Delhi: Thru its lesser known heritage
DELHI or DILLI (as many of us like to call it) is a city that is a juxtaposition of its own past, present & future. This relatively small piece of land (1484 square kilometers) has witnessed countless battles, accessions, rise & subsequent falls of dynasties, birth & death of famous as well as infamous individuals who changed the course of history with their acts & sheer will and last but not the least, the city of Delhi, in a way, has always been a flash-point towards conquering the rest of India!
It is therefore only natural that wherever you stand in Delhi, you would be only but a stone-throwing distance away from one monument or the other. However, with changing times & rapid urbanization, we are losing our priceless heritage specimen to the onslaught of growing population & other social factors (which are out of the scope of this project). As subsequent civilizations & dynasties came & ruled on this land, they gradually subsumed whatever was left here from their predecessors which is why there has been a heavy amalgamation of the culture as well as architectural sense that we see in the monuments of Delhi.
So, why this project & what is the idea behind it? Being born and brought up in Delhi, I have always had a special leaning towards learning more and more about the vast expansive history of this city of about 5,000 years, which stretches right from the Vedic times of Mahabharat to the British era. And I have personally witnessed how many of these architectural wonders, which have stood the test of time over the last several centuries, are slowly but surely getting lost with more pace in recent times than ever. So, the idea behind this project which is titled, “Delhi: thru its lesser known heritage” is to raise awareness about Delhi’s monuments that are relatively obscure but all the more important so that they could be brought to the attention of the mainstream & eventually be saved and restored to their full glory. I have coupled every photo with interesting anecdotes so as to raise interest & provide knowledge about the monument that is shown therein. After all, it is our moral duty to conserve our heritage for ourselves as well as for the coming generation so that they could also learn where we came from and how our present has been molded by our rich past.
I would like to ask all the viewers to share stories with me about more such places connected with the history of Delhi so that it may become part of this project.
As the scope of this project is wide & will certainly require resources & gaining relevant permissions from concerned departments/authorities, it would be a huge help if someone could financially sponsor this project.
The project isn’t in any particular chronological order as of now but as its size would grow then we can make it more linear for ease of understanding. Now, without any further delay, let’s dive right into it.
Tucked away at the end of a long snaky road opposite Kashmere Gate is this old dilapidated building which is even today known among locals as “Puraani Kacheri” or Old Court. The historical significance of this place was recently revealed to me by my father on one of our excursions around Delhi. It was here that Bhagat Singh, the revolutionary firebrand, was brought to trial for one of his court hearings. One couldn’t help but imagine him walking across this hallway, all those years ago!
Not far from here, is another place having a big link to this story & it’s known as Qudsia Bagh (will photograph it soon). Apparently, the members of Bhagat Singh’s revolutionary group hatched a plan for his escape at Qudsia Bagh when he (Bhagat) was about to be presented at Puraani Kacheri, for his court hearing. However, that plan didn’t see the light of day!
One more place having a connection with Bhagat Singh & Delhi is a small room at the Viceregal Lodge estate, which now houses the office of Delhi University’s Vice chancellor, for it was there that Bhagat Singh was kept for a day during his court trial. That room is currently out of bounds for general public.
Kashmere Gate is one of the surviving gates of Shahjahanabad, the walled city of Delhi which was founded by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan (King of the world) when he decided to shift his capital from Agra. The construction of the city was completed in 1648 & it remained the capital until the fall of Mughal empire in 1857.
Kashmere Gate was the scene of an important assault by the British Army during Indian rebellion of 1857, when on the morning of 14 September 1857 the bridge and the left leaf of the Gate were destroyed using gunpowder, starting the final assault on the rebels towards the end of siege of Delhi.
A few steps from the gate, inside the walled city is St. James Church which was the first church in the city, built in 1931.
Another few hundred meters from St. James Church is the present day Ambedkar University which has a hidden gem inside its campus: the Dara Shikoh Library. Dara Shikoh was the eldest son of Shah Jahan & the heir apparent to the Mughal throne. He was a learned scholar who collected several manuscripts in his time & even got many Hindi religious books such as Bhagavat Geeta translated into Urdu so that more people read them. As fate would have it, Aurangzeb defeated, imprisoned & killed his elder brother, Dara Shikoh & ascended the Mughal throne after displacing Shah Jahan.
Sikandar Lodhi’s Tomb
The Lodhi Garden in Delhi is one of the most visited places by people of all ages; the main attractions being Muhammad Shah Sayyid’s tomb, along with Sheesh Gumbad & Bada Gumbad. However, there is one more tomb here that lies almost hidden at the extreme opposite corner of the garden, the one that contains the grave of Sultan Sikander Lodi of the Lodhi dynasty (1451-1526). It was Sikandar Lodi who founded Agra in 1504 and shifted the capital there from Delhi. He was also a poet of repute, composing under the pen-name of Gulruk. He was a patron of learning and ordered Sanskrit works in medicine to be translated into Persian. He is regarded as the ablest, the greatest and the most successful Sultan of his dynasty. His greatest achievement was the conquest & annexation of Bihar.
Ghiyas-ud-din Tughluq’s Tomb
I had shot this tomb at Tughlaqabad fort a while back for another project of mine that aims to showcase the last resting places of the rulers of Delhi Sultanate (Mamluk, Khilji, Tughlaq, Sayyid & Lodhi dynasties). The photos of that project were processed in monochrome however I always wanted to show this monument in its full vibrance. So, here it is!
The tomb at Tughlaqabad has three graves that are of Ghiyas-ud-din-Tughlaq (the founder of his dynasty), Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq & his wife Makhdum-i-Jahan.
History tells us that the Tughlaqabad fort was cursed by Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya when he famously said, “ya rahe ujad, ya base Gujjar.” The literal translation being that either it will remain inhabitable or only the members of Gujjar tribe shall live here. As fate would have it, after Ghiyas-ud-din died, Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq shifted back his capital to Delhi & Tughluqabad was left in ruins. And today, the nearby area of the fort is still inhabited by Gujjars.
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad’s Grave
Once, someone asked Maulana if he has ever loved someone in his life? And Maulana replied poetically:
Andaaz-e-Junoon kaun sa hum mein nahi Majnu,
Par teri tarah ishq ko ruswaa nahi karte
Mohiuddin Ahmad Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, the first education minister of Independent India, was a luminary, activist but more than anything, he was a poet of great repute, writing under his pen name, “Azad” which literally translates to “Free”. An ardent supporter of the Khilafat movement (1919-24), he then came in close proximity of Mahatma Gandhi & remained a life-long follower of his ideas of non-violence & promotion of Swadeshi products.
An unparalleled icon of Hindu-Muslim unity, he also became the President of the Indian National Congress from 1940 to 1945 during which the Quit India movement was launched. He is also credited with the establishment of the Indian Institutes of Technology and the foundation of the University Grants Commission.
His grave is situated right next to the wall of Jama Masjid in Delhi (India).
There lived a king whose history has always been overshadowed by his father as well as his own son. He spent a major part of his life on the run from his enemies, crossing deserts & mountain ranges, all the while working towards regaining his lost kingdom. He used to carry his family’s most precious jewels in a small satchel which he once left at a riverside in his absent-mindedness while offering prayers. To his good fortune, a local boy followed his trail & returned the satchel without looking inside. That little satchel contained the Koh-i-noor diamond & the king I am talking about is Nasir-ud-din Muhammad, better known as Humayun, the son of Babur & father of Akbar.
Humayun’s life story is no less dramatic than modern day movies; he was overthrown shortly after Babur died & spent the next several years on the run. To seek help, he went all the way to Persia (modern day Iran) & was able to make the Shah Tahmasp of the Safavid dynasty agree to lend him support in his endeavor of defeating Sher Shah Suri.
Humayun’s own brothers were up in arms against him however, one by one, he was slowly able to spin all the odds in his favor & after years of exile & war, he sat once again on Babur’s throne.
Humayun died shortly after falling off the stairs of his beloved library, the Sher Mandal at Old Fort, where he used to study about astronomy & do stargazing, among other things.
A view of the Miharb inside Qila-i-Kuhna mosque at Purana Qila (Old Fort), Delhi. A mihrab is a niche in the wall of a mosque, at the point nearest to Mecca, towards which the congregation faces to pray.
After Farid Khan (popularly known as Sher Shah Suri) defeated Humayun, he occupied Purana Qila (Old Fort) in Delhi.
The name Sher (means lion or tiger in the older pronunciation of Persian) was conferred upon him for his courage, when as a young man, he killed a tiger that leapt suddenly upon the king of Bihar. Upon his victory, he is believed to have built this mosque in 1540 for his private use. There is also another view among historians stating that although Sher Shah Suri completed the mosque, it was Humayun who had originally designed & started its construction. And the marble work can be attributed to his son, Akbar because the geometric works are of his time and not of pre-Akbar era.
Ashokan Pillar at Northern Ridge
More than 650 years ago from today, two pillars were found (one at Ambala & other at Meerut) that bore elaborate markings in an unknown script. The pillars had an immaculately polished surface & people all around started coming up with stories about their origin & meaning of the inscriptions that they carried over them.
These were in fact Ashokan pillars that dated back to 3rd century BC & they (along with several others) were erected on orders of King Ashoka (Maurya dynasty) throughout his kingdom, after he adopted Buddhism. The script that was used to make the markings was Brahmi script & it was not earlier than early 19th century that an Englishman by the name of James Prinsep (founder of Asiatic Society of Bengal) was able to decipher it. The markings, as James Prinsep found, were in fact edicts that carried the message of Buddhism, non-violence & they mentioned one name without fail: Devanampiya Piyadasi, which literally translates to, “Beloved of the Gods, He who looks on with affection” & this was the name that Ashoka had adopted for himself. The ground-breaking importance of this moment in history when the edicts were successfully translated should be gauged by the fact that before that time, all the history of King Ashoka, his legacy & in fact even Buddhism were long forgotten & whatever we now know about these things is thru these pillars and other Ashokan rock carvings form that era.
Going back to the story when the pillars were re-discovered almost 7 centuries ago, this news reached the ears of Feroz Shah Tughlaq (Delhi Sultanate). Being a keen historian & architect of some degree, he ordered these pillars to be transported to Delhi at once while they were wrapped in silk & rolled over a bed of cotton. One pillar was erected at Sultan’s palace in Kotla Feroz Shah (Delhi) & the other one (here seen in the photograph) was erected in Northern Ridge, close to his hunting palace where today’s Hindu Rao hospital exists. This pillar was blown into 5 pieces when an explosion took place near it during the reign of Farrukshiar (1713-19).
St. James’ Church
It was the year 1800 & a man laid wounded on a battlefield in a remote town inside Tonk, Rajasthan. He vowed to build a church if he survived. That man was Colonel James Skinner aka Sikandar Sahib & he was an Anglo-Indian mercenary, most famously known for two cavalry regiments he raised for the British, which are still part of the Indian army.
And the church he built between 1826-36, at his own expense, is the St. James’ Church that happened to be the very first church of Delhi, situated near Kashmere Gate. Skinner is also reported to have built a temple and a mosque, though details of them are unknown. The church contains several graves of the members of Skinner family, including that of James Skinner himself. He died at Hansi, Haryana on 4 December 1841, at the age of 64 & was first buried at Cantonment burial ground in Hansi & after a period of 40 days was disinterred & his coffin was brought to Delhi escorted by 200 men of Skinner’s Horse cavalry regiment. He was buried in St. James’ Church on 19 January 1842 in a vault of white marble immediately below the Communion table.
The Old Fort in Delhi has probably the most disputed history that one may come across. Some people are of the view that it was constructed by Raja Anangpal Tomar, about 1,000 years ago & named it Indra Path, although this is highly doubtful. On the other hand, there are historians who believe that Humayun built it in the middle of his city called Dinpanah. And the last proclamation towards the construction of this fort is put forth in the name of Delhi’s first Afghan ruler, Sher Shah Suri, who, after defeating Humayun, built a new fort here & named it Sher Garh.
The structure in the photograph is the southern gate of the fort & it is known as Humayun Gate. Apart from that, there are two more gates in existence today: Bada Darwaza & Talaqi Gate.
India’s first Prime minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, lived & breathed his last in what used to be called as the Flagstaff House. The building was the winter headquarters & residence of the Commander-in-Chief of Forces in India during the British rule. After India gained independence in 1947, the building was re-christened as, “Teen Murti Bhavan” which literally translates to, “Three Statues House”. So why this name & where exactly are these three statues? The answer is right in front of its expansive grounds at the road junction itself where a memorial built by the British sculptor, Leonard Jennings, stands in all its glory. The memorial comprises of life-size statues of three soldiers, and was built in 1922 in the memory of the Indian soldiers from three Indian princely states, namely Jodhpur State, Hyderabad State and Mysore State who fought the World War I alongside the British 15th Imperial Service Cavalry Brigade in Haifa, which was then part of the Ottoman Empire.
The Teen Murti Chowk was recently re-named as Haifa Chowk when Benjamin Netanyahu had last come on a visit to India.
More often than not, history has been written with blood. And when it comes to the history of Delhi, one monument stands apart from the rest, for it has been witness to immense bloodshed & heart-wrenching stories.
Khooni Darwaza (literally translates to The Bloody Gate) is one of the 13 surviving gates of Delhi, located on Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg opposite Feroz Shah Kotla cricket ground.
It’s first tryst with bloodshed happened in the time of Emperor Jehangir who succeeded his father (Akbar) to the Mughal throne, much to the chagrin of some of Akbar’s Navratnas. One of those people opposing his elevation was Abdul Rahim Khan-I-Khana, so Jehangir had two of Abdul Rahim’s sons executed at this gate after which their bodies were left to rot there so that an example could be made out of them.
The second incident happened in the times of Aurangzeb when he defeated his elder brother & heir-apparent, Dara Shukoh in battle to claim his right on the throne. Dara Shukoh was paraded on the streets of Chandni Chowk in his tattered clothes while the public lamented around their favorite Shahzada, after which his head was cut-off & hanged at Khooni Darwaza.
However, the most despairing incident that this gate witnessed happened during the revolt of 1857. After the British forces recaptured Delhi, they encircled the camp of Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar who was in hiding at Humayun’s Tomb along with his family. On their way back to Old Delhi, two of the emperor’s sons & one of his grandson were shot at point blank range at this very spot, after which their bodies were put on display at the Chandni Chowk Kotwali.
When Firuz Shah Tughluq became the Sultan in 1351, he was faced by several rebellions all over his kingdom & the treasury was close to bankruptcy, all thanks to his predecessor, Muhammad bin Tuhgluq aka “Pagla Sultan”. However, all these hardships didn’t stop Firuz Shah from spending some in time leisurely activities, one of them being hunting for game. Firuz Shah built several hunting lodges all across his capital, one of them being this (recently restored) shikargah known as Kushak Mahal, which is situated on the grounds of Teen Murti Bhavan (home to India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru). The Sultan would live here for a couple of days along with some of his courtiers while hunting for game such as deer, etc.
One day Ghazi Malik was strolling along with the Sultan on a rocky patch of land when he advised the king that he should build a fort there which would act as a barrier for incoming Mongol attacks that were getting ever so frequent with every passing month. The Sultan laughingly joked that when Ghazi Malik would become the king then he should build his capital here on this barren land.
As fate would have it, Ghazi Malik did get his chance to sit on the throne of Delhi Sultanate in the year 1320 & took the name, Ghiyas-ud-din Tughluq. This dynasty ruled for 93 years & gave history some of the most memorable rulers that ever set foot on earth.
Coming back to the city, Ghiyas-ud-din, on becoming the Sultan, built the city of Tughluqabad within 4 years just as he had envisioned all those years ago. However, the city was never fully populated & it was finally abandoned after merely 15 years. Some say it was due to shortage of water however there is an alternative folklore that suggests it was due to a curse that was put on the city by the Sufi saint Sheikh Nizamuddin.
The story goes that Ghiyas-ud-din had made it mandatory for all the workers in Delhi to be employed in the construction of his fort. But at the same time, Nizamuddin Auliya was building a baoli (step-well), near the saint’s present-day dargah. By day, the city’s laborers worked on the fort; by night, on the baoli. An angry Ghiyas-ud-din forbade the sale of oil to Nizamuddin, so no lamps could light up the construction site at night. The saint then magically turned the water in his tank to oil, and cursed Tughlaqabad:
Ya base Gujar, ya rahe ujar (May this be inhabited by herdsmen or remain unoccupied)
Sawan-Bhadon Pavilions (Red Fort)
When the Revolt of 1857 ended, it was not just an end to an armed revolt that some Indian soldiers had committed against the East India Company; it was in fact an end of the living spirit of Shahjahanabad itself. To add insult to injury, the British forces went on destroying most, if not all, of the heritage in the entire city. Several temples & mosques were either converted into army barracks, store houses or they were blown up. The Fatehpuri Masjid was saved when it was bought by a Hindu Baniya businessman. However, the Red Fort was not so lucky because the British went on destroying almost 90% of the buildings inside the fort. What we see of the Red Fort today is only but a figment of its glory. Now, only a handful of buildings survive, one of them being this pavilion made of marble. It is in fact one of two identical pavilions called the Sawan-Bhadon pavilions which are the two rain months of the Hindu calendar.
Zafar Mahal (Red Fort)
Zafar Mahal is one of the last few remaining remnants of Mughal architectural glory inside Red Fort, Delhi. This structure was built during the reign of the last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar in 1842 & was named after him. It stands in the middle of a water tank & is made out of red sandstone. Originally, a bridge used to be the entry way into the pavilion but it was probably destroyed after the revolt of 1857 when the British forces re-occupied the Red Fort. The water tank around the pavilion was then used as a swimming pool by the British troops.
After successfully gaining victory on one of his Deccan campaigns, Sultan Ala-ud-din Khilji (Delhi Sultanate) started the construction of a victory tower in 1311 that would be double the height of Qutub Minar. He also executed the plan and increased the size of the enclosures of the Quwwat-Ul-Islam Masjid (present in the same compound) by four times its original size to provide a ceremonial entrance gateway on either sides of the mosque.
The tower was christened as Alai Minar, after the name of the Sultan & the construction was only completed to the first story before the death of the Sultan in 1316 AD. Further construction of the magnanimous tower was never continued by the successive Sultans & today it stands incomplete, thereby giving a glimpse of what it could have been if only it was ever completed!
Tomb of Iltutmish
The beginnings of the life of Iltutmish, third Sultan of Delhi, were somewhat similar to Qutub-ud-Din-Aybak. He was sold into slavery at an early age. Iltutmish was taken to the great slave market of Bukhara & later to Ghazni where he was purchased by the court of the then ruler of Ghurid empire, Muhammad Ghori. Earning some reputation in his court, he was quickly appointed personal attendant of Ghori. Ghori’s deputy & former slave, Qutub-ud-Din Aybak, bought Iltutmish at quite a high price from Ghori. Iltutmish rose quickly in Aybak’s service & married Aybak’s daughter, Qutub Begum.
In recognition of his services, he was, by Mohammad Ghori’s orders, manumitted (released from slavery). On his accession after defeating Aram Shah, he faced severe challenges to his rule. In the aftermath of Aybak’s death, the Ghurid dominion in India had divided into four factions. Iltutmish mounted several expeditions to gain back territories & was finally able to assert his dominance. The Sultanate expanded definitively under his rule right in to Bengal, as well as to the south of Gangetic plains. He also shifted his capital from Lahore to Delhi.
It was also during this time that the Mongol threat under Genghis Khan appeared for the first time over the banks of Indus river. The Mongols sacked the Khwarazmid Empire & forced its ruler (Jalal-ad-Din) to flee to Punjab. Jalal-ad-Din sought an alliance, even an asylum, with Iltutmish but was turned down as Iltutmish didn’t wish to get into a conflict with Genghis Khan.
In 1228-29, Iltutmish received emissaries from the Abbasid Caliph Al-Mustansir, thereby getting political & religious legitimacy & prestige. The famous poet, Amir Khusrao, was a poet in the service of his court, as well, and has mentioned the Sultan in verses often. He is said to have completed the construction of the Qutub Minar, erected by Qutub ud-Din Aybak, and expanded the Qutub complex and the Quwwat al-Islam Mosque therein. He also brought the famous Iron Pillar from Udaigiri & installed it in the courtyard of the mosque. In 1236, Iltutmish died & was buried in the Qutub Complex.
If you are adventurous enough to tread the whole circumference of the Qutub complex, you would come across this pavilion made of red sandstone. You may get an impression that its design is somewhat out of place, considering how it doesn’t go with the architectural ethos of Qutub Minar itself & you are in fact right in that judgement. This pavilion is actually not a pavilion at all but a cupola that once rested on top of the Qutub Minar. How did it get up there & why in the world is it not on top anymore? The answer lies in this little story:
Qutub Minar has had multiple lighting strikes ever since it was constructed. Sultan Firoz Shah Tughluq & Sikander Lodhi have had repair work done on the tower in their own times. However, an earthquake in 1803 completely damaged the earlier cupola that was installed on top by Firoz Shah. Being the tallest brick minaret in the world has its disadvantages after all! Coming back to the story, Lord Wellesley (the then British Governor General of India) authorized Major Robert Smith (who also built Delhi’s first Church – St. James’ Church at Kashmere Gate) to carry out the repair work.
At the end of the repair-work in 1828, Major Smith had gone way ahead than he was asked to by completely re-inventing the design of the new cupola which looked nothing like an Indo-Islamic specimen as it ought to have been. The magnanimous tower of Islamic victory had been topped with a Hindu styled cupola! The prospect was so ridiculous and the cupola so out of place, that Lord Hardinge eventually had it taken down in 1848 and placed it on the outer lawns of the Qutub Complex, where it still lies, like an impure, adulterated crown that has fallen off the Minar’s head. It has been called Smith’s Folly ever since.
Adam Khan’s Tomb
History tells us about a tumulus event during the reign of the Mughal emperor, Akbar when his step-brother (Adam Khan) who was the younger son of Maham Anga (Akbar’s wet nurse), murdered Akbar’s favourite General, Ataga Khan in May 1561.
Akbar was so furious with rage, he immediately ordered Adam Khan’s execution by throwing him from the ramparts of Agra Fort. It is said that Adam Khan somehow survived the first fall therefore he was carried back up & then thrown down again after which he died.
The news of her son’s death proved to be too overwhelming for Maham Anga & she died of grief within a few days as well. Later, Akbar commissioned this tomb to be built for Adam Khan in 1562 & it is said that Maham Anga too was buried here as well. The shape of the tomb is octagonal & it is unlike anything that is seen in Mughal architecture, having more resemblance to Lodhi, Sayyid & Sur dynasty tombs which were of the same shape. This design was perhaps designated for traitors because the Mughals considered their predecessors as betrayers & renegades.
In 1830s, a British officer named Blake of Bengal Civil Service, converted this tomb into his residential apartment and removed the graves to make way for his dining hall. Though the officer died soon, it continued to be used as a rest house for many years by the British, and at one point even as a police station and a post office. The tomb was vacated and later restored by the orders of Lord Curzon, and the grave of Adam Khan has since been restored to the site, and lies right below the central dome, though that of his mother Maham Anga never was.
Zafar Mahal (Mehrauli)
“kitnā hai bad-nasīb ‘zafar’ dafn ke liye
do gaz zamīn bhī na milī kū-e-yār meñ”
The final page of the Mughal history in Delhi will be incomplete if it were not for these haunting words of the erstwhile Bādshah Salāmat, Bahādur Shah ‘Zafar’. It is hard to fathom how someone who descended directly from the lineage of Taimur & Genghis Khan, was dethroned, imprisoned, deported & finally left to die away from his first & last love that was Delhi. In the aftermath of re-occupation of Delhi after the revolt of 1857, the British forces unleashed such a naked dance of death & destruction all over Delhi that it comprehensively ended the living ethos of the city itself. The emperor who had unwillingly agreed to be the face of the armed revolt was made the scapegoat & with his departure ended the 332 years of Mughal rule in India. His last wish that remained unfulfilled was to be buried after his death in the precincts of Zafar Mahal in Delhi, which was the last monumental structure built as a summer palace during the fading years of the Mughal era.
However, it all started with the death of Emperor Aurangzeb in 1707 that brought the Mughal juggernaut to a halt in India. What was once a formidable empire, up until the beginning of 18th century, suddenly found itself engrossed with succession battles & power struggles from within & without. The following decades saw several Mughal kings mounting the throne, one after the other & the rise of Sayyid Brothers who effectively decided the fate of Mughal rule in India during their time. Three Mughal emperors of that era are buried at Zafar Mahal:
Bahadur Shah I
Shah Alam II
Akbar Shah II
However, the last Mughal emperor’s wish to be buried here remained unfulfilled. Today, the whole area remains engulfed in an eerie silence which is only broken by some anti-social elements who come there to play cards or do other such activities. However, one can’t help but imagine how beautiful this monument would have looked like back in the day.
Bahadur Shah Zafar wrote this couplet about his beloved Delhi:
ai vaa.e inqalāb zamāne ke jaur se
dillī ‘zafar’ ke haath se pal meñ nikal ga.ī
Alas! What a revolution, due to cruelty of the age
Delhi slipped out of Zafar’s hands in a moment
Sultan Garhi Tomb
Built by Sultan Iltutmish after the death of his eldest son & heir apparent, Nasir-ud-din Mahmud, the Sultangarhi Tomb is a silent spectator to a truly rare & unique event in the history of Delhi Sultanate. Nasir’s death in 1229 made Iltutmish at loss for a successor because he felt that none of his other surviving sons were worthy of the throne.
As fate would have it, Nasir had a sister as well & both of them had grown up together, close to the levers of power in their father’s court, all the while learning everything there was to know about statecraft.
So, in 1230, Iltutmish had to leave the capital to lead an invasion against Gwalior & during this time, his daughter acted as a competent reagent. Iltutmish returned to Delhi in 1231 after having captured Gwalior & he became the first Sultan in history to appoint a woman as his successor when he designated his daughter as his heir apparent. The name of this daughter was Raziyyat-ud-din, more popularly known as Razia Sultana.
The one thing that makes this place apart from the others is that you can actually enter into the graves’ chamber & see the original graves right in front of you. Nowadays, the local population come here to worship & ask for favors in return of which they light incense sticks & scatter sweet eatables for the insects & birds surrounding the area.
Bahlul Khan Lodhi’s Tomb
When someone hears the name of the Lodhi dynasty, the first & probably the last thing that comes into their mind is the Lodhi Garden & its tombs. However, barely anyone knows about this particular tomb which houses the grave of the founder of the last dynasty of Delhi Sultanate: the Lodhi dynasty.
Bahlul Khan Lodi was the nephew and son-in-law of Malik Sultan Shah Lodi, the governor of Sirhind in Punjab, India and succeeded him as the governor during the reign of Sayyid dynasty ruler Muhammad Shah. Muhammad Shah raised him to the status of an emir. He was the most powerful of the Punjab chiefs and a vigorous leader, holding together a loose confederacy of Afghan and Turkish chiefs with his strong personality. He reduced the turbulent chiefs of the provinces to submission and infused some vigor into the government. After the last Sayyid ruler of Delhi, Alam Shah voluntarily abdicated in favor of him, Bahlul Khan Lodi ascended the throne of the Delhi sultanate on 19 April 1451. Bahlul spent most of his time in fighting against the Sharqi dynasty of Jaunpur Sultanate and ultimately annexed it. Bahlul died on July 1489 after a long reign of 38 years.
His tomb at Chirag Delhi is a drab place compared to other mausoleums. It is a square chamber with three arched openings on all sides, surmounted by five domes, the central one being the biggest. Quranic verses are inscribed on the arches but there is hardly any other ornamentation. The descendants of the care-taking family of the tomb still live in the compound & they are not particularly welcoming, so my advise would be to not go there alone.
Ghiyas-ud-din Balban’s tomb
The city of Mehrauli is one of the ancient cities that make up the present state of Delhi. It has the good fate of continuously inhabited to this day, right from the times of Anangpal Tomar who constructed Lal Kot in this vicinity around 731 AD, followed by Prithviraj Chauhan’s reign (12th Century AD) who expanded the fort & called it Qila Rai Pithora. And then came the reign of Delhi Sultanate wherein five subsequent dynasties ruled over Delhi before they were finally displaced by the Mughals.
It is therefore obvious that Mehrauli would be dotting with ruins & monuments of times gone by. One such large swatch of land that has the largest number of such monuments lies right next to the Qutub Minar complex & it is called Mehrauli Archaeological Park.
The photo you see here is of Ghiyas-ud-din Balban’s tomb which is situated inside this area. Balban (reigned: 1266-1287) was one of the Sultans of Delhi & he is regarded as the greatest of the Slave Kings. When he was young, he was captured by the Mongols & sold as a slave. His master then brought him to Delhi in 1232 along with other slaves and all of them were purchased by Iltutmish. Balban belonged to the famous band of 40 group of Turkish slaves of Iltutmish, who at the orders of his own master, Qutub-ud-din Aybak, released him from slavery and brought him up in a manner befitting a prince.
In spite of having only a few military achievements, Ghiyas ud-din made civil and military reforms that earned him the position of the strongest ruler between Iltutmish and later Ala-ud-din Khilji, whose military achievements rest on the order established within the sultanate by Balban.
Today, the tomb of Balban wherein a true arch and a true dome were built for the first time in India, lies within the Mehrauli Archaeological Park in Delhi, adjacent to which stands that of his son, Khan Shahid. The domes of both the tombs have collapsed and the ruined structures were restored in recent years when the conservation work began in the park.
Vishwa Shanti Stupa / World Peace Pagoda
This monument will be the youngest entrant to my ongoing project, having been built in 2007. Vishwa Shanti Stupa / World Peace Pagoda is a monument that inspires universal peace & tranquility. Situated in the Indraprastha Park (Delhi), the Stupa was inaugurated by His Holiness the Dalai Lama himself.
There are several other Shanti Stupas all around the world, built on the same idea of peace & the man behind this idea was Nichidatsu Fujii (Aug 6, 1885 – Jan 9, 1985), a Japanese monk who began constructing Peace Pagodas way back in 1947. The first peace pagodas were built in Hiroshima & Nagasaki where the atomic bombs killed more than 1,50,000 people, almost all of whom were civilians, at the end of World War II.
Fujii returned to India (having already been here earlier in the 30s when he had also met Gandhi) and built a World Peace Pagoda in Rajgir, in 1965. By 2000, at least 80 Peace Pagodas had been built around the world in Europe, Asia, and the United States, though not all are due to his movement.
Imam Zamin’s Tomb
If you are one of those explorers who like to see beyond the obvious then the Qutub Complex is surely going to surprise you with its numerous other monuments, beyond the Qutub Minar itself.
The image here is of one such specimen that is easily overlooked by the visiting crowd. Built right next to the Alai Darwaza (which was commissioned by Ala-ud-din Khilji), this 16th century tomb houses the grave of Mohammad Ali (popularly known as Imam Zamin), an Islamic cleric who had migrated from Turkestan to India during the reign of Sikander Lodhi. In time, he became the Imam (chief priest) of Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque that was commissioned by Qutub-ud-din Aybak, founder of the Mamluk or Slave dynasty. The remains of the mosque can still be seen today in the Qutub complex, right next to the Qutub Minar. Imam Zamin built this tomb for himself between 1537-38 during the reign of Mughal emperor Humayun, long after the original monuments of the complex were constructed. He died in 1539 & is buried at the center of this small mausoleum.
Jahanpanah (literal translation: refuge of the world) was the fourth medieval city of Delhi, established around 1326-27 by Muhammad bin Tughluq of the Delhi Sultanate. This city subsumed the earlier establishments lying between Qila Rai Pithora & Siri Fort. However, not much of this city has survived amidst rampant urban development. One of the handful monuments that do remain from that era is this tomb called, “Lal Gumbad”. At first glance, one could easily see that this tomb’s design was based on Ghiyas-ud-din Tughluq’s tomb, with its slanting red sandstone walls & selective use of marble. The Lal Gumbad, was built as a tomb for Shaikh Kabbiruddin Auliya (1397), a disciple of Sufi saint Sheikh Raushan Chiragh–i–Delhi who himself was the disciple of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. Now, this Lal Gumbad is also known by another name: Rakabwala Gumbad because dacoits had stolen the finial on the roof of the tomb by climbing up over the iron rungs (called ‘Rakab’) on its western wall.
Khirki Masjid (Mosque of Windows) is a peculiar example of amalgamation of Islamic & traditional Hindu architecture, with most of the built-up area being totally covered. The quadrangular shaped mosque was built in the 14th century AD by Khan-i-Jahan Junan Shah, the Prime Minister of Feroz Shah Tughlaq both of whom were intensely committed towards building architectural monuments. The mosque premises contain around 85 domes which add to its beauty and uniqueness.
It was the year 2003 when the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) found a cache of 63 coins in the premises of Khirki Masjid, during a routine cleaning & conservation exercise. And then again in 2018, a larger horde of 254 medieval coins were unearthed by the ASI at the 14th century mosque.
A detailed inspection of the coins later revealed that they belong to the era of Sher Shah Suri & his successors. Be that as it may, the Khirki Masjid is back in focus & if this helps in its conservation then why not!
Tomb of Sheikh Yusuf Qattal
When you take a turn from the Ring Road towards Khirki Masjid (detailed in previous posts), you are bound to notice a fairly large expanse of land with some old heritage buildings splattered around in a not-so-great condition.
This complex is in fact the tomb of Sheikh Yusuf Qattal & it dates back to early 1500s.
He was actually a Sufi saint who is believed to have performed religious devotions at Satpula (a water harvesting dam built during the reign of Muhammad bin Tughlaq). Sheikh Sahab lived to see the transition of power from Ibrahim Lodhi’s reign to that of Zahiruddin Mohammad Babur (the first Mughal Emperor). This photograph is a panoramic view of the interiors of Sheikh Yusuf Qattal’s tomb.
You can see the red sandstone tomb in the frame which has beautifully ornate walls that have Jaali work on them. To its left is the white mosque that was written about in the previous post and in the foreground is one peculiar structure; the grave indicates that it was a mausoleum but the real beauty are the six pillared hexagon pattern that surrounds it. It is safe to assume that there was a ceiling that got destroyed or simply withered away with time. Be that as it may, like I said earlier, the whole complex is in dire need to serious conservation.
As far stories go, the tale of how Moth ki Masjid came to be is a particularly amusing one! Built in the year 1505 during the Lodhi era, the literal translation of the name Moth ki Masjid is “Mosque of Lentil”. And the story goes like this:
One day, Sultan Sikander Lodhi was taking a walk with his Prime Minister, Miya Bhoiya, whence he found a grain of lentil on his path. He then picked it up and gave it to his minister in jest. Miya Bhoiya took it as a gift and planted it in his garden. In time, the single grain went on to become a good harvest of lentil and the minister earned a handsome amount of money from selling the produce. From these proceeds that he had earned, the minister then built this mosque and to honor the gesture of his Sultan giving him that single grain of lentil, the mosque was named, Moth ki Masjid.
This inside section of the entry gate is perhaps the most ornamental section of the complex at Moth ki Masjid. Built during the Lodhi era, one can actually see the amalgamation of architectural practices that synthesized right from the Delhi Sultanate era to that of the Mughal era. You can notice the skeleton of the structure made from rubble masonry, a tell-tale sign of Sultanate era (also seen in Qutub complex, Tughluqabad fort, etc.). The skeleton is then covered with sandstone with basic and yet beautiful carvings. Lastly, a hint of marble usage is also visible which was later picked up by the Mughals and they took it to the next level (e.g.: Tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah, Taj Mahal, etc.)
Moth ki Masjid is built in the very familiar Indo-Islamic style of architecture however what stands out is the fact that it has no minaret(s), calligraphic decorations or embellishments which are otherwise regarded as the traditional features of any mosque.
I will keep on adding more photos & equally interesting stories with time.
Tell me which one you liked the most?
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