Monument of Love VI: The Wazir and his son

“A father’s love is like your shadow, though he is dead or alive, he will live with your shadow”

P.S. Jagadeesh Kumar

Isn’t it true that the two central pieces of our lives are our parents? Most often, decisions and other choices in life are based on how our parents have groomed us and how we perceive their role in our lives. Teeange angst and childhood tantrums aside, it is the adulting period when we truly start introspecting on how far our psyche has been built on who our parents are as individuals as well as a couple – their personality, their belief system, and every other nuances. Love of a parent can never be discounted. But how far will a child go for his/her/their parent? Two filial tributes, built with two completely different perspectives – one end of the scale is Nur Jahan’s with her absolute devotion towards her parents, on the other end is the son who struggled under the grim shadow of his father’s “political crimes” against the Delhi sultanate. While Nur Jahan’s tribute was a glorious display of art from her homeland, this mausoleum can only be described as struggling piece of history that’s trying to find a place of recognition after being granted permission for it to come into existence!

As a single word Safdarjung now eclipses majority of the capital city – Delhi’s first airport, a major government hospital, two coveted south Delhi residential colonies, a road that was synonymous with Indira Gandhi, and of course the highly underrated tomb. But, Safdar Jang as a man is often attributed by historians as a cause and a symbol of a declining Mughal Empire. And considering the intricate web of court politics, personally, there is no way to determine how justified this claim is!

Nawab Safdar Jang

The Tomb of Safdarjung, built by Shujaud Daula to commemorate his father Abul Mansur Mirza Muhammad Muqim Ali Khan better known as Nawab Safdar Jang. Safdar Jang was a statesman who started his career in the Mughal regime as the Nawab of Oudh during the reign of Mughal Emperor Muhammad Shah, and rose to the position of Wazir ul-Mumalik-i-Hindustan or Chief Minister of Hindustan during the reign of Ahmad Shah Bahadur. It is said that after he became the Wazir, he unsurped all the powers from the inefficient Emperor and became so cruel to their family, that later on Marathas, as called upon by the Emperor, removed him away from Delhi in 1753. A year later, he died. On his death, his son, Shujaud Daula took over the post of Wazir, and pleaded with the emperor to forgive his father and allow him to be buried in Delhi. 

Elaborate deep arches of the tomb’s entrance gateway. 

Entry to the complex is through a double-storeyed gateway. A design called net-vaulting decorates the central arch, with blue and red plasterwork embellishing the spaces in-between. The solid wooden door has been retained from the time of construction. The tomb, designed by an Ethiopian architect, stands tall as the last colossal garden tomb of the Mughals. Despite being constructed in line with the Mughal style and flair, the mausoleum with moulded stucco, haphazard ornamentation and inconsistent cladding, distinctly leaves the tourists with an impression of standing in the presence of a poor man’s Taj. And maybe that is a legit fact – with the decline of Mughal empire, there is hardly any grand opulence that was predominantly displayed throughout Mughal architecture. The only similarity it has with the Taj Mahal and the Humayun’s Tomb is the presence of an underground chamber that has the true graves of Safdarjang and his wife Amat Jahan Begum Sadh-ru-Nissa.

Pro Tip: Do not go at the peak of Delhi summers. The lighting is the worst!!

दोनों ‘रहिमन’ एक से, जौ लों बोलत नाहिं ।
जान परत हैं काक पिक, ऋतु बसंत के माहिं ॥
(Meaning: Crow and cuckoo are similar in colour. Until they speak, they cannot be recognized. But when spring comes, the difference between the two becomes clear with the melodious voice of the cuckoo.)

Rahim’s couplet

Strangely, it’s Rahim’s quote that is so astute to describe Safdarjung’s tomb and its historical construction. Since the money was scarce, it is said that the son stripped the tomb of Abdur Rahim Khan-i-Khanan for its building material in order to decorate his dad’s tomb.

As such, a mix of red and buff stones and marble was used as the core construction material; Interestingly, both Reginald Heber (the bishop of Calcutta, 1823-1826) and the ASI had a similar remark on the overall look and presentation of the structure – Heber described the sandstone as a distasteful “meat color”, while ASI themselves remarked on the marble ornamentation as “pleasing, but florid”. I honestly don’t know why ASI called it florid, but the ceilings of this mausoleum was my favourite! The ceiling over the central chamber literally has been carved to draw attention. Stucco plaster carvings inlaid with marble and superbly polished to give it a rich look and feel. At the centre of this small alcove, lies the cenotaph of Safdar Jang – exquisite and carved in white marble with the projection of a headrest on it.

Another interesting point – Safdarjung Tomb is away from the usual Mughal burial areas. While the Mughals were Sunnis, it is said that post-Aurangzeb era, the Sayyid ancestry along with Saadat Khan and Safdar Jang represented a bried period of Shi’a domination. Hence, it comes as no coincidence that Safdar Jang’s tomb was built a stone’s throw from Dargah Shah-e-Mardan, believed to be the oldest Shi’a shrine in India, which has an imprint of the foot of Maula Ali, Prophet Mohammed’s son-in-law and fourth Caliph. Significantly, the tomb of another powerful 18th century Shi’a noble Najaf Khan, is also located there.

Monument of Love series:

Related (and not-so related) Posts:

New Delhi, Union Territories


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