Soon, a space for poetry, music in cradle of history

Bagh-e-Bedil: Wakf Board to turn tomb complex of sufi poet into ‘open cultural centre’.

delhi Updated: Aug 26, 2018 12:46 IST
Parvez Sultan
Parvez Sultan
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Bagh-e-Bedil,Mirza Abdul Qadir Bedil,poet
Once spruced up, the site will be available for artistes, especially the youth, for performances. (Sanchit Khanna/HT PHOTO)

To celebrate and promote the centuries-old literary heritage of Delhi, the Delhi Wakf Board (DWB) is planning to transform the tomb complex of 17th century mystic poet Mirza Abdul Qadir Bedil into an ‘open cultural centre’.

Along with a cluster of graves without tombstones, including one of Sufi saint Khwaja Nooruddin Malik Yaar Parra’n, Bedil’s mausoleum — popularly known as ‘Bagh-e-Bedil’ — lies hidden in a fenced green area on Mathura Road next to the National Sports Club of India.

Once spruced up, the site will be available for promising artistes, especially the youth, for performances such as qawwalis, exhibitions, and poetry symposia, a senior official of the Delhi government said.

“This will be a true tribute to the celebrated poet, who is also popular in central Asian countries. Every year, several foreign dignitaries from Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and other places visit his grave. But the place is in a shambles — not given the respect it deserves. Hence, a proposal is being prepared to revitalise Bedil’s tomb complex,” said the official.

Restoration and controversy

Till 1967, Bedil’s grave was lying encroached by motor mechanics, who were running their workshops from inside the premises. The squatters were relocated to Mayapuri and the grave complex was restored.

The last time Bagh-e-Bedil was fixed up was when Republic of Tajikistan president Emomali Rahmon visited the poet’s sepulcher on August 2, 2006, following an invitation from the then president of India, APJ Abdul Kalam.

Though the board aims to revamp the grave complex as the first heritage site with a space that could be utilised for the promotion of arts and culture, historians and scholars are divided over the veracity of the claim that it was the sufi poet’s final resting place.

Former head of Persian department at Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) Qamar Ghaffar opines that the site, is in fact, Bedil’s shrine that was rediscovered around 70 years ago when the then king of Afghanistan Zaheer Shah visited Delhi.

“Shah confined his desire to visit Bedil’s grave to the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Our PM sought help from Khwaja Hasan Nizami, the sufi saint of the Chishti Islamic order, who researched and zeroed in on the site as Bedil’s burial place. Then, the grave was restored in the run-up to the visit of Afghanistan’s premier,” she said.

“Would Shah have wished to go to Bagh-e-Bedil had his grave been there in Kabul as claimed by a few?” Ghaffar added.

Eminent history professor Muzaffar Alam from the University of Chicago also corroborated the claim and said that the site was, indeed, Bedil’s memorial.

However, the oblong chamber — in which the grave exists — is listed in Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) compilation of city’s heritage structures as a ‘dargah’ of the Mughal period. The compilation, however, does not refer to it as the poet’s grave.

In government records too, it is chronicled just as Bagh -e- Bedil.

During the reign of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, Bedil was born to the Chagatai Turk family in Azimabad, Patna, in 1644. He moved to Delhi after losing his parents during his early childhood. He made the city his home and stayed here till his death in 1722.

But Abul Misbah, a caretaker of the tomb complex, counters the claim that Bagh-e-Bedil is Bedil’s burial place. “This is not the place where Bedil’s burial was held. People with vested interest have spread this wrong information. Bedil died in his mansion (haveli), somewhere in old city. He was buried there. After six months, his body was taken to Khawaja Rawash (Kabul) in Afghanistan. This fact is already documented in books and several documents. The present structure at the so called Bagh-e-Bedil was built a only around 60-70 years ago,” Misbah said, adding that his family has been managing the site for 600 years.

Agreeing with Misbah claim, author-historian Rana Safvi said Bedil was, indeed, buried in a courtyard in his haveli on the Yamuna bank, somewhere in Shahjahanabad.

“In his book ‘Life And Works Of Abdul Qadir Bedil’, the author Abdul Ghani quoted Bindaban Das ‘Khushgo’ — an ardent admirer of Bedil and his contemporary — who clearly states that he was buried in his mansion. so, this is not Bedil’s grave,” she said.

Master of Persian poetry

While the debate pertaining to where Bedil was buried may remain a bone of contention among many, no one disputes the fact that he was the most remarkable master of Persian poetry. He mostly wrote in Persian and is revered across central Asia, Afghanistan, and Iran for a distinct style of poetry—Sabk-e-Hindi (Indian style Persian poetry).

Ghaffar said Bedil had composed around 99, 000 couplets, a unique feat in the history of Persian poetry. “Bedil’s colossal contribution to Indian Persian poetry is incomparable in quantity and quality. He is, indeed, the most rational, humane and secular of the medieval Indian poets in Persian and Tajik. Bedil influenced great poets of their times, Mirza Ghalib and Iqbal,” she said.

Ghaffar is also the secretary general of the Bedil International Foundation (BIF), which organises seminars and cultural events every year, wherein enthusiasts from across the world participate.

Cultural society in Bedil’s name

The Delhi government official said the DWB will establish a cultural society in Bedil’s name, which will be entrusted with the responsibility to organise regular events to create awareness about the poet’s work and Sufism in the national capital.

“The committee will comprise a district magistrate, a representative of the Bedil Foundation, prominent artistes. We want to develop his tomb complex as an open space for events such as exhibitions, plays, discussion, and debates,” he said.

Another Delhi government official, who is privy to the development, said work on the project will start as soon as the DWB gets possession of the complex. “At present, it is under the custodianship of a caretaker, Misbah, who claims his family has been managing the site for years. He has been served a notice to prove his claim of Mutawalliship (custodianship),” the official said.

Confirming that he has received the notice, Misbah said he will send a reply through his lawyer.

First Published: Aug 26, 2018 03:52 IST