The winding, cobbled lane in Nizamuddin West, with flower and ittar sellers on either side, ends at the Nizamuddin Dargah — where the air reverberates with prayers and qawwalis. Rarely does it lead anyone to Atgah Khan’s tomb, a lesser-known monument commissioned by Mughal emperor Akbar, after his trusted court minister Atgah Khan was murdered at the Agra Fort in 1562. It was completed by 1566-67.
Suffocated by cramped buildings, one-room houses and tiny shops, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI)-protected monument is now being conserved by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC). The challenges with the project range from encroachment to structural problems and missing stonework.
“When we began work, the building was on the verge of collapse. There are major structural problems. Even the crypt has been occupied by some families for years. The original walls have been broken down for settlement,” said Ratish Nanda, AKTC project director.
“Notices have been sent to families who have encroached on the monument,” said an ASI official. A resident living next to the tomb said, “It’s good that the monument is being conserved. We are cooperating, but that does not mean we will stop living here. Generations have grown up here. Where will we go?”
In the background of the monument stands an unfinished structure, demolished in 2015 by the South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC). “Alternative accommodation for residents is being looked at by the agencies involved, who have spoken to the Delhi Development Authority regarding this,” said a source.
Atgah Khan was a general in emperor Humayun’s army and then was made vakil by Akbar. He was killed by Akbar’s foster-brother Adham Khan, as Atgah was allegedly investigating “corruption charges” against him.
The red sandstone monument with white marble slabs has medallions, parchin kari work, red sandstone with white marble inlay work, latticework on the windows, and inscriptions of Quranic verses. “The decorative plaster had disintegrated and fallen off. 0on the tomb’s ceiling. Some stonework has disintegrated beyond repair,” said Nanda.