My earliest memories of Lodi Garden are of me sitting cross-legged on the undulated lawns with a drawing board propped against my knees. I was trying to paint a watercolour of the scene in front of me, with let’s say zero success.
No fault of the scenery. Expansive emerald-green manicured gardens with flowering bushes and looming trees were huddled around evocative grey quartzite stone monuments. It was just my watercolouring skills which were questionable.
Each day of these particular week-long assignments, during my undergrad in fine arts, invariably took the same turn. Sometime around mid-day, I would put my drawing board aside and wander through the ruins, oblivious to the world. Something I still tend to do, but that’s a different matter.
Lodi Garden was magical way back then and it still is so. As I found out last week much to my relief. Who wants lovely memories to be killed by ugly changes.
The stark difference between my explorations back then and now, was not the garden, but me.
This time around, older and a bit wiser when it came to Indian history and heritage, I learnt to love and enjoy it more deeply. May I take this opportunity to share my understanding of this place, an integral part of my college days, with you here? If yes, please do read on. 😊
Chequered past, but [almost] always a garden
Lodi Garden was always a garden. Even 800 years ago. A tributary of the river Yamuna ran through it and the grounds were covered with orchards. Back then, it was known as Jod Bagh, a name that lives on through the neighbourhood across the street: Jor Bagh.
In the 15th and 16th centuries it transformed into a cemetery garden. The Sayyid and Lodi dynasty Sultans had decided they fancied being buried here. The gardens were lovely, there was a river and trees. Moreover, its stature in terms of sanctity had risen substantially due to its proximity to the 14th Century Sufi saint Nizamuddin Auliya’s dargah. Yup. This became a cemetery and there are dead people buried under the flower beds.
The fall of the Mughal empire in the 18th Century was accompanied with insecurity and marauding gangs. People rushed to the tombs and mosques, as they did elsewhere, in search of safety, and the cemetery became village Khairpur.
But once a garden, always a garden.
Delhi was to be launched as the new capital of the British Raj in 1931 and Khairpur, unfortunately, lay on its outskirts. A village would, of course, be an eye-sore. The ruling British repaired the monuments, manicured the gardens, resettled the villagers, and Khairpur became Lady Willingdon Park on 9 April, 1936, named after the Viceroy’s wife.
In 1947, in line with the renaming of the city’s main streets and buildings to more indigenous themes, Lady Willingdon Park became Lodi Garden, Delhi’s most loved public central park.
A closer look at the monuments in Lodi Garden
Tomb of Muhammad Shah Sayyid. He died around 1444. The Sayyids did not leave many monuments behind which makes this one that extra bit special.
Incised limestone plaster ceiling of Muhammad Shah’s tomb with a motif and jharoka pointing towards the qibla. They are not aligned, for no other reason than design aesthetics.
Native Indian elements make an appearance in the leaf pattern on the pillared veranda and the lintel and kalashs framing the doorway.
Eleven monuments dot Lodi Garden. Six are magnificent to say the least with an eclectic mix of native Indian and Central Asian architectural elements. Five are quaintly charming.
Guarded by a row of majestic palm trees is my favourite—the octagonal, single-chambered Tomb of Muhammad Shah Sayyid  in which lies interred the 3rd ruler of the Sayyid dynasty. Very little is known about the Sayyids except that they ruled from 1414 – 51 and were the fourth dynasty during the Delhi Sultanate. There are even lesser monuments to their name which makes this one a rarity.
Don’t forget to look up when inside. The ceiling is decorated with intricate incised stucco painted over in red and blue. A calligraphy motif with a verse from the Quran, jharoka, and mihrab, together point towards the qibla, the direction of Mecca.
Lodi Garden’s oldest tree stands next to the Bada Gumbad, Majlis Khana, and Bada Gumbad Mosque ensemble.
Left: Entrance of Bada Gumbad. Some historians believe Bada Gumbad served as a monumental gateway; Majlis Khana had more prosaic functions—it was used by the Quran readers in the mosque across the courtyard.
Bada Gumbad Mosque is filled with geometric patterns, foliage, and calligraphy carved out in stucco. Just look at the detailing!
A short distance away is the enormous Bada Gumbad, Majlis Khana and Bada Gumbad Mosque, an ensemble fronted by the equally huge Sheesh Gumbad. Historian Simon Digby is of the view that the ensemble functioned as a grand entrance to the Sheesh Gumbad. Digby also claims the founder of the Lodi dynasty [1451 – 1526], Bahlol Lodi is in fact buried in Sheesh Gumbad  which in its hey-day was covered with sparkling blue glazed tiles.
The prettiest monument here, currently, is the Bada Gumbad Mosque with its lace-like incised stucco. If you can read Arabic, the southern-most bay includes the year it was built in which translates to 1494 in the Gregorian calendar.
A visual overview: On the left is the ensemble. To the right is Sheesh Gumbad, so called because of the sheesh or glazed tiles which originally decorated its facades.
Just another pathway through the 95-acre garden.
Entrance of Sultan Sikander Lodi’s walled garden tomb. At one time, all grand tombs used to be in their own walled gardens, reminiscent of the gardens of paradise mentioned in the Quran.
Though Sikander Lodi’s tomb appears to be similar to Muhammad Shah’s, it is different in the detailing. Glazed tiles decorated the niches and windows inside whilst a Wall Mosque stands in the garden.
At the north-east end of the garden is the intact Walled Garden Tomb of Sikander Lodi , an able warrior and patron of the arts and learning. His tomb is similar to Muhammad Shah Sayyid’s but only from the outside. Its interiors still contain blue glazed tiles framing the niches and windows.
In addition to a Lodi-era turret standing in solitary splendour, four humbler, simpler and smaller, structures are scattered across the garden and date back to the Mughal period. They comprise Emperor Akbar’s Athpula or eight-pillared bridge over the swan-filled lake, a gateway and mosque which once opened into a Mughal garden, and an 18th Century red-finish mosque with a vaulted roof.
There are a handful of small monuments dotted around the Garden as well. Top: The Mosque and Gateway which once led to a Mughal garden; Above left: Lodi-era turret; Right: 18th Century Mughal-era mosque.
What’s a garden without trees, shrubs, and flowers?
Despite all its architectural wonders, Lodi Garden is first and foremost, a garden. Over 7,000 large trees of 215 different species and 40 species of flowers grow across the 95 acres. An 83-year-old Peepal tree next to Bada Gumbad is believed to be the garden’s oldest tree.
There’s also a bamboo garden, bonsai park, butterfly zone, herbal garden, lotus and lily pond, and peacock hatchery inside. The last I checked 151 species of birds have been sighted here.
Thousands of people visit the garden every day. Yet, a quiet spot is always guaranteed.
My watercolours are still a disaster. But Lodi Garden, aah, that my dear reader has become just more endearing. ❤
151 species of birds have been sighted at Lodi Garden. The one on the right is called a Red-naped Ibis.
Emperor Akbar’s 16th Century Athpula bridge. In the early mornings, the lake is flooded with swans.
The original entrance to Lodi Garden.
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Note: I explored Lodi Garden armed with Delhi: 14 Historic Walks by Swapna Liddle. I went twice to photograph it—in the early morning and late afternoon since the edifices are either east-facing or west-facing.
Timings: 5:00 am to 8:00 pm [Summers]; 6:00 am to 8:00 pm [Winters]