‘On the day of separation from you in helplessness and loneliness nothing consoles us but the sorrow we feel for you.
O Jamali, resort for protection to the door of the friend, for our refuge is the door of the beloved!’
There lie many a stories behind the picturesque ruins in Mehrauli. Delhi is well known as a historic city & within Delhi, Mehrauli is a minefield of historical & archaeological data. Our heritage walk in the Mehrauli Archaeological Park covers some stunning monuments which have incredible stories behind them! The above verse was penned by Maulana Jamali, a sufi & poet whose mosque & tomb gives the park its local name, Jamali-Kamali.
Our heritage walk starts at the gateway to Balban’s tomb. Just after the gateway is a clearing created as a result of recent archaeological excavations. The excavations revealed stone flooring and some graves and rooms towards the east. A few months ago this patch of land was a mound covered with thick vegetation, so much so that covering the few yards between the gateway & Balban’s tomb was almost a trek! Right ahead is Sultan Balban’s tomb which is dated to late 13th century. This structure is remarkable for being the earliest building in the subcontinent to use the true arch in construction. The main compartment is now open to the sky & was originally roofed with a dome. Ibn Battuta, the Moroccan traveler who visited Delhi about 40 years after Balban mentions this tomb in his account as a shrine where “all debtors who entered it had their debts discharged, and if a man who had killed another took refuge there ,the Sultan bought him pardon from the friends of the deceased.” There is no evidence of a grave in the main room but the adjacent chamber has one and it is believed to be that of Khan Shaheed, Balban’s son. Khan Shaheed is a title which means ‘the martyr Khan’ given to Balban’s son who died fighting the Mongols. There is just a bit of plaster decoration & blue tile work visible on the walls & probably the whole structure would have been decorated thus.
There are remains of a late 17th century residential settlement around Balban’s tomb. This is significant cluster of ruins, being the only remains of a complete residential settlement in Delhi. A little ahead is the Jamali Kamali mosque. Jamali’s tomb is in a courtyard adjacent to the mosque. It is a square chamber with blue & green tile decoration on the roof. The interior is lovely with its blue & red plaster decoration and tile work on the walls. Verses composed by Maulana Jamali himself are incised on the walls just under the ceiling.
The area just north of Jamali Kamali mosque can perhaps be called the first farmhouse in Mehrauli ! This land was purchased by the British Resident, Thomas Metcalfe who re-landscaped the whole area. He bought a Mughal tomb…converted it into his residence…diverted a stream…built a carriageway over it…created an artificial lake in which stood a boathouse…and not to mention the follies shaped like canopies and ziggurats installed by Metcalfe all around his ‘farmhouse’!!!! He called it the ‘Dilkusha’ or ‘the delight of the heart’. The tomb which was of a Mughal noble, Muhammad Quli Khan, is currently undergoing restoration where the blue painted decoration on its interior is being redone. The roof of the tomb offers a breathtaking view of the entire neighbourhood: the Qutb complex, Mehrauli village with Adam Khan’s tomb standing out in the skyline, a recently restored tomb on a hillock, Mahavir statue at Ahimsa Sthal, the dome of Jamali-Kamali mosque & Thomas Metcalfe’s follies jutting out of surrounding tree cover.
Our next stop was the Rajon ki baoli, an early 16th century step well. The baoli is one of the highlights of this heritage walk & a favourite with every visitor. Perhaps it is to do with manner in which it is revealed to the eye: the entire structure is subterranean, so as one approaches the entrance, one can only see the the top-most storey. And each level of the baoli slowly reveals itself to the visitor as one walks towards its steps. The baoli-complex has a 12-pillared tomb & a mosque with some pretty plaster decoration on it.
(posted by Rajesh Ranjan & Kanika Singh, team members, Delhi Heritage Walks)