Mughal Tombs and Poetry: An Excerpt from 'The Forgotten Cities of Delhi'

Rana Safvi's latest – book two of the 'Where Stones Speak' trilogy – which is full of rousing Sufi couplets, captures the remains of the tombs and monuments of Delhi that have stood the test of time even as the city underwent rapid urbanisation.

Excerpted with permission from The Forgotten Cities of Delhi by Rana Safvi, author-historian currently living in Delhi who is also the author of Where Stones Speak: Historical Trails in Mehrauli, the First City of Delhi and Tales from the Quran and Hadith. Safvi is the founder and moderator of the hashtag #Shair on Twitter, a forum that has revived popular interest in Urdu poetry in a major way.

Khwaja Sara was a trusted aide of Emperor Jahangir. He looked after the palace and earned the emperor’s respect. When Emperor Jahangir moved to Delhi in his sunset years, he instructed the governor of Delhi to ensure he had all the comforts of life in the city, which is when this bridge was built. A few inscriptions in verse name Khwaja Sara as the builder and give us the date of construction, along with praise of the emperor. There is an inscription with a few verses on it, which give the date of construction. It was made of lime mortar and stone, and is now an unkempt market near the Hazrat Nizamuddin railway station. The bridge itself is in poor condition, with all twelve pillars encroached on by houses built on its edges. Only my determination helped me find all of them.

Tomb of Abdur Rahim Khan e Khana’n

Rahiman dhaaga prem kaa, mat todo chatakaay.
Tute se phir naa milai, milai gaanth padi jaay
Rahim says, don’t snap the thread of love suddenly
Even if joined with difficulty, the knot remains


<em>The Forgotten Cities of Delhi</em>,<br> Rana Safvi,<br> Harper Collins, 2018.

The Forgotten Cities of Delhi,
Rana Safvi,
Harper Collins India, 2018.

Abdur Rahim Khan e Khana’n, famed for his dohas, was of Turkish descent. His grandfather Saifuddin Ali Kosha Ismail had been in the service of Emperor Babur, and his father Bairam Khan e Khana’n held a high rank in the reign of Emperor Humayun. He was a guardian to Emperor Akbar, and instrumental in the latter’s victory in the second Battle of Panipat in 1556 AD. When he died on his way to the Hajj in 1561 AD, his son Abdur Rahim was brought back to the court and raised under Emperor Akbar’s guidance, and nicknamed Mirza Khan. Abdur Rahim also earned the title of Khan e Khana’n, in being part of Emperor Akbar’s nauratan (nine gems, important members of his court). He even tutored one of Emperor Akbar’s sons. Abdur Rahim Khan e Khana’n is credited with the translation of Waqeat-e-Baburi from Chaghtai to Persian. This tomb, originally built for his wife, was where he ended up in 1627 AD. What was originally a marble tomb was probably repurposed for other buildings.

Sir Syed writes that it was removed during the rule of Nawab Asaf-uddaulah in Awadh and sold in Lucknow, where marble was not easy to procure. According to Basheeruddin Ahmed, the tomb was raided for red sandstone and marble slabs when canals were built on the river Yamuna.

Free loaders are stone hearted

The tomb looks like a plucked hen. The Aga Khan Trust for Culture has taken up the task of restoring the monument’s beautiful marble ‘pichi kaari’ (or mosaic) work. There were many inscriptions on the mehrabs in the Tughra script, but inscribed as they were in lime, have been destroyed. It is said to have had Quranic ayats and the Kalima, along with names of Allah.

The chronogram ‘Khan Sipahsalar’ gives the date of his death. Villagers lived in the tomb in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. When the British government made a list of protected monuments under the ASI, the tomb was in such a bad state that they did not include it in the list. Sir Syed writes, very poignantly, that one must never be foolish enough to place importance on worldly things, as one whose houses were showered with rose petals now lies under mud, with the stink of urine and cow dung. Even the tombstone was stolen.

Fa’tabirû yâ oulî al absâr
Take warning, then, O ye, with intelligence

Quran 59 :2

Sabz Burj

Bujhti huyi shammo’n par
Mehrab huye haath
Flickering lamps
Protected by cusped hand

Nazeer Qaiser

This structure stands at the intersection of Mathura Road and Lodi Road, near the complex of Emperor Humayun’s Tomb. Zafar Hasan says that the dome was originally decorated in green, yellow and blue tiles, from which it got its name Sabz Burj. When the structure was repaired, the dome was made blue, while one can still see green and yellow on recessed bays. In 1902, H.C. Fanshawe called it ‘Sabz Posh’ which he takes to mean Green Top because of the colour of its dome. This structure is also sometimes called Nili Chatri, which was actually the tomb (now demolished) of Emperor Akbar’s noble Naubat Khan on Mathura Road. It was demolished at some point of time.