Stories from the forgotten graves of Hazarat Nizamuddin
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Stories from the forgotten graves of Hazarat Nizamuddin

Just outside the Chausath Khamba is the tomb of Mirza Ghalib

Stories from the forgotten graves of Hazarat Nizamuddin

Amid the uproar, Delhi is also a city of hope and lost history. In search of this lost history, Ali Fraz Rezvi ventured out to find his great grandfather’s grave, buried almost a hundred years ago among the many forgotten graves of the Hazarat Nizamuddin. Unable to find his great-grandfather’s grave, he found other lost stories.

On June 12, Karwaan, The Heritage Exploration Initiative, a student-led initiative to revive the love for history, organised a heritage walk of such forgotten graves, led by Fraz.

Born Muhammad bin Ahmad bin al-Bukhari, Nizamuddin Auliya was a pious man who received the titles of Sultan-ul-Masheikh and Mehboob-e-ilahi. He was often referred to as Sultanji. At fourteen, he mastered Uloom-e-aqli wa naqli (study of religion or sciences). He earned the title of Maulana Nizamuddin Al Behas (the controversialist) from his teachers. Hailing once from Lahore and Badayun, two well-known centers of Sufism, he migrated to Delhi and studied ilm-e-hadith (study of the sayings of the Prophet). Listening to daily morning prayers, he decided to spend the rest of his life in devotion.

A tomb surrounded by buildings, blocking its entrance 
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He was being referred to as Sultanji and thus threatened the authority of the then Sultan Muhammad bin Tughlaq, who sent Hazarat Nizamuddin a message to leave Delhi on his return from Deva Giri. Hazarat Nizamuddin sent Sultan a letter in Persian, “Hunooz Dilli Door Ast” (Delhi is still far away). It is said that due to Nizamuddin’s curse, Sultan’s pavilion fell when he entered and died before reaching Delhi. Though there is another conspiracy theory that says that it was Firoz Shah Tughlaq who had arranged for the timely crashing of the pavilion.

After that, Nizamuddin Auliya soon became one of the greatest saints of Delhi, known for his miraculous powers. Thus, many emperors, including Humayun, built their tombs near Nizamuddin Auliya’s. Among many tombs is the tomb of Mirza Aziz Kokaltash Khan. He was the son of Khan-e-Azam Atgah Khan. He died in 1624 in Ahmedabad and was buried near his father’s grave in the Chausath Khamba (64 pillars) complex of the Hazarat Nizamuddin Tomb. “The sixty-four pillars divide the complex into twenty-five panels with one dome each. However, looking at the structure from the outside, it is flat-roofed,” points out Fraz. The tomb complex is also built with white marble, making it a beautiful building which may suggest that this complex may have been constructed to gather those who visited the tomb of Nizamuddin Auliya.

Mirza Aziz Kolkaltash grave
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Mirza Ilahi Baksh grave 
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Tombs of Chausath Khamba 
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Just outside the Chausath Khamba is the tomb of Mirza Ghalib. Dabeer-ul-Mulk, Najm-ud-daulah Mirza Ghalib was a great poet of his times. The wall of the outdoor complex separates the graves of Nawabs of Loharu, who were in close relations with Ghalib due to his mother and wife. “His grave lies at the foot of his father-in-law’s- Mirza Ilahi Bakshi,” says Fraz. He also points out that a new marble tomb replaced the old tomb by the Aga Khan Trust in 2010 as a part of the site's reconstruction. Fraz claims that the graves are inscribed with chronograms whose certain letters calculate the death of the buried ones. 1277 (AH) (1860-61) was when Ghalib had fallen sick; the chronogram on his tomb reads Ghalib Murd.

Exiting the complex and walking down the road leads us to Atgah Khan’s tomb. Humayun appointed the son of Mir Yaar Muhammad of Ghazni- Shamsuddin as a common soldier, later earning the title of Atgah Khan (Atgah here refers to foster). His proximity to Humayun helped him climb up the ranks in the royal hierarchy; Adam Khan, son of Maham Anga (Akbar’s foster mother), grew jealous of Atgah Khan and killed him. The incident is also noted in Ain-i-Akbari by Abul Fazl. Rana Safvi, in her book The Forgotten Cities of Delhi, writes that Atgah Khan’s death was reported in two chronograms:

Atgah Khan Tomb 
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Do khoon shud
Raft az zulm sar e Azam Khan

(Two murders have been committed The cruelty against Azam Khan has been avenged)

Inside the complex of Dargah, one can find many tombs covered with chadar and flowers. Fraz recalls an instance where a visitor, unaware of whose grave it was, sat next to it in devotion. When she realised the grave did not belong to a Saint, she rose and left. It is a common occurrence there. As many royal tombs are also constructed within the premise of Dargah, people assume it to be the grave of a Sufi Saint.

Graves of Hazrat Nizamuddin 
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Similarly, covered with chadar and flowers was the tomb of Mughal Emperor Muhammad Shah Rangeela. “Man of culture, who restored the celebration of Holi in Red Fort,” says Fraz. The celebrations paused due to a lack of funds. However, Muhammad Shah Rangeela spent a lot on cultural activities, and under his reign, Delhi had reached its cultural zenith.

Mohammad Shah Rangeela Grave 
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By the time Muhammad Shah Rangeela had died, the Mughal rule was already on a downward spiral. It is believed that a Sufi Fakir told Bahadur Shah Zafar that the fall of Delhi was decided the day Muhammad Shah Rangeela erected his tomb between the holy shrines of Hazarat Nizamuddin and Amir Khusaro.

Close to his tomb is Jahanara’s grave, which now remains closed. She is known to have lived the most glorious era of the Mughal empire, and the complex where she was buried was built before she died. This grave is open to the sky as is desired by many devout souls.

As the walk continued, many other tombs were discovered in the lanes of Nizamuddin Basti. Many of these tombs are either hemmed in by unplanned buildings or are encroached. An interesting case of how history has evolved, encroached, and reclaimed the lanes of Nizamuddin Basti is of Khwaja Hassan Nizami’s residence. The building in colloquial language reads: the home of Khwaja Hassan Nizami; however, under that is an address plate that reads: Patrick John, Plumber (nal mistri).

Khwaja Hasan Nizami residence now reads Patrick John 
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Commenting on the heritage walks, Eshan Sharma, the founder of Karwaan: The Heritage Initiative, says, “these walks are important as these are the places where people can collect history. We wish to conduct more such walks so people can see and feel how history has changed over time.”