Have you seen Sonipat’s precious tomb?

Sonipat is an unlikely travel recommendation unless you are India’s next wrestling hope, but I went there one November morning six years ago in pursuit of Khwaja Khizr’s tomb, relying entirely on a dull black-and-white picture in Archaeological Survey of India’s Inventory of Monuments and Sites of National Importance.

The town is one of the ‘Pats’ or ‘Prasthas’ of Mahabharata — Baghpat, Panipat, Indraprastha — but notorious now for other reasons. However, since I came away without harm to life, limb or property, I think you can safely venture there too.

Only, don’t ask for Khwaja Khizr. Say ‘Khidar’ instead and a rickshawala will take you to the tomb outside Jatwara Mohalla, a cluster of unplastered hovels painted over with signs for English classes, at the edge of town.

Khizr3‘Khidar’, apparently, is a legitimate variation of the name in countries as far away as Turkey, where it denotes the revered ‘Green Man’ of Islamic tradition. In Sonipat, though, it marks the burial place of a Lodhi noble.

The tomb is impressively big, architecturally ornate and better preserved than most Lodhi-era buildings in Delhi. In crowded Sonipat, it is a place for community life. Groups of boys play cricket and football while elders sun themselves.

Khizr5The tomb projects Pathan strength in every detail — raised construction, clean lines, restrained ornamentation and the heavy dome. The naked stone of the outer walls heightens the sense of raw, pure, natural beauty, and the gateway to the south raises it above its Lodhi-era peers in Delhi.

Surprisingly, precious little is known about such an impressive tomb and the man buried inside. Archaeological Survey of India says it was built during 1522–24 (shortly before Babur routed the Lodhis in Panipat) and Khwaja Khizr was a ‘local celebrity’, son of one Darya Khan Sarwani.

Khizr2I have found scattered details in old books online. For instance, the tomb was decorated with blue tiles — now missing — and it was repaired in 1921–22 at a cost of Rs 130 although the sanctioned amount was Rs 167. Muhammad Siraju-’l-Islam’s 1960 thesis The Lodi Phase of Indo-Islamic Architecture says Darya Khan Sarwani was an influential noble in the court of Sikandar Lodhi. Abdulla’s Tarikh-i-Daudi also mentions a D K Sarwani who caused great mischief with a swing of his bat while playing polo with the sultan in Sambhal.

Khizr1.JPGAs for DK’s son Khizr Khan, Islam says he too was a courtier but became a saint who came to be known as Khwaja Khizr. The tomb’s inscriptions record that construction began in 1520–21, after Khizr Khan’s death, and was finished in 1523–24. The builder, Langar Khan Khizr, was also a Lodhi noble related to the deceased.

The locals still worship the saint, and you may not wear shoes beyond the tomb’s threshold. Bright kerchiefs tied to the carved screens signify prayers raised and wishes granted. You, the heritage traveller, will return satisfied too.

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