Heritage walk in Mehrauli village, 27 May 2012
The neighbourhood of Mehrauli in south of Delhi is the oldest inhabited part of the Delhi region. Actually, oldest inhabited in terms of urban settlements. This is where the first cities of Delhi came up. Even when the capital shifted closer to the river, Mehrauli area was never abandoned. As a result one gets a continuous settlement for almost 1000 years back in history. A fact, which makes Mehrauli virtually a goldmine for a historian or an archaeologist. At each step, one finds some trace of the hoary past. Our heritage walk to Merhauli village tried to explore some elements of this vast time span in history. We start our heritage trail from Adam Khan’s tomb. It is the most prominent monument on Mehrauli, located bang opposite the Mehrauli bus terminus. Locally known as the Bhulbhulaiya, this is a massive tomb, which stands on the remains of the city of Lal Kot. The remains of these walls form the enclosing walls & bastions of the tomb now. Adam Khan was a foster brother of Mughal emperor Akbar & also worked for him; and he killed one of Akbar’s favourite courtiers. As punishment, Akbar ordered that Adam Khan should be thrown off the ramparts of Agar fort. The first time he was thrown down, he did not die; so he was brought up the fort again & thrown down once more! This incident is so important for Akbar’s reign that it is even illustrated in form of a miniature painting in the official history of Akbar’s reign, the Akbarnama!
A few steps into the Mehrauli village, we reach Gandhak ki baoli. Gandhak is ‘sulphur’ & ‘baoli’ is a step well. The water here had high sulphur content, hence the name. It was built during the reign of Sultan Iltutmish, the second king in the Slave dynasty. He was also responsible for the completion of Qutb Minar. The baoli had been completely dry for several years now, but for a couple of month now, it has some water. My guess is that it might be water from a drainage pipe; it can’t be ground water, the original source, as there is practically no ground water left in Delhi! Our next stop was Banda Bahadur’s martyrdom spot. The building is actually the remains of a gateway, meant to provide access to the sufi shrine, built sometime in the 16th century. During the second half of 17th century, the hostilities between Sikh and Mughals had increased. Banda Bahadur was a disciple of Guru Gobind Singh, who fought against the Mughals & successfully took away the province of Sirhind from them. Making Sirhind as his base, he created havoc for the Mughals & was a constant threat to them. He was finally captured along with his son and followers, and brought to Delhi. Here he was humiliated & tortured to death. It is said that Banda did not lose his composure nor did his belief in the truth of the Sikh Gurus waver, even in face of extreme provocation by the Mughals. His own son was cut down before him & latter’s flesh was thrown in Banda’s face. Banda Bahadur remains one the greatest heroes of the Sikh community. A gurdwara now stands at the gateway, where Banda is said to have died.
Close by is the dargah of Qutb Sahib, one of the most revered sufi shrines in the subcontinent. Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki is second in line of Chishti sufis in Indian subcontinent, a disciple of Muinuddin Chishti of Ajmer. His dargah is an extremely tranquil space. As we walked into the dargah we were greeted by a couple of qawwali singers. The tomb of the saint is not accessible to women; however they can observe it through the marble screens. Qutb Sahib’s dargah was patronized by sultans of Delhi for years. This is visible in the additions to dargah over time. There is a baoli adjacent to the dargah, which was built sometime in the 19th century. It is now completely dry & works like a rubbish dump. An interesting complex within the Mehrauli dargah is the graveyard of the Loharu family. Built is a typical late-Mughal style, this is a delicate little complex. Loharu family was close to the British, but they got involved in the scandal of British Resident, William Fraser’s murder. Another connection they have with Delhi is that Urdu poet Ghalib’s wife came from the Loharu family. We walked into the Loharu burial complex & tried to read the inscriptions. A couple of them were as late as the 1990s.
Just behind the dargah is Zafar Mahal, a summer palace for the Mughals and thereby hangs a tale. This palace complex is named after Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal king. There is a small enclosure here, surrounded by delicate marble screens & it contains a few graves. These are tombs of Mughal royal family. It includes the burial of Shah Alam II, one of the most unfortunate of all Mughal kings. He was a puppet ruler completely at mercy of sometimes the British & often the Marathas. He was blinded & made to dance by the Rohillas who raided Delhi. Then the Sikhs raided Delhi. It was in his reign that the Battle of Buxar was lost by the Mughals and they had to cede the financial (Diwani) rights of Bengal to English East India Company, a huge loss to the Mughal empire! Next his grave is an empty spot. This is the very place which Zafar wanted to be buried. But he was exiled to Burma, as punishment for leading the rebellion of 1857 & he died there. His lament at his fate is expressed in an Urdu couplet (Do Gaz Zameen):
‘Kitna Badnaseeb hai Zafar, dafn ke liye;
do gaz zameen bhi na mili kooye yaar mein’
or ‘How unfortunate are you, O Zafar; you could not get even two yards of land for burial in the land of the beloved’. Brooding upon the fate of the Mughals we stepped out of Zafar Mahal into the main Mehrauli bazaar.
The next stop on our heritage walk was ‘Hijron ka Khanqah’ or the eunuchs’ hospice. This is a graveyard dated to the Lodi Period. It is said to have graves of hijras of eunuchs. It is not maintained by the hijra community of Turkman Gate in old Delhi. The complex comes a quite a surprise to us. It is hard to imagine that such a space exists behind the narrow & blink & you miss entry to it! The last stop on our walk was the Jahaz Mahal & Hauz I Shamsi. Jahaz Mahal or ship-palace is a Lodi period building, which was perhaps used as a rest house for travelers (sarai). Just behind it stands a large water body, called the Hauz I Shamsi. We could also see a domed pavilion in the water. The story of this tank goes thus: It is said that Sultan Iltutmish was anxious to build a tank in Delhi but could not decide where. One night the Prophet appear to him in dream, riding his winged horse (the Buraq) & instructed Iltutmish to build the tank at the spot where he had appeared. Iltutmish located the spot & found a hoof mark (from the Buraq) & water flowing out from it. He covered the spot with a pavilion & built a massive tank around it.
(posted by Kanika Singh & Kavita Singh, team members, Delhi Heritage Walks)