Mehrauli Village is one of the more unusual trudges in our list of heritage walks. It is a historic village, the first cities of Delhi came up here, & there is plenty of evidence of prehistoric settlements on the ridge area where Mehrauli area if one is careful enough to look.
Our walk this Sunday covered some of the medieval monuments which stand hidden among modern construction in Mehrauli. We meet at Adam Khan’s tomb which is the most prominent building here. It is a massive tomb which stands right opposite Mehrauli bus terminus. Locally known a bhulbhulaiya or labyrinth, there a many a tales about how people mysteriously disappeared from here. Adam Khan’s brother, Mohd Quli Khan’s tomb lies close by & is covered in our trail in Mehrauli Archaeological Park. The contrast between the 2 tombs is remarkable. Adam Khan’s tomb is much larger but built in Lodi style. Quli Khan’s tomb is a smaller octagonal tomb, typical of architecture during 16th century. It is suggested that the former was built in the Lodi style as an insult, as a punishment even after death to Adam Khan (who was killed by Akbar after the former murdered a favourite courtier of the Emperor).
Walking into the village, our next stop is a baoli (step well); one of the older ones in Delhi dating from the 13th century. It is called Gandhak ki baoli because the water had high sulphur content (gandhak is Hindi for sulphur). Close by is the remains of a gateway cum nakkarkhana (music gallery) located just outside the sufi dargah. A portion of the gateway has been converted in to Gurdwara to mark the martyrdom of Banda Bahadur, a Sikh leader who proved to be a thorn in the side of the Mughals in the 18th century. Banda was briefly able to overthrow Mughal rule in some areas of Punjab. He was captured & tortured to death in Mehrauli. Recently his martyrdom was celebrated at this Gurdwara by organizing a shaheedi mela (martyrs’ fair on 23 Jun).
Next to the Gurdwara is the dargah (hospice & shrine) of sufi saint, Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki. He is among the most revered of sufis (mystics) in the Chishti tradition within Sufism. He is senior to another well known sufi saint of Delhi, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. Besides the burial of the saint himself there are several other standalone & family burials. Most belong to family members or disciples of Qutb Sahib. Many family burial grounds are of royal families which revered the saint & patronized the shrine, for instance, the Nawabs of Jhajjar & the Nawabs of Loharu. Nearby is a burial ground, enclosed in delicate marble screen, of the Mughals. Some of the later Mughal emperors are buried here including Shah Alam I & Shah Alam II. The last emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, wanted to be buried here, but after the English suppressed the rebellion of 1857, he was found guilty of leading the rebellion & exiled to Burma where he died. He has written many a verses lamenting the decline of Delhi, its culture & its ethics & his own miserable decline. As we looked at this empty patch of land, meant for him, Zafar’s couplet comes to mind:
Kitna badnasseb hai, Zafar dafn ke liye, Do gaz zameen bhi na mili, kue yaar mein
(O how unfortunate is Zafar, could not get two yards for burial, in the land of his beloved)
This grave enclosure is part of Zafar Mahal, a pleasure palace built by the later Mughals & was one of the sites of Phoolwalon ki Sair, an annual festival centered around the Yogmaya Temple & Qutb Sahib’s dargah.
Our walking tour then proceeds to the main bazaar in Mehrauli, the street leading to Hijron ka khanaqah & Jahaz Mahal. The former is a Lodi period burial ground which is a sacred site for eunuchs of old Delhi. The community comes here regularly to perform rituals & for maintenance of this site. Further down the street is Jahaz Mahal or ship palace. It is believed to have been a serai (rest house) for travelers during the Lodi period, later modified in to a pleasure palace for Mughals. The building gets its name from its reflection in the nearby water body, which looked like that of a ship. There is a shallow ditch around this building & it is probable that the Jahaz Mahal itself stood in water.
The large water tank next to it is a very significant site in Islamic tradition. This is Hauz Shamsi, built by Sultan Shamsuddin Iltutmish. It has a pavilion on one side, which is said to house the hoof print of Buraq, the horse of Prophet Mohammad himself. The story goes, that Iltutmish could not decide where to construct this tank & one night Prophet himself appeared in his dream riding his horse & instructed him to build the tank at the spot where his horse had landed. Next morning Iltutmish located this spot & found water seeping out where the Buraq had landed & went on to built the hauz there.
(posted by Awadesh Tripathi & Kavita Singh, team members, Delhi Heritage Walks)