By Sayyid Ahmad Khan and Rana Safvi
Aug 31, 2018
Asar-us-Sanadid by Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan is an important book for many reasons. It was the first time that a
book on this scale describing Delhi’s monuments had been written. The first
volume was published in 1847 and a second volume in 1854. Though both had the
same name and were about Delhi, they were very differently written. The first
was an anecdotal description of the buildings, while the second took a more
scientific approach with historical references, and the dimensions of the
It was also the first time in India, that a
book had lithographically produced illustrations. As many as 130 illustrations
of Delhi’s monuments were drawn by Faiz Ali Khan and Mirza Shahrukh Beg. The
drawings were probably based on rough sketches provided by Sayyid Ahmad Khan
himself. He made many sketches – a fact he mentions in the book – and also
copied the inscriptions on each of the monuments, often at great risk to life
and limb, as in the case of the Qutub Minar, where he hung down from the top of
the minaret in a basket held by ropes. It was the first time that inscriptions
on the buildings were noted down.
Asar-us-Sanadid is an invaluable work. Both editions – Asar-1 and Asar-2 (published
in 1847 and 1854, respectively) – were written before the Uprising of 1857. As
is well known, much of Shahjahanabad changed during and in the aftermath of the
events of 1857. The British broke down many structures to make governance
easier and there was massive restructuring, in particular, of the Red Fort.
Later, when Lutyens’ Delhi was being built,
many more changes were brought about, not to mention the changes that are still
taking place today. Thus, in his descriptions of the buildings and monuments of
Delhi prior to 1857, Sayyid Ahmad Khan gives us a glimpse of lost glory. For
students of history and heritage this is where its greatest importance lies.
The partition and transfer of population in
1947 meant that the landscape of medieval Delhi was changed further. Today
urban development has resulted in encroachment and destruction or alteration of
many more monuments.
Mehrauli is the first documented city of
Delhi and it was from here that the Tomaras, Chauhan and early Delhi Sultans
ruled. As it was a hilly and wooded area it became a favourite of the Mughals
too, with the last two emperors shifting here during the monsoons. The last
Mughal building is the Zafar Mahal, situated in Mehrauli, which was the royal
residence during those months.
A unique festival called Phool Waalon ki
Sair was also celebrated in the monsoons under the last two Mughal
The excerpt below describes some of the
buildings in Mehrauli.
The Bagh e Nazir is now Ashoka Mission.
According to some monks I spoke to there, the family of Nazir Roz Afsun fared
very badly in the riots which took place during the partition of India in 1947,
and the lone survivor, a young boy, migrated to Pakistan.
In 1948 Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru
gave the land as a gift to the famous Cambodian monk Dharmvara Mahathera on
behalf of the Indian state for the purpose of opening a Buddhist institute. It
was he who founded the Ashoka mission there. It is now the Official Buddhist
Mission in Delhi, known as Ashoka Mission.
The Hauz e Shamsi is a poor reflection of
what it was, and though the pavilions of the Jharna still stand forlorn, they
are desolate. The water is a dirty and stagnant pool and gone are the diving
competitions or sliding stones. The mango orchard has disappeared and there are
only residences in the area. One can only thank Sir Sayyed for a glimpse into
that era when emperors and their consort picnicked here.
This is a beautiful, attractive, verdant
and luxuriant garden near the waterfall of Qutub Sahib [in the Mehrauli area].
It is still very well maintained, with blooming flowers and green trees. The
buildings around it are still intact and thousands of people come here during
the Phool Walo’n ki Sair procession, to enjoy its beauty. The spectacle
is as entertaining as though one were at a fair. This garden was built by Nazir
Roz Afzun during the reign of Muhammad Shah Badshah. I will write down the
verses inscribed on the entrance as they give the date of the construction and
name of the builder:
By the orders of
Muhammad Shah Adil,
Whose head bears
the sacred crown.
He founded this
garden near [the shrine and tomb of] Qutub Sahib,
And has adorned
it with the flowers of paradise.
It should remain
green till the Day of Judgment,
By the Grace of
the Holy Quran.
The year of its
Was found to be
the blessed date,
AH 1116 in the
thirty-first regnal year of Muhammad Shah.
Bagh-e-Nazir | Courtesy: National
Archives of India, New Delhi
A wall surrounds the garden and there are
red sandstone buildings of great attraction built all around, within the wall.
There is one building in the middle of the garden that is the biggest and best
of all the buildings there. Thus I am attaching its sketch here.
This is a place for recreation and
pleasure; it is exotic and unearthly, elegant and refined, interesting and
delightful, happiness-bestowing and heart-pleasing. Qutub Sahib’s waterfall [Jharna]
is famous for its verdant green trees and reminds one of heaven. Initially,
Sultan Firoz Shah had constructed a dam here and the wall of the waterfall is
that dam. It is still intact.
He had diverted the excess water of
Hauz-e-Shamsi reservoir into Naulakh canal [Nala] towards the moats of
Tughlaqabad Fort. After some years however, the fort was abandoned and water
stopped going to that area. The excess water from the Hauz-e-Shamsi then
started flowing into the jungles from this dam and was wasted. Nawab
Ghazi-ud-Din Khan Firoz Jung built a tank, water channels, and chutes for the
water to flow through. The waterfall is an awesome spectacle and pleases the
heart, causing the spectator to involuntarily exclaim in delight. There are
various buildings around this waterfall which I will describe here.
Pavilion on the Western Side
On the western side, adjoining the wall of
the dam stands a pavilion at an elevation of 11 feet and 5 inches. It has three
arches and the waterfall cascades down on it. There is an attractive tank in
front of it, into which people jump from the roof of this building. During the Phool
Walo’n ki Sair festivities people diving into this tank and swimming in it,
make for a huge spectacle. They use various diving styles including
somersaulting into the water, they also make a pyramid by climbing onto the
shoulders of men standing below until the man at the top of the pyramid reaches
tree-branch height. Then those at the bottom dive into the tank and all those
on their shoulders plunge into the tank. This is called a “tree dive” [Darakht
Ka Kudna] or a “wild growth dive” [jhad-jhankar ka kudna].
There are thirteen small water pipes under
the roof of this building and water from the waterfall flows down through
these, via the pavilion, and into the tank. There is a 3.2-feet wide water
chute inside the pavilion which falls from a height of 4.3 feet into the tank.
There are niches built under the chute in the pavilion wall, and water flows
over lighted lamps that are placed within the niches.
This 25-feet square tank has an opening of
1.7 feet for water to flow into it and is 7.6 feet deep. There is a 22 feet
long, 6 feet wide and 3.6 feet deep water-channel, which flows out of this tank
in a 5.6 feet cascade and is joined by two smaller cascades from the north and
south. There are beautifully carved stone chutes [salami pathar] measuring 3
feet 7 inches, to receive the cascade. The water winds its way down the
carvings on the chute creating a mesmerising effect.
The water channel in front of this pavilion
is 26 feet long, 6 feet wide and 2 feet deep, while the water channel in front
of the smaller cascades is 15.3 feet wide, 2.9 feet wide and 8 feet deep. All
the water collects at this point and flows into the jungle. The waterfall
passes over all these pavilions and the water channel, and in reality it is a
truly spellbinding sight. The sound of the flowing water mingles with the
singing of the nightingale, the chirping of doves, peacocks dancing and the
sounds of merriment of finely attired men and women. It is a mesmerizing scene,
which could put Raja Indra’s assembly in the shade.
Pavilion on the Northern Side
There is a very attractive double pavilion
on this side. Muin-ud-Din Muhammad Akbar Shah Badshah built the double pavilion
in his reign, around three years ago. These are the most attractive buildings
in the place.
Pavilion on The Southern Side
There is a three-arched pavilion in this
area, with two smaller pavilions on its sides which gives it the impression of
being five arched. In addition to this there are two doors next to it, thus
making it seven arched. This pavilion was built around 50 years ago in the
reign of Shah Alam by Shahji’s brother, whose name was Sayyid Muhammad.
Pavilion on the Eastern Side
There are only mountains on this side and
no buildings, but Muhammad Shah Badshah built a stone slide [Phisalna Pathar]
18 feet 3 inches long and 7 feet 7 inches wide.
The Mango Orchard
There are many mango trees in this area.
People tie swings to the branches and have fun swinging on them. Numerous
dancing and singing girls gather here to enjoy themselves. In short, this place
is magical and the mind boggles at its attractions. There is also a grave here
with the following verse inscribed on it:
Abid who was
wise, learned, pious and man of intellect,
Was martyred by
a dishonest robber.
crier told me the chronogram of his death,
The soul of
Abid, the martyr entered paradise [in] AH 1209.
This reservoir [Hauz] was one of a
kind. Sultan Shams-ud-Din Altamash built it during his reign and that is why it
is famous as Hauz-e-Shamsi. Once upon a time this reservoir was made of red
sandstone but now all the stone has been torn off and it is just a simple
reservoir and that’s why people call it Qutub Sahib’s reservoir, while some
still call it Hauz-e-Shamsi. The water from here feeds the waterfall and also
fed the moats of Tughlaqabad in olden days.
It is difficult to imagine there is a
reservoir of this size on the face of earth. It is spread across 276 Bighas [a
land measurement] and its water reaches eight provinces [Subahs]! The
pavilion has been built around the mark of a hoof which people call the hoof
print of the Prophet’s celestial steed Buraq, but to me it seems a
made-up story. God alone knows the truth.
On the eastern side of the Hauz-e-Shamsi
is a platform and on it another smaller platform about a Gaz or so with
a small wall. According to legend, Hazrat Khwaja Qutb-ud-Din Bakhtiyar Kaki and
other Sufi saints undertook their spiritual retreat/penance [Chillah] on
it. They built the mosque with their own hands, bringing baskets [of mud from
the reservoir] and that’s why it is called Auliya [The Saint’s] Mosque. Now
people have plastered it with mortar and lime.
Excerpted with permission from
Asar-us-Sanadid By Sayyid Ahmad Khan, translated and edited by Rana Safvi,