City Monument – Lodhi Garden Ruins, Central Delhi
The ‘qilas’ of Lodhi.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
This is a qila. That is a qila. And that also is a qila. Very common to overhear visitors to the world-famous Lodhi Garden call each of its monuments a “fort,” a common Delhi designation to explain away any unfamiliar monument. Of course, dear reader, you aren’t one of them! But for “qila” people like us, here are tips to sound like a blue-blooded Lodhi Garden geek.
Mostly built by the Sayyids (1414-1451) and Lodhis (1451-1526) of the Delhi Sultanate, the monuments make dramatic centrepieces in this garden, which was created around them in 1936, on the site of Khairpur village. The park was named after Lady Hardinge, the then viceroy’s wife.
Visible while driving down on Lodhi Road, the mausoleum of Emperor Muhammad Shah Sayyid is elegantly circled by Royal Palms. Delhi’s only octagonal tomb without a walled compound, it has a circular corridor in which lamplights cast magnificent shadows at night.
The garden’s second octagonal tomb houses the grave of Sikandar Lodhi. Besides being India’s earliest surviving enclosed garden tomb, it is also the park’s most formidable looking monument.
Lodhi Garden’s social life orbits around these two unknown tombs at its centre.. Bara Gumbad is a cluster of three buildings. The tomb, at the center, no longer has any grave, but the twilight’s gold glow that streams into the chamber poignantly substitutes for the missing dead. The mosque on the right has an extravagant wall decor. The ceiling is as lavish. In contrast, the facing pavilion of Mehman Khana is utterly bare.
Directly opposite the Bara Gumbad stands the Sheesh Gumbad. The dome was originally embellished with blue enameled tiles; hence its name meaning “glazed dome”. The chamber has many graves; their identities lost to history. In the evening, guitar-armed Romeos gather inside to croon lovesick songs in high-pitched voices.
Amid a bamboo grove, a defunct mosque. It has become a refuge for the park’s tired gardeners, who briefly stop by to rest.
A little graveyard lies beside a track going out to KK Birla Lane. Rarely frequented by humans, it is popular with birds and squirrels. Only three graves survive; the third has disintegrated into a stately pile of stones.
One of the few surviving monuments built in Delhi during Mughal emperor Akbar’s reign, the Athpula bridge at the park’s north side resembles a Roman aqueduct. Its seven arches overlook a duck-filled pond.
The garden’s only other Mughal-era relics comprise the remains of a two-storey gateway that led to a now-vanished garden. It is flanked by a small unused mosque (see photo). One evening Bharatnatyam dancers were rehearsing on the courtyard here. This afternoon, the three-bayed chamber is cool, damp, empty and meditative.