I first came to know of Jamaali-Kamaali sometime in the mid-90s, when I was working for a hospitality company. The organization catered to a number of events, and one of the events for which we’d received an order was a concert being held at the Jamaali-Kamaali lawns. I was not one of the team assigned for the event, so I didn’t get to see Jamaali-Kamaali. But I was intrigued; it was such an odd name.
It was only some years later that I actually got to see Jamaali-Kamaali. The lawns (a grassy stretch with a hillock topped with an early 19th century stone gazebo built by the British) draw their name from two structures. One is an early Mughal mosque, known as the Jamaali-Kamaali Masjid; the other is the neighbouring Tomb of Jamaali-Kamaali.
Both stand in the Mehrauli Archaeological Park (which, if you haven’t visited it yet, is definitely worth a visit; besides Jamaali-Kamaali, it s also home to Balban’s Tomb, the magnificent Rajon ki Bain, a tomb-turned-summer-resort known as Dilkusha, and various other monuments dating back to different periods in time).
The Jamaali-Kamaali Masjid is fairly prominent, so it’s hard to miss. The Tomb of Jamaali-Kamaali, however, in an enclosed yard next door to the mosque, looks unpretentious enough to be easily overlooked. Do, however, take the trouble to go over to it and search for the caretaker to unlock the tomb for you, because this tomb, small though it is, is one of the most splendidly decorated in all of Delhi.
‘Jamaali-Kamaali’ is actually just the popular name for the person buried here. In reality, the tomb is that of a 16th century Sufi saint and poet, Shaikh Fazlullah, aka Jalal Khan, who was better known by his pen name or takhallus of ‘Jamaali’. Jamaali was the one who commissioned the building of the Jamaali-Kamaali Masjid, and was himself buried—when he died in 1536 in Gujarat—in the tomb next door. The story goes that the mortal remains of Maulana Jamaali, as he was called, were brought back from Gujarat and buried in ‘the room in which he had lived’. This seems unlikely, since the somewhat cramped but highly decorated interior of the room that houses Jamaali’s grave would probably not have made a very comfortable residence.
The enclosure in which the tomb stands is a large paved yard, its walls with little niches decorated with incised plaster (and, interestingly, no two niches have the same pattern).
There are gravestones scattered here and there across the yard, including one under a small canopy. No-one knows whose graves these are, but it’s not hard to imagine why they’re there: it was believed that the grave of a saint confers sanctity on the area surrounding it, so to be buried in the vicinity of a dargah was to be blessed.
On the outside of the small square room that forms the tomb chamber are more niches. These, unlike the ones on the walls of the courtyard, give a hint of what lies within the tomb: the niches are more delicately decorated, and not just with incised plaster, but also with some restrained use of blue tiles.
Besides the tile work on the niches, there are also remnants of blue and green tile on the decorative kanguras (battlements) along the top of the tomb, and in the panels just below the kanguras.
Inside, the tomb’s walls and ceilings are decorated all over—almost every square inch is covered with tiles, as well as incised and painted plaster (the ceiling, in particular, is a riot of reds and blues, in beautifully curving arabesques).
In panels along the tops of the walls are inscribed verses of Persian poetry written by Maulana Jamaali himself. Of the two graves in the tomb chamber, the one in the centre is that of Maulana Jamaali; the other grave, also that of a man, is unidentified. This had led to various popular beliefs, one of which is that this man—popularly called ‘Kamaali’, though that is certainly almost just a made-up name, to rhyme with Jamaali’s—was the saint poet’s bosom friend and disciple.