Located in the east of Nizamuddin village and approached under an unfinished Mughal-era gateway, Chausath Khamba is primarily the tomb of Mirza Aziz Koka, son of Ataga Khan (Akbar’s Prime Minister) and Jiji Anga (Akbar’s wet nurse). Constructed in white marble and set within an enclosed courtyard, this was intended to be a family mausoleum and indeed there are several beautifully carved cenotaphs inside. Chausath means ‘sixty-four’, this tomb gets that name from having sixty-four pillars. At first glance it’s easy to think there are in fact far less pillars, until you realise that the outside row on each side has double pillars.
Aziz Koka’s rise in the Mughal court started in 1573 when he was made governor of Gujarat after Akbar had conquered the region. A few years later he was made governor of Bihar, which heralded the start of some tension between Aziz Koka and Akbar. When ordered to quash a rebellion in Bengal, Aziz Koka deferred any action until the rebels began to take Bihar nearly a year later, and similarly he was very reluctant to act when ordered to make conquests into the Deccan in 1586.
By all accounts Akbar was very lenient to Aziz Koka despite his refusal to follow orders by his emperor, most likely because they were childhood playmates. Their somewhat strained relationship continued nonetheless, with Aziz Koka opposing Akbar’s law to brand all horses, and perhaps most notably refusing to prostrate as a ritual in Akbar’s new court. In 1592 he was summoned to Akbar’s court, but chose instead to make a pilgrimage to Mecca. It took Akbar only 18 months to forgive him and reinstate his positions.
During Jahangir’s reign Aziz Koka lost many of his positions, having supported the rebellion of his son-in-law Khusrau Mirza (Jahangir’s eldest son) which was ultimately crushed in 1606. Khusrau was blinded and then executed, but Aziz Koka escaped any serious punishment for lack of evidence against him and his rank was restored in 1608. Aziz Koka was renowned as an intellectual and in later life was appointed tutor to Prince Dawar Bakhsh.
Chausath Khamba is a beautiful and elegant structure, somewhat reminiscent of Sheikh Ahmad Khattu’s tomb at Sarkhej, just outside Ahmedabad. It does make me wonder if Aziz Koka drew inspiration from that building when designing his own mausoleum, in particular the exterior screens that are extremely similar. Architecturally, the Chausath Khamba typifies a style that had developed towards the end of Jahangir’s reign, marking the transition away from Akbar’s heavy red sandstone structures towards the light white marble buildings of Shah Jahan.
Conservation work was undertaken here in 2010 after engineers from the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) discovered seepage in a number of the coves. Three teams of stonemasons repaired twenty-five covers over a period of four years. As seems to be the case for all monuments repaired by the AKTC, they have done a superb job.
Nizamuddin Village seems to be teeming with monuments that I have yet to document. I’m very much looking forward to a time when I can return to Delhi and resume my exploring.
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