Knowing Delhi – Khan-i-Khanan Tomb in Nizamuddin

Who can forget reciting ‘Dohe’ in our school Hindi classes? Dohe are short Hindi couplets conveying profound messages that draw meaning from everyday life for easy understanding. Apart from Kabir, another prolific dohe writer was Rahim. To understand the childhood connection with Rahim, we need to jog our memory to recall a popular doha:

रहिमन धागा प्रेम का, मत तोड़ो चटकाय।
टूटे से फिर ना जुड़े, जुड़े गाँठ परि जाय॥

English Translation
Rahim says; Do not break the thread of love between people. If the
thread breaks, it cannot be mended; even if you mend it there will
always be a knot in it. The friendship will not be same anymore.

Now, that sure brought an instant childhood connection with Rahim and a smile to the face.
Khanzada Mirza Khan Abdul Rahim Khan-e-Khana (17 December 1556 – 1627): popularly known as Rahim was one of the Navratnas (Nine Ministers or Nine Gems) in Akbar’s court.
Abdul Rahim Khan was the son of Bairam Khan. History is amazing – how can a son of a Mughal general infamous for atrocities could turn out to be composer and poet.

Akbar who was probably sick of the overbearing and revolting Bairam Khan – Akbar’s tutor, regent and general – retired him and sent him packing to Mecca. This was better than being thrown off the Agra Fort as Adham Khan would testify. On his way in Gujarat, Bairam Khan was recognised by a certain man called Hazi Khan whose father was brutally killed by Bairam Khan during the Second Battle of Panipat between Akbar and Hemu.

Bairam Khan had exhorted the kid Akbar to behead Hemu as he lay bleeding from an arrow wound in the eye. Bairam must have done something similar to this guy’s father too. Anyway, Hazi Khan takes revenge and kills Bairam Khan. Maybe it was all planned by Akbar! However, Rahim Khan then four and his mother were released unharmed and they returned to Akbar’s court.

Rahim Khan joined Akbar’s court, regaled the court with his songs and poetry, rose through the ranks until he was promoted as one of the Navratnas and conferred with the title of Mirza Khan. He was master of several languages like Persian, Chagatai, Sanskrit and Hindi. To augment his salary, he started writing Hindi Couplets for NCERT books.

He was a contemporary of Tulsidas and both would exchange notes. You could call them today’s Gulzar and Javed Akhtar. Although a Muslim, he was a devotee of Lord Krishna and wrote poetry dedicated to Him. The reason could be owing to his maternal lineage tracing back to Jadaun Rajputs and Yadavas.

History again has a way of repeating unflinchingly in gory ways. Just like Rahim’s father Bairam Khan tutored Akbar and was unceremoniously disposed off in an ambush in Gujarat for his efforts, Rahim tutored Akbar’s son Jahangir. For his efforts, Jahangir had Rahim’s two sons killed and their bodies left to rot at Khooni Darwaza opposite Feroz Shah Kotla. Jahangir was simply annoyed that Rahim supported Jahangir’s eldest son Khusrau to succeed Akbar.

Khan-i-Khanan Tomb

Khan-i-Khanan Tomb

Another View

Another View

Stripped Exterior

Stripped Exterior

During his trips to Delhi, Mirza Khan marvelled at the beauty of the recently built Humayun Tomb. He figured that he would build something similar for his wife; just like Bu Halima did in her husband Humayun’s memory. Built in 1598, about 30 years after Humayun’s Tomb, the structure and planning of Khan-i-Khanan Tomb is similar but on a much smaller scale. The tomb, like Humayun Tomb is faced with red sandstone and white marble. The high dome has decorated plaster work. On his death Rahim Khan was also buried here along with his wife and sons.

Mirza Khan’s cenotaph lies on the first floor. The tomb was stripped of its sandstone and marble for building the Safdurjung Tomb – a pattern repeated earlier by Sher Shah Suri who dismantled Siri Fort to build Shergarh and Shahjahan who walked away with Feroz Shah Kotla to build Shahjahanabad.



Pigeon for Company

Pigeon for Company

The chain of inspiration for building tombs for spouses continued and later Shahjahan taking a cue from Rahim Khan built a popular tomb in Agra for his wife.

Today, the Khan-i-Khanan Tomb sits on prime real estate in East Nizamuddin. The lawns are lush and well maintained. Since it is a ticketed monument and that too in the shadow of Humayun Tomb, it does not get many visitors. Most people driving on the busy Mathura Road are too busy negotiating the traffic to look. Few who do, look at the tomb with some bewilderment. People are not sure what to make of the stripped exterior. The tomb looks like a once rich person who has been dealt a bad hand and all that is left now is a tattered coat and some old glory. It looks both tragic and endearing – just like Rahim’s life.

View from the Road

View from the Road

Come and spend some time among the scarred and stripped walls. You just might hear poetry and couplets wafting in the air.
Getting There: As you drive on Mathura Road from Subz Burj roundabout towards Nizamuddin Railway Station, the tomb lies on the left.


  • Thanks for sharing, I passed by this Tomb hundreds of times but never knew the story behind it.

    • Nirdesh Singh says:

      Hi Praveen,

      Yes it an ignored structure especially in the shadow of Humayun Tomb where all the visitors go. Yes, every monument has reams of stories.

      Thanks for reading!

  • Rakesh Bawa says:

    Nirdesh Ji, Namaskar.
    Apart from his popularity as a poet, Abdur Rahim Khan-i-Khana also commandered Akbar’s forces on his Deccan military sojourns twice.

    • Nirdesh Singh says:

      Rakeshji, Namaskar,

      So apart from being a poet and scholar, he was a warrior too. Bairam Khan would be happy that his son got some genes from him too!

      Thanks for reading.

  • Pooja says:

    Dear Nirdesh,

    Your post has made this tomb alive !

    Very Informative Post!

  • Nirdesh Singh says:

    Thanks, Pooja!

    Story behind an unknown tomb does make it come alive. The tomb inmates want us to find their stories and share.

  • Hi Nirdesh… Another very well narrated post with garnishing of humor…Love the part about NCERT books, poor Rahim… I think he never got a penny from NCERT :)

    • Nirdesh Singh says:

      Hi DT,

      Yes, NCERT should be giving loyalties to Rahim’s estate!

      But what I dont understand is why we were never taken to this place during our school picnics just to bring in this connection and then maybe we could have enjoyed the classes more.

      Thanks for reading and for enjoying the humour!

  • Ram Dhall says:

    Dear Nirdeh ji,

    I have been following your brilliantly written and well researched posts and am thoroughly impressed by your impeccable style of writing. The ease with which you handle these complex subjects is simply remarkable.

    At your ease, please try to browse through the following link:

    Warm regards

    • Nirdesh Singh says:

      Dear Sir,

      My day was made when I saw your comment. You are a legend here on Ghumakkar and I am a great fan of yours. We all would love to have you write more posts.

      I have gone through your posts several times and they are a great source of inspiration to visit these places and write about them.

      Thanks much for your effusive praise.

      Books by William Dalrymple, Lucy Peck and Khushwant Singh are a great source of information and inspiration. During my internet searches, I am finding more and more people going around Delhi to discover the different eras with their blogsites and Flickr photostreams. I have barely scratched the surface yet. Winters turned the photos hazy and now the summer heat took toll on me today during my expedition in Lal Kot. We people do not have it so easy! And these passionate persons are quite young which is encouraging in the sense that our heritage will be in safe hands in the future.

      Thanks again Sir!

  • AUROJIT says:

    Hi Nirdesh,

    a very interesting piece on Delhi history !!

    Chronoligal placement of Khan-e-khana between Humayun’s and the subsequent copy in Agra is enlightening. Humayun’s – yes, the guide repeatedly refrains to the fact of this being the ‘original Agra thing’.

    Enjoyed the post.


    • Nirdesh Singh says:

      Hi Aurojit,

      Thanks for the appreciation!

      Yes, Taj Mahal is supposed to be inspired by Humayun Tomb. Of course, Shah Jahan went all out to better it and some. Wives building for their husbands, husbands building for their wives, and later son building Bibi Ka Makbara for his mother.

  • Vipin says:

    Bravo, Nirdesh Ji for keeping the glory of Rahim alive by inspiring us with this beautiful post! This post started on a nostalgic note, took us back in school days when we would recite Rahim enjoyingly…Your posts convey how much you adore history and these historical structures…

    I am sure a stroll with you in any of these monuments (or some other less explored ones) will be much more rewarding than flipping through history books…let’s see how fortunate we are with this…:)…we should at least have some benefit of being a Delhiites…

    Thank you so much for sharing!

    • Nirdesh Singh says:

      Hi Vipin,

      Thanks for liking the post!

      I had no idea about the history behind the monument when I visited. I was trying to do the Humayun Tomb complex. But then the history started spilling out and I thought Rahim was more interesting than Humayun!

      Monuments are disappearing fast if you read today’s TOI so I am trying to catch some of them before they are gone. I have spent last few Sundays in Mehrauli and I am just about half done. That place is so rich. We can plan something for next Sunday if it is okay with you.

      • Vipin says:

        Thank you very much for your kind invitation Nirdesh Ji…Mehrauli site is also one of my favourite especially the baoris around…can you please message me your phone # on my cell 9560692929?…Next weekend I have plans to explore Chand Boari and Bhandarej Baori…if that is dropped, i would certainly like to go with you…

  • Harish Bhatt says:

    What a beautiful piece of writing. Informative as well entertaining. I sometimes feel ashamed that living in Delhi for more than 35 years, I have not visited such places not even Redfort. The only historic place I remember I have visited in Delhi is Qutub Minar with my father, grandmother and younger sister about 20+ years ago. What a shame on me

    Oh I just remembered I have been to Lodhi garden once with my girlfriend in school days ;-)

    • Nirdesh Singh says:

      Hi Harish,

      Thanks for the appreciation!

      It is never tool late to start visiting the monuments. I am doing it for the first time!

      You are right, nobody is interested in looking at the monuments in Lodhi Gardens. People are just looking for a bush to hide behind! However, things might have changed. Two weeks ago there were large number of families enjoying the pleasant sunday evening.

      Read up on stuff and then go. It is more interesting then. Hope to read your experiences soon.

      Thanks Again!

  • Rajat says:

    Dear All

    This is really a very interesting and learning content. Thanks.


  • Nirdesh Singh says:

    Thanks Rajat!

    Hope you become a regular visitor to Ghumakkar!

  • Nandan Jha says:

    For harsh summers, here is what Sir Rahim said

    “????? ???? ????? ??? ???? ?? ???
    ???? ??? ?? ???? ???? ???? ???”

    Interestingly, I got this post while I was away in NorthEast. I returned on March 30th, 2013 and while on Bara Pula (after the glittering Jawahar Lal Nehru Stadium, owing to celebrity soccer match) noticed the blue sign board saying, something of the tune if “Rahim Khan-e-Khanan” and at that point of night, it sounded surreal. I had just read the story on my phone a while back (it was not yet published).

    You bring life to Delhi and what a joy to see Ram’s comment. After all it is a country of Ram and Rahim.

    Thank you Nirdesh. I would have taken the Sunday Offer (we should find a way to share this info in a better way, read and noted) but I am not in town.

    Wishing you all of Dilli.

    • Nirdesh Singh says:

      Hi Nandan,

      Thanks for the tip! So apt.

      Now you are telling me when I almost fell dehydrated among the Lal Kot ruins, face and hands scratched by the thornbush! The summer sprang suddenly on me. I think I am getting old.

      Oh so they have a sign on Barapul. The tomb lies metres away from the flyover. The story behind the tomb needs to be promoted.

      Yes, we can have a Ghumakkar get together in Delhi sometime.

      Loved your comment on Ram and Rahim!


  • jaishree says:

    Hi Nirdesh

    Peeled layers of plaster and scaffolding of words to reveal the layers of history! Truly Nirdesh-esque.

    • Nirdesh Singh says:

      Hi Jaishree,

      Just like during monument restoration, layers of dirt are removed to reveal the original beautiful inlaid work, history also comes alive when layers of stories are peeled to reveal amazing interconnections and perspectives.

      Thanks for reading and the appreciation!

      When are we reading your stories under the stars and on the beaches?

  • Abheeruchi says:

    Hi Nirdesh,

    Very nice post.

    Honestly speaking this is for the time I am reading your post completely as always whenever I see tomb and History I get scared :)

    Thoda der se hi sahe par apki ye post padne ke baad lag raha hai ki apki baaki posts bhi padhu.

    Story or what you call History and pictures in post are superb. Initial thanks should go to Ashutosh Gowarikar that I know name Bairam Khan.

    Liked the NCERT Books part.Also start with such a beautiful doha is really good.

    OVERALL, I really liked your post and enjoyed each and every word and pictures.

    Even I crossed this tomb many times but never thought that we can even go in.

    Thanks for sharing and apologies for not taking too much intrest in your previous posts. :)

    Keep posting

  • Nirdesh Singh says:

    Hi Abhee,

    Thanks for all the praise!

    Yes, history has a way of growing on you and so it takes time. I am glad this post got you interested in history and particularly of Delhi.

    Yes, Jodha Akbar does fill in a lot of dots – Bairam Khan is buried in Patan in Gujarat, Adham Khan who was dropped from Agra Fort, his tomb is in Mehrauli; Akbar’s wet nurse Maham Anga mosque is opposite Purana Qila; the guy Adham Khan killed, Atagah Khan his tomb is in Nizamuddin Village and so it goes on!

    My history posts on Delhi will continue.

    Thanks again!

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