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Delhi's Valley of Kings

KINGS AND QUEENS also die and must be buried (or cremated) like the rest of humanity. Cleopatra's beauty had to mingle in the dust just as Queen Nefertiti's had done 2000 years before, along with those of her husband, Amenhotep II, and the boy Pharaoh, Tutankhamen (whose mother was murdered by Nefertiti, "the perfect beauty").

You will find their remains in Egypt, but in Delhi too lie in the dust many emperors and empresses, sultans and sultanas. One such place is the Shish Gumbad, which in a way rivals the Luxor of Egyptians in the Valley of Kings, even though only a few centuries old.

Shish Gumbad is a glazed dome, which takes its name from the Persian word shish (glass). Situated in Lodhi Gardens, New Delhi, the monument was probably built by Sikandar Lodhi in the first decade of the 16th Century. This was the phase when the greatest king of the dynasty that ruled for about 75 years was on a building spree. He had also built a city near Agra, named after him, and still known as Sikandra.

The Shish Gumbad contains a number of graves which have remained unidentified so far. They are obviously those of members of the Lodhi family, the princes and princesses, who found their last resting place in this building.It is a family vault akin to Humayun's Tomb, where many of the Moghuls are buried, and Sikandra, which contains the remains of not only Akbar but also some members of this family.

As such the Shish Gumbad is an important monument. But the people who visit the Lodhi Gardensare hardly aware of its significance. The monument has unmistakable features of Lodhi architecture with a `double-storeyed appearance'. The arch of mehrab on the west denotes that this part of the monument was used as a mosque. The ceiling is done up with plaster work and flowery Koranic inscriptions, with blue tiles below the cornice. The use of blue tiles during that period was considered a novelty. The square look of the building is in keeping with Tughlak and Lodhi architecture.

The tomb of Sikandar Lodhi, on the corner of Lodhi Garden, has a gash in its dome, the result of the plaster peeling off, but to a dreamy visitor it is a reminder of the fact that the Sultan's dynasty had suffered a mortal blow. That was in the first Battle of Panipat when Babar defeated his son Ibrahim Lodhi. Sikandar did not live to see that day. After `life's fitful fever' he sleeps in a place which is quiet and serene. Nizam Khan Sikandar Lodhi, in whose reign Vasco da Gama landed in India, was the most powerful of the Lodhi rulers.

He made conquests in Bihar and Bengal, subjugated Gwalior and founded the city of Agra in 1504. The story goes that the Sultan set out on horseback from Delhi and rode for three days sleeping in the forest at night.

Sikandar Lodhi and his party passed by Mathura and galloped along before they reined in their horses. After lunch the Sultan and his vazir set out in a boat over the Jamuna. When they had sailed for some time, the Sultan asked. "Where shall we found our new city"? The vazir thought and said, "On this bank". "No", said the Sultan, "that which is agar" (ahead). Thus was the city of Agra founded. That was the time when Ibrahm Lodhi was a child. He had felt the tremors in Delhi, for the capital also was rocked though the damage here was to so great.

As Ibrahim grew up he became haughty and the power that came into his hands, when Sikandar Lodhi died in 1517, turned him insolent. He would keep his nobles standing for hours to show his contempt for them. Not only they but even his uncle, Alam Khan revolted and the Moghuls were able to establish an empire. His father's tomb, therefore, is of special interest to students of history, for had Ibrahim been like him, Babar world never have ventured into India.

When you see the octagonal tomb, a typical example of Lodhi architecture, with a covered verandah and symmetrical arches, remember that the man who lies buried in it was a great king but an unfortunate father. The tomb of Bahlol Lodhi, founder of the dynasty, is a forgotten monument. It is situated near the shrine of Hazrat Nasiruddin Mahmud in Chirag Delhi, so named because the 14th Century saint-king was regarded as the Lamp of Delhi. Bahlol never let success go to his head. He remained humble, never sitting on a throne but on a carpet along with his nobles. He died in July 1489 after a long reign.

Bahlol's tomb is a drab place compared to other mausoleums. It's a square chamber with three arched openings on all sides, surmounted by five domes, the central one being the biggest. Koranic verses are inscribed on the arches but there is hardly any other ornamentation. Perhaps a tomb which reflects the times in which Bahlol loved - rugged and sans the sophistication of the later rulers. But he was the only one to `buy' a kingdom from a dervish.

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