08 March 2013

Shah Burj and Burj-i-Shamli, Red Fort complex, Delhi



This article is part of a series about Red Fort, Delhi. Refer Pixelated Memories – Red Fort complex for the composite post.

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“The Hindus believe that there is no country like theirs, no nation like theirs, no kings like theirs, no religion like theirs and no science like theirs. They are haughty, foolishly vain, self-conceited, and stolid. They are by nature niggardly in communicating that which they know, and they take the greatest possible care to withhold it from men of another caste among their own people, still much more, of course, from any foreigner.”
– Al-Ustad Abu al-Rayhan Muhammad Alberuni (AD 973-1048), Iranian linguist-astronomer-historian-mathematician-mineralogist, “Kitab fi tahqiq ma li'l-Hind”


Bearing in mind the numerous remarkable achievements of ancient Hindu scholars-scientists in the varied fields of medicine, pharmacology, surgery, mathematics, physics, geometry, literature, language composition, astronomy and astrology, and also the consideration that several of these were appropriated by inconsiderate, and in many cases avaricious, foreigners and incorporated in their own name – for instance, the elucidation of Indian numeric system as “Arabic numerals”, the acknowledgment of several geometric, trigonometric, algebraic and astronomic theories and computations having been postulated by western scholars, as opposed to, say, by Aryabhata (mathematician-astronomer, AD 476-550), Varahmihira (mathematician-astronomer-astrologer, AD 505-87), Brahmagupta (mathematician-astronomer, AD 598-665) or Acharya Mahavira (mathematician-trigonometrician, AD 800-70), it is but natural that ancient Hindus would often endeavor to safeguard their extraordinary knowledge and outstanding treatises from foreigners.

Increasingly even today, several surgical, phytopharmacological and scientific treatises already propounded by remarkable scholars-physicians including Charaka (“father of medicine”, studied and documented concepts of physiology, metabolism and embryology) and Sushruta (“father of surgery”, performed and documented plastic surgery, rhinoplasty, dentistry, obstetrics and gynecology, lived about 600 BC!) within the massive body of “Ayurveda” or traditional Indian medicine are being supposedly “rediscovered” and patented by modern western pharmaceutical and biotech firms which then appallingly prohibit their Indian counterparts from manufacturing and distributing these same traditional medicines and natural concoctions citing intellectual property rights!


The forgotten two - Burj-i-Shamli and (background) Shah Burj


While I do believe that Alberuni’s generalization still incontestably applies to a majority of the country’s population when it comes to the scientific, technological, medicinal or even spiritual achievements of their countrymen, there might actually be occasions when clearly the reverse is true. Let me briefly recount what transpired to bring about this belated epiphany before I humbly tender an explanation.

It so happened that I began rewriting my original blog entry about Red Fort complex which was very haphazardly put together with low-res photographs clicked with a mobile phone and monotonous uninspiring text not interspersed with much enlightening information regarding the marvelous architecture, the unparalleled ornamentation and the impeccable history that the fortress graciously offers. Visiting the colossal complex again to re-photograph the monumental edifices incorporated within it for the purpose of documentation, enumeration and research, I came across the soaring Shah Burj (“Royal Tower”).

Associated with the fortress’ impressive hydraulics was a large tank on the ground floor of the massive octagonal tower to which was lifted crystal-clear water from the turbulent river Yamuna (which back then flowed immediately adjacent the fortress’ vibrant red sandstone peripheries). The water was then diverted to the magnificent Burj-i-Shamli, a contiguous pavilion commissioned by Emperor Aurangzeb Alamgir (reign AD 1657-1707), where it fell in a rippling cascade into a glistening white scallop-shaped basin from where it then spontaneously distributed into successively connected canals which constituted the Nahr-i-Bisht (“Stream of Paradise”). Mughals firmly believed in the extravagant idea of their painstakingly impeccable palace-fortresses conceptually resembling the designs of paradise as envisaged in ancient texts, thus the introduction of the sparkling stream, softly flowing through all the gorgeous pleasure pavilions and opulently-adorned palaces that constituted the regal residential quarters, while also dividing the immense manicured gardens into the traditional Charbagh pattern (massive gardens divided into smaller quadrants by walkways and causeways).

I was unsurprisingly thrilled by the flawless white marble ornamentation and the conception of the paradisiacal stream in such a decorative form, and, considering that I was aware of the employment of Persian wheel systems in Mughal palatial/funerary complexes to continuously lift river/well water as high as a gigantic fortress’ ramparts and drive it through an enormous system of canals, I naturally assumed that Mughals had imported such resourceful technology from medieval Iran and efficiently utilized it here in conjugation with pipelines dexterously crafted from terracotta/ceramics while the rest of the world lagged behind in terms of such ingenious innovation.


Delicate! - Interiors, Burj-i-Shamli


It was later, upon reading the article “The Persian Wheel in India”, that I realized that the efficient improvisation actually co-originated in India and Persia, and yet it is presently recognized as “Persian Wheel”! It was referred to as Araghatta in Sanskrit texts. No wonder then that medieval Indians were explicably suspicious of revealing the traditional knowledge and methodology they possessed.

Reverting to both the dazzlingly striking edifices' functional architecture and history – The mesmerizingly designed and meticulously adorned Burj-i-Shamli possesses three oddly-shaped curved roofs resting on five arches, the former believed to have been eccentrically inspired by the thatched roof of Bengali bungalows.

Shah Burj’s upper floor constituted the mighty emperor’s private working area where he would contemplatively reflect, without fear of resourceful spies or enemy mercenaries, upon matters of state policy and defense while commandingly gazing at the swiftly flowing waters of the Yamuna. Continuous presence of well-trained and lethally armed royal bodyguards ensured only his sons and his most trusted advisers had access to the building. One can only imagine the edifice’s erstwhile matchless splendor when its entire structure was drenched in sparkling pearl dust and the walls were ornamented with multi-hued glittering jewels and precious gems. The colossal floor area was richly shrouded with expensive Persian rugs and exclusively classy bolsters; during the summers were hung perpetually-wetted Khas-grass screens, and during the winter months were lit numerous braziers around the massive chamber, to render the whole more comfortable.

Originally a chattri-like dome gracefully surmounted the roof and completed the fortress’ highly symmetrical formal appearance, presenting to a visitor arriving to Delhi on a boat the impressive sight of the gigantic fortress’ riverine face flanked on either extremity by an immense domed corner tower (the other being Asad Burj). It was from Shah Burj that the heir apparent Mirza Jahandar Bakht, the eldest son of Emperor Shah Alam II (reign AD 1760-1806), jumped down to river Yamuna and swiftly swam across in order to save himself from the murderous forces of Ghulam Qadir Rohilla who invaded Delhi in AD 1787-88 and imprisoned the emperor and his entire family (read more about the Rohilla warlords and their numerous battles here Pixelated Memories - Rohilla War Memorial, Calcutta).


Tale of a missing dome - Impressions from "Reminiscences of Imperial Dehli" (Photo courtesy - Wikimedia.org)


Presently however, Shah Burj is one of the most wretchedly miserable structures within the entire fortress complex, which in itself is astoundingly incredible considering that the once-magnificent stronghold is a meager lackluster shadow of its original awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping visual and architectural opulence. The regal pavilion was twice damaged – the first time during the course of intense shelling from the other side of the turbulent river by the fearsome forces led by Ghulam Qadir Rohilla; and later again when British East India Co.’s army brutally bombarded the fortress during the siege of Delhi in the First Indian War of Independence/Sepoy Mutiny (AD 1857). It was on the second occasion, when the British were expeditiously staging a fiercely offensive comeback with fearsome firepower and infantry following their fellow officers being ruthlessly slaughtered and contemptuously chased out of Delhi, that the tower’s octagonal dome was irrevocably destroyed. The handsome tower however was partially repaired both times, though its majestic dome was never rebuilt, and it’s said that its structure is consequentially still much weakened and therefore unsafe for human exploration. Like most royal palaces within the colossal fortress complex, it too was converted into an officials’ barracks after the British Army occupied it immediately afterwards.

Burj-i-Shamli however was entirely taken apart and reassembled after an earthquake terribly damaged its structure in the year 1904.

After the unruffled river diverted its course and shifted away from the outstanding fortress, the two edifices spontaneously ceased to share the spotlight as important constituents of the fortress’ architectural well-being. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), when it took control of the mammoth complex, delegated the two, especially Shah Burj, to anonymity and wilderness. Weeds and grass have avariciously taken over the little space enclosing the desolate tower; visitor entry is perennially prevented by means of iron railings. Considering that tourists are predominantly ignorantly guided like sheep throughout the vast complex along predetermined pathways, very few visitors actually stop by to explore this section of the complex. The superlative edifices thus stand in a deplorable condition and grievously reflect rather poorly on the way we conserve our architectural heritage. There are times when I feel that the fortress is not worth visiting anymore – that it has become dejectedly hollow compared to its unbelievable original luster and incomparable lavish splendor – the state of Shah Burj sadly only strengthens these convictions.


Constituent of a World Heritage Site?


Location: Red Fort, Old Delhi (Shahjahanabad). The fortress, located at an extremity of the renowned Chandni Chowk street and connected to all parts of the city via regular bus and metro services, remains open everyday from 9 am to 6 pm, followed by a light-and-sound show.
Nearest Metro Station: Chandni Chowk
Nearest Bus stop: Red Fort
Nearest Railway Station: Purani Dilli
How to reach: The fortress is a mere half kilometer from the metro station and about a kilometer from the railway station. Walk from either of them. The bus stop is located immediately across it and is connected to all parts of the city via regular bus service. There are regular trains throughout the day to Purani Dilli on Delhi circular railway line and from the neighboring suburbs.
Entrance fees (inclusive of museum charges): Indians: Rs 15; Foreigners: Rs 250
Photography/video charges: Nil. Tripods not allowed without prior permission.
Relevant Links -
Composite post about the fortress complex -
Pixelated Memories - Red Fort complex
Other edifices/museums located within the fortress complex -
  1. Pixelated Memories - Baoli, Red Fort complex
  2. Pixelated Memories - Chatta Chowk, Red Fort complex
  3. Pixelated Memories - Diwan-i-Am, Red Fort complex
  4. Pixelated Memories - Diwan-i-Khas, Red Fort complex
  5. Pixelated Memories - Freedom Fighter Museum and Salimgarh Fort complex
  6. Pixelated Memories - Hira Mahal, Red Fort complex
  7. Pixelated Memories - Khas Mahal, Red Fort complex
  8. Pixelated Memories - Mumtaz Mahal and Rang Mahal, Red Fort complex
  9. Pixelated Memories - Naubat Khana, Red Fort complex
  10. Pixelated Memories - Sawan-Bhadon Pavilions and Zafar Mahal, Red Fort complex
Other monuments/landmarks located in the immediate vicinity -
  1. Pixelated Memories - Jama Masjid
  2. Pixelated Memories - Gurudwara Sis Ganj Sahib
  3. Pixelated Memories - Sunehri Masjid (Chandni Chowk)
  4. Pixelated Memories - Sunehri Masjid (near Red Fort)
Suggested Reading -

1 comment:

  1. Philippe Launay-DebnathSeptember 09, 2014

    Very interesting work ! When I will come back to New Delhi I will visit again the Red Fort but with new eyes !

    ReplyDelete