Delhi is full of shrines. Besides the ones of the 22 Khwajas there are numerous other mazaars, some maintained, others just left to deteriorate. The shrine of Khwaja Syed Abul Hasan, Hare Bhare is unique among them as it is right in the heart of Old Delhi, just below the steps of the Jama Masjid, A neem tree grows above it, which divides the mazaar from the grave of the saint’s disciple, Sarmad Shaheed that is painted red as a sign of his martyrdom, while his mentor’s tomb is green in colour to donate immortality. Towards the direction in which the feet of the saint point lies buried Shah Mohammad Hinga Madani dating to AD 1674. Maulana Azad was a great admirer of the shrine, so was M.F. Husain, while Raghu Rai spent a whole afternoon in the 1960s photographing it and Sadia Dehlvi detailed its history.
Hare Bhare Sahib lived during the reigns of Jahangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb and is believed to have come from Central Asia. Sarmad was an Armenian Jew who converted to Islam and became a Sufi. Not much is known of Madani, except that he forsook the life of a nobleman to become a recluse. Such an important place is now in a state of disarray. The green and red plaster of the shrine has been peeled off. Part of the two structures has been damaged and the neem tree has been brutally hacked. It is said that the caretakers of the shrine want to erect a commercial building above the tombs.
Thousands of devotees of the three saints buried in the complex are helpless spectators. Something similar happened when the shrine of Hazrat Kalimullah Jehanabadi, also dating to mid-Mughal times, just opposite the Red Fort, was built around with a pigeon-hole-type building, that brings revenue for the caretakers alright but at the expense of despoliation. The mazaar of Bhure Mian, where troops taking part in the Republic-Day parade relax after the show, has been given a facelift but its original character has not been altered probably because of its close proximity to the Red Fort.
Another instance of despoliation is the disappearance of a baradari (not far from Hare Bhare’s shrine) said to have been constructed by Dara Shikoh, just next to the Jama Masjid on the way to Esplanade Road. Nobody remembers the old building which was very much there in the last decades of the 20th Century and housed a girls’ school. Now a multi-storied building has come up to accommodate the school, with no trace of the historical monument, which was believed to have been a library of Dara.
Many old structures in Chandni Chowk also have been so built upon that one can hardly recognize them. The Kaccheri of Bhawani Shankar, the nobleman who later got the disparaging nickname of Namak Haram after he deserted the Marathas and joined the British about the 18th Century, is yet another example. The haveli of Namak Haram too has changed shape because of commercial exploitation. Northbrook Fountain, the best known landmark of Chandni Chowk, has been almost covered up by a plaque commemorating Bhai Mati Das, opposite the old Kotwali, which has become part of Gurdwara Sis Ganj. The fountain (known as Phuwara) was built by the British Governor-General Lord Northbrook from his own funds as a beautification of the spot where the bodies of Mughal princes killed by Hodson lay rotting. There have been more such monstrosities especially in Mehrauli, which have been overlooked by authority, probably for devious reasons. However the changes planned at the Hare Bhare mazar can still be prevented to save a famous landmark, which was left untouched even when the tramway was introduced in 1908.
Sarmad Shaheed is said to have danced on the steps of the Jama Masjid after his head had been cut off on the orders of Aurangzeb (who branded him as a heretic) until restrained by Hare Bhare, who warned him that such action against the law of nature would destroy Delhi. Would Sarmad’s spirit revolt again? May be not, but the ASI should.