[A quick word for Dusted Off regulars, in case you haven’t noticed the non-cinema related posts that have recently appeared on my home page: this is part of the process of combining Dusted Off with my other writing. I’d gotten a bit tired of maintaining two separate blogs, so decided it was high time the two were combined. So you’ll be seeing the odd post now and then which has nothing to do with classic cinema – more likely, something about history, since that is another passion of mine. But Dusted Off isn’t going anywhere, so please don’t go away, either!]
When I posted an article about Sabz Burj, a friend commented that he used to see it on his way to work – and he mentioned another tomb nearby that he used to see, too. A little bit of to-ing and fro-ing, and we managed to figure out which one he meant: the Tomb of Abdur Rahim Khan-e-Khanan. Like Sabz Burj, Rahim’s Tomb is by no means invisible (in fact, standing just off Mathura Road and in clear sight of the Barapullah Flyover, it’s probably one of the more familiar medieval monuments for passersby in the Nizamuddin are). It is, too, unlike Sabz Burj, not a particularly attractive monument—but it has a fascinating history, and the man buried here was one of Mughal India’s most illustrious.
When the Tomb of Abdur Rahim Khan-e-Khanan was first pointed out to me, years ago, my initial reaction was a somewhat polite “Oh, yes?” – because I didn’t know who Abdur Rahim Khan-e-Khanan was. Then it was explained to me. Abdur Rahim Khan-e-Khanan (1556-1626 CE) was the son of Bairam Khan, the general who acted as Akbar’s regent when Akbar succeeded to the throne at the age of 13. When Bairam Khan died, Akbar, in order to provide refuge to his widow Salima Sultan Begum (who was Akbar’s cousin) married her. Her son Abdur Rahim therefore became Akbar’s stepson.
Abdur Rahim was an extremely able general and statesman in his own right, and was bestowed with the title ‘Khan-e-Khanan’ (‘Khan of Khans’, denoting his high rank). He was also one of the ‘Navratna’, the ‘nine gems’ of Akbar’s court.
Abdur Rahim Khan-e-Khanan, however, is known not merely as a statesman: his other major claim to fame is as a well-respected Hindi poet. Like Kabir, ‘Rahim’ is known for his ‘dohas’ or couplets, such as:
रहिमन निज मन की बित्था
मन ही राखो गोय
सुन इठ्लैहैं लोग सब
बाँट न लैहैं कोय
(“Rahim says, ‘keep the sorrows of your mind within your mind. Those who hear them will strut about and gloat; none will share them with you’”)
And this very well-known one:
बुरा जो देखन मैं चला
बुरा ना मिलिया कोय
जो दिल खोजा आपना
मुझसा बुरा ना कोय
(“When I set out to look for evil, I found no-one wicked. When I searched my own heart, I found there was none as evil as I.”)
Rahim’s wife, Mah Banu Begum (who was the daughter of Atgah Khan and the sister of Mirza Aziz Kokaltash, both of whom are buried in Nizamuddin, not too far from Rahim’s tomb) built the mausoleum for her husband in 1598. Close to 30 years later, when Rahim died in 1626, his body was interred here.
Rahim’s tomb sits on a high square platform which has arched cells all along the sides. (Interestingly, in a departure from the norm of not representing any animal life in Islamic architecture, at least one of the cells is decorated with a carved medallion, a representation of a peacock). There are other interesting features in the sparse decoration of the cells: some still have traces of incised plaster, including one depicting a swastika.
Very intricately incised plaster, in geometric and floral patterns, forms the basis of the decoration inside the domed chamber containing Rahim’s tomb. This plaster would once have been painted as well, but the paint – except in a few dirty patches on the ceiling – has worn off over the centuries.
And the icing on the cake, the final little thing that makes Rahim’s Tomb interesting? The fact that its dome – now unsightly rubble – was once clad with white marble. Like the tombs of his father-in-law Atgah Khan and the Mughal emperor Humayun, Rahim’s Tomb too had originally been crowned with a gleaming white marble dome. Sadly, in the mid-18th century, when Safdarjang (Wazir to the Mughal emperor) died, his sons – driven by a combination of poverty and a burning desire to show off, decided their father’s tomb merited some white marble, whether or not they could afford it.
Rahim’s Tomb suffered as a result: Safdarjang’s sons vandalized it and took away the marble to use it in their father’s tomb. Which is why today Safdarjang’s Tomb – otherwise not a good example of Mughal architecture – has a marble dome, while Rahim’s Tomb has a sadly denuded dome with marble remaining only in the form of thin strips and carved bosses here and there.