The neighborhood of Mehrauli is a delight for a lover of history, for someone who revels in looking under the multiple layers of time. Mehrauli is the area where the first cities of Delhi came up & even when the capital shifted this area was never abandoned. Which means that as dynasties came & went, politics changed, the river shifted course, Mehrauli continued to be inhabited. So understanding the development in Mehrauli, its changes, helps us understand Delhi.
This heritage walk covers some of the lesser known areas in the neighbourhood, covering a vast time span. Starting from Yogmaya Temple walking through medieval ruins, we ended our heritage trail at Jharna, looking at 10 heritage sites, which by no means is an exhaustive list. Mehrauli has much more. The Yogmaya temple building is mostly modern however the tradition goes back many an era. It is said is Lord Krishna’s sister who by virtue of her divinity escape from Kansa’s clutches & established herself here on the Aravallis. The temple itself was built by Lala Siddhamal during the reign of Akbar Shah II. Adjacent to it stands the most visible landmark at Mehrauli: the bhulbhulaiya or Adam Khan’s tomb. The first is the colloquial name for the monument the second is the official one. Adam Khan was a general under Mughal Emperor Akbar & was also his foster brother. The story of his death by punishment has been made popular by the Bollywood movie, Jodha Akbar. Adam Khan killed a favourite courtier of Akbar, Ataga Khan & as a punishment Akbar had him thrown down the fort ramparts. As he did not die the first time, he was got all the way back to the top of the walls & thrown down a second time! Next we walked into the by lanes of the village, to a very old step well: Gandhak ki Baoli. ‘Gandhak’ is sulphur & the step well was named so for the high sulphur content in its water which has medicinal purposes. Now the water is filthy & most certainly a medical hazard. The next stop on our walking tour was just a few steps ahead. Near the entrance to the dargah of Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki, stands a medieval gateway. This is naqqar khana, the site where Sikh hero Banda Bahadur was killed. Banda Bahadur travelled from the Deccan to Punjab with the aim of ending Mughal tyranny & avenging the murder of Guru Gobind Singh’s sons (chhote sahibzade). He proved effective, freed areas like Sirhind in Punjab, issued a currency establishing Sikh sovereignty & caused much trouble for the Mughal rule. He was captured & brought to Delhi and killed here. Today, a part of the naqqar khana is taken over by a gurdwara built to commemorate Banda Bahadur’s martyrdom. It is strange how the gory torture of Banda & his family was done at the entrance to the shrine of a sufi pir.
Qutbuddin Bakhityar Kaki was a saint of the Chishti tradition and enjoys a large following in the Indian subcontinent. He is a predecessor of Nizamuddin Auliya of Delhi. The dargah complex itself is like a vast burial ground. Besides the tomb of Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki, there are burials of royal families & graves of individuals some of whom were family & others followers of the sufi. There is also a baoli, full of filth & a few mosques built by the pious. To its west stands the Zafar Mahal, the summer palace of the late Mughals. Named after Bahadur Shah Zafar, the poet-king & the last Mughal ruler, it was by his predecessors. The palace complex is much ruined & overtaken by modern construction. But the few portions that remain are evidence of the new style of architecture which had become popular in the late Mughal times. The Shahjahani arch on delicate baluster columns remain, but a lot of decoration is now on plaster. Some portions are distinctly European, with evidence of a chimney & fireplace. The Zafar Mahal also has the Moti Masjid, the delicate ‘Pearl Mosque’ in white marble & a tiny patch of land enclose with exquisitely carved marble screens. The last is has the burials of the Mughal royal family. A vacant patch, meant for the last Mughal Emperor still lies there. From here we traced our way to the main market in Mehrauli, which has Hijron ka Khanqah or the hospice of eunuchs. This is a Lodi period burial ground maintained by the eunuch community which resides in Turkman Gate. A little further is a cluster of medieval buildings. We stopped for a brief snack at Jahaz Mahal or ship palace. This is another Lodi building built as a serai & later converted into a pleasure pavilion. Beyond it one can see a water body, originally a massive tank built by Sultan Iltutmish. The Hauz Shamsi has great sanctity for the Muslim community for legends associate it with Prophet Mohammad. It is said Iltutmish dreamt that the Prophet appeared in his dream & instructed him to build a tank where the latter’s horse buraq had landed & left a hoof print. Iltutmish located the exact spot, found the hoof print & water coming out of it. He built a pavilion on it & the water body around it. The final stop on our heritage walk was Jharna, a pleasure garden built by the Mughals. The name means a ‘waterfall’ & it was landscaped with streams, fountains, gardens. The cool, clear stream is long gone & a waterfall of sewage cascades down into the settlement. Some of the sites covered in this walking tour are also host to the festival of flower sellers or phoolwalon ki sair. The festival began in the 19th century & post-independence it was revived as a symbol to Hindu-Muslim unity.