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The Tomb of Safdar Jung

The Safdar Jang tomb was built for Mirza Muqin Abul Mansur Khan, whom we today know as Safdar Jang. The tomb was built by his son Nawab Shuja-ud Daula in 1754. Mirza Muqin or Safdar Jang succeeded his father as the second Nawab of Awadh, and when Ahmad Shah became the Emperor, he was appointed as the Wazir ul-Mamlak-i-Hindustan (Prime Minister) of the Mughal Empire. While some texts that I have read refer him as the chief minister of India, there are many first hands accounts that tell us that he was not the chief minister but the Prime Minister of the Mughal Empire. The tomb also suggests the same, because a chief minister would not get such a grandiose tomb in the first place. One should also note that by this time, the Mughal treasury was also running low and power was slipping in British hands. Ahmad Shah had inherited a very weak empire from his father Muhammad Shah, also known as ‘Rangila’. His administrative weaknesses also led to the rise of the uprising Feroze Jung III, who later imprisoned Ahmad Shah. But this article is not about the complex political fiasco between Ahmad Shah Safdar Jang, Feroze Jung, Qudsia Begum, Sadashivrao Bhau, Aqibat Mahmud, Javed Khan, Ahmad Khan Bangash, and many more; this piece aims to talk about the architectural marvel that the Safdar Jang tomb is, and how it is one of the last monumental tombs built by the Mughals.

The tomb stands very near the Bagh-e-Jadd (present-day Lodi Garden). If one travels through Amrita Shergill Marg on the side which has Goa Sadan, and then takes a right from the end of the road, you reach Safdar Jang Tomb built at one of the most prominent locations of the city, just between the juncture of Central Delhi and South Delhi. The road on which it stands is also called Safdar Jang road, taking its name from the illustrious tomb. The historic name of the area is actually Aliganj and the area also houses the Dargah of Hazrat Arif Ali Shah, the Burj Kasa e Hazrat Fatima or Bibi Ki Chakki as it is better known, the tomb of Nawab Mirza Najaf Khan, and Mah Khanum’s tomb. The locals of Aliganj, today commonly known as the area around the INA market, still refer to the tomb as ‘Mansur Ka Maqbara’. The architect of the tomb was an Abyssinian called Shaidi Bilal Mohammad Khan and it was built at an excessive cost 3 lakh rupees. The southern end of this tomb is also the historic location where Timur Lang fought with the Tughlaq forces in 1398. There is a door on the right side of the tomb within the complex which leads to a three-domed mosque, which is used every Friday for congregational prayers. The builders of the tomb have also been accused of plundering stones from the tomb of Abdur Rahim Khan e Khana’n (son of Bairam Khan; trusted advisor of both Humayun and Akbar; also known as Khan-i-Khanan) located in present-day Nizamuddin East, about 15 mins away from Safdar Jang tomb. But there are many accounts such as that of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan which refute the theory of plundering stones.

The arched gateway of the tomb is today very famous amongst photographers who use it to make a dramatic frame. The tomb had 4 key features: the Chahar Bagh plan of the garden inspired from the Humayun’s tomb which first introduced the Islamic concept of the Garden of Paradise in India; a ninefold floor plan; four façades of the tomb with engrailed entrance arches in marble, red sandstone, and white spandrels; and the mausoleum which stands on a high platform containing a series of recessed arches above which the façade of the central doorway rises above the level of the roof with a set of marble cupolas flanked with a tapering minaret on either side. The marble dome of the tomb rises from a sixteen-sided red sandstone drum and follows the Persian bulbous pattern which many people call the onion dome or the Persian dome. These domes were popularized under the Seljuqs, Timurids, Safavids, and the Qajars. Some of the best domes across the world are built in this style. If one wants to see their beauty, the best places would be the Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmad Yasawi in Kazakhstan or the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque in Isfahan, Iran. Even the model for Humayun’s tomb and Taj Mahal comes from the Uzbek architecture which maintained the Timurid style of dome building. Coming back to the Safdar Jang tomb; the dome is topped by a lotus finial with a marble pinnacle. One must note that the Lotus finial is very common amongst the Mughals, as they found the domes built by the Sultanate very simple and after trying a lot of styles, they settled with the lotus finial with a marble on top. Today uneducated right-wingers who garner their knowledge from WhatsApp forwards associate the lotus finial with Hinduism, but if one studies architecture and its trends in association with heritage, you will realize that there at least in India, religion and architecture have never collided. If one wants to study more about this connection, I suggest you watch all the Ted talks given by Delhi based Historian Sohail Hashmi.

Earlier there used to be canals and tanks on all sides of the tomb, but now we only have British lawns. The central chamber of the tomb contains a marble sarcophagus (a coffin adorned with inscriptions/sculpture). The actual grave is actually in the basement below, where there is one more earthen mound, which is believed to be that of Safdar Jang’s wife, Khujista Begum. The main entry gate to the tomb is two-storied and it had very elaborate ornamentation over plastered surfaces. There is an inscription in Arabic which translates into “When the hero of plain bravery departs from the transitory, may he become a resident of god’s paradise”. The interior of the tomb is covered with Rocco plaster which is an ornamental and theatrical style of art and architecture combining curves, gilding, and molding. There are buildings on three sides of the garden. On the south is the Moti Mahal, on the west is the Junglee Mahal, and on the North is the most beautiful one called Badshah Pasand. The Archeological Survey of India (ASI) had its office in the Moti Mahal till a few years back. These buildings/palaces were used as residences by the Mughal nobles and their families.

The tomb is a reminder of the time when Mughal power was almost eroded but still not wanned off. It also reminds us of the glorious times of Delhi when the eccentric culture of the Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb was followed and the city was blooming culturally. With so many attacks on Delhi, the people of Delhi came to be known as ‘Dilwalon Ki Dilli’. The Safdar Jang tomb today stands as a reminder of all of this. I usually go there early in the morning, to read books on Delhi and reminisce on a very glorious period of Indian History.


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