Breezes that Blow from Sultan Garhi and Beyond

This is not a routine account of Sultan Garhi explaining the place, tomb and architecture.

It has the stories which emanate from Sultan Garhi, with the wafting breeze. These stories are of the lives of the buried and their surroundings over the eons.

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Sultan Garhi Tomb

On top of a hillock in Delhi, is lodged – Sultan Garhi- the tomb of a favourite Son, the Heir apparent, honoured with the title Malik-us-Sharq (Lord of the East) from Sultan Shams-ud-din Iltutmish – his Father the third ruler of the Slave dynasty who founded the Delhi Sultanate in 1211 and received the Caliph’s investure in his rule.

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Nasir-ud-Din Mahmood, is the prince who died in his prime, leaving a distraught father, lies buried in Sultan Garhi. The Prince was an able soldier and was appointed Governor of Bengal (in those days known as Lakhnauti).

He died while serving in that position in 1229.

Nasir-ud-Din Mahmood

Over the age’s prince-turned-sufi – baba Nasiru’d-Din is venerated by all religions. Many pilgrims arrive here believing that they have come visiting the mausoleum of a great Pir Baba (sufi). People from surrounding villages and some from faraway places, arrive at Sultan Ghari every Thursday to venerate, pray and to make a wish.

Jaggery and toasted grams or sugar coated roasted grams are distributed as prasad or tabarruk. People fold their hands make their wish, place an incense stick and flowers at the shrine and what they have brought becomes the prasad. There is no caretaker or pujari.

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There are other stories that breeze out of the Sufi Prince’s tomb……stories of his young age……

Prince Nasiru’d-Din Mahmud was a brash and young man. He was the eldest son of Iltutmish and the governor of large parts of Eastern India.

The prince had unparalleled prestige in the empire and was looked upon as the successor to the throne. This heir apparent slept on a bed laid with rose petals every night. A slave girl was employed just to ensure the petals were laid out well and the prince’s bed stayed soft.

One day, tempted by luxury, the slave girl decided to see for herself how the bed felt. After all, the prince wouldn’t be back until much later. However, the bed turned out to be so comfortable that the girl slept for over four hours and was only woken when the furious prince dragged her out of bed and ordered her flogged. As she was being flogged, she started laughing hysterically.

This irritated the prince even more. He ordered her to be whipped harder. But the more she was punished, the more she laughed. Finally tired of the flogging and stumped the prince put a stop to the punishment and walked up to her.

‘What is wrong with you? What is so funny?

The girl did not respond and just continued laughing. Multiple entreaties from the prince yielded no response. Finally, after much cajoling, the girl said:

‘You will have me killed if I tell you what I think.’

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Nasiru’d-Din Mahmud, curious to the ultimate, promised her riches and a lifelong pension if she would just open her mouth. Convinced, the girl replied.
‘I was wondering if sleeping on this bed for four hours makes me feel so soft and weak, what must you feel like? You have slept on this bed all your life.’
The prince was flummoxed. This was a man known for his bravery, for having helped conquer parts of East India and was known as Malik-us-Sharq, King of the East. And here, right in front of his eyes, a slave girl, bound and tied was calling him a weakling.

Stories say he was a fair minded man. He kept his word of reward to the girl. Before she left she predicted:

‘You will never be the king. But you will be venerated as a saint.’

True enough, Nasiru’d-Din died long before his father and never got to be the king, though he was buried in a tomb befitting one. Over eight centuries later, without knowing the weight of the prince’s story locals from Sultanpur and Rangpur pray at the tomb and address him as baba, a title normally reserved for Sufis. Every Thursday, the well off from the villages host a ‘Langar’ for the poor. The entire community basks in the ‘noor’ of baba Nasiru’d-Din at Pir Baba ki Mazaar!

The Tomb and beyond- The tomb did not lie solitary

Sultan Garhi, built in 1231, is the place where Iltumish buried his eldest and favourite son, Prince Nassir-ud-din Muhammad. The tomb did not lie solitary.

Outside the boundary of the tomb there are the graves of Nasir-ud-Din’s younger brothers, Rukun-ud-Din Firozeshah and Muiz-ud-Din Behramshah. Iltutmish had other sons beside Nasiruddin Mahmud and his daughter Razia Sultan. The tombs of both these sons of Iltutmish are historically recorded as being located to the south of the tomb of Sultan Ghari and being similar to each other, like Chattris.

The tomb of Ruknuddin Firoz Shah was built in AD1236 and that of Muizzuddin Bahram Shah in AD1241 . Today only one of these buildings still stands, in the form of a octagonal domed chhatri or pillared kiosk(approximate diameter 20 ft), with a chajja(projected pavilion on extensively carved brackets) and dressed stone pillars. The round dome of the chhatri is quite unlike the domes found in the Sultan Ghari Tomb. This is because it was replaced during the reign of Firoz Shah Tughlaq on his order

Tughlaq-era well

Flanking the central building located at a slight distance to the south of the main tomb is a Tughlaq-era well. The well would have been used for wuzu (ritual ablutions) by the populous settlement that came up here in the Tughlaq period. While a number of wells from the pre-Mughal era still survive in Delhi, this is perhaps the earliest surviving well from the Tughlaq period.

Tughlaq Mosque

The ruined mosque located to the east of Sultan Ghari’s Tomb also dates to the Tughlaq period, as is evident from its heavy stone columns, capitals, stone brackets, rubble masonry, and simple stone arches. It resembles structures built by Firoz Shah Tughlaq and would have been five bays wide and two bays deep.

Residential Enclosure

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A large complex of individual units is located east of the Sultan Ghari Tomb, stretching over a large area. The several interconnected small residential units are indicative that the ensemble grew with the size of the family. A study of the built form, especially the arches and niches, ornamentation in plaster and the plumbing services like drainage suggests a much later period of construction than the Tughlaq.

Western Residential Enclosure

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This is a ruined residential complex, comprising interconnected residential units. Rooms are arranged around courtyards and some parts are built over two storeys. These were evidently occupied by one or more extended families. The walls of the rooms have niches for storage and an interesting structure here is a short pillar with a Sanskrit inscription. This tells of the digging of a tank (or well) in the year 1361, on the occasion of a wedding.

Courtyards Residential Unit

This large ruined dwelling unit is located to the south-east of the Sultan Ghari Tomb, near the Tughlaq mosque. It is a fairly grand house with courtyards and arcaded verandahs and may have belonged to the main functionary of the mosque.

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The Mausoleum and Burial-Final Eventuality

The body of Nasiruddin Mahmud was brought to Delhi and according to a tradition, was first buried at Malikpur nearby, the remains were subsequently interred at Sultan Ghari, a couple of years later, upon completion of the mausoleum.

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The grave of Nasir-ud-Din Mahmood

The grave of Nasir-ud-Din Mahmood is placed inside a cave like structure under an octagonal platform located in the centre of the open courtyard and rising to the height of around four and a half feet.

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The crypt contains four graves. The highest and largest of the four, is believed to be of Nasir-ud-din Mahmood, and lies next to the west side of the square crypt. The walls of the crypt have 15 ornamental arch shaped alcoves; the place of the 16th alcove is taken by the opening for the steps.

The graves, including the one near the base of the step, that appears to be of a child, could all belong to Nasir-ud-Din’s own nuclear family.

The importance of the mausoleum lies in the fact that it is the very first monumental mausoleum built in the Sub Continent.

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The mausoleum is like a small fortress with domed bastions at each corner. An inscription, on the east facing 9 metre high main gateway, records that the mausoleum was built by Iltutmish in 1231. Exactly 783 years ago.

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Firoze Shah Tughlaq (1351-88) carried out extensive repairs on the mausoleum and provided the marble veneer, over the original grey sandstone on the sides of the octagonal platform.

Winds of time have been blowing for almost 800 years, but they still carry the fragrances of incense, flowers and offerings at Sultan Garhi-the tomb of a Princely Saint- Pir Baba!

Document Assembled Compiled from Several Sources

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