the end of this post.)

In the first few photos you can clearly see the corner buttress, as well as two of the three arches of one face of the exposed structure (the third arch is still hidden behind modern construction). Also intact are the brackets that held up the sunshade, the decorative crenelations running along the top of the wall, and some decorative elements in plaster.


Below are photos of the arch that leads into the central chamber. We can see modern walls on both sides of the arch, creating a passageway from the outer arch to the inner arch. The inner arch, with two sets of lintelled door frames, is the entrance to the central chamber. The area between the outer and inner arches is actually the wrap-around outer walkway of the tomb, which has been divided up with walls and segmented to create multiple houses for multiple families. One large family used to occupy the central chamber and the current passage that leads to it.

From the two photos from Sikandar Lodi’s tomb (Lodi Gardens, early-16th c) that are included below, the same set up is clearly discernible. The inner arch with two sets of lintelled door frames leads into the central chamber, and the space between the inner arch and outer arch is occupied by the outer walkway. This gives an idea of what the space would look like without the modern walls that currently segment the outer walkway space of Tilangani’s tomb.


Sikandar Lodi’s tomb (see paragraph above):


Below are photos of the central chamber, with multiple graves. Small arched openings above the roof level of the outer walkway are a common feature of these octagonal tombs. We can see that on the interior each of the walls have just one arch (as opposed to three on the outside). All the inner arches except one are still closed off. It will be really interesting to follow the restoration process of this tomb over the coming years.


Photos From a Subsequent Visit in March 2018

A few more photos from the south side of Tilangani’s tomb, taken from just outside the space where the Aga Khan Trust is working.

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