The first example of shuddhi that the author came across was the tomb of Sultan
Ghari which has an interesting history and a delightful present. If only this example of
popular spontaneity can be extended to all the temples converted into mosques, would there
not be Hindu-Muslim friendship? Just go any afternoon and see for yourself.
As Naqvi, an officer of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) wrote
in January 1947, the tomb is situated in a very remote corner of Delhi; it is situated
amidst what is now a large residential colony called Vasant Kunj. It is called the tomb of
Sultan Ghari because it is deep down below the ground level as if in a cave, which in
Persian means ghari. It is the grave of Prince Nasiruddin Mahmud, heir apparent of
Sultan Iltutmish, a successor of Qutbuddin Aibak of the Mamluk dynasty. The prince had
died while he was governor in 1228 AD at Lakhnauti, the modem Dhaka in Bangladesh. His
father was very much alive then and Sultan of Delhi.
Islamic technology of construction had not yet been established in
India. During the early sultanate period, it was not uncommon to convert Hindu stone
edifices,which were mostly temples, into mosques, mausoleums, mazaars etc. As Naqvi
has pointed out, the first Muslim architectural style in India had the characteristic
features of trabeate construction adopted from Hindu traditions to Muslim designs. The
idea was to build mock arches and domes by means of corbelled horizontal courses; the use
of column and beam and not the truly rounded arch and dome.What else could have
been done in the act of conversion, as distinct from the process of original construction,
which had to wait until the advent of the Lodhis?
Sultan Ghari's is the oldest Muslim tomb known to exist in India as recorded by several
scholars including Sir Syed Ahmed Khan. It is also an outsanding example of Muslim
tolerance. On a March afternoon of 2001, when the author visits the tomb along with his
colleagues, it was being used for worship by scores of Hindus as well as a few Muslim
families. There were flowers and agarbattis or incense sticks galore in the crypt
in the underground round chamber where also lies bungd Prince Nasiruddin.
Naqvi has taken pains to describe at length the edifice which began as a temple converted
into a tomb and to which was added a masjid with a marble mehrab and then a gate
with pretty Arabic calligraphy of verses from the Holy Quran. As he puts it, the
gateway projects 13.1/2 feet from the enclosure wall and is approach and entered by a
flight of steps flanked by two square rooms which are roofed with stone slabs in the Hindu
fashion. The external archway of the gate is formed by overlapping courses of marble and
around it is the important Arabic inscription in Kufic characters.
He goes on, after crossing the threshold, one stands under the
eastern colonnaded verandah, the flat roof of which rests on red sandstone pillars.The
latter are not uniformly carved, indicating that they have been re-used here from an older
building. Opposite this colonnade and along the whole length of the westem wall runs
another colonnaded verandah with a prayer chamber in the centre erected in white marble
and covered with a corbelled pyramidal dome. The dome is almost certainly re-used and is
lavishly carved internally with Hindu motifs, notably bands of lozenge or triangular
patterns.The marble mehrab is embellished with verses from the Quran and afloral design.
The floor is paved with marble slabs. The rest of the verandah on either side of the
prayer chamber comprises red sandstone pillars and pilasters supporting a flat roof of
Hindu design, with a brick work parapet.
The pillars of the peristyle deserve notice, stresses Naqvi, because he
had observed the Hindu characteristics of the edifice. Those of the prayer chamber are of
fluted white marble and have an almost Grecian aspect. Their capitals bear a resemblance
to that of the Doric order, combined above with Corinthian like scrolls. The shafts have
sixteen flutes and bases of Hindu character. The remaining sandstone pillars are assembled
from different pieces, so that in any given example, the present combination of base,
shaft and capital may not be original.
He winds up his description with the words: The Hindu elements in the architecture
of the monument are apparent in the dome of the mosque and the partly defaced Hindus on
some of the pillar brackets of the western colonnade. The presence of a Gauripatta or
receptacle of a lingo in the pavement of the western colonnad is a further significant
point. Furthermore, the marble stones in the external facade of the mosque are serially
numbered, indicating their removal from elsewhere.
Yet another officer of the ASI, Sharma published his findings in 1964.
He had die advantage of research already done by Cunningham, as well as Naqvi who has been
quoted earlier. A particularly refreshing point that Sharma makes is with regard to a
couple of sculptured lintels and an upright stone railing that were found embedded in the
roof of the edifice. The frieze or a band of decoration carved on one of the lentils has,
what appears to be a bull and ahorse facing each other. This was further proof of
the Hinduness of Sultan Ghari's tomb.
Sharma went on to add that in the eighth century, or a little
earlier, a large temple existed at the site of the Sultan Ghari's tomb, 8 km west of the
Outb-Minar. The temple was erected probably by some feudatory of thePratiharas.
Cunningham's observations made in 1871/72 should be taken even more
seriously because his impartiality would be beyond doubt. There would be no bias as
between the Hindu and Muslim viewpoints. In the ASI report of those years he has written
that the tomb of Sultan Ghari, with its domes of overlapping courses, appears to be
pre-Muhammadan, but when to this feature we add the other Hindu features, both of
construction and ornamentation, the stones set without cement in the walls, the appearance
of wear or weathering of the stones, greater even than in the Kutb, though similar in
material, and the fact that the inner cell was originally faished in granite, but
afterwards cased with marble, it becomes extremely probable that this is, like the Kutb, a
Hindu building appropriated by the Muhammandans, and the probability is rendered
almost a certainty by the existence of the central cell, which is a construction adapted
to some Hindu forms of worship, the Saivic, but which is an anomaly in Muhammadan
We can conclude that Sultan Ghari's is an example of a Hindu temple
converted into a Muslim tomb in the crypt and a mosque on the roof. Yet the people of the
area believe that Hindu devotees have been welcome to worship at the edifice for as long
as can be remembered. There is no record of any dispute over this building.