It was a fine Sunday morning and I had just arrived from the mountains to the madness of Delhi. In retrospect, it was a day of good fortune for me to finally set my sights upon this grand monument that has been described as ‘The last flicker in the dying lamp of Mughal Architecture in Delhi.’
The Tomb of Safdarjung was built in memory ‘Mirza Muqim Abul Mansur Khan’ who was the Nawab of Avadh and was also known as Safdarjung. At one point of time, Safdarjung was the richest and most powerful man in India. His Kingdom is said to have stretched far and wide from Bengal to the plains of North India. Construction of the tomb was completed in 1754 by Nawab Shuja-Ud-Daula, Safdarjung’s son. It is the last monumental tomb garden built by the Mughals, and was planned and built like an enclosed garden tomb in line with the style of the Humayun’s tomb.
I gasped in disbelief at the great onion shaped dome of the tomb of Safdarjung while passing through the corridor after buying the ticket. There were a handful of visitors and that fact alone pleased me no end. I loved the greenery and planned to spend the entire morning here.
William Dalrymple has derided this monument like no other in ‘The City of Djinns’, his celebrated work on Delhi. Excerpts : ‘It at first sight looks wrong: its lines look somehow faulty, naggingly incorrect.’
Like other Mughal monuments, the tomb of Safdarjung isn’t a monument built at the height of the supremacy of the empire. The marble and red sandstone used for this structure is said to have been removed from the tomb of Abdur Rahim Khan-i-Khanan, popularly known as Rahim (of the dohe fame).
On this he states, ‘The effect is like a courtier in a tatty second-hand livery: the intention grand, but the actual impression tawdry, almost ridiculous.’
There were hardly any culture, history or heritage enthusiasts to be seen which was a surprising fact. On a beautiful monsoon morning, with a cool breeze and inviting palm trees – this was the perfect time to be at the Tomb of Safdarjung. Perhaps it is a telling statement or the eyes with which the monument is looked at.
The mosque with its three domes stands neglected in a corner. I could not find an entrance to it. It does not seem to be a monument popular with tourists either, I could barely spot a couple of foreigners in the three-four hours that were spent wandering around.
Decaying monuments in cities are quite popular for young lovers and Safdarjung’s Tomb befits its status as a monument that no one cares about. Canoodling couples occupy quiet corners making it almost a crime to look around for hidden architectural delights.
I notice that the inlay work on the marble on the floor has been left unfinished; history suggests that there were little funds available to be spent on costly things like marble and the Tomb was barely completed by materials scavenged from here and there.
The monument is built on a raised platform that lies in the centre and there are manicured gardens that are well maintained and complete a pretty picture. There are also private pavilions named Moti Mahal, Badshah Pasand and Jangli Mahal.
The gardens are designed like a Charbagh – divided into four squares, pathways and tanks which are further divided into smaller squares. Colourful flowers bloom and the monsoon ensures a generous tinge of green on the trees. The effect is almost enchanting, and even surreal at times.
Dalrymple continues his denunciation, “The spirit is fecund, Bacchanalian, almost orgiastic. Like some elderly courtesan, the tomb tries to mask its imperfections beneath thick layers of make-up; its excesses of ornament are worn like over-applied rouge.”
“Despite its sad little economies, Safdarjung’s Tomb exudes the flavour of an age not so much decaying miserably into impoverished anonymity as one whoring and drinking itself into extinction. The building tells a story of drunken laughter as the pillars of empire collapsed in a cloud of dust and masonry; and afterwards, of dancing in the ruins.”
I had been fascinated earlier by seeing photographs of this monument and for me the charm continues. A pleasing amount of time was spent in the garden sitting on a tree truck and watching the birds swoop happily while ogling at the pretty red-maroon that was prevalent everywhere.
Perhaps its the new age style; even the lay people are more interested in celebrated monuments that have been made famous. I can keep wondering what keeps Delhiites and heritage lovers away from the Tomb of Safdarjung.