Sabz Burj

Next up on my list of occasional articles on little-known tombs of Delhi. Yes, macabre as it may sound, Delhi does have a lot of medieval tombs, mainly because—like mosques or forts—tombs were among the few buildings which could endure because they were usually built of stone; ordinary buildings such as houses were often of wattle and daub, or of brick, and therefore less likely to last long. This time, it’s Sabz Burj. Not exactly little-known, since it’s very visible: it stands on the traffic roundabout outside Humayun’s Tomb, at the intersection of Mathura Road and Lodhi Road.

A view of Sabz Burj.

A view of Sabz Burj.

Why I’m including Sabz Burj in this series of articles is that, despite being so very visible, so familiar, this tomb can’t even be identified by most people. (I had lived in Delhi for over a decade before I discovered that it wasn’t known—as almost everybody seemed to refer to it as—‘Neela Gumbad’. Neela Gumbad, if you’re interested, is another blue-domed tomb, but it’s behind Humayun’s Tomb, and is very different from Sabz Burj). ‘Sabz’ is the Urdu word for ‘green’; ‘burj’ is ‘tower’. ‘Sabz Burj’ therefore would mean ‘green tower’. The ‘tower’ part of ‘Sabz Burj’ is understandable, since the height of this structure makes it stand taller than it is wide. The ‘green’ part was also originally true: the tiles that cover the dome of Sabz Burj were originally green rather than the bright blue you see today. The blue tiles are the result of restoration and conservation work done by the Archaeological Survey of India in the early 1900s. (Interestingly, around the same time – in the early 20th century – Sabz Burj was also home to the Nizamuddin Police Station). Nobody knows who is buried in the Sabz Burj, but the tomb dates back to the early years of Mughal rule, in the 16th century. Whoever this person was, he was almost certainly someone of consequence, because the tomb is so lavishly decorated. The distinctive tiled dome is of course very visible, but the yellow, green and blue tiles that form a geometrical pattern on the ‘drum’ that supports the dome are beautiful too – and, unlike the blue tiles above, are original.

Sabz Burj.

Sabz Burj.

Sabz Burj is a ‘Baghdadi’ tomb: an octagonal building, but with the sides unequal (it looks rather like a square building which has had its corners lopped off). It sits on a high platform surrounded by a grassy traffic island which is closed off by a high railing. The railing has a gate which is generally kept locked, but look around for the caretaker: if you are allowed in, the outside of the tomb is worth taking a closer look at. The large recessed arches that decorate the eight sides of the tomb have some exquisitely intricate painting in black, red and white. Some of these are exceptionally well-preserved.

A painted arched section on the outside of Sabz Burj.

A painted arched section on the outside of Sabz Burj.

Inside, too, there are signs of painting – in red and blue – on the ceiling of the dome, but this is somewhat disappointing compared to the outside of Sabz Burj.

A view of the very damaged but once probably lovely ceiling of Sabz Burj.

A view of the very damaged but once probably lovely ceiling of Sabz Burj.

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6 thoughts on “Sabz Burj

  1. i really very interested in your search of historical monuments… i really appreciate your work. its amazing and thank you

  2. What a wonderful tomb! I was just floored by the painting inside, particularly on the ceiling of the dome. So fascinating!
    Maybe the tombs survive to this day, since the invaders/looters/conquerers had more respect (fear) for the dead than the living.

    I think, if I come to Delhi again. I’ll have to stay there at least for a month!

  3. Hassan Khan: Thank you so much! I am so glad that I am able to do something to help create awareness of, and interest in, the amazing heritage we can boast of.

  4. Harvey: That’s an interesting thing you say, about looters and invaders showing some respect for the dead – quite possible, I suppose. (Incidentally, though, there are historical accounts – from the 17th century itself – of Jat raiders looting and vandalising the Taj Mahal!)

    Yes, the next time you come to Delhi, you should really stay longer. At least a week. That’ll give me some time to show you a few places. :-)

  5. How interesting, Madhu. When we came to Delhi in 2008, we were there for only a few days – not enough to see everything we wanted to see, and definitely not enough to explore places that are off the beaten tracks. Ah, well, next time, perhaps.
    The tomb looks beautiful. I’m glad that it was restored. So many of our heritage buildings need to be looked after better.

    p.s Why is it that I can see (and read) this post if I come in through my blog, but if I type in dustedoff.wordpress.com, it takes me to your post on Sagarika?

    • “Why is it that I can see (and read) this post if I come in through my blog, but if I type in dustedoff.wordpress.com, it takes me to your post on Sagarika?

      No idea. :-( There are various other glitches – for instance, if you look at the Dusted Off home page, you’ll find the first paragraphs of some of the latest posts on madhulikaliddle.com – but with a featured image randomly picked up from Dustedoff. WordPress tells me it’s working on it. Let’s see.

      Delhi has a lot of very fine heritage buildings, and I’m glad to see that the ASI, along with INTACH and some private organisations (the Aga Khan Trust is one of the most important) is doing something to preserve it.

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