Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Lodhi Garden Turns 75 - Delhi's Muse


Lodi Gardens  - Delhi’s muse

If there were one modernistic icon which straggles the past and present and holds all of Delhi with fond memories, it is its green lung - the Lodi Gardens. It is the power house of oxygen literally for Delhi, given the acres of green area and figuratively, it is where the corridors of power meet informally at the time of their morning walk!!! A place to be literally seen enjoying nature for Delhi’s bold, beautiful and the powerful. This is where many politicians, bureaucrats, diplomats, expats, artists, writers…….take their pleasant morning walk. Or while away their time in the evening. It is a place where relationships are formed and deep friendships nurtured. For the old, it is nostalgia as it reminds them of what Delhi once used to be, covered by forest area. For the young, it is a charming laid back world, far from the maddening crowd. It has been much written about, it has been the setting and provided inspiration for many a book by well known authors, including that of Kushwant Singh.

Lodi Gardens is located at the heart of Delhi, very close to Khan Market, off Max Mueller Marg. It is spread over 90 acres and is a standing testimony that the monuments of the past built several centuries earlier can exist peacefully with modernistic restaurants, themed gardens, international influences and more. The history of the Gardens is very interesting. As per INTACH’s brochure it was once called Bagh-I-Jud, the burial grounds of the Sayyid and Lodi dynasty and the monuments are traced to the 15th century. As a Garden, it was first developed in 1936 to preserve the beautiful monuments located around the area. It was Lady Willingdon, wife of the British Viceroy at that time, who is said to have fallen in love with place and was keen on setting up of the garden. The village around it was called Khairpur, the villagers were moved and the space was created for the park. The gardens were developed with a mix of trees native to India, exotic ones, plants of various hues. Thus the monuments were given a new lease of life. The park was Lady Willingdon Park, after Independence it was re-named Lodi Gardens. As a tribute to the several monuments of the Lodi period and Sayyid periods located in it. It was re-landscaped in 1968.

The Lodi Gardens are a historian’s delight for it houses a cluster of monuments. Of which the oldest of the monument is the Muhammad Shah Tomb. Muhammed Shah (1434-44) was the third ruler of the Sayyid dynasty. The octagonal pattern with Chhatris is the hallmark of this Tomb. The Bara Gumbad, its decorations includes stucco work. No one really knows who has been buried but the conjecture is that it was meant for a high official held in great esteem by Sikandar Lodi (1489-1517). On its West, it houses a beautiful small mosque, said to be built in 1494, which is decorated profusely with coloured tiles. The Sheesh Gumbad to have been built in the late 15th century, gets its name from the tiles century, gets its name from the tiles that once decorated it. Hence the nomenclature glass or glazed dome. The remnants of the Persian blue tiles can still be seen. The Tomb of Sikandar Lodi is enclosed in a square garden which is enclosed within high walls. It also has a wall mosque on the west side. In all the monuments, the clever use of stone, the arches, the shapes are an architect’s delight. The Athpula getting its name from ath meaning 8 and pula meaning bridge or piers was built during the Mughal rule – Akbar’s reign (1556-1605). The bridge probably covered a part of the tributary of River Yamuna, unbelievable today that the river Yamuna once flowed through the heart of South Delhi!!! 

If the monuments are a historian’s delight, then the trees are a Nature lover’s quest. It houses more than a 100 variety of trees. Some local, some traditional Indian, some rare imported and cared to with great love. The National Bonsai Park was started in 1996, today it has a butterfly conservatory, rose garden with around 25 varieties of roses, Lily pond, herbal garden. A recent addition, the fragrant tree corner with 2000 trees of 21 species. It is home to several varieties of birds and little animals.  

Apart from these factual details, it is the undisturbed ambience which makes the Garden so special. It is ideal for picnics during winters and wonderful oasis of cool comfort in Delhi’s hot summer days. It makes one nostalgic for the good ole Delhi sans its traffic jams, dust and choc a block roads. Nevertheless it is literally one of the last remnants of what Delhi used to be once upon a time, lots of green areas and a laid back lifestyle. It is a 75 year young muse Delhi will not forget in a hurry!
(This appeared in the July 2011 issue of Air India magazine - erstwhile Swagat)