Among the many cities in Delhi one counts, our heritage walk this Sunday explored one of the lesser known of all these. The Tughluq king, Firuz Shah built a new capital city for himself, along the banks of the Yamuna and called it Firuzabad. This is present day area around ITO and Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg. It is believed to have been almost twice the size of Shahjahanabad (Shahjahan’s capital, the old Delhi of today) extending from Pir Ghaib in the northern Ridge to Hauz Khas in the south. Today only the inner citadel of this massive city survives, known by the name Kotla Firuz Shah. The fort or kot is what gives the nearby cricket stadium its name.
We enter Kotla and move straight towards the east. This portion of the citadel is completely ruined and one can now see only foundation, broken walls with niche patterns and some gateways. This portion looks like a series of halls or courtyards separated through gateways probably used for official appearances and meetings of Sultan Firuz Shah Tughluq. Just beyond is the palace area, along the side of the river. This too is completely ruined and the river is long gone. The old river bed has been taken over by the Ring Road and lawns along the citadel walls.
There are three prominent buildings within Kotla. The Jami Mosque, the Ashokan Pillar and the baoli (lit. step well). We first walked into the vaults in the platform of the mosque. One could smell incense, lamps burning, and offerings of milk, flowers and saw pages with writing on them. These are offerings to djinns. Locals believe that this complex is inhabited by djinns! The pieces of paper contain prayers to djinns & appeals for wishful fillment: it could be victory for local cricket team; hope for return of a lost family member; prayers to end financial crises and so on. William Dalrymple’s famous book, The City of Djinns, gets its name from this complex. The author, during his travels, meets a pir here, who talks of the Delhi rising from its ashes again and again; the city is never abandoned because the djinns love it so!
Right next to the mosque stands the Ashokan Pillar, built on a pyramid like structure. There is another Ashokan Pillar in Delhi near Hindu Rao hospital on northern Ridge. Both these were brought to Delhi by Firuz Shah Tughluq. Some contemporary accounts give us vivid descriptions of how the pillars were transported. The pillar at Kotla weighs about 27 tons and one can imagine the massive exercise its transport must have been. A manuscript kept now at Khuda Bakhsh Oriental Public Library, Patna has illustrations of this exercise! We climbed atop the pyramid, from where one gets an excellent view of the neighbourhood: the Kotla cricket stadium, Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium, Indraprastha Power plant, and the Ring Road leading towards Rajghat. The pillar still retains some of the polish which was so characteristic of stone work under Ashoka. One can imagine that it must have retained much of this luster back in Firuz Shah’s time, which led the Sultan to call the pillar ‘Minar I Zarin’ or the golden column! Beside Ashokan editcs, there are other inscriptions on it as well. We could even see a engraving of an elephant on it, and someone promptly remarked that ‘Mayawati must have paid a visit here!’ J
Our last stop on the walk was the baoli in the complex. This is circular in plan and two storeys in height. It appears that some restoration work was recently completed here; one could see the pale pink plaster work. The baoli still has water, even though not of great quality and apparently the same is used to water the ground in Firuz Shah Kotla today. There are some huge fish in the baoli, which some people identified as catfish. The baoli itself would have combined as a pleasure pavilion. There a provisions for ornamental flow of water.
(posted by Kanika Singh & Kavita Singh, team members, Delhi Heritage Walks)