Growing up in Green Park in south Delhi, my friends and I spent a large part of our summer holidays skipping in and out of the many monuments that dot the area. We would cycle down the road near Aurobindo Place Market and along just that one road leading up to Hauz Khas Village, we had access to five monuments, then some more within Deer Park, and even a chance to explore two smaller monuments near Green Park market.
But as we played hide and seek in the arches and had mini picnics inside those cool spaces, we had no idea about the people in whose memory these monuments were built. That’s why when the third edition of Rakhshanda Jalil’s book Invisible City: The Hidden Monuments of Delhi was released, I could not resist thumbing through it to find out about the monuments that are part of my childhood memories.
Invisible City—The Hidden Monuments of Delhi: By Rakhshanda Jalil, photographs by Prabhas Roy, Niyogi Books, 342 pages, Rs 795.
“There are so many beautiful old buildings in Delhi, but there is very little information about these places,” says Jalil, who used Delhi: The Built Heritage—the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage’s (Intach’s) two-volume listing of Delhi’s monuments—for her bare-bones research. She also relied on Asarus Sanadeed by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and Monuments of Delhi by Maulvi Zafar Hasan. “Both these books have information translated from Urdu and Persian from many of these monuments,” says Jalil. She also looked through Steven Carr’s The Archaeology and Monumental Remains of Delhi.
Jalil picks five places she thinks make for a great journey of discovering Delhi through its not-so-well-known neighbourhood monuments.
The tomb and mosque of Shaikh Fazlullah, better known by his nom de plume, Jamali Kamali, are almost invisible. The archaeological park in which Jamali Kamali is situated has a profusion of domed buildings, dalans (courtyards) and mosques but none is preserved as well as these two buildings are. Constructed during Babar’s time by Fazlullah himself, the tomb was complete in 1536 and the mosque a little later. Built in Lodhi style, the mosque has a jharokha (window) above its recessed inner arch and is decorated with mihrabs (decorative arch in a wall). The central arch juts out from the others in a row and is flanked by fluted pilasters.
Exquisitely preserved: (left) Tile work inside the Jamali Kamali tomb; and a view of the monument in the Mehrauli Archaeological Park. Courtesy Invisible City
From a small gate to the north, there is an entry into the funerary enclosure where a square tomb houses two small graves. The ceiling is covered with exquisite stucco in blue, green and white and a border of blue tiles runs on the outer walls.
Find it: Between Delhi and Gurgaon on the Mehrauli-Mahipalpur road
Why it makes it to Jalil’s list: Unusually well-preserved, with a beautiful surrounding ambience.
AROUND THE SUNDER NURSERY
According to Jalil, this is a treasure trove of tombs and pavilions. Facing the entry to the nursery is the Sunderwala Burj: a simple, unadorned square building with a single, squat dome. A close inspection reveals the most detailed Quranic inscriptions on the internal walls and the underside of the dome. To the south-east of this monument lies the Sunderwala Mahal, a rectangular rubble-built monument. This is a tomb, not a mahal. Two staircases leading up to the roof suggest there may have been another structure here earlier. The entire building has been renovated with help from the Aga Khan Trust for Culture.
Simplicity of style: Sunderwala Mahal, near Sunder Nursery.
Find it: Near Sunder Nagar Nursery, off Mathura Road
Why it makes it to Jalil’s list: Exploring this area is tantamount to taking a short heritage walk.
TOMB OF ATGAH KHAN
One of the few Akbar-period buildings in Delhi, this is a spectacular Mughal-style monument. Atgah Khan was believed to be Akbar’s foster father and the husband of Ji Ji Anagah, one of Akbar’s wet nurses. Atgah Khan was murdered by Adham Khan, the son of Maham Anagah (if you have seen the movie Jodhaa Akbar, you cannot miss these characters), another wet nurse.
Intricate work: Atgah Khan’s tomb in Nizamuddin West.
Atgah Khan’s tomb, built by his son Mirza Aziz Kokaltash, is a handsome red and white structure, with elaborate detailing in red sandstone and white marble interspersed with tiles. The four walls have deeply recessed arches with lattice stone screens. You will also find the tombs of Amir Khusrau, Mirza Ghalib and princess Jahanara nearby.
Find it: In Nizamuddin West
Why it makes it to Jalil’s list: The delicate red and white stonework looks beautiful.
While it may not have the grandeur or scale of Jama Masjid, this mosque has the most pleasing proportions. Built in 1542, it shows the transition from squat, sloping-walled Lodhi-style mosques to more refined Mughal period mosques. The east-facing rear wall is studded with oriel windows and flanked on either side by double-storey semi-octagonal towers topped with chhatris (canopies). A red and white border with traces of blue tile work can be see along the edges of the windows. The western facade has five perfectly proportionate, equal-size arches, with the central one framed within a projection and flanked by fluted pilasters decorated with inlay work. Red sandstone, black and white marble and grey slate have all been used.
Perfect proportions: Qila-e-Kuhna Masjid, Purana Qila
Find it: Inside Purana Qila, next to Delhi Zoo, Mathura Road
Why it makes it to Jalil’s list: Different building materials have been used well together.
BARA BATASHEWALA MAHAL AND CHHOTA BATASHEWALA MAHAL
The Bara Batashewala Mahal is the tomb of Muzaffar Husain Mirza, the grand nephew of Humayun. It stands on a platform and has five arches on each side. It looks simple from the outside but the walls within are ornamental, with incised and painted plaster. Built in 1603-04, the monument shows signs of serious deterioration. There are staircases leading up to the roof but the first floor is all gone. Close by is the Chhota Batashewala Mahal, which was once an arcaded octagonal building with a domed ceiling and stone jaalis (screens with geometric patterns).
In ruin: Bara Batashewala Mahal.
Find it: Inside the Bharatiyam Complex, towards the Boys’ Scout Camp, facing the Humayan’s Tomb parking
Why it makes it to Jalil’s list: Because the guards will stop you. These are public monuments and we should all be allowed to see these hidden gems.