Nigambodh Manzil : Dara Shukoh’s palace in Delhi


Dara Shukoh wearing a traditional Mughal outfit, adorned with magnificent jewels reflecting his status.
Attributed to Chitarman, 1631–2.
Add.Or.3129, f. 19v. As featured in the British Library exhibition, Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire

I am indebted to heritage enthusiast Sanjeev Singh for the photographs and write up on Facebook on which I base this blog. Dara Shukoh was an important figure in Indian History and his palace must get its due. I am loosely translating from Sanjeev’s Hindi post here.

In 1793, William Franklin describes Shahjahanabad and talks of its beautiful palaces. He talks of  of majestic palaces  located in the city of Shahjahanabad and mentions that the most beautiful amongst these belong to Ali Mardan Khan, Safdarjung, ,.Sadat Khan and Sultan Dara Shukoh. He futher elaborates that these palaces were enclosed within magnificent brick and stone gates and consisted of naqqarkhana ( drumhouse), tahkhaana ( basement/cellars for summers), the residential quarters , hammam ( bathing house) and beautiful gardens. 

Whenever an Emperor / King built his own Palace, land was given near it to Princes and noblemen of the realm to build their own palaces. For fear of a coup there were only women’s quarters and guards within the King’s own palace. The rest all stayed outside it. Dara Shukoh as the heir and favourite of his father must have been given the land of his choice. He chose this piece of land near Nigambodh Ghat after which he named his palace Nigambodh Manzil.

The palace saw many changes and alterations to it after Dara Shukoh’s death. This is part of the original palace.
This palace was Dara Shukoh’s main place of residence and as the Prince was spiritually and academically inclined he must have had a well stocked library too over here. But it was not just a library as is erroneously mentioned on the plaque in the building and elsewhere these days.
According to a marble plaque put up in the school in or after 1904, this building was Dara Shukoh’s library made in 1637 and later from 1639 , residence of Ali Mardan Khan the Governor of Punjab.( But Ali Mardan Khan himself had a magnificent palace in Shahjahanabad. ) In 1803 it became the Residency and from 1843- 1877 it was the Delhi College. From 1877 – 1886 it was the District School and from 1886-1904 it was a Municipal Board School.

It is this plaque which has spread the confusion of it being just a library. The library must have been only one of the parts of the palace. According to contemporary historians Shahjahan visited his son Dara in this palace on 2 March 1654 and Dara gave him a gift of 4 lahs of rupees. On 23 February 1655 the Emperor visited ‘buland iqbal Dara Shikoh in his palace and accepted a gift of two lakh rupees.

Ali Mardan Khan had died before Dara Shikoh so it is not possible that the palace of the heir apparent could have been given to the Governor of Punjab. Ali mardan Khan had his own palace on the banks of the Yamuna according to Franklin.

In 1739 this palace came in the news again when the first Nawab of Awadh ( who had his own palace) started living here. During the invasion of Nadir Shah he died here under mysterious circumstances and the palace  went into the possession of Emperor Mohammed Shah Rangeela.In 1743 Safdarjung, sn of Sadat Khan got the use of this palace from Mohammed Shah Rangeela in exchange for an offering made by him.

In 1884 we are told that this palace occupied 3.5 acres land. Between 1803-1842 it was used as a Residency by the British Residents and after 1842 till 1858 it housed the classrooms of the Delhi College and the residence of the Principal, which had expanded and shifted to this new premise from its old building near Ajmeri Gate,after a grant by Nawab Itmadud daula the Wazir of Awadh


In 1857 this building suffered great damage and its Principal J Taylor was killed. After 1858 a district school was established here whose Principal was Ram Chander .
The District School was established in 1858 as per the Gazette.

As already mentioned this would have included a well stocked library which however has been lost to us.

In 2012 in the Draft Dossier made for Unesco in connection with making Delhi a heritage city some facts have been reexamined. According to it  Dara Shukoh had a palace near Kashmiri Gate, to the north of Red Fort which was built at an expense of four lakh rupees in four years (1639-1643 ) .

imageThese Ionic columns are the additions made by the British Resident in all probability. Colonial architects were particularly fond of these Greek colonnaded look for porticos and verandahs.
David Octherlony lived here and some of the changes to the original building are attributed to him.

imageChanges were brought by the British in two phases – between 1803-1857 when the palaces of Dara Shukoh and Ali Mardan Khan in the Kasmere Gate Area were used for the Residency, military barracks and the magazine,”

City Development Plan, Delhi
October, 2006
Department of Urban Development Government of Delhi
The original part of the dalan at back of the palace is in shambles. Additions being made where we can still see some of the delicate pillars




Note : the correct spelling is Dara Shukoh
As Shikoh means terror in Persian and Shukoh is glory
( it’s a mistake made due to lack of pronunciation marks such as zer zabar and pesh in Perso-Arabic script)

Location: Dara Shukoh Library –
Near Kashmiri Gate, New Delhi, India

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