It was 7:30am on a Sunday morning, and the sun was already beginning to shine. The usually bustling Delhi roads were empty, with many residents staying in to enjoy a lazy Sunday. Not everyone though. A group of history enthusiasts were braving the dusty Delhi heat, to explore the neighborhood of the Old Fort, or Purana Qila. We would be going to a number of historical sites, but not actually inside the fort. In fact, most people don’t even know of the existence of these sites. But of course, the fact that they are lesser known does not mean they aren’t rich with history. Our first stop was Khair-ul-Manazil, a mosque built by Maham Anga, the wet nurse of the Mughal king Akbar. The mosque’s name translates to ‘the best/most auspicious house,’ however it may not have held such positive connotations in the eyes of the King — we learnt that an attempt on Akbar’s life took place here. Initially, the main gates to the mosque were closed, so we all clambered through a smaller opening. As luck would have it, the security guard showed up just as we had all entered, and opened the main gate! Perhaps our method of entry was more memorable. Inside the massive courtyard, we could see the patches of intricate carvings on the arches…one can only imagine how grand the mosque must have looked when it was built.
Our next major stop was Bagh-e-Bedil— the garden of Bedil. Not a household name in India today, Bedil was a skilled Persian poet with Turko-Mongol roots. The poet Ghalib— who Dilliwalas are doubtlessly more acquainted with, was said to be admirer of Bedil. The garden is said to contain his shrine— however, conflicting historical accounts cast some doubt on this claim. Either way, the shrine-structure looks freshly painted, with descriptive signboards in English, Hindi, Urdu, Persian, and…Tajiki! Don’t be surprised, there is a story behind this—the signboard was instated by the President of Tajikistan during his visit to the site in 2006. Bedil’s poetry is still revered in that region, which reminds us how much of history is about perspective— a historical figure may be extremely important in one place, but forgotten in another. The garden also houses a number of other graves. One of them is of Shaikh Nuruddin, a Sufi saint who migrated to Delhi from Lar in Persia during the rule of Sultan Ghiyasuddin Balban. He was given the name Malik yaar Paran, which means ‘my friend, the flying king’ for his spiritual powers. The other graves are thought to be of this friends and disciples.
After leaving the garden, we walked across the street to Matka Pir Dargah—the shrine of Sheikh Abu Bakr, a sufi Saint who lived during the early years of the Delhi Sultanate. While there were stories galore about his miraculous healing powers,—Ghiyasuddin Balban, the ruler at the time— was a skeptic. As a test, he sent mud and iron balls to Abu Bakr as an offering. On receiving these, Bakr started to pray, and by the end of his prayer the mud and iron had been converted to jaggery and chickpeas! And keeping in the vein of food, the biryani served by the Dargah is supposed to be one of the best in Delhi today. Post-walk breakfast anyone?
(This walk was led by Moby Zachariah. Pics & write up are by Tanvi Bikhchandani. Both are team members, Delhi Heritage Walks)