Tomb of Adam Khan [Mehrauli].
Tomb of Adam Khan [Mehrauli]. © British Library/Charles Shepherd

THE Pathans have left a large number of tombs scattered around Delhi, the forms of which are strangely characteristic of the stern and uncompromising qualities of the builders, when they had ceased to be so largely influenced by the Hindu methods of ornamentation which, during the early period of conquest, were so much intermingled with their own styles. The common form of these tombs consists of a square or an octagonal chamber with a dome surrounded by a verandah, each side having three openings with pointed arches. In the early examples the domes and arches were flat or rather depressed; the tendency to become stilted and of less robust outline being greater with the approach to the period of the Mogul rulers. The Pathan style of later date introduced a greater degree of elaboration; the tombs and mosques were made more ornamental, frequently being covered with elaborate marblework and with coloured tiles of great beauty both in respect of colour and design. These coloured tiles produce a very pleasing and agreeable relief to the sombre colour of the stone, and add a bright and crisp quality of light and colour to the buildings which they adorn. Blue and yellow glazed tiles are those most frequently used in the exteriors, and are sometimes treated like mosaics, the patterns being cut out in one coloured tile, and filled up by a tile of a second colour.

In the tomb of Adam Khan we have a specimen of architecture built during the reign of a Mogul ruler in which, however, the then not unforgotten style of the Pathans has been adhered to. The plan consists of an octagonal chamber of fifty feet diameter, surrounded by a verandah. The eight openings into the inner chamber are now blocked up, in order to render the building habitable for the civil authorities, who find it necessary to visit the locality in their tours of inspection and duty in the Delhi District. These openings correspond with the central arches of each of the octagonal sides of the verandah, and above the terrace of the verandah is a dome, which rises from a sixteen-sided wall to a height of about one hundred feet above the floor of the tomb. The whole building is raised on a large octagonal terrace about twelve feet from the ground; the walls enclosing the terrace are loop-holed, as if for the purposes of defence, and at each angle is situated a small tower. The great peculiarity of the building consists in a staircase, constructed after the fashion of a labyrinth in the thick walls surrounding the inner chamber. This staircase in one direction reaches the terrace above the verandah in a few steps, whilst in another direction it winds up and down round the building, finally ending against a dead wall. Visitors thus frequently become lost, and much merriment is caused in their endeavours to find their way out again.

Adam Khan Anka, son of Maham Anka, was foster-brother to the Emperor Akbar. In the year A.D. 1560 he was appointed to the command of an army which had been called together for the conquest of Malwa. The ruler of that country, Baz Bahadur, was a man of great indolence and could not be induced to undertake the necessary preparations for defence until the enemy had advanced to the very gates of his capital. Adam Khan in consequence achieved an easy victory, succeeded in capturing the property of Baz Bahadur and appropriated the ladies of his harem.1 To the Emperor his master he sent only a few elephants out of a large accumulation of valuable booty; and Akbar, conceiving from this mark of indifference that Adam intended to render himself independent, at once marched towards him, and arrived before Sarangpur where Adam Khan, unaware of the king's approach,  was on the point of leaving the city to besiege Gangrar; but, meeting the  Emperor outside the walls, he accompanied his royal master with many signs respectful submission, back into the city. During the following year Muhammad Khan Atka was appointed Prime Minister at Delhi and soon acquired great influence with Akbar; Adam Khan, being jealous of the power which threatened to accrue to this new favourite, resolved to compass his ruin; but all endeavours failed and brought the author to shame and degradation. However, Adam Khan had determined to destroy his rival; and one day, when Muhammad Khan was reading the Koran aloud in the hall of audience, Adam Khan entered and saluted him; but the minister, according to the custom on such occasions, continued his prayers, and took no notice of the salute. Adam Khan, in the heat of the moment, stabbed the minister to the heart and left the court. The king, who was in the adjoining apartment asleep, came out on hearing the disturbance and, on finding the body of the minister weltering in blood, drew his sword and was about to pursue and put the murderer to death with his own hand, but remembering his dignity, refrained and ordered his attendants to throw the culprit over the parapet. Maham Atka died forty days afterwards from grief, and both father and son were interred in the tomb at Delhi which, it is stated, Akbar had caused to be built for the purpose. It is difficult to account for the construction of a labyrinth in a building intended to contain the body of a murderer; and unless the building had been designed before Adam Khan's death,2 one can only imagine that the staircase labyrinth in the wall was for the wandering spirit of the unhappy culprit. The building goes by the name of "Bhul-bahliyan," or, "place where one loses oneself."

The sarcophagus, which consists of a block of stone of simple outline, was formerly situated in the centre of the tomb, under the dome; but since the building has been converted into a rest house or road bungalow for the civil officers of the district, it has been placed in the verandah, facing the north. The position of Adam Khan's tomb is indicated on Plan No. I. (see page 11). It is situated on the extreme south-west limit of the area which included the various sites occupied by the cities of Delhi for over 2,300 years, i.e. from the year B.C. 1450 to the present day. It was in this building that I stayed during the casting operations at the Kutb; and in spite of the somewhat dismal character of my temporary abode, under whose vaulted dome the slightest noise produced mysterious echoes, I still look back with pleasure to the time passed in connecting together links of history relating to the surrounding ruins, and in studying the infinite variety of architectural forms which once made the Delhi buildings the fit abodes of Hindu kings, and lent splendour and grandeur to the capital of the Muhammadan emperors of India. 

  • 1. An affecting incident occurred on this occasion. Baz Bahadur had a Hindu mistress, who is said to have been one of the most beautiful women ever seen in India. She was as accomplished as she was fair, and was celebrated for her verses in the Hindu language. She fell into the hands of Adam Khan on the flight of Baz Bahadur, and finding herself unable to resist his importunities and threatened violence, she appointed an hour to receive him, put on her most splendid dress, on which she sprinkled the richest perfumes, and lay down on a couch with her mantle drawn over her face. Her attendants thought she had fallen to sleep, but on endeavouring to wake her on the approach of the Khan, they found she had taken poison, and was already dead. (Khafi Khan quoted by Elphinstoue in his "History of India," vol. ii. p. 262.)
  • 2. Which is not unlikely; the building like other tombs of Muhammadan's may have been used during Adam Khan's life as a place of recreation.