Saanjha Chulha means a community oven or a common kitchen for the entire community. It’s a word I grew up hearing though it’s not so common now. Since this is a popular concept in Punjab I asked Vikramjit Singh Rooprai. Vikramjit explains, “ Sanjha Chulha is a concept where a set of houses has a common kitchen. Usually an entire ‘mohalla’ had a common kitchen where everyone used to contribute with “rasad” (raw material). Ladies would gather during meal times and together prepare the food for everyone. The benefit of this concept was that you are not bound to contribute in same amount. Someone can give 1 Kg potato and other can give 50 Kg potato. But they both will get equal serving size. This was implemented at very small levels within villages and therefore coordination was not an issue. It was the biggest example of brotherhood and harmony. I can’t recall any incident in history or being told by our elders where sanjha chullah gave rise to any conflicts.” As they say the family that eats together, stays together and that is why I have named this series of photo articles on Delhi and its monuments as “SaanjhaChulha.” The monuments of medieval India showcase a beautiful amalgamation of Indo- Islamic influences in architecture, culture and life. The first I this series is SultanGarhi tomb in Delhi.
On a cool September morning, Vikramjit Singh Rooprai, invited me to visit a few archeological treasures of Delhi with him.
Vikram runs Delhi Heritage Photography Club and conducts regular walks for anyone who is interested.
Having been a student of history and being very interested in ancient architecture I jumped at the invitation and so began a journey into a monument and a culture, which still exists today.
SultanGhari is in modern day Vasant Kunj area of New Delhi and lies in almost splendid isolation amidst a lot of greenery some remnants of the 13th century when the Delhi Sultanate was in its glory days. SultanGhari was the first Islamic mausoleum or tomb built in India. It was built by Iltutmish (who ruled from 1211–1236, and was the third king of the Slave Dynasty) for his son Nasiruddin Mahmud, the brother of Razia Sultan. The fact that it’s the first Islamic tomb in India, in my eyes was also reinforced by the fact that it is built on the lines of a fort rather than later day Dargahs or mausoleums. The burj or towers at the four ends are very reminiscent of a fort like structure.
The entrance to the tomb is a beautiful marble gate inscribed with calligraphy and some very welcoming villagers.
The name SultanGarhi comes form the rather unusual cave like structure in which the tomb is placed. One has to come down rather steep winding stairs to see the actual grave. (The word ghaar means – cave)
This cave tomb is covered by an octagonal roof slab and is quite an astonishing sight if you are used to seeing pillared dargahs in the rest of India.
As you can see from this photograph (the diyas)
this tomb is very revered by the villagers living in nearby villages of Mahipalpur and Rangpur.
For them Nasiruddin Mahmud’s tomb has the status of a ‘peer’ (saint) and they come here for worship. Both Hindus and Muslims venerate it. In fact the villagers look after the tomb and though when we went in a lady from ASI was sitting there selling tickets, the villagers are often at loggerheads with the ASI. This picture ( used here with his permission) taken by Nadeem Ahmed of the graves in the cave show clearly how venerated they are. The villagers come here to pray, ask for solutions to their problems and make “mannats” (asking for fulfillment of wishes) by tying these colourful kalavas (threads) and putting small messages within locks. These are opened after the “mannat” is fulfilled. Centuries of soot, candles, incense sticks and offerings have left their mark here which stand witness to the devotees’ faith. We saw quite a few villagers there that day, amongst them Bundoo who it seems is always sitting in the exact same place I clicked him in. Munh ki baat sune har koi, dil ke dard ko jaane kaun Aawazon ke baazaron mein khamoshi pehchaane kaun. (All hears the spoken word, but the heart voice remains unheard, In the marketplace of noise, who recognizes silence?) That its one of the earliest Islamic structures in Delhi is also borne out by the arches in the walls surrounding the tomb. The rulers of the Delhi Sultanate introduced the true arch in India. Arches and domes were a very common and popular sight in the buildings in the Islamic world. When the Slave Dynasty was formed and the rulers’ commissioned buildings they naturally expected to see the same arches in their new capital. However, the masons were Indian and India till then did not know the concept of a true arch. Being innovative that was not a problem for the Indian masons and so the corbelled arch was born. “The local masons employed for its construction were however all Hindus, who did not have any ideas about true arch construction. So the builders would have to create arched openings, or at least come up with openings that would resemble the true arches that the rulers were familiar with. The result was an unique invention. The masons continued to corbel openings as they did in Hindu temples. However, they simply chiselled the inner surfaces of the corbels, so as to externally resemble an arch.” http://thespeakingarch.com/india_arch/
In India a new style of architecture was born, which we now know as the Indo-Islamic style of architecture: a unique blend of the best from the countries the new rulers came from with the style of India and craft of the masons and workers
who worked their magic on these buildings.
As we entered the tomb complex the first thing I saw was a man doing ‘surya puja’ at the entrance:
And when we came out he had already finished and done he had done tilak and made a swastika
at the bottom of the pillar inscribed with calligraphy from the Quran.
To me that one picture conveyed what millions of words can’t. It showed that our Ganga Jamuni Tahzeeb (composite culture) is still alive and that saanjha chulha as I have called this series, is alive and kicking.
As one of my uncles had once told me, “ yeh tang- dili aaj kal ke masle hain.” ( This bigotry is a recent phenomenon)
There is a beautiful mosque attached to the complex and has a very serene air about it. Not only do the villagers worship Nasiruddin Mahmud as a saint it is a ritual for all young brides from the villages to visit the tomb after their marriage. It is only after a small ceremony there that they take up their responsibilities in their new household. Vikramjit Singh Rooprai had taken this picture at an earlier visit. Unfortunately that day there was no wedding rituals. Mazhab nahin sikhaata aapas me’n bair rakhna Hindi hain ham vatan hai Hindustaan hamaara Religion does not teach us to be enemies of each other: We are Indians, our homeland is India. Saare jahaan se achchaa Hindustaan hamaara Ham bulbule’n hain is kii ye gulistaa’n hamaara (In the world the best country is our India; We are its nightingales; and this our garden.)
(was published in Tehelkahttp://blog.tehelka.com/saanjha-chulha-exploring-delhis-sultan-garhi-tomb/