‘I’m going to Kotla Firoz Shah’— say these words to a Delhi-ite, and more often than not, his/her first impression would be that you are going to watch a cricket match at the stadium by that name. Yet, just behind the stadium lies the Kotla Firoz Shah monument complex, housing the ruins of the fifth city of Delhi. With numerous arches and pathways with steep steps, the ruins are surrounded by lush green lawns. Birds of prey are constantly gliding around the area, making for quite a dramatic setting. It is not surprising then, that people think this area is haunted. The ruins were almost deserted on a Sunday morning, but that is not always the case. Popular belief about the presence of djinns brings throngs of people to the complex on Thursdays. They carry offerings and bring their wishes/prayers written on a piece of paper, in the hope that the djinns would fulfill their desires.
The story behind the construction of this new city of Delhi, called Firozabad, is quite engaging. It was built in the latter half of the 14th century by Delhi Sultanate ruler Firoz Shah Tughlaq, who succeeded his cousin, Mohammad Bin Tughlaq. All Tughluq rulers had a penchant for building cities— as attested by Ghiyasuddin Tughluq’s Tughlaqabad & Mohd Tughluq’s Jahanpanah. Firuz Shah was also quite a contrast from his predecessor. Muhammad was known to be quite brutal, that after he died, people shed tears of relief. Firoz Shah was more benevolent, and his city too, differs from Tughluqabad in a few ways. Most importantly, it was river facing. The Yamuna, in its unfortunate polluted state, may not be the most desirable in the real estate market today, but in those days it was a different matter. Not only was its presence aesthetically pleasing, it was also practical in terms of managing water supply. The outer (eastern) walls of Firozabad would have looked right onto the river; today, we see the ring road instead.
The architecture of the complex too, is worth mentioning. Firozabad entered into a decline in the eighteenth century, but when it was inhabited it made for a grand sight. The Central Asian invader Timur has written in praise of the size, beauty and carvings of the Jami Masjid, Firozabad’s public mosque. In fact, Timur was so impressed by the mosque, with its domes and courtyards, that he constructed a similar one in his capital city of Samarkand. Not much of this ornate calligraphy remains in the mosque today, and one of the reasons for this is plundering and looting of invaders. Also, stones and other building materials were taken by later rulers of Delhi. The Mughal king, Shah Jahan is thought to have taken a good number to build his capital of Shahjahanabad (present day Old Delhi). Yet, the structures of a number of buildings remain, which give a glimpse of the past goings on in the complex. One can see a series of arched courtyards for administrative work and the king’s audience. Residential quarters are visible too, with the women’s lodgings in a more secluded area. There are underground rooms— perhaps for storage—and tunnels to be used for emergency escapes.
Standing tall among the ruins and enduring the test of time is a large sandstone pillar. It was originally built by Mauryan emperor Ashoka, but we learn that Firoz Shah brought it from Topra (Ambala district), to Delhi. Another structure of interest is the baoli— or step well— nearby. Regular DHW-ers and heritage enthusiasts may have visited other step wells in the city, and notice that most are rectangular. This one, however, is round and thus provides more space for walking around the water. The well is usually kept locked, and the lucky few who chance upon it open can feed the catfish inside. This particular time we weren’t able to go inside, but on the bright side, that gives us another reason to come back!
(The walk was led by Moby Zachariah & blog post is by Tanvi Bikhchandani. Both are team members, Delhi Heritage Walks)