Delhi’s forgotten Empress

Posted on: September 16, 2017 Posted by: Kunal Comments: 0

Delhi’s forgotten Empress

If you were one of the Muslim rulers of India, how would you expect yourself to be buried? In some grand mausoleum erected by your subjects at a serene place on the outskirts of the town? Probably yes, since that’s where most of the emperors who ruled over vast swathes of the modern day India from Delhi are laid to rest today, but when it comes to Razia Sultana, the only woman emperor of the Delhi sultanate, one wouldn’t expect her to be where she lies.

Come to modern day Delhi, to the chaotic, congested and suffocating walled city, a fascinating historical place full of interesting architecture and stories of the once glorious past of Shahjahanabad. Imagine navigating on foot through the narrow lanes, by the old Havelis with their intricately carved doors, and of course, with goats blocking your way. Lanes so narrow that no vehicle can pass through them and when you spread your arms wide, you can touch the walls on either side. In one such Mohalla of Old Delhi lies the tomb of the Empress Razia.

Delhi Gate – one of the gates to the once walled city of Delhi


Imagine the life behind these closed door of Old Delhi Havelis back in the day before partition. Shahjahanabad was the cradle of Urdu culture and literature in its time.

Ok, so you’ve digested the fact about the location. Now how would you imagine the tomb to be? A somewhat big mausoleum with an impressive dome, crafty stonework and grand calligraphy inside, after all we’re talking about an empress’ tomb, right?
Another surprise. None of the above exists.
But before we get there, let’s delve into this:

Who was Razia Sultana?

Qutbuddin Aibak was the first Sultan of Delhi from the Slave dynasty. He got his favorite Turk slave Iltutmish married to his daughter. Razia was their daughter, thus the granddaughter of Aibak. When the time for succession came, Iltutmish appointed Razia as his successor. Post a few ups and downs, Razia became the new Sultan(a) of Delhi and ruled for about four years from 1236 to 1240.
Now there are multiple versions of her death. One version says that after her half-brother usurped the throne, Razia along with her husband Malik Ikhtaruddin Altunia was fleeing Delhi and was intercepted and killed. Another version says that Razia lost a battle with the Hindu Jats and was seized and killed near Kaithal in present day Haryana.
Same way there are multiple claimed tombs of Razia Sultana, three to be precise; in Kaithal, Haryana, in Tonk, Rajasthan, and in Delhi, but the one in Delhi is claimed to be the original one by majority of historians.*

Her Tomb

So, what is there at the tomb Razia Sultana? No mausoleum, no carvings, no calligraphy, and not even a roof. It lies there in a small square plot of land surrounded by Old Delhi houses, exposed to the extremities of the weather, along with the exhausts of the air conditioners blazing gusts of hot air. The stone platform on which it is lying by the side of an unknown grave is certainly not fit to be the tomb of a Queen.


The entrance to the tomb.
The grilled door is kept shut so that the curious wandering goats don’t enter the compound.


This is it. In one of these graves lies the only woman Emperor of the Delhi Sultanate.
Do the people living behind those windows realize the significance of the view outside?
The small Mosque next to the tomb.
The goats there are too curious. This one used to come at the gate repeatedly to gawk at what I was doing inside.
These two were just curious to look at my camera I guess.
I love that anywhere you go, the kids are so willing to talk to a camera wielding curious wanderer exploring their neighborhood. Like this one, I call him Tendulkar of Turkman.

As they say, some incredible treasures are found in unexpected places. This is one of the lesser known treasures of Delhi.

How to get there?

The tomb is located in the Mohalla Bulbuli Khana near Turkman Gate. The easiest way too get there is by taking the metro to Delhi Gate station (the new one on the Violet Heritage Line), and then walk. Pass by the Daryaganj main road and once you encounter Delhi Gate to your right, cross it and take the lane adjoining it. Keep walking till you encounter a T junction, take the narrow path to your right. Now here it can get confusing, it lies at the end of one of the lane to your left. If lost, ask anyone around, the locals are only too helpful in my experience.
And yes, don’t follow Google Maps, it doesn’t point you to the correct  location.

*One interesting thing I observed about the location of the tomb is that it’s in the present day Shahjahanabad, i.e. the city built by the Mughal emperor Shahjahan in the 17th century, while Razia Sultana lived in the 13th century. How did this place come to be her place of burial? What factors went into play? Was there anything around the area back then? Or was it just the middle of the forest like most of Delhi was before it got civilized?
Guess we’ll never know. That’s what makes history intriguing. 🙂
EDIT: After a discussion with the noted Historian and Author Rana Safvi, I got to know that this place was near the Khanqah of Saint Turkman Shah whose disciple was Razia. Maybe she spent her last days there, or if she was killed elsewhere, then someone bought her remains to be buried near the saint. Intriguing!

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