City Monument – Naubat Khana, Red Fort
A lesser-known monument.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The Red Fort is like a poetry anthology, and its scattered, damaged monuments are like poems. Naubat Khana is one of the most tender ones. Its walls are sculpted with flower and leaves. The angles and curves of the white ceiling smoothly merge into each other. The red sandstone seem to be producing a music that is indiscernible to the ordinary human ear, but distinctly felt. Like moonshine that you may see, but cannot touch.
Naubat Khana was a seat of musicians, and music was said to be performed here five times every day. Additionally, the drummers stationed at this so-called drum house were obliged to strike their drums each time the emperor would arrive at the nearby Diwan-e-Aam for an audience with Delhi’s common citizens.
Like most monuments within the fort, which was extensively damaged by the vengeful British after the unsuccessful uprising of 1857, the gateway stands like a ghost of its original splendour. The walls within contain scenes of utmost poignance. Their multicoloured illustrations have faded, and in many places the colours have completely disappeared. Some of the panoramas have missing portions, as if a barbarian had forcefully scooped them out with his hands. A few of these are covered with glass frames, making these remnants of beauty beyond human touch.
The arched niches towards the higher reaches are unusually large, and decorated with scenes of carefree outdoors. One shows a gigantic tree loaded with green leaves, each cluster of leaves holding onto a clump of four or five fruits.
The inscription on a stone plaque exposes Naubat Khana as the fateful site of the assassination of two lesser-known Mughal emperors, Jahandar Shah and Farrukhsiyar. This morning, that blood-soaked past feel too far removed.
The monument looks to the aforementioned Diwan-e-Aam, lying across a garden.
That stone pavilion has an immaculate marble canopy as its centrepiece, shielded from the indiscriminate touch of curious visitors by a protective glass wall. The reflection of Naubat Khana falls brilliantly on this glass, making it look even more ethereal.