Sunday, September 21, 2008

The man who lived in interesting times

I was strolling through the Qutb Complex with my friend, when we came across a little octagonal tomb set prettily in a separate courtyard.

There are many grand monuments inside the Qutb Complex - the tall Qutb Minar, the grand Quwwat-ul-Islam (Might of Islam) mosque, and the ornate Alai Darwaza. Most were built in the early 13th century, by the Slave Dynasty. But this small tomb was added later, in the 16th century.
Who was he, I wondered, this man whose tomb lay next to some of the grandest structures in Delhi? Why was he such a big deal? A Sultan perhaps, or some great nobleman? I looked at the inscription - this was the tomb of a priest, a man named Imam Zamin. It took quite some reading before I found out who he was.
Imam Zamin was a Sayyid, a word that is used to describe male descendants of the Prophet Mohammed. The Sayyids trace their lineage back to Hassan and Hussein, the two grandsons of the Prophet, starting from the 7th century.

In the sixteenth century, Sayyid Imam Zamin came to India from Central Asia (Turkestan), during the Sultanate of Sikandar Lodi. In The Delhi that No One Knows, R V Smith says that the Sayyid was appointed Chief Imam of the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque, and that Sikandar Lodi looked to him for spiritual guidance. The Imam, who was a Sufi, preached disregard for worldly achievements, asking Lodi to strive instead for unification with the divine Oneness.

.Smith also says that Imam Zamin didn't like the political intrigues in the court of the Lodis. I am not surprised. Sufism is the most mystical aspect of Islam, and Sufi saints are renowned for turning their faces away from the material world.

When Babur (the founder of the Mughal empire) defeated the Lodis, he visited Imam Zamin, to pay his respects. Babur's son Humayun also held the Imam in high honour, and it was in Humayun's reign that the Imam's tomb was built. When Humayun briefly lost Delhi to Sher Shah Suri, an Afghan, Sher Shah also came to seek the Imam's blessings.

I find it fascinating that here, in this little corner of the Qutb Complex, there was once a man who saw so many kings rule and die. What an interesting life he must have led! I can imagine him sitting in his dusty courtyard, with the mango trees in the background, listening to the call of Delhi's peacocks, while empires rose and fell and new rulers prostrated before him for his blessings.


Rakesh Ranjan said...

Beautifully written.. I use to think who other than me gets this kind of feeling after seeing some old monuments..

Maddy said...

has been ages since i visited Delhi!
enjoyed reading this bit on a keen history buff..
i am still studying malabar - will take a while before working my way up to moughal delhi!!