A little-known Sufi saint, and an unidentified tomb

Most of the tombs I’ve listed so far in my on-and-off series on little known tombs of Delhi have been tombs I’ve been aware of for at least the past 15 years. It’s time, therefore, to move on to a tomb I got to see for the first time just about 6 years back: the tomb of Yusuf Qattaal, near Malviya Nagar.

The Tomb of Yusuf Qattaal.

The Tomb of Yusuf Qattaal.

Malviya Nagar isn’t an area most people associate with historicity—that seems to be reserved for places like Shahjahanabad or Mehrauli. It is located, however, just next door to some of the oldest parts of Delhi: Qila Rai Pithora, Prithviraj Chauhan’s citadel, was located nearby (and the remains of its walls are still to be seen, near the Lado Sarai Golf Course). Mohammad bin Tughlaq’s city, Jahanpanah, was here, as was his magnificent wood-pillared palace, Bijai Mandal. Two of Delhi’s largest medieval mosques—Begumpuri Masjid and Khirki Masjid—are within walking distance of Malviya Nagar.

And almost next door to the imposing Khirki Masjid is the tomb of Yusuf Qattaal, just beside the main road of Khirki Extension. You could be forgiven for going past this tomb and never even realizing it’s there: it’s a very small and sleepy little tomb complex, consisting of the tiny chamber that houses the grave of Yusuf Qattaal; the neighbouring mosque, and another somewhat unusual tomb.

A view of the tomb complex.

A view of the tomb complex.

Yusuf Qattaal was a Sufi saint who is supposed to have lived in this area (he is also said, like Nasiruddin Roshan Chirag-e-Dehli, to have performed wazu, or ritual ablutions, at the Satpula weir). He died just as the Mughals arrived in Delhi, in about 1526-7 CE, and was buried here, in a small square tomb made of carved red sandstone. A plastered dome caps Yusuf Qattaal’s tomb, and simple screens of red sandstone (carved in a pattern of stars) form the walls of the tomb. One of the most striking elements of the decoration here is the row of bright blue tiles (traditionally, the colour used to be derived from powdered lapis lazuli) along the kanguras at the base of the dome.

The tomb of Yusuf Qattaal, seen from the mosque.

The tomb of Yusuf Qattaal, seen from the mosque.

The inside of the tomb is sparingly decorated with incised plaster, now rather dirty and neglected. The mihrab—the arch in the western wall, which marks the direction of prayer—also includes white marble and is carved with inscriptions in the rarely-used Kufic script.

Similar incised plaster decorates the interior of the small mosque beside Yusuf Qattaal’s tomb. This, too, is rather grubby.

The mosque beside the Tomb of Yusuf Qattaal.

The mosque beside the Tomb of Yusuf Qattaal.

More interesting, though not really striking unless you know it, is a bunch of six stone pillars standing round a grave. It’s not known whose grave this is (and the dome once supported by the pillars has long collapsed), but this would have been one of the rarest structures in Delhi once, a hexagonal tomb. Nearly all medieval tombs in Delhi are square, with some being octagonal—hexagonal tombs are rare enough to be almost unknown. So who was this to merit an unusual tomb, and that too next to Yusuf Qattaal?

The six pillars that mark the remains of an unidentified tomb.

The six pillars that mark the remains of an unidentified tomb.

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4 thoughts on “A little-known Sufi saint, and an unidentified tomb

  1. Interesting, interesting!
    So many new discoveries!
    Rather interesting that hexagonal tomb. First I thought the six pillars might have been in a square tomb, but when I saw the detailed photo, realised it is indeed a hexagonal tomb. So which is older? Yusuf Qattaal’s tomb or the anonymous tomb?
    Thank you, Madhu for this interesting insights. :)

  2. Yes, the hexagonal tomb is interesting indeed! I have no idea which tomb is older – I would think Yusuf Qattaal’s tomb might be older, because there was a belief that if you were buried in the vicinity of a saint’s tomb, some of his sanctity would rub off onto you. (That is why everybody from Humayun to Ghalib to Rahim, Jahanara, Dara Shukoh and Mohammad Shah Rangeela is buried near Nizamuddin). So it may be that the hexagonal tomb was built in an attempt to leech of the holiness of Yusuf Qattaal! :-)

    But that’s just my logic – I could be wrong.

  3. This is really interesting! I hadn’t heard of either of these tombs. The hexagonal one is particularly interesting. I don’t think there are any other like that. This adds to the already long list I have of places to visit when I come to Delhi!

  4. Yes, Anuradha – Delhi does have some very interesting tombs! I do wish the hexagonal tomb hadn’t collapsed: I’d have loved to see it standing, not just the pillars.

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