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A tale of two tombs

Bade badaayi na kare/ bade na bole bol/ Rahiman heera kab kahe lakh taka mor mol. This simple doha or couplet by medieval Hindi poet Abdul Rahim Khan-i-khanan on the virtues of humility is perhaps the best description of the poet’s own tomb.

Written by Alokparna Das |
February 15, 2009 2:23:47 am

The two tombs near Nizamuddin Auliya’s tomb complex—one of Akbar’s foster son and the other of his foster father—are steeped in history

Bade badaayi na kare/ bade na bole bol/ Rahiman heera kab kahe lakh taka mor mol. This simple doha or couplet by medieval Hindi poet Abdul Rahim Khan-i-khanan on the virtues of humility is perhaps the best description of the poet’s own tomb. Next to Humayun’s tomb on Mathura Road and overlooking the tomb complex of Nizamuddin Auliya,Rahim’s tomb is appealing for its sheer symmetry,impressive for its massive structure and yet simple and devoid of any finery.

Like Humayun’s tomb,this one,too,stands on a high plinth in the middle of a garden. A large dome surmounts the building and all around the base are arched cells,traditionally made for wayfarers to rest a while. The gate to the tomb faces away from the main road and a flight of steps leads to a plain,platform-like cenotaph,some traces of beautifully worked incised plaster,and a shallow tank,shaped like a hundred-petal flower.

A closer look reveals traces of red sandstone and marble. The 17th century tomb was stripped of its marble and stones by Safdarjung’s poverty-stricken family in the later half of the 18th century to decorate Safdarjung’s tomb.

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Today,while a number of tourists visit the Safdarjung’s tomb,Rahim’s is quieter and visited by only those who want to go back in time,in solitude.

Perhaps that is something Rahim would have liked. Born in the year that Akbar was crowned king,1556,Rahim was no mere poet. A scholar,soldier,astrologer and musician who wrote poetry in four languages,he was truly a Renaissance man. His father Bairam Khan had married late.

The regent of young Akbar,Bairam was assassinated when Rahim was barely four. As Akbar married Bairam’s widow,Rahim became the young emperor’s foster or stepson and soon rose to be close confidant,chief minister and one of his navaratnas or nine jewels. Above all,Rahim was a Sufi at heart,critical of religious divide. That perhaps explains why so many of his verses have reference to Hindu gods and his tomb’s proximity to that of Nizamuddin Auliya.

The patron saint of Delhi,Nizamuddin Auliya,has been a favourite of both the royalty and the laity down the ages. From emperors and princesses to nobles and poets,many have chosen the complex around the saint’s dargah as their last resting place. One such person was Shamsuddin Atgah Khan,Rahim’s contemporary and Akbar’s foster father.

Having saved Humayun’s life once,he,too,was a favourite of the emperor,much to the displeasure of some of his courtiers. He was murdered in 1562 by one of them,Adham Khan,son of Akbar’s wet nurse Maham Anga. It is said that as the wakil of the emperor,Atgah Khan was investigating Adham’s ‘corrupt practices’. The cenotaph at Atgah Khan’s tomb is in red sandstone denoting his martyrdom.

The tomb is in many ways a hidden jewel in the Nizamuddin complex. Situated at the northeast of the dargah,it is an excellent example of the early Mughal square tomb with no windows. Built with red stone within a walled enclosure,the interior has painted plaster. Though the plaster has worn off in places,one can still see the intricate work on the marble slabs. The structure is small and the walls,inlaid with marble and coloured tiles,make it one of the most impressive monuments of the period.

A stone’s throwaway from the dargah,it is an ideal place to visit on a Thursday afternoon. The profusely ornate monument with echoes of Sufi qawwalis resounding from the shrine nearby can indeed transport one to a different era.

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