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Poor mausoleum of a powerful man

Baishali Adak, Nov 21, 2012

Usually, our attention is drawn towards the more majestic monuments of Delhi like Red Fort, Purana Qila, Qutub Minar etc. Fact, however, is that sometimes the lesser magnificent historical buildings have more significant stories to tell.

The expansive Safdarjung tomb in South Delhi lies in an unremarkable, dilapidated condition – not because the authorities have not taken due care of it, but because it was never really made to rival the Taj Mahal, or even, say, Delhi’s Humayun’s tomb.

This mausoleum was built by Nawab Shuja-ud-Daulah for his father – the powerful wazir Muqim Abul Mansur Khan, later titled Safdarjung. Safdarjung was no royal born Mughal.
He was a local who, using his political and administrative acumen, rose to the supreme post of wazir (i.e Prime Minister) in the court of Ahmed Shah – one of the last weak Mughal kings.

Historian Biba Sobti informs us, “Safdarjung was the nephew and son-in-law of Saadat Ali Khan - the governor of Oudh. When Persian emperor Nadir Shah invaded Delhi in 1739, Saadat fought him as part of Mughal king Muhammad Shah Rangeela’s force, lost the battle and killed himself. Safdarjung then paid Nadir Rs 2 cr to get the governorship of Oudh.”

“Seeing Safdarjung’s efficient rule of Oudh, Muhammad Shah gave him the governorship of Kashmir and bestowed on him the title of Safdarjung. When Muhammad Shah was succeeded by his son Ahmed Shah, Safdarjung was made the governor of Ajmer and ‘Faujdar’ of Narnaul as well. Eventually, he came to control the whole Mughal empire.”

“Safdarjung then made the mistake of killing his arch rival Javed Khan – chief eunuch and close confidante of queen Qudsia Begum. Ahmed Shah was angry and Safdarjung alienated in the royal court. He engineered a civil war, enlisted the support of Jats and Marathas but failed to succeed and retired to Oudh. He died in 1754, and was later laid to rest at the tomb.”

In the twilight years of the Mughal empire, ravaged by repeated attacks by Afghans and Turks, neither was there enough money, nor construction material to build a tomb for this man. Safdarjung’s son Shuja-ud-Daulah commissioned an Ethiopian architect to build it for a princely sum of Rs 3 lakhs.

He made use of red and yellow sandstone for construction and plaster for decoration. The more expensive marble was reserved for the cenotaph area only. All of this material was stolen from nearby destroyed forts, and the whole dome is said to be lifted from the mausoleum of Abdul Rahim Khan-e-Khanan.

This monument is the last model of the Mughal garden-tomb layout. An ornate arched gateway leads to canals in four directions ending at the steps of the central tomb. There are gardens in the intermittent areas and three beautiful pavilions interestingly named as Jangli Mahal, Moti Mahal and Badshah Pasand. Rightly, it is described as the ‘last flicker in the lamp of Mughal architecture.’


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