I would like to start off writing about this heritage walk with an anecdote about a family who were trying to reach the venue on the morning of the 10th. This couple & their girl of 10 years of age are regulars on our heritage walks. Their taxi driver stopped outside the Old Fort & told them that this is the only qila/old ruin around here, so this must be Kotla. The girl took one look at the walls of the old fort & promptly informed her family that this does not look like a Tughluq period building & they should keep looking for Kotla! J I am glad they finally found it & I am very glad that people of age groups are taking away something from our walks!
Firuz Shah Tughluq had three interests in life, as contemporary historians tell us: governing, hunting & building. He has left his mark on north India not only in form of new buildings he commissioned but also the ones he repaired. Among the monuments he repaired is the world famous Qutb Minar. He built new cities, provided them with an extensive network of canals & established a large bureaucracy to manage these activities. The city of Firuzabad in Delhi was the capital city of his empire. What we know as Kotla Firuz Shah is the little bit that is left of the city. In fact Kotla was the citadel for a city which is said to have extended from northern ridge (modern Hindu Rao Hospital area) to somewhere near Hauz Khas, including parts of Indrapat, Turkman Gate, Sultan Razia’s tomb & Bhojla Pahari where Jama Masjid stands today. There are three monuments which now stand within the walls of Kotla. The Jama Masjid, the pyramidal building with Ashokan Pillar on it & a circular baoli.
Our heritage trail starts from the entrance to the fort. There are a few rooms on both sides of the gate, all part of the defensive structures. In keeping with the plan of other Tughluq forts, there is a palace area made up of series of courtyards, separated by gateways. A couple of these gateways are still standing but the rest is pretty much flattened out. We move in a straight path towards the most private area of the fort, next to the river. Firuzabad was built along the river Yamuna, while has now shifted course. Today we have the Ring Road where the Yamuna once flowed. It is suggested that this might have been the private residential area of the royal family, including the women’s quarters.
Next to it stands the Jama Masjid. There were at least 8 public mosques in Firuzabad & this one seems to be the main congreagation mosque. The ground level has a series of vaulted chambers which are small, dark cells, where one can see lighted lamps, incense, offering of milk, jaggery and letters to djinns. The prayers range from what seems like trivia to grave family crises: victory of a mohalla cricket team, success in examinations, desire for a wife, resolution of financial crisis, search for a missing relative, curing people of madness or possession by evil spirits. Thursdays are special days of prayers to the djinns. Hoards of people come here, some with family members who need to be treated by the djinns, others who bring in food to be distributed as charity, & there are some who are just hanging out on a pleasant evening. The entry is free on Thursdays & a small bazaar crops up at the road leading to the complex.
The mosque is entered from a large gateway to the north. In fact, the gateway remains the only intact bit in this structure. The courtyard is surrounded by niches, now painted garishly in green & white. The steps leading behind the wall, the minarets at the corners are mostly gone. It is also said that Firuz Shah Tughluq had his injunctions inscribed on a pavilion installed in the Jama Masjid. About a decade after Firuz Shah’s death, Timur had raided Delhi, carried away massive amounts of wealth & people, esp craftsmen. The only saving grace of Timur’s visit is that he praised the architecture of the Tughluqs before vanquishing them to dust! It is said that Timur was so impressed by the architecture of Jama Masjid at Firuzabad that he offered prayers here & ordered the captive craftsmen to build an equally magnificent structure at Samarqand. Just outside the mosque are traces of tunnels. It is probably a tunnel connecting the buildings along this side of the citadel, but as all stories about tunnels go, they say that it led to northern ridge, Mehrauli & any other far off places one can think off!
Next to the mosque stands a ruined pavilion with an Ashokan Pillar installed on its top. Sultan Firuz Shah Tughluq found two Ashokan Pillars on his hunting trips outside Delhi, one at Meerut & the other at Topra. He took much pains of have them transported to Delhi; installed one near his hunting lodge (Pir Ghaib) in northern ridge & the other one in his capital. The stepped pyramid on which it stands was especially commissioned to show off the pillar as a monument to future generations. It was called ‘minar e zarrin’ or the golden column, such was its luster. However all the king’s wise men & pundits could not make sense of the writing on the pillar. It seems that knowledge of Brahmi & Prakrit was lost in northern India by this time. However, they did think of the Ashokan Pillar as the walking sticks of Bhim, one of the Pandav brothers from the epic story of Mahabharata! In the cells immediate below the pillar one can see people getting possessed by the Lat Baba, who seems to be the main djinn here. Lat is a pillar or a staff & Baba is used for a holy or revered person. Standing on top of the pavilion, one gets a good view of the entire complex including the Jama Masjid, the baoli & modern structures like the Indira Gandhi stadium, Indraprastha power house, the Delhi Secretariat & other buildings at ITO.
The last stop on our walking tour was the circular baoli. This baoli still has water & some massive fish in it! The water is used for the lawns by the Archaeological Survey of India. This is a double storied step well. The lower level has opening made for ornamental flow of water so this might have also acted as a pleasure pavilion for the royalty. The baoli at Kotla Firuz Shah is unusual in plan from the other step wells we see in Delhi. Typically, there is a well at one end of the structure & access is provided through steps from the other side as well. In this case, the well is at the centre of the building.
(posted by Kanika Singh & Kavita Singh, team members, Delhi Heritage Walks)