City Monument – Khwaja Mir Dard’s Tomb, Near Zakir Husain College
The resting place of Delhi’s great poet-saint.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
It is one of Delhi’s most melancholic monuments. The tomb of Khwaja Mir Dard (1721-1785), an Urdu poet and a Sufi saint, is beautiful, but not in a conventional way. It has no dome. Situated near Zakir Husain College, next to the glass highrise of Municipal Council of Delhi, the tomb is not of marble or red sandstone, but of bricks. The roof is of tin, painted white. The upper part of the wall is of crude wire mesh. The concrete portion has drawings of flowers.
The green circular shrine is caved in by a congested neighborhood of unpainted apartments and hole-in-the-wall shops, which is named after its patron saint; Basti Hazrat Khwaja Mir Dard. The settlement was developed over a graveyard. The multi-floor shanties were built over tombs. Only a few graves are left intact.
The mausoleum has 13 tombs, all done up in ceramic tiles of white, green and blue. The head stones are raised on four tombs. The inscriptions etched on them have faded. Khawaja’s tomb has an awning of purple-and-green silk. Most tombs are covered with green clothes, each frilled with golden lace.
In the day, goats come inside and hop across the tombs. Sometimes, children enter and climb the poles.
In the evening, a ram laddu vendor stands outside the shrine. Next to him is a butcher’s stall. Meat pieces lie strung out on a line. The ‘circle’ is like a community center. In the night, boys gather and smoke cigarettes.
Since the mausoleum is not completely walled in by concrete, the sounds of the neighborhood – whispers, shouts, and laughter – enter easily. That fails to disturb the stillness of the place.
In her book Pain and Grace: A Study of Two Mystical Writers of Eighteenth-Century Muslim India (1976), the late Sufism scholar Annemarie Schimmel wrote, “In his time, Khwaja Mir Dard was one of the great mystical leaders of Delhi and was, at the same time, the first to write mystical verses in Urdu.”
After he gave himself the pen-name ‘Dard’, meaning pain in Urdu, Khwaja Mir composed a soliloquy:
You have been called Dard not because you should become pained by the pain of things beside God but because you should be completely exempt from corporeal pain and get the pain of the heart which is the means of salvation in both worlds…
Unlike other poets, musicians and scholars who fled to the east in search of livelihood as Delhi was ravaged by invaders, Dard never left his city.
Until a few years ago the mausoleum had no roof; the tombs were exposed to sun, moon, stars, rain and dust-storm. That setting was more poetic.
Where Khwaja Mir Dard Basti, next to Zakir Husain College Nearest Metro Station New Delhi Railway Station
Khwaja Mir Dard’s tomb
Where’s the grass?
I can climb higher
Ram laddu walla
The basti scene
Rest in peace