Poetry in Stone

Tomb of Abdul Rahim Khan i Khana
Tomb of Abdul Rahim Khan i Khana

Little did I know before I started my discovery of Delhi that this was once a land of many poets. Khusrau, Rahim, Zauq, Ghalib and countless others gave to this city its beautiful culture of lyrical poetry over the centuries.

I owe my discovery of one poet’s grave to that of another…and each of them was a gem in his own right, contributing enormously to the culture of this city. I was once rambling through the streets of Nizamuddin, having paid my respects to the Sufi saint and his beloved disciple- the poet Amir Khusrau. Yes, the same poet of the 14th century whose famous words were later inscribed on the walls of the Red Fort: “Agar firdaus bar ruh zameen ast, hameen ast o hameen ast o hameen ast! “(If there be a paradise on earth, this is it, this is it, this is it!)

Nizamuddin being the rich area it is, I hopped from one ruined monument to another, on a spree of happy discoveries. As I reached the junction of the alley with Mathura road, I remembered a red building on the opposite side which I had often seen while driving by, always making a mental note to explore later. Today was finally that day! A short walk and a ticket charge of just 5 bucks later, I was  facing the large mausoleum of none other than Khanzada Mirza Khan Abdul Rahim Khan-e-Khana. Known to you and me as Rahim Khan of the ‘Rahim ke dohe’ fame. (Now, if you never paid attention in your Hindi classes at school, you might want to use this Wikipedia link at this stage.)

Rahim Khan was no poor mendicant with little means to do anything but preach visionary couplets to his followers. He was one of the nine gems or ‘Navaratna’ at the court of Emperor Akbar, and an eminent astrologer and poet to boot. He was the son of the great minister Bairam Khan of Emperor Humayun’s time, the same minister who was trusted with the care of the young king Akbar when his father died after a fall at the Purana Qila. On his mother’s side, Rahim is said to have descended from the bloodline of Lord Krishna himself. Perhaps that explains his love for this Hindu God despite his adherence to Islam. Rahim’s couplets were little pearls of wisdom that went on to inspire thousands, and continue to be taught in Indian schools to this day.

Rahim Khan lies inside a large red sandstone mausoleum surrounded by surprisingly green gardens on all sides. He had himself built it in 1598 to bury his wife, and was buried alongside her in 1627. As I walked around the structure, I saw the remains of what must have once been elegant marble work on red walls. What a sight it must have been! About a century and half later, towards the fag end of the Mughal empire in India, the builders of the Safdarjung Tomb had little resources to build a great monument… consequently, much of the ornamentation of Rahim Khan’s tomb was stripped from this structure and carried to another part of Delhi in order to create the last great Mughal monument in the capital.

I wandered across the garden and all around the tomb, and faint memories of ‘Rahim ke dohe’ (Rahim’s lyrical couplets) floated through my mind…

छमा बड़न को चाहिये, छोटन को उत्पात। कह ‘रहीम’ हरि का घट्यौ, जो भृगु मारी लात॥  

( The narrow-minded create trouble, and the large-hearted always  forgive them. Says Rahim, even Lord Krishna was forgiving when the Sage Bhrigu kicked him.)

I saw the sad state the-once beautiful mausoleum was today in, and I  wondered if Rahim has forgiven those who destroyed his last abode.

A large mausoleum in red sandstone
A large mausoleum in red sandstone
Rahim Khan's tomb, Delhi
The humans in the courtyard give a perspective of its size
Rahim Khan's tomb
A pretty fountain at the courtyard
Rahim Khan's tomb, Delhi
Final Abode
Rahim Khan's tomb
Two men rest on the poet’s grave
Rahim Khan's Tomb
Greenery surrounds the poet’s resting place
Nizamuddin
The sun sets over Nizamuddin
Once upon a time, a beauty in stone
Once upon a time, a beauty in stone!
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6 Comments Add yours

  1. sudhagee says:

    What a lovely post. And like you I see poetry and music in stone, bricks and mortar.

    1. wanderfool says:

      Thank you Sudhagee 🙂

  2. Naushirvan says:

    Your’e back! Great to see another post.
    Rahim’s dilapidated mausoleum calls to mind a particular episode from the poet’s life. I don’t know if it is entirely true, but it is believed that there came a time when Rahim’s career hit rough weather. Deprived of royal patronage and having made some enemies, he was forced to flee the Mughal capital to live incognito( and in poverty). It was in this state of penury that Rahim addressed the following lines to his friends and admirers:

    धरती ऊपर शयन करि, मांगहीं मधुकरी खाहिं|
    यारों यारी छोड़ दो, वह रहीम अब नाहिं ||

    ( I sleep on the bare ground and nourish myself on charity,
    dear friends, leave me, for Rahim is no longer what he used to be)

    1. wanderfool says:

      That story is so beautiful, Naushirvan! Can always trust you to bring in new perspectives and little known snippets- thank you 🙂

  3. twobitwo says:

    great post! i thoroughly enjoy reading about your escapades 🙂
    well, who could have escaped ‘Rahim ke Dohe’ back in school, but like many others, I too had the impression that Rahim must have been a roaming sage of some kind and not such an eminent personality in the royal court of Akbar…thanks for sharing the information!

    1. wanderfool says:

      Thanks twobitwo 🙂 Hope you get the opportunity to visit the tomb of the poet we’ve all read so much about!

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