This week we continue where we left off last week — talking of Hamida Begum, who built the Humayun’s tomb for her husband and brought 300 Arab builders with her from Mecca. She commissioned a Persian architect Ghiyas, who is credited with providing India with the first dome in the Persian style — a dome that is a complete semi-circle.
It is not clear whether the Arabs were invited by him or brought back by Hamida Begum herself from Arabia. There is dispute also on whether the 300 Arabs were artisans engaged in building Humayun’s tomb or maulvis brought back by Hamida Begum as a token of veneration after the Haj.
Be that as it may, a walled enclosure with three imposing gateways close beside the southwestern corner of Humayun’s Tomb came to be known as Arab ki Sarai. Recent years have brought it name and fame in the guise of the over-hyped and over-priced Sufi extravaganza, Jahan-e-Khusro.
And for those few days in late winter when Delhi’s chatterati flock to see and be seen among the jasmine-scented, beautifully lit-up ruins, it emerges from the shadows, then slinks back into invisibility. Once divided into two quadrangles by a series of cells, the western enclosure is now occupied by the Industrial Training Institute.
At the entrance from Mathura Road to the ITI are the remains of one of the gateways. With an ornamental cusped arch hidden under a coat of plaster, it has been encroached upon and an incongruous upper story added to it. The eastern gateway, accessed through the Humayun’s Tomb complex, bears the following legend: In the name of God who is merciful and clement.
There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is His Prophet. Benevolence (Mihr) the old Mistress of Jahangir the King. The eastern gateway, built during Jahangir’s reign (1605-28) was actually the entrance to a mandi, added by one Mihr Banu, said to be a eunuch during Jahangir’s time.
The play on the word ‘Mihr’ implies as much. The northern gateway is a handsome building with medallions in the spandrels of its high, arched doorway. Definitely worth a visit!