City Monuments – Tombs, Domes & a Bridge, Lodhi Garden
Ruins in a landscaped setting.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The Lodhi Garden in central Delhi is famous for its flowers, trees, birds and sloping lawns but before the garden there were the tombs.
Built by the Sayyids (1414-1451) and Lodhis (1451-1526), who once ruled the Delhi sultanate, the tombs, now ruined, make dramatic centerpieces in this garden, which was created around them in 1936 on the site of a village called Khairpur. The park was originally named Lady Hardinge, the then British viceroy’s wife.
Visible from Lodhi Road, the mausoleum of Muhammad Shah Sayyid, said to have been a lazy and inefficient ruler, stands on a mound. One of Delhi’s earliest octagonal tombs, it is surrounded by royal palms and has a verandah running around it with three arched openings on each of the eight sides. Strangely, it is Delhi’s only octagonal tomb with no walled compound. Perhaps the money ran out or the walls collapsed.
The second octagonal tomb in Lodhi Garden is built over the grave of Sikandar Lodhi. This 16th century ruler of the Afghan Lodi dynasty was handsome and brave, but also ruthless and bigoted. That personality is reflected in the tomb. While blue tiles deck the chhatris and battlements, its outer wall spreads out into the grassy expanse in fort-like ramparts. Commissioned by Sikandar’s son Ibrahim, it is India’s earliest surviving enclosed garden tomb (1517).
In the centre of the garden are two unknown tombs around which the life of the garden orbits. Built entirely of dressed stone, Bara Gumbad is a group of three buildings. The central structure with its red sandstone ornamentation, arched recess and decorative battlements is shaped like a tomb though there is no grave. The information on the Archaeological Survey of India slab is classic: “The name of the personage who was buried in the Bara Gumbad, but whose grave no longer exists, is not known, but he must have occupied an important position during Sikandar Lodi’s reign.”
The interior of the adjacent mosque is rich in arabesque stucco décor, Quranic inscriptions and geometric designs are almost baroque in their extravagance. The plasterwork on the walls is exquisite. There are remnants of finely-painted work on the ceiling. In contrast, the facing pavilion called Mehman Khana (guest house), presumably for the mosque’s pilgrims, is bare. No dome, no ornamentation there. Very monastic. The Gumbad’s courtyard is often stirred into animation by the shadows of the flying pigeons moving on the stone surface. In the centre was a tank that was later filled in to make a tomb. Today tourists relax there with their guidebooks.
Directly opposite the Bara Gumbad lies the sunnier Sheesh Gumbad. More beautiful and cheery, its dome was originally embellished with blue enameled tiles; hence its name meaning “glazed dome”. Most tiles are missing. May be it looks better with fewer tiles? The inside chamber is gloomy and houses several unknown graves. Lovers’ scrawls overwrite the floral patterns on the walls.
The Athpula bridge, close to the garden’s chief entrance, is one of few surviving works built in Delhi during Mughal emperor Akbar’s reign (when Agra, not Delhi, was the capital). It spanned a tributary of the Yamuna. Today its seven arches overlook a huge fountain.
Where Near Khan Market Time 6 am to 8 pm Nearest Metro stops Jorbagh and Khan Market
Muhammad Shah Sayyid’s mausoleum
Sikander Lodhi’s tomb
Goodnight Mr Lodhi