BOOK EXCERPT

Inside the Delhi Golf Club is a wealth of monuments that is anything but par for the course

Historian Rana Safvi takes readers on the guide to the forgotten old cities of Delhi through remaining monuments from the past.

The Delhi Golf Club is a municipal course established in the early 1930s. It became a corporate entity on February 24, 1950. Situated on erstwhile Mughal lands known as Babarpur, it was built around monuments.

I knew that there were three important tombs inside the Delhi Golf Club but nothing prepared me for the veritable feast that it is for a historian like me who loves monuments. The Delhi Golf Club hosted me with great courtesy and I was given a tour of the grounds on a golf cart when I visited. There is a wealth of funerary heritage inside its grounds, a reminder of why Delhi is known as a necropolis.

The verdant greens of the Golf Club were a soothing sight for sore eyes in the heat of May.

Lal Bangla

Photo by Syed Mohammad Qasim
Photo by Syed Mohammad Qasim

Tuk hirs-o-hawas ki chhod miyan, mat des bides phire mara,
Qazzaaq ajal ka loote hai din raat, baja kar naqqara

Wander not looking for worldly wealth; abandon the greed and avarice in man,
The pirate of death is on the prowl to loot your days and night with the beat of a drum

— Nazeer Akbarabadi

These are a set of tombs built for a royal family now acting as a background to the new ruling class while they play golf.

In Asar us Sanadid, Sir Syed writes that someone from the harem of Nasiruddin Mohammad Humayun Badshah was buried here. Badshah Shah Alam II later buried his mother Lal Kunwar in a small domed building in the same place.

There is much confusion around the identity of Lal Kunwar. This is not the Lal Kunwar, beloved of Jahandar Shah, but mother of Shah Alam II, who shared the same name.

Shah Alam II built a mausoleum in 1779 AD. There are two domed monuments here. According to Sir Syed, Lal Kunwar’s grave is in the building with the smaller dome and Begum Jaan, the daughter of Shah Alam II, is buried in the building with the bigger dome. But I found two graves in the smaller monument and none in the larger one. It is possible that the second grave in the smaller monument belonged to a relative of the royal family, which is not surprising since many cenotaphs have disappeared over the years. The bigger dome also housed the graves of Mirza Sultan Parvez, Mirza Dara Bakht, the brother of the heir apparent, Mirza Daood. The wives of the emperor are also buried here.

Both domes are similar in design, with square corner rooms, oblong halls between them and a square room in the centre. I climbed up to the top of both the mausoleums. The dome of the smaller one looked disproportionately large up close, but is in very good condition. The pinnacles are still intact. The larger mausoleum has a smaller dome that is very pretty when looked at closely. From these structures, one can get a good view of the Golf Club.

The buildings here are made completely of red sandstone and this, coupled with the name of Lal Kunwar, leads to the popular name Lal Bangla. Some of the decorative motifs on its walls are still visible and testify to its original beauty.

Many scions of the Mughals were buried here. We know that Bahadur Shah II had an enclosure built in the courtyard with the grave of Nawab Fatehbadi Begum and another of Mirza Bulaqi. No traces of these graves remain now.

A separate compound of these monuments is maintaind by the ASI, and can be accessed from the Delhi Golf Club parking lot.

Tomb of Saiyyed Abid

Photo by Syed Mohammad Qasim
Photo by Syed Mohammad Qasim

Maut ka ek din mu’ayya’n hai
Neend kyun raat bhar nahin aati

When the day of death is fixed
Why is it so difficult to sleep?

— Mirza Ghalib

Nawab Khan Dauran-e-Khan built the tomb for Saiyyed Abid Khan when he died in battle. It was also known as Shaheed ki Dargah.

This tomb was probably built in 1626 AD and is located near Lal Bangla and inside the Golf Club premises. It is built of lime mortar and bricks, with glazed tiles for decoration.

There is confusion between the accounts of Sir Syed and Maulvi Zafar Hasan about this tomb.

Sir Syed’s account goes as follows: “This is an attractive building with a grand darwaza and pretty sehdari (three-door pavilion). The burj is also very elegant. It had an attractive tank and water channels in the courtyard but these are now desolate. All of it is in a ruinous state and the tile work has disappeared. Though it is no longer in a pristine condition, it’s a reminder of grand old days.”

According to Maulvi Zafar Hasan, “The tomb consists of a room 14 feet 3 inches square inside, its outer plan being octagonal in form”. He claims this has led to another standalone tomb nearby that has come to be known as Saiyyed Abid’s tomb. He does not mention the gateway or water channel and this may have added to the confusion leading the ASI to name the standalone tomb.

Sir Syed has also made a sketch of the tomb in front of the swimming pool area as the tomb of Syed Abid. I would rather believe him.

The calligraphic inscriptions that were part of this monument have been plastered over now. Remnants are visible on some tiles of its facade. I did not get a chance to see if there was a grave inside.

As the tomb labelled Saiyyed Abid Khan’s tomb is not his, it is probably that of Mir Taqi, a Mughal about whom we know little. Both monuments were built with Lakhauri brick masonry, a brick dome and stone floors.

Vaulted Tomb

Just down the dirt track on my tour of the Golf club, I saw a vaulted tomb built on a raised platform. The oblong chamber measures 19 feet 9 inches by 11 feet 7 inches square, with three arched entrances on the longer side and two on the shorter side. This is probably a tomb from the Mughal era built in Lakhauri brick masonry, though there are no graves visible. The tomb is shaped differently from others in the vicinity.

Ruins of a Masjid

There are the remains of a plinth in dense undergrowth which could be a mosque mentioned by Maulvi Zafar Hasan. He speaks of a 40 feet by 34 square feet mosque on a raised platform comprising a courtyard and a western wall furnished with three mehrabs in this area. At the time of his writing (in 1919), only the central mehrab was extant and the courtyard had unknown graves overgrown with vegetation. A piece of wall stood forlorn, and graves all along the path give it an eerie feel.

Barah Khamba

Photo by Syed Mohammad Qasim
Photo by Syed Mohammad Qasim

Nothing prepared me for the beauty that confronted my eyes as I approached Hole No. 17 of the golf grounds. It is one of the prettiest tombs I have ever seen. Dating back to the Lodi era, it is in the form of a cross. Though only ten pillars remain of the original twelve (which give it its name), it is magnificent.

Four other smaller domed compartments surround the central dome (the eastern one has fallen). The tomb has been buttressed recently to support the pillars on the north and south. Though there are no signs of any ornamentation, its striking design did not need any.

The tomb, built of stone, contains one solitary grave. The person buried was probably a noble.

Early Mughal Tomb

Photo by Syed Mohammad Qasim
Photo by Syed Mohammad Qasim

We soon came upon another square tomb, octagonal from the outside and square inside, with three unknown graves in a ruinous condition inside. It is a domed tomb with arched entrances on all four sides. Over each of these entrances are two arched openings, one above the other, admitting light.

The walls and ceilings have painted designs, faded but attractive. Traces of colour and incised patterns can be seen on the arched doorways too. The dome is built of brick.

Baghichi (Small Garden)

This was a garden enclosed by four walls, with a low arched doorway as entrance. The entrance has long since disappeared, and the garden is now a part of the wilderness that surrounds it. The compound wall of the club runs alongside this garden.

The dome is surrounded by chhatris, out of which two still remain. There is very delicate stucco work on the exterior. It is built of Lakhauri bricks from the late Mughal period. Each square side has a recessed arch with a at doorway. There are two unknown graves within.

During the Commonwealth Games of 2010, many monuments in the city got a makeover, and this one did too. It now has a very pretty ceiling with with a striking floral design in incised plaster.

There are remnants of “guldaan”, flower vases, incised in the plaster over the arched doorways. When newly built they must have looked magnificent.

The material used is stone for the flooring and Lakhauri brick masonry for the walls. The dome is also built of brick.

Mughal Masjid

Across from this erstwhile garden, on an another putting green, was what looked like a mosque. A trip closer revealed it to be a mosque from the Mughal period, standing on a chabutra.

Only two of three original domed compartments built of brick masonry now remain. The arches of the remaining two are in poor condition. There is a courtyard in front of these.

Unknown Tomb

The Golf Club still hid some secrets and a short ride in the golf cart led us to a closely guarded one. There were glimpses of a brown hue in the undergrowth at a distance. On walking into a path with thorns and brambles, I found a tomb in ruins, with its Lakhauri bricks showing.

Maulvi Zafar Hasan mentions a few more tombs in terrible condition in the vicinity. The many changes this area has seen has probably left them in dust and ashes.

Excerpted with permission from The Forgotten Cities of Delhi, Rana Safvi, Harper Collins India.

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