City Monument  -Chausath Khamba, Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti

City Monument -Chausath Khamba, Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti

Of light and stone.

[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Winter dhoop is making the marble glow, as if the soothing sunlight were emanating from the opacity of the stones themselves.

The most beautiful of all buildings—old and new—in the congested Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti, the 17th century Chausath Khamba is the world’s first all-marble structure raised by the Mughals. The great Taj Mahal came much later. Additionally, Chausath Khamba’s distinctive theme of pillared hall was later adopted by Emperor Shahjahan for his Diwan-i-Aam, Hall of Audience, at the Red Fort.

Curiously, this is among Delhi’s less visited monuments. Folks are rarely sighted. May be because it lies hidden from the public view, tucked away from the main alley of the Basti, which is named after a sufi saint, whose shrine nestled deeper in the Basti, shapes and crowns and consecrates almost every aspect of the historic locality.

Most of the monument’s walls are of stone screens, of varying designs. These delicate jaalis give a touch of lightness to the structure. Right now, the sunlight is entering freely through the airy pores of the marble lattice, forming embroidered patterns on the floor, as well as on the many graves. Indeed, the place is as much light as it is stone.

A mausoleum for Mirza Aziz Koka—Emperor Akbar’s foster brother—Chausath Khamba has ten graves, two of which belong to Koka and his wife. The tomb is so named because chausath, or 64, pillars support the 25 domes of its stone ceiling. These columns go upwards in a soft, sloping harmony, as if their collective force is obliging the otherwise flat roof to swell into a series of domes. (A handful of graves lie immediately outside the monument, one of it is filled with the water of the recent rains.)

The sublime sangmarmar edifice is ringed by a jagged latticework of another kind, which is the Basti’s new multi-storey edifices. The chaotic architecture is glimpsed however only in bits and fragments, through the graceful monument’s symmetric arches. The contrast is dramatic.