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Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Emperor Humayun

Unfortunately, his sons were not half the men that Babur had been. His successor Humayun was the most capable of them, and that’s not saying much. Humayun inherited his father’s poetic and scholarly side, but was unfortunately no fighter. Besides he was an opium addict to boot. The problem was accentuated by the fact that he hadn’t come to a safe and secure empire – there were many battles to be fought. His own brothers were up in arms against him, the empire needed consolidation and an administrative system had to be set up. In face of such odds, Humayun seemed to just give up.
¤ Humayun- A Charming Person But No Warrior

To be fair to the poor fellow, he was not king material at all. Contemporary accounts describe him as an affable, charming person – excellent at making parties go, a great friend and a good companion. But definitely not a warrior. Left to himself Humayun preferred to dream away his time in an opium haze, ‘while his enemies thundered at the gates’. Blood and war was distasteful to his rather erudite nature.

When the call came though he did lead his army to a few successful battles. However his luck couldn’t last long. In the end he was defeated and chased out of India by Sher Shah Suri. Humayun gave up opium and spent the rest of his days trying to get his kingdom back. Ultimately he went for help to the Shah of Persia and eventually managed to work his way back to Delhi, upon Sher Shah Suri’s death. Although he regained his kingdom with great effort and luck (which is probably why he was named Humayun, ‘the fortunate’), he was not destined to rule it for long. In January 1556, he met his tragic end by slipping from the stairway of Din Panah as he was coming down the library. Dinpanah, the city he started building was finished by and Sher Shah Suri.

Humayun’s troubled life seemed to in the end justify a couplet which he often quoted:

"Oh Lord, of thine infinite goodness make me a part;
Make me a partner of the knowledge of thy attributes;
I am broken-hearted from cares and sorrows of life;
O call to thee thy poor madman and lover;
Grant me my release."

¤ Sher Shah Suri-The Interim Sultan

Sher Shah Suri, the interim sultan between the reigns of Humayun and Akbar, was altogether a much better king and administrator than Humayun. The shrewd Babur had once remarked about Sher Shah: ‘…keep an eye on Sher Khan. He is a clever man and the marks of royalty are visible on his forehead…’ Without a doubt, Babur must have wished for a son like him to succeed him. In his short reign, Sher Shah Suri showed remarkable talents as an administrator, diplomat, builder and reformer. A gentleman too, it seems. When Sher Shah defeated Humayun in the Battle of Chausa, the Mughal did not have time to save his queens and was himself saved by a water carrier. Sher Khan ensured that the royal ladies were treated with respect and returned to Humayun. He was an excellent statesman; the revenue reforms, administrative system and social welfare schemes he devised and carried out actually worked well for many years to come.

¤ Formation of The Seventh City of Delhi

Humayun and Sher Shah Suri, the defeater and the defeated, both built the seventh city of Delhi. Humayun started it as Dinpanah or Purana Qila and Sher Shah Suri finished it as Delhi Sher Shahi.

Probably the romantic in Humayun made him select the ancient city of Indraprastha as the site for his new capital. Work began on the fort and the new city in 1533. By 1538 the major construction was over. During this time, Humayun also built a rest house for travellers called Nili Chattri, which is now next to the Nigambodh Ghat cremation grounds.

In 1540 Sher Shah Suri took over the reigns of Dinpanah. It took 15 years and Sher Shah’s death for Humayun to defeat and regain control of his city.

¤ Construction of Dinpanah

But for now let’s get back to Dinpanah, or Dehli Sher Shahi as it was called under Sher Shah Suri. While Humayun built the body, the soul of Dinpanah was Sher Shah’s work. He built a number of buildings within the fort with material from the cities of Siri and Ferozabad, which, thanks to frequent invasions, were even then in ruins.

¤ Sher Mandal Tower

Sher Shah had built the Sher Mandal a two-storeyed octagonal tower in red sandstone and the Qila-i-Khona Masjid, an exquisite mosque inside the Purana Qila. The mosque probably best exemplifies Sher Shah’s sophisticated taste and love for buildings. It is said that originally the entire interior was to be built with marble but they ran out of it and so made do with red sandstone instead. But the mosque didn’t lose much by this - its quintessential charm is because of the clever use of the stone. A plaque outside the mosque reads, ‘As long as there are people on this earth, may this edifice be frequented and people be cheerful and happy in it.’ Well, the mosque is not in worship now, but it is certainly frequented by many lovers of architecture and history.

¤ Sher Garh--The Citadel

Sher Shah also built Sher Garh, the citadel of his city whose ramparts were completed by his son Islam Shahi. The only remains of the fort now are the Lal Darwaza and the Kabuli Darwaza. The southern gate of Sher Shah’s city has been identified as the Lal Darwaza, which is now known more popularly as the Sher Shah Gate near Purana Qila. The Kabuli Darwaza was the northern gate. The Purana Qila itself has three gates, the Humayun Darwaza (Humyaun’s Gate), Talaqi Darwaza (Divorce Gate! Nobody knows why it was named thus.) and Bara Darwaza (the Big Gate). The Bara Darwaza is the one you would use to enter the fort today.

¤ Dargah--Tomb of Sufi Saint

Sher Shah built a lot of other monuments around Delhi. In 1541 he built the dargah (tomb of a Sufi saint) over the grave of the sainted Bakhtiyar Kaki, popularly known as Qutub Sahib, near the Qutub Minar. The loud mirror-and-marble domed pavilion over the tomb however is not to be attributed to Sher Shah who would have probably reeled at the sight of such ostentation. His taste was clearly towards the understated, as is evinced by the ethereal marble jaali screens from which the women may sneak a peek at the famed saint’s grave; for they are not allowed in.

Sher Shah’s son Islam Shah, in his short rule, managed to build a mosque in the same complex and the fort of Salimgarh. Those are his only important contributions to the landscape of Delhi. His reign was cut short by Humayun’s return.

¤ Construction of The Magnificent Humayun Tomb

Humayun started living in Dinpanah again. He converted the Sher Mandal into his library, again an ill-fated decision, since he slipped to his death from the stairs of this pavilion. The king’s grief-stricken wife Hamida Banu undertook the construction of Humayun’s Tomb in 1565. Legend has it that the design of the Taj was inspired by this tomb. In pure architectural terms, this building is probably superior and much more beautiful that the stunning Taj. Sacrilege? Blasphemy? Not really - the only thing this building lacks is the showy marble.

It took nine years to complete the complex and the tomb itself is a dazzling landmark in the evolution of Mughal architecture in India. Hamida Begum is said to have spent one and a half million rupees on it. The plan of the building is brilliant and absolutely mathematical. The tomb is set bang in the middle of large square-patterned typically imperial Mughal-style garden which is neatly divided into sub-squares by paved lanes. The fourth side of the tomb was not walled because the river was supposed to make up for it, but the river flows there no more. The place is studded with fountains which were the rage in those days. The intricate and delicately beautiful latticework on the tomb remained the trademark of Mughal architecture down the ages.

¤ Power Passed Over To Akbar After Humayun

With the passing away of Humayun, the political power passed completely out of Delhi’s hands. The greatest kings of the Mughal dynasty, Akbar and Jahangir, spent comparatively less time in Delhi. Akbar, arguably the most important king that India produced, preferred to stay in Agra. He built another capital city, Fatehpur Sikri, near Agra. But it had to be abandoned because of a water crisis. Jahangir preferred to divide his time between Agra, Lahore and Kashmir where he built many gardens.
However there are a few monuments in Delhi which date to Akbar’s time. One such structure is Adham Khan’s tomb near the Qutub. Also there is a mosque that Akbar's mother Mahim Anga built, located opposite the main entrance of the Purana Qila.

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