Last Charity Of Abdul Rahim Khan-i-Khanan


Son to a murdered father, father to murdered sons, orphaned at 4, Abdul Rahim grew up under Akbar's umbrella and later served as his prime minister and was one of the "Navratan" (nine gems) at Akbar's court. He lived to see his two sons murdered by his student prince Jehangir, because Rahim was against Jehangir's accession to the throne after Akbar's death. Their bodies were left to rot at the "Khooni Darwaza"!

Bairam Khan had played a big hand in installing Akbar as the emperor of India but when he fell foul with Akbar's wet nurse, Maham Anga, Bairam was exiled and murdered in Gujarat. His son Rahim, though a Muslim by birth, was a devotee of Lord Krishna and wrote poetry dedicated to him. He was also an avid astrologer, adept at several languages and was the author of the Persian version of Baburnama.

The 16th century treatise of Akbar's administration, "Ain-I-Akbari" recorded by Abul Fazl 'Allami contains the details of Rahim's military exploits. After Rahim quelled a rebellion in Ahmadabad with two spectacular victories; Akbar made him the commander of "Five Thousand" and bestowed upon him the title of Mirza Khan Khanan. Abul Fazl 'Allami further states that once Gujarat was conquered, Rahim gave away his whole property to his soldiers, even his inkstand, which was given to a soldier who showed up the last. He then handed over the affairs of Gujarat to Quli Khan and rejoined Akbar's court.

Seldom would a student of Hindi not recollect "Rahim ke Dohe" (couplets) that appropriately encapsulate the pithy wisdom of the Indian society.

Tulsidas, an important poet of the Bhakti Movement was Rahim's contemporary and there is a story of both getting into a fascinating exchange of couplets:

"... He (Rahim) never looked at the person he was giving alms to, keeping his gaze downwards in all humility. When Tulsidas heard about Rahim's strange method of giving alms, he promptly wrote a couplet and sent it to Rahim:

ऐसी देनी देंन ज्यूँ, कित सीखे हो सैन
ज्यों ज्यों कर ऊंच्यो करो, त्यों त्यों निचे नैन

- Sir, why give alms like this? Where'd you learn that? Your hands are as high as your eyes are low.

Realizing that Tulsidas was well aware of the truth behind world's creation, and was merely giving him an opportunity to say a few lines in reply, he wrote to Tulsidas in all humility:

देनहार कोई और है, भेजत जो दिन रैन
लोग भरम हम पर करे, तासो निचे नैन

- The Giver is someone else, giving day and night. So (that) they won't give me the credit, I lower my eyes."

Standing tall today is Rahim's tomb in the Nizamuddin area of New Delhi; and maybe in some strange way it is a manifestation of the message in his above couplet - his tomb was given away too.

Perhaps Rahim's heirs had fallen on bad times and sold it for money as most of the decorative materials from Rahim's tomb were stripped off and showed up at the tomb of a highly controversial figure (needless to mention political) - Abul Mansur Mirza Muhammad Muqim Ali Khan, i.e., Safdarjung.

Safdarjung was born in Persia and migrated to India in 1722. He was the nephew of Sa'adat Khan, Nawab of Awadh. He bought his succession to the throne of Awadh by paying a fortune to Nadir Shah of Persia. Though he managed to gain complete control of the administration in the Mughal Empire, he fell out of favor in 1753 when he deserted his military command just before the battle with Ahmad Shah Durrani (also known as Ahmad Shah Abdali) of Afghanistan. It was a very chaotic political and military campaign played out between the Mughals, Durranis and Marathas. Hence, it is not entirely clear who betrayed whom or the nature and depth of the strategies that were played out; though there are considerable notes floating all over the Internet and it appears that Safdarjung secretly aspired to enthrone himself as the Indian emperor. Only this time, he could not buy it out!

The end of the chaos saw Safdarjung being driven out of Delhi only to return in his death the following year, when his son implored the emperor to build a tomb in the (then) wasteland south-west of Shahjahanabad. William Dalrymple in his book "City of Djinns" makes few interesting notes about the tomb:

"... The tomb stands today as a telling memorial to the period. Most obviously, it demonstrates the strained circumstances of the age. Compared to the purity of the Taj Mahal - the spotless white marble, the unfussy shapes, the perfectly balanced design - Safdarjung's tomb with its bulbous dome and stained sandstone walls seems somehow flawed and degenerate ... (Safdarjung's tomb) at first sight looks wrong: its lines somehow look faulty, naggingly incorrect ...

... As the traditional Delhi quarries near Agra were no longer controlled by the Mughals ... the builders were forced to strip other Delhi tombs in order to gather the material ... Halfway through the construction, the marble appears to have run out. Prominent strips of inlay were left unfinished; awkward patches of pink sandstone intrude into the glistening white of the dome. The effect is like a courtier in a tatty second-hand livery: the intention grand, but the actual impression tawdry, almost ridiculous..."

Despite the observations of Dalrymple, the tomb has some of the most brilliant and well preserved net-vault patterns built into its ceilings. That the work on the tomb was never completed is starkly visible in the unfinished carvings on the floor of the tomb.

The photos in this album were shot in December 2010. I have been to both the tombs multiple times since then, mostly with my visiting friends and not much has changed except access to the upper floors of both the tombs are even more restricted. The beautiful mosque at the Safdarjung tomb is a no-go zone as well but if one is lucky to find the gates open, one may sneak in for a quick look at the intriguing interiors. Rest assured that you will be spotted and chased away soon enough :)

Hope you will enjoy the pictures below.


Tomb of Abdul Rahim Khan-i-Khanan, Nizamuddin, Delhi

Tomb of Abdul Rahim Khan-i-Khanan, Nizamuddin, Delhi. Despite the ravages of quarrying that is sorely visible all around this tomb; it still contains some fascinating incised plasterworks, arch netting patterns and carved intrados of the various arches in the tomb.

Close up of the stripped tomb of Rahim, Nizamuddin, Delhi

Close up of Rahim's tomb from which the marble, red sandstone and other decorative materials were stripped off and reused in Safdarjung's tomb. Notice the bald domes and the walls.

Incised plasterwork pattern on one of the interior walls, Rahim's Tomb, Delhi

Incised plasterwork pattern on one of the interior walls of Rahim's tomb.

Intrados of an arch, Rahim's Tomb, Nizamuddin, Delhi

Intrados of an arch with net vault pattern and an intricately carved star in Rahim's tomb - now decaying fast.

Flower shaped reservoir and water channel, Rahim's Tomb, Nizamuddin, Delhi

Flower shaped reservoir and water channel on the square platform of Rahim's tomb.

Safdarjung's tomb set amidst Persian charbagh style garden, Delhi

Tomb of Safdarjung (1708 - 1754), Delhi. The tomb is set in a sprawling Persian charbagh style garden with water fountains.

Close up of the design details on Safdarjung's tomb, Delhi

Close up of the design details on Safdarjung's Tomb.

Net vault or ribbed pattern on a chamber's ceiling, Safdarjung's Tomb, Delhi

Net vault or ribbed pattern on a chamber's ceiling in Safdarjung's tomb.

Beautiful net vaulting, Safdarjung's Tomb, Delhi

This in my opinion is the best chamber of the tomb. The net vaulting here is simply awesome!

Close up of the roundel on a ceiling, Safdarjung's Tomb, Delhi

Close up of the roundel on a ceiling exploding into the ribs all around in Safdarjung's tomb.

Exquisite arch netting and net vault pattern, Safdarjung's Tomb, Delhi

Exquisite arch netting and net vault pattern in Safdarjung's tomb.

Safdarjung rests here in peace, Safdarjung's Tomb, Delhi

Safdarjung rests here in peace. One can identify unfinished carvings on the floor of this main chamber, indicating that the tomb remained unfinished.


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