City Monument – Qudsia Begum’s Gateway, North Delhi
A queen’s souvenir.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The arched gateway in north Delhi’s Qudsia Bagh gently summons the memories of an extinct world.
The 18th-century edifice originally opened into a walled garden overlooking the Yamuna. Today, the river has shifted its course further east — its place taken over by the less romantic Ring Road.
The gateway and the elaborate garden were built around 1748 by Qudsia Begum, one of the wives of Muhammed Shah Rangila, the 14th Mughal emperor and the only one to have his love-making act commissioned in an infamous painting (now with the British Library in London).
Qudsia Begum initially met Rangila as a so-called nautch girl called Udham Bai, and went on to give the Mughals their next emperor Ahmad Shah Bahadur. She died in 1765 and lies buried in Agra.
Her dream garden suffered irreversible damage during the siege of Delhi in 1857.
All that remains is a mosque, a stable and this gateway, dilapidated and yet surreal. Its exquisite plasterwork has fallen off from various places, inadvertently exposing a hidden arrangement of lakhori bricks underneath. The gateway’s decrepitude is regrettable but that does make it exude intense melancholy. While the leaf-heavy branches of the surrounding trees possessively bend towards the building, as if they have a fondness for crumbling relics.
From a distance, the ruin has the sorrowful grandness of a noble family that has fallen into bad times. In winter afternoons, it is shrouded in cold mist (smog?) and gives the impression of a collector’s faded daguerreotype.
A ruined melancholy