December, 2020July 15, 2022
Tomb of Balban – The First Indian Tomb Known to have True Arch
Delhi saw fierce turmoil, ups, and downs before the Mughals finally set in for a long period. Everyone wanted to conquer, everyone wanted to capture the throne and rule. I love Delhi and not only for me, but Delhi has also been a subject of love for centuries. Probably, that was the reason everyone wanted to come here. So many battles were fought, lots of blood and massacre, just to capture the city. A few days ago, I visited the tomb of Balban, and that reminded me of a dynasty which I remember studying in my history textbooks; the slave dynasty that ruled over Delhi. It was my second time visiting the tomb of Balban, the first time was in January 2020 and then in the first week of December 2020.
I love ancient architecture and historical monuments and that’s the reason I end up visiting them more than one time. Located enclosed in Mehrauli Archaeological Area, today, the tomb of Balban is nothing but a cluster of ruins, broken walls, bricks, and stones. Moreover, just like several other monuments found around the area, this tomb too lacks proper information at certain points. When you come from Mehrauli-Gurgaon Highway or if you come here from Qutub Minar Metro Station, and enter Mehrauli Archaeological Park, this is the first monument that you will come across. Though you will be walking across the fenced boundary of this tomb, you will reach Jamali Kamali Tomb and mosque. Both these monuments are located opposite each other.
History behind the Ruined Tomb of Ghiyas-ud-din Balban
Balban was a powerful ruler of the Slave dynasty and ruled over Delhi till his death. The Slave dynasty was known as the Mamluk dynasty. Before we talk about the history of tomb of Balban; it’s better that we first know the history of Balban. Ghiyas-ud-din Balban was born in 1206 AD in the Ilbari tribe to a Turkish nobleman. He was a water carrier boy. It is said that the Mughals captured him and sold him as a child slave to Ghazi Khwaja Jamal-ud-din Basri, who was a Baghdadi merchant, in Afghanistan’s bazaars.
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He was then again sold to Iltutmish as a slave. But Iltutmish’s emperor, Qutub-ud-Aibak (Delhi sultanate’s sultan) ordered him to release Balban from slavery. Qutub-ud-din Aibak parented Balban as his own son. He educated him as a prince. He also appointed Balban as his PA and a close confidante. After Razia Sultan’s death, Balban won several regions neighboring Delhi. He took over as prime minister when Nasir-ud-din Mahmud was crowned sultan. Balban married his daughter and thus when Nasir died; Balban became the sultan of Delhi sultanate. At some places, his age is mentioned as 60 years and at some places, he is mentioned to be 66 years old when he became the sultan. He was the ninth and the last ruler of the Slave dynasty. He is known as a ruler with an iron fist.
Now let’s talk about the history of the tomb of Balban located in Mehrauli Archaeological Park. As per the records, the tomb is said to have been built in 1287 CE. The tomb today stands in a ruined condition where most of the structures have either fallen down or broken, no one knows. The tomb also houses the grave of Khan Shahid, who is said to be his son. Khan Shahid died in 1285 in Multan while against the Mongols. When Balban heard the news of his son’s death, he was so grief-stricken that he too ultimately died. His other son was in Bengal but he didn’t come to see his father. Thus, Balban had to declare his grandson as the next ruler.
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Architecture of Balban’s Tomb
A masonry building, the tomb is considered to be a fine example of Indo-Islamic architecture. The tomb was discovered around the mid-20th century. Historians say that the tomb of Balban is the first tomb in India that used a true arch. Before its discovery, the Qutub Minar complex was known to have such a technique. However, that too lacks a proper arch system in the construction. You can see the walls of the tomb have arches on them. These arches were based on stones arranged circularly. Before this, the only corbelled arch was known where the stones are put horizontally. Some say that the tomb might be canopied by a dome but no proofs support it.
Just next to the tomb, you will find his son’s grave which has been inscribed in Persian calligraphy. Probably those are inscriptions from the Quran. I can’t read that so I am not sure what they mean. The tomb complex houses several other ruins that look like rooms or quarters built for residential purposes or maybe for some other purpose as well. When you enter the tomb from its main entrance, you will see a few graves and I have no information about them. The entire complex is nothing but a jungle with lots of insects, reptiles, trees, etc. This tells that it is not properly maintained. At some places, you can find the decoration on the walls of the tomb.
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When I visited the tomb in January, it was open. But when I visited the second time (3rd December 2020), it was locked. So, I asked a security guard if I could go inside. He asked me to jump the wall carefully and I did. Well, it was totally a jungle this time. The main structures are surrounded by the jungle, thus invisible from a distance. Moreover, the tomb is built lower than the ground level. So, one has to step down a few stairs built there to enter the tomb.
You won’t find Balban’s grave at his tomb. Yes, his grave is missing and no one has any information about where the grave is or who removed it. Only the broken walls of the tomb stand today in a ruined condition. Strange that people visit and worship Shahid Khan’s grave and offer money, sweets, flowers, incense, etc. There are lots of stories people tell.
How to reach Balban’s Tomb, Mehrauli Archaeological Park?
The tomb is located in Mehrauli Archaeological Park. When you come towards Qutub Minar from Gurgaon, or when you come here from Qutub Minar Metro Station (the nearest metro station), the park is located on way. The park has a big entrance gate and you can park your vehicle around (especially a two-wheeler). You don’t have to pay anything to enter the park since it is one of the monuments to enter without any ticket in Delhi.
While staying in Delhi, I often wandered in the corners of the capital city, exploring the unexplored places, looking for stories. This city holds a charm that keeps me stick to it. My love for this city will stay long. I often pack my bags and leave on weekends to roam around the city, sometimes in Chandani Chowk, sometimes somewhere else; sometimes visiting a place for the first time or sometimes visiting it for a second or third time. Sometimes alone or sometimes with someone.
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I am a food & travel enthusiast, a music aficionado, poet, artist, and someone who loves to explore unexplored/off-beat places. I started this blog to share my food and travel journey.