Another summer evening, a group of history enthusiasts began the heritage walk at Lodi gardens. This place has seen numerous changes right from the 13th century till this date. How the story of beautiful bagh or garden to a royal burial place to a village settlement to a well-planned garden laid out in European style evolves to a jogger‘s paradise is really very fascinating. Some historical references states that the area was referred to as Jod Bagh or Bagh –i- Jud, from which the present Jor Bagh is dervied, which lies to the south of the gardens. Because of the beautiful picturesque scenery, natural stream, presence of a Sufi shrine close by, it attracted royalty to built structures in close proximity. The garden underwent modifications from Sayyid Dynasty, Lodi Dynasty, Mughal era, British period and post independence period to Commonwealth games of 2011.
The walk starts with an introduction about the area, the brief about the history, structures, exotic and indigenous trees, native and migratory birds, butterflies and butterfly conservatory, Bonsai Park etc associated with the gardens is essential. Walking further, the first structure, tomb of Mohammad Shah, the third ruler of Sayyid Dynasty, stands tall on a mound. The elevated octagonal structure with a high dome and eight royal chattris tells you the architectural details of a relatively lesser known dynasty of Delhi Sultanate. The tomb was a tribute to the father by his son Shah Alam and it contains eight cenotaphs. It has perfect Indo- Islamic architecture grey granite façade, calligraphic inscriptions, and stucco paintwork ceiling. From the only Sayyid dynasty structure, we moved to a cluster of structures of Lodis. This group of structures stands very close to each other and was constructed during Sikandar Lodis’s period. He was the ruler known for its keen interest in learning and Literature. Bara Gumbad or big dome with its big dome hemispherical in shape in center of two buildings fascinates you how well the old elements was perfectly culminated with imported Islamic elements. Historians cannot mutually decide on the purpose of constructing this tall building as it has no signs of graves. Most of them call it a grand gateway. Unlike the previous structure, you find neatly cut grey granite, traces of red sandstone, white and black marble on it. To the right, is one of the intricately carved and designed masjid, Bara Gumbad Mosque. It has five arched openings, three domes crowned with lotus petals and beautiful carvings, Quranic inscriptions and stucco paintwork. To the left of the gateway, unlike the mosque, there is plain structure probably used as assembly hall for the readers of scriptures. Opposite to these structures, there stands another Lodi period structure with traces of glazing tiles on the outer façade, named as Shish Gumbad or glass dome. Historian Simon Digby traced similarities between Bara Gumbad and Shish Gumbad. Both are Lodi structures, square in shape, outer façade gives false impression of multiple storeys stands on a platform high dome and interestingly some architectural defects. Historians are not quite sure of the people buried in Shish Gumbad. However, Simon Digby argues that it contains the remains of Bahlol Lodi and not of some unknown family. We walk further, to see the fortified garden tomb of Sikander Lodi. We will able to see many similarities between this structure and Mohammad Shah Sayyid’s tomb except the few differences like the eight chattris are missing in the former and also that it is garden tomb containing only a single grave. On the western side, there is wall mosque and ground covered with green wet grass. As we walked to the right side, to see the clear view of a Mughal Bridge, Athpula, built by Nawab Bahadur, minister of Emperor Akbar in the 16th Century. Standing half submerged under water, it has eight pillars and seven arches. The walk group proceeded to two lesser known structures of Late Mughal period, a mosque and a gateway to the walled rose garden. The mosque has a three arched openings and open courtyard most probably used by the travellers who took the road and bridge Athpula. Our last spot was the turret with flute shaped dome with large projected jharoka which was believed to be the part of enclosed wall. Some historians have an opinion that it was built during Firuz Shah Tughluq’s reign. Ideally it should be the oldest structure in the gardens. It is real fun to walk in this green haven with a group so keen in learning and knowing the history of old structures which otherwise is merely a building to look at while taking the busy Lodi road.
(posted by Moby Zachariah & Kavita Singh, team members, Delhi Heritage Walks)