For good or bad, Qutb Minar has over shadowed the rest of Mehrauli. I can give you names of several monuments which are completely neglected and in the danger of completely disappearing under modern city; it is high time for us to give due to these forgotten monuments. Mehrauli village is a unique place with ancient buildings, medieval tombs, mosques, sufi shrines, palaces and havelis, sarais, reservoirs, step wells and tanks, you name it and it has it all. Our heritage walk this Sunday, covered a little bit of this vast area. We started our trail with Yogmaya temple. There are many temples in India dedicated to Yognis meaning semi divine females. It is believed that one such temple was constructed in Mehrauli, by the eldest of Pandavas, Yudhishthir, therefore Mehrauli was referred to as Yoginipura. The structure looks very modern. More recently, Seth Sidha Mal of Chandni Chowk was put in charge of renovating it during the reign of Akbar Shah II in 1827. Temple of Yogmaya has a square prayer housing a black stone idol of the main deity. Legend has it that Yogmaya was the sister of Lord Krishna who was almost slain by her tyrant uncle. Then she vanished and flew out of his hand into the sky predicting his doom and established herself on the Aravallis. Her body was caught in a storm and her body parts got scattered in different parts of India, including her head in Mehrauli and temples came up in all these places. We went to see the temple from inside, which was not as crowded as during festivals and festivities such as Navaratri, Diwali and the annual flower festival, Phoolwalon ki Sair (Festival of Flower Sellers).
The village is quite peaceful and less crowded in the mornings, but not the site where our next monument was situated, Adham Khan’s tomb because it is very close to the main bus terminal of Mehrauli. One interesting thing about the monuments of Mehrauli village is the legends and stories attached to them. Perhaps this is because this area was continuously settled over centuries. As time passed, the stories must have built up. Even this medieval tomb has many stories of murder, bloodshed and mysteries attached to it. The person buried is Adham Khan, foster brother of Mughal Emperor Akbar and son of Maham Anga, Akbar’s foster mother. Adham was an unruly man who was very fond of power and women. He could not stand the sight of Atgah Khan, Akbar’s loyal noble and another wet nurse, Jiji Anga’s husband. Jealous of Atgah’s post and respect he had from Akbar, Adham Khan murders him in Agra fort. The story goes, that as punishment, Akbar had him thrown down twice from the fort walls of Agra. His body was brought to Delhi and buried close to Mehrauli dargah whereas Atgah Khan was buried in the close proximity of Nizamuddin Dargah. This Mughal tomb looks more like a Lodi tomb in its style, most probably Mughals took the usual octagonal tomb of Lodis, and some people have suggested that this was out of pure spite! To show the contempt in which both-Lodis & Adham Khan-were held. After her son’s death, Maham Anga went into mourning, grief and depression and passed away in forty days and was buried next to Adham Khan. In 1830s, a British officer Lord Blake of Bengal Civil Service, converted this tomb into his residential apartment and removed the graves to make way for his dining hall. At one point it was even used as a police station and a post office. Soon the tomb was vacated and restored by Lord Curzon and the grave of Adham Khan has since been restored to the site but not of his mother Maham Anga. They say that women do not visit this tomb as it is a cursed tomb. Because Queen Roopmati cursed Adham Khan for killing her lover, Baz Bahadur, the ruler of Mandu, after Adham invaded his kingdom. Soon, Roopmati also died saying that no women would ever visit Adham Khan’s tomb. Local people refer to it as the Bhul Bhulaiyan (labyrinth) and it is also said that the tomb has a maze or intricate passageway of rooms on the upper storey, as it is so confusing that if you once enter it, it is hard to find the way out.
Walking through the busy and narrow lane, we reached our next spot, a step well known for its ‘healing waters’, therefore it attracts many locals every day. You will see people dive into the water and a few bathing in them, it is a usual sight. This step well (baoli) has five floors and 105 steps & was built by Sultan Iltutmish, second ‘slave’ king in the 13th century. Story goes that it was built for the revered sufi, Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki, who lived in Mehrauli & his dargah is now situated a few steps from here. One story associated with this sites is that one day Iltutmish visited the sufi and found him wearing unclean clothes, when asked saint replied that he needs a place to bathe. It is said that the Iltutmish ordered and the construction of the baoli started on the very same day and came in the record time of one month. For some locals, it is the municipal corporation that fills up this well regularly, and for some it is ‘magic’. The villagers have seen the baoli dry for years, this time we saw water till the third storey. Locals also believe that the water dries on its own when somebody dies in the water. They also go to the nearby baoli, Rajon ki baoli to bathe, when the water dries up here. It is said that the two have never had water at the same time. The step well called Gandhak ki Baoli because the water had high sulphur content therefore has curative properties capable of curing skin ailments. They say that the water never looks the same during the duration of the day, as it vary from purple, brown to red, depending on the sun, heat etc.
The next stop on our exploration is the martyrdom spot of Banda Bahadur, a Sikh hero. It is believed that it is the same spot where Banda Singh Bahadur and his four year old son, along with forty Sikhs were tortured to death. Born as Lachhman Das, for some he was Madho Das. He was very fond of hunting in early life. One day he hunted a pregnant deer and she gave birth to two kids who died in front of his eyes, changed him and soon he becomes a bairagi sadhu. He used ‘magic to impress people around him to humiliate religious leaders and other saints who visited his ashram. Guru Gobind Singh along with some Sikhs visited Lachhman Das’s ashram. He failed to cause any harm to Guru and soon accepted defeat. He fell at the feet of Guru Gobind Singh and asked forgiveness and called himself the Banda or slave of the Guru. From then on, he was named Banda Singh. Banda captured many areas of Punjab, from the Mughal rule. He also minted coins and seals. The Mughal ruler, Farrukhsiyar had Banda & his followers captured in 1715. They were brought to Delhi tortured and killed publicly. Banda was put to death mercilessly by cutting off the flesh from his body and severing his limbs. A gurudwara has recently come up on the spot.
One religious structure followed by another, from a gurudwara to the oldest sufi shrine of Delhi dedicated to Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki. Fondly known as Qutb Sahib or Khwaja Qutb, he is a revered saint of Chishti silsila. He was a disciple of Moinuddin Chishti of Ajmer. Even though, he expressed his desire to live in Ajmer, his master instructed him to go to Delhi. He settled in Mehrauli when Delhi was ruled by Sultan Iltutmish and died here, where a dargah (shrine) came up around his mazar or grave. The dargah has grown into a popular shrine and was embellished by many rulers. There are a number of smaller sufi shrines, mosques, tombs, graves etc in the dargah complex, which also signifies the spiritual importance of the place. We saw the tomb of saint’s wife and his caretaker, Bibi Hambal, buried in the same enclosure, accessible to women as well. There are many legends about how the sufi got its nickname ‘kaki’. Most accepted story says that his wife often got food on credit from a grocer. One day the grocer commented that Khwaja and his family would starve to death if he stops showing kindness. The comment disturbed him and he asked his wife not to buy anything on credit. He pointed out a wall or niche to his wife who worried about procuring food. She was asked to say Bismillah, take food form the niche. And indeed, kak or bread began to miraculously appear from there. The dargah complex has a step well to, built much later in 1846, a manjlis khana or assembly hall, a grave enclosure dedicated to the kings of Loharu. Qutb Sahib was held in such great esteem that even Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti had told those coming to seek his blessings, that they should first pay homage to his disciple; and people on pilgrimage to sufi shrines visit Mehrauli before going to Ajmer. Many Delhi kings gave much important to the dargah. Some also believe that Qutb Minar was named so, in honour of the sufi.
Our next stop, Zafar Mahal is adjacent to the shrine. Built as the summer palace of Mughals, it was initiated by Akbar Shah II as Jungli Mahal or Rang Mahal, but was completed by Bahadur Shah Zafar (last Mughal king). Zafar added a large gateway to it (which still stands) & the palace came to be named after him. We saw the Shahjahani cusped arch with lotus buds adorning the central archway and jharokas on the both sides. The 50 feet and three storied gateway was also known as Hathi darwaza was it enabled easy passage of King’s elephant. When you enter the palace, you will notice that it is similar to the chhatta chowk (covered market place) of Red fort. The palace is mostly in ruins, a few arches, rooms, and evidence of European style architecture survive. A most exquisitely carved marble screen in the Zafar Mahal, encloses the graves of some of the Mughal kings: Akbar Shah II, Shah Alam II, Farrukhsiyar and Mirzu Fakhru and in the middle is the sardgah or vacant burial place of Bahadur Shah Zafar. The ruler was disposed and arrested after the rebellion in 1857 and was exiled to Burma where he died in 1862. He was secretly buried in Burma, to avoid giving the event any importance & his unmarked grave was identified much later. Now, his mazar is a shrine where he is venerated as a sufi saint. The palace also includes some portions, which predate the Mughal rule in India. A domed pavilion with heavy grey quartzite columns has been identified as a tomb during belonging to the reign of Iltutmish. We went up to the gallery on the second floor of the palace. This must have been the place to view the processions and festivities such as during Phoolwalon ki Sair.
It is believed that Delhi cannot be destroyed as long the saint’s mazar survives, for he sends down blessings from heaven every day on the city which was once his abode. It is quite visible that Delhi has survived for many centuries after his death.
(posted by Moby Sara Zachariah & Kavita Singh, team members, Delhi Heritage Walks)