29 October 2014

Lodi Road - Jawahar Lal Nehru Stadium Trail, Delhi


This is the second installment of the city's several heritage trails that might have once existed as part of certain larger historic tomb/monument clusters, in this case the hallowed Nizamuddin Dargah area and the landscaped Lodi Gardens, but are at present separated from these larger heritage zones by geographical separations morphing into unregulated colonies or major arterial roads and highways. This separation often introduces an element of being overboard and therefore being neglected by authorities and history enthusiasts alike – consequentially, some of these monuments have been encroached upon or being used as makeshift residences/night shelters by slum populations and beggars. Most however have been recently restored as part of the conservation drive necessitated by Commonwealth Games 2010 that Delhi hosted, an event that brought about propitious tidings for heritage enthusiasts besides sports lovers. The trail begins from Nizamuddin area from where, after visiting the Dargah and its associated structures or Humayun's tomb complex opposite, one can walk towards Lodi Gardens located approximately 3 kilometers away along a straight road, enroute covering four less known architectural gems beginning with Barakhamba monument and terminating the sojourn at Jawahar Lal Nehru (JLN) Stadium,

Links to the articles about the larger complexes flanking the trail –
  1. Pixelated Memories - Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah
  2. Pixelated Memories - Humayun's Tomb Complex
  3. Pixelated Memories - Lodi Gardens (Bada Gumbad Complex)
  4. Pixelated Memories - Lodi Gardens (Muhammad Shah Saiyyid's Tomb)
  5. Pixelated Memories - Lodi Gardens (Sheesh Gumbad)

Barakhamba monument –

Location: Mirza Ghalib Park, corner of Nizamuddin Basti at the intersection of Mathura road and Lodi road
Coordinates: (28.592487, 77.242499)


Barakhamba on a rainy day - Five domes, twelve pillars and an assortment of homeless and slum dwellers as residents!


Immediately abutting Nizamuddin Basti (officially Mirza Ghalib colony) is the irregularly-shaped Mirza Ghalib park with the Barakhamba as its centerpiece. In architectural lexicon “Barakhamba” translates to “twelve-pillared tomb”, however the solid structure present here is an innovative advancement over the simplistic twelve-pillared constructions – the large central domed square is surrounded by wide passages with identical arched entrances corresponding the central square’s entrances so that the resulting structure is a massive leviathan very different from the other Barakhambas scattered throughout the city. The unornamented structure conveys uninhibited strength, made more apparent by its almost 500-year existence (it is dated to Lodi-era (AD 1451-1526)), and stands rather purposefully on its location. The passages, when they intersect at the corners, are transformed into small square chambers demarcated by arched curtain walls and surmounted by smaller domes – the overall image being that of a fruit basket – a massive pomegranate-like dome surrounded on four sides by lemons, all of them edged in by the structure’s tall kanguras (battlement-like ornamentation). The entire structure stands on a high pedestal; wide eaves (“chajja”), supported on a continuous line of heavy stone brackets, run along the roof; the smaller arched entrances of the corner chambers, inset in rectangular depressions, complement the three taller entrances leading to the central square. There are no historical records indicating who the person buried underneath is, nor is there any grave inside. The interiors too are unadorned except for a huge monochromatic and very pretty medallion on the interior of the central dome.


Plastered perfection gone spoiled!


The structure has undergone restoration recently – the domes have been plastered over and appear perfectly outlined against the low skyline of the basti in the background, an effect not expected in a five century old structure; the walls nonetheless display the rough stone and rubble exterior and continue to exude an unquenchable masculinity, which must have been the original intention of the craftsmen, notwithstanding the feminine, flawless touch imparted to the domes. The pathways running around the tomb and the surrounding lawn were being dug and re-laid at alternate spots when I visited (August 2014), but I couldn’t fathom any reasonable explanation from the workers doing the digging work or the old men supervising them for this seemingly wanton destruction, especially after considering that the archaeological and municipal authorities otherwise cite lack of financial resources when it comes to the maintenance and conservation of monuments and their surroundings. Squatters and encroachments have been removed from the lawn and the structure cured of hideous graffiti and betel stains by chemical treatment and plastering over. But the tomb and the lush grassy lawns outside have been retaken by beggars and homeless who go seeking alms at the dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin in the evenings; homeless children of varying age groups can be seen running around and flying kites in the tree-covered lawn, while the elders stroll around or lie on the cool ground; several more sleep in the tomb or sit idly with little to do to spend the ample time on their hands.


Symmetry and light play - Barakhamba interiors


One result of the entire situation is that the lawn remains inundated with plastic waste and polythene garbage. In a city where, despite it lending its name to a major arterial road, another Barakhamba monument (Barakhamba, Connaught Place – tomb and road) was mercilessly destroyed, it can only be hoped that this Barakhamba and its associated green space survives heartily and does not, at least in near future, revert to its pre-restoration state when it was shockingly drenched with garbage. 

Do Siriya Gumbad –

Location: Couple of meters from Barakhamba
Coordinates: (28.592534, 77.241421)
Engulfed and overshadowed by tall buildings on all sides, the Do Siriya Gumbad (“Double-headed tomb” – I have no idea why it is referred to as such, there is only a single dome surmounting it), located in an extreme corner of Nizamuddin Basti, has been encroached upon to such a heart-wrenching extent that now the only portion of it visible from Lodi Road immediately besides it is its massive, rounded dome that peeps from behind the high rise apartments and a palm tree adjacent that could have been an original entity in the garden that existed around the tomb. The palm tree, thankfully, still towers above the buildings! It was only by a fluke of chance that I noticed the 500-year old tomb, dated to Lodi-reign and possibly the least known monument in the city (a Google search won’t offer more than half a dozen links (then too duplicated) despite traversing 20 search result pages!), following the visit to Barakhamba monument and lighting a cigarette across the road – more inquiries drew a blank, but one of the hotel owners, whose property immediately abuts the tomb walls, did confess that occasionally writers/photographers request them to allow climbing up their roofs and observe the dome’s features but they almost unequivocally deny permission.


Peeping over buildings - Do Siriya Gumbad, Delhi's forgotten monument


I was directed to the Capital Guesthouse, located opposite the municipal park-turned-dumpsite (near the intersection of Lodi Road and Lal Bahadur Shastri Road), immediately besides which ran an unbelievably narrow lane that ends in a cul-de-sac just a few meters ahead. The lane (not unlike others in the Nizamuddin Basti area – with goats tethered outside the houses and thronged by bearded, skull cap wearing men) takes one past the tomb’s facade – the walls are dilapidated and almost the entire coat of plaster has flaked off revealing the rubble construction underneath; one side of the wall probably collapsed or was destroyed since here modern brickwork features prominently; the arched entrance is trabeate in nature with immensely thick stone lintels placed atop each other to span space and afford the semblance of an arch; equally thick pillars with plainly sculpted capitals support the stone lintels. A plastic water tank graces the dome now and electrical wires snake in and out of the entrance and the arched window above it. The lady living within the tomb with her family was shocked to see me photographing “her” doorway and soon subjected me to a slew of inquiries regarding the same – nonetheless she appeared unperturbed and merely shrugged when asked about living in a tomb. Sometimes this country’s horrifying levels of poverty and desperation appall me – what severe conditions could a family succumb to so as to be forced to reside in a tomb?!


A case of monumental neglect (pun intended) 


Gol Gumbad –

Location: Adjacent Centenary Methodist Church, Lodi Road
Coordinates: (28.592409, 77.238860)
Seated squat at the intersection of Lodi Road and Lal Bahadur Shastri Road, Gol Gumbad (“tomb with circular dome”), a beautiful small square tomb, fits so snugly in its surrounding environment that it appears as if it’s a Lego block unquestionably meant to fill the very position that it is located in. Situated prominently on the intersection and overshadowed by the looming church adjacent, the structure is another of the several tombs of unknown historicity that came up in and around the Nizamuddin area under influence of the sanctity accorded by the legendary saint’s hallowed tomb complex – the single verifiable antecedent of the tomb is that it was raised during the reign of Lodi Dynasty, confirmed by the distinctive architectural features it displays. 


Gol Gumbad - Diminutive Lego block in the heart of the city


Constructed of random rubble masonry faced with a fine layer of plaster, the tomb doesn’t display any prominent ornamentation on its exteriors – the monotony of the plain cream-green walls is shattered by the exquisitely-sculpted red sandstone lattice screens (“jaalis”) that mark the recessed arches on three sides of the tomb. The intricate stone screens appear to have been carved recently, probably older screens have been replaced as part of a recent restoration-conservation effort. The fourth side, facing the church, possesses an entrance instead of the sandstone screen and a narrow staircase adjacent leading upstairs to the roof (both now barred with thick iron grille gates). Both the roof and the octagonal drum (base) of dome are decorated with thick kangura patterns (battlement-like ornamentation) and that is the sole adornment of the entire exterior surface. The walls are battered and slightly thicker around the base, an architectural addition necessitated by the need to support the heavy rubble structure.


The other side


On the whole, the tomb appears adorable on account of its precise dimensions and simplicity – the square plan is approximately 13.5 X 13.5 meter square and the entire structure, including the round dome and the inverted lotus finial surmounting it, also rises to a height of 13.5 meters – compared to the massive thickly adorned tombs and mosques that the Lodi Dynasty specialized in, this structure is only a dwarf, and yet undoubtedly succeeds in making visitors and passer-bys grace it with second glances. Though the entrance remains locked to keep vandals from entering, the guard on duty promptly unlocks it if asked to. There are no signs of any graves inside nor any identification mark indicating the presence of the same underneath. The interiors are extremely dark and the little light that streams in comes from the lattice screens and the small arched windows in the dome’s base – photographing the structure is an issue and I had to later process the photos in order to bring out the finer details of the painted medallion that adorns the dome’s concave surface.


Another medallion on this trail


The simplicity continues inside – except for the elaborate roof medallion, the only other features are long narrow alcoves along the corners and small alcoves on either side of the entrance/arched screens; in the corners are squinch arches (diagonal added between two arms of a corner so as to span space and convert a square structure successively into a polygon/circle to support the heavy dome) and a band of decorative alcoves runs along the drum interiors. An impressive view of the tomb can be had from the church side where lush green grass rolls all around the structure and soaring palm trees flank it on all sides. Though the signs of wear, in the form of flaking plasterwork and blackened walls, are all too apparent on this side, yet there is an indescribable beauty too brought about by the interface of nature and monument. The tomb also presents a magnificent picture at night when it is lit up with a brilliant golden-orange glow.


I don't understand what materials do the conservation authorities employ for restoration work. Why does the new plaster and paintwork begin flaking off in less than 5 years, even though the older coats survived over 500 years? 


Unknown Tomb, Pragati Vihar –

Location: Couple of hundred meters past the JLN Stadium metro station while walking from the left off-road slightly before Dayal Singh College.
Coordinates: (28.58618, 77.23470)
Walking from Lodi Road towards Jawahar Lal Nehru stadium, beyond high boundaries composed of white-painted iron grilles and similar gates that define the massive spread of the stadium, a lone red structure appears to be mounting a silent, solitary vigil across vast acres of deep green grass and white buildings. The structure, a Mughal tomb in all probability – only the Mughals (AD 1526-1857) used to experiment with the architectural styles and artistic visions of their mosques and mausoleums – is as unique a tomb as one can hope to come across in Delhi. Comprising of a square chamber surmounted by an octagonal chattri (dome mounted on numerous pillars, in this case eight), the entire structure is composed of random rubble and layered with vibrant red plaster which further adds to its singularity. Perhaps the individuals who commissioned it intended to attain red sandstone like effect but did not possess the means to use the actual material and decided to utilize plaster layering hoping for the same.


A red monument on a carpet of green grass - The tomb at Pragati Vihar, much smaller in reality than it appears in photographs.


The tomb, like the rest of the stadium, remains out of bounds for visitors – the head of the security of the complex is a real douche, but tries to portray a cooperative face even though anyone can look through it – end of story, it is better to have a written permission and photostat copies of all one’s credentials before hopping to the stadium to photograph the three tombs within. I will the next time I head there, still have to click the other two.

If not heading back to the metro station, the trail can be ended at JLN Stadium, an immensely colossal, multi-purpose stadium with a seating capacity of 60,000 spectators, that was built to accommodate the events of Asian Games IX (1983) that Delhi hosted and has been recently structurally modified to also provide arenas for Commonwealth Games XIX (2010). At present, the stadium also houses headquarters of Delhi Secretariat, Sports Authority of India (SAI), Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, Government of India. The most impressive view of the stadium can only be had from a metro station or a flyover from where its massive girth can be observed majestically towering above Delhi's skyline. But one realizes its giant proportions only from immediate vicinity when it occupies the entire frame of view and nullifies all efforts to click it in a single photograph!


JLN Stadium rising above the city horizon. Photo clicked from Kailash Colony metro station.


Nearest Bus stop: Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah
Nearest Railway station: Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah
Nearest Metro station: JLN Stadium
How to reach: The trail begins from where Lodi Road connects with Humayun's tomb complex/Nizamuddin Dargah complex, a point located just a couple of meters from the Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah bus stop (If coming by train, take a bus/auto to the bus stop. If coming by metro, reverse the order of monuments and end the trail at the bus stop).
Entrance fees: Nil. Entry prohibited within JLN Stadium complex.
Photography/Video charges: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: Barakhamba monument: 30 minutes; Do Siriya Gumbad: 20 minutes; Gol Gumbad: 20 minutes; Pragati Vihar tomb: 10 minutes
Suggested reading - 

2 comments:

  1. Only Sahil could have uncovered Do Siriya Tomb!

    Great Job!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Nirdesh Sir. It was chance that I came across the tomb - more difficult was in fact looking for its name and history, there is so little available!

      Delete