And live to tell the tale!
Who says Lodhi gardens in New Delhi are merely a romantic hangout or a walker's delight? Its trees and tombs are rooted in history. And dead men do tell tales, warn AJAY CHATURVEDI and T.N. BEHL.
Muhammad Shah's Tomb at Lodhi gardens in New Delhi. Photo: V.V. Krishnan.
IF YOU have to die, die in style. The adage, whether or not it was actually uttered, has been truly epitomised by mausoleums built by India's Muslim rulers for themselves and their kin. A pretty fine example of the grand style in which these royals were laid to rest is the Lodhi gardens, hot prime-time property if you ask a real estate agent! Of course, the verdant manicured surroundings of the tombs are a much later addition, coming up as they did in the 20th Century.
Today, the gardens have overtaken the tombs as the primary raison d'etre for visitors here. While the mornings and evenings are for the walkers, strollers, and joggers, afternoons are for those struck by Cupid, for whom the monuments act as a barrier against prying eyes. Additionally, the gardens are a favourite for picnics, especially in winter when the gardens burst forth in a colourful bloom of flowers. But there is more to Lodhi Gardens than just fresh air!
The last of the dynasties before the advent of the Moghuls, the Lodhis were Pathans from Afghanistan whose ambition was to conquer as many as of the provinces as they could that formed the part of the Delhi sultanate under the Turks. By the time the last Lodhi ruler, Ibrahim Lodhi was killed in action against Babar's marauding army in the Battle of Panipat in 1526, much of Delhi had become a vast necropolis, littered with the graves of rulers, nobles and their families.
There was little building activity during the short-lived reign of the Lodhi and Sayyid dynasty; apparently they concentrated more on building of tombs than on the other buildings that distinguish the more robust Tughlaq and Moghul periods before and after them. A case of premonition of the impending doom facing the dynasty?
Of course, set in the ambience that they are today, the Lodhi gardens belie the stark reality of death by war, fratricide and court intrigue that was much in vogue then. The imposing monuments enveloped by clumps of leafy trees and shrubs, flowerbeds and carpeted lawns were the creation of Lady Willingdon who in 1936 decided to make a garden around the tombs and mosque. Later, an understudy of Le Corbusier put the final manicured touch with winding pathways, bamboo clusters, hedges and arbours, making the 15th Century Sayyid and Lodhi tombs the centrepiece of this planned landscape.
Ambling into gardens from their south side brings one face to face with the tomb of Muhammad Shah, the third ruler of the Sayyid Dynasty (1434-1517). The oldest structure here, it is generally considered as one of the finest instances of an octagonal tomb built during that era. The other octagonal tomb is that of Sikandar Lodhi (1489-1517).
Situated almost in the centre of the gardens are the Bada Gumbad, with its attached mosque and guesthouse, and the Sheesh Gumbad, its name derived from the glazed turquoise tiles which once formed a prominent part of its façade and some of which can still be seen hanging on - for dear life - to the monument. The mosque, no longer in use, has inscriptions from the Holy Quran etched on its entrance.
There are several graves within each of these buildings, though most of them are without names. In fact, a huge grave in the open courtyard of the Bada Gumbad was actually a water tank, later filled up and converted into a permanent resting spot. Of course, there are the missing dead too, with a grave supposedly inside the Bada Gumbad now no longer in existence!
So, whether as an ambler's paradise, a great spot for a winter outing, a nesting spot for lovebirds or just a plain fascination for history, the next time you visit the Lodhi gardens, just remember, dead men do tell tales!
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