Delhi 101: #22 Safdarjung’s Tomb – Famous for his tomb, not for who he was

Politicians can get away with a lot. In the past, and in the present. The unofficial immunity they enjoy is a tad unfair.

Delhi 101: Cover image of book by Ajay JainThis post has been taken from Delhi 101, a book written by Ajay Jain. It is about 101 surprising ways to discover Delhi, one of the most amazing cities in the world for travelers. To know more about the book and to order one, click here.

Take Nawab Shuja-ud-daulah who built a tomb for his father, Mirza Abul Mansur Khan or Safdarjung. Nothing wrong with that except that he ‘pinched’ a lot of the materials from the tomb of Abdur Rahim Khan-i-Khana located in the present day Nizamuddin area near Humayun’s tomb. The removal of marble and sandstone took away some of the sheen from Rahim’s memory but added to Safdarjung’s. While the mausoleum no doubt looks beautiful, a closer inspection shows it is made of light brown stone and yellow patched marble. The Mughal empire was on the wane, and money and workmanship were hard to come by.

But Safdarjung should be a happy man. For a noble, he sure got more than his due when it comes to the final resting place. He was the second Nawab (governor) of Oudh (Awadh), succeeding his uncle Saadat Khan in 1739. The latter poisoned himself when Nadir Shah took Delhi and heaped insults on him. Safdarjung automatically became the Wazir (Prime Minister) of the Mughal empire too, under Muhammad Shah at the time.

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In 1752, he was dismissed by the succeeding emperor, Ahmad Shah, in favour of Ghaziuddin Imadulmulk. This led to a civil war between Safdarjung and Imadulmulk but the former, not being a distinguished soldier, lost. He returned to Oudh where he died in 1754.

Why did Safdarjung get a sizeable tomb when many emperors got some unmarked graves? Historians believe he was the real power behind the throne as the Wazir, and thus the honour. In modern times, he even got an airport, a flyover, a major hospital and a bunch of residential areas all named after him. But he still died a broken man. That’s politics for you.

A footnote of history has largely been forgotten: the state of Awadh virtually became independent of the Mughal empire under Safdarjung and his successors till it was annexed by the British in 1857. It emerged as a rival to Delhi in literature, music, painting and architecture and even provided the setting for Satyajit Ray’s classic movie, Shatranj Ke Khiladi (The Chess Players).

Metro: Jor Bagh


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  1. Wonderful backdrop details and anecdotes of Jenab Safdarjungwhich iterant delhites like me too,didn’t know!..But,this canal /waterway is intriguing.It isn’t there if you enter from the front.Where does it lead to?Also the trees(they look mango)lining it,a little away – are they also very old?


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