Sultan Ghari, the Oldest Tomb Built in India

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Sultan Ghari was the first Islamic Mausoleum built in 1231 AD for the prince Nasiruddin Mahmud, the eldest son of Iltutmish in the funerary landscape of Delhi in Nangal Dewat Forest, near Nangal Dewat Vasant Kunj. Iltutmish was the third Sultan of the Slave Dynasty who ruled in Delhi from 1210 to 1236 AD.

The crypt or the tomb is implanted in a Ghar (cave), approached by winding steep stairs and flooring. The cave is covered by an unusual octagonal roof stone slab. The exterior of the tomb structure built in Delhi sandstone with marble adornment exhibits a walled area with bastions (towers) on corners, which impart it the look of a fortress in aesthetic Persian and Oriental architecture. The other tombs inside the case have not been identified.

History

Iltutmish, ruling from Delhi since 1210 AD, invaded eastern India in 1225 AD to capture Lakhnauti (now a ruined city in West Bengal called Gaur). The resultant battle ended in signing of a treaty between Izaz the then ruler of Eastern India (Bihar and Bengal) and Iltumish; the former ruler agreeing to pay a surety of 80 lakh tankas (silver currency), 38 elephants, mint and issue of coins in the name of Iltumish and accepting Sultan’s suzerainty over the region. Before returning to Delhi, Iltumish divided the region into Bihar and Lakhnauti, and installed Alauddin Masud Jani as his feudatory in Lakhnauti. But Jani’s control was short lived as he was overthrown by Iwaz soon after Iltumish’s departure.

Thereafter, Iltutmish deputed his eldest son prince Nasiru’d-Din Mahmud to fight Iwaz. In the battle which took place near Lakhnauti, Iwaz was trounced and executed in 1227 AD, along with his nobles. Prince Nasiru’d-Din Mahmud, who was then appointed as governor of Lakhnauti province, merged his original province of Oudh with Bengal and Bihar, and established his capital at Lakhnauti. This act of his coupled with the fact that he was son of Iltumish enhanced his prestige in the province. As a reward, he was given the honorific title of ‘Malik-us-Sharq’ (king of the East) by Iltutmish. His rule was short lived, eventful and he could consolidate his territory. But after a rule of 18 months, Nasiru’d-Din Mahmud was killed. Immensely grieved by the death of his favorite eldest son, Iltumish built a tomb called the Sultan Ghari in memory of his son, in 1231 AD, close to the Qutub Complex. Five years later, Iltumish died in 1236 and his tomb can be seen in the Qutub complex. His two other sons, namely Ruknuddin Feroze Shah (died 1237 AD, after he was deposed) and Muizzudin Bahram Shah (was killed in 1241 AD) who ruled for short periods, before and after their famous sister Razia Sultana ruled Delhi, were also buried in separate Chhatris (cenotaphs), just next to the Sultan Ghari. One of the two Chhatris (pictured) is restored while the other has been destroyed. 

The plan of the tomb structure is unusual. It is in the form of a fortress with a courtyard like layout, not common among tombs. It is built over a raised plinth of certain height in rubble masonry work. The octagonal shape of the tomb is also unique as it has been built within the fortress like outer structure with four corner towers, over a Ghar (cave) in front of the western Qibla wall of the mosque. It, thus, is a combination of an over ground tomb with towers (which is common in most of the tombs) and an underground chamber for the crypt.

Structure

The octagonal grave–chamber with the crypt (tomb) in an underground opening is supported on four columns raised with two pillars each. The roof of the chamber is built in thick lime–concrete. The western Qibla (prayer wall) which has the mehrab, is made of marble in exquisite Turkish and Afghan design. The marble mehrab also has inscriptions from the Quran. The front elevation of this west wall has a marble facade, dated to Feroze Shah’s rule (1351–88).

The entire tomb depicts a trabeate or corbel arch construction, which was common in India before the true arch design of the Romans was introduced, which are seen in subsequent Islamic monuments. Feroz Shah Tughlaz (1351–1388 AD) is credited to have repaired the tomb, which had been substantially damaged. The Chhatri, a stand-alone structure, next to the Sultan Ghari, a tomb of one of the two sons of Iltumish, was also restored during Firoz Shah’s reign. Old village ruins surround the tomb. Old ruins of a Tugluq mosque, Jami Masjid and a Khanqah (a place of spiritual retreat) are also located on the southern side of the tomb.

Worship at the Tomb

The tomb is a revered place for devotees of both  Hindu and Muslim and  religious communities of the nearby villages of Mahipalpur and Rangpuri since they consider the tomb as the  dargah of a saintly ‘peer’; a visit to the tomb is more or less mandatory for newlyweds from these two villages. Because of the religious veneration, the monument is maintained better by the local people than the Archeological Survey of India, who are the formal custodians to maintain the heritage structure.

Thursday is a special day for worship at this tomb when devotees, both Hindus and Muslims, visit the shrine, which represents a festive display of Hindu – Muslim syncretism of religious tolerance. Every year, on the 17th day of the Islamic month of Ziqad (month occurring between Ramadan and Eid festivals), the “Urs (death anniversary) of Nasiruddin Shah” is held when pilgrims from all parts of Delhi visit the tomb.

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