City Monument – Zafar Mahal, Mehrauli
The last palace.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The summer palace of the Mughals, it turned out to be their last major building. It is in ruins.
Situated beside the shrine of Sufi saint Khawaja Qutbuddin Bakhtiar Kaki, Zafar Mahal is in South Delhi’s Mehrauli village. Its beauty lie unnoticed. Neighbourhood boys piss on the walls and play cricket in the courtyards. The walls are broken and the pillars are cracked. The designs on the slender columns have faded. The terraces and balconies are home to bats. Some passageways end in dark chambers. The stones echo with the otherworldly sound of planes flying overhead.
Emperor Akbar II built Zafar Mahal in the 1820s. It was named after his son Bahadur Shah Zafar, who rebuilt the imposing gateway in red sandstone and marble.
Since most structures in the palace are exposed to the sky, the sunlight makes new patterns on their walls and niches at each hour of the day. The chambers are connected to one other through doorways, stairs and musty corridors. The steep staircase that goes up to an upper floor passes by the domed tomb of Alauddin, a nephew of Iltutmish, the sultan of the Slave dynasty. Above, a pavilion supported by carved pillars faces the modern-day Mehrauli of brick apartments, water tanks and dish antennas.
The palace’s most striking piece of architecture is the white marble Moti Masjid. Commissioned by Bahadur Shah I in 1709, it has parapets, minars, and a solitary tomb.
A graveyard at the northeast corner of Zafar Mahal contains tombs of many senior members of the Mughal royalty. Zafar wanted to be buried in their company. After the mutiny of 1857, the British exiled him to Burma. He was laid to rest in Rangoon.
The dream palace of the Mughals
“Gadhe ke poot, yahan na moot”
The Urdu work ‘Bahadur Shah Aur Phool Waalon Ki Sair’ by Mirza Farhatullah Beg contains a lively description of what a typical day was like when Bahadur Shah and his family stayed in Zafar Mahal for Phoolwaalon Ki Sair :
Spring is a good time to talk about,
to talk about, in autumn.
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