All of us know of the cricket stadium of Kotla Firuz Shah. Right behind the stadium is the ruined city of Kotla Firuz Shah, the complex which gives the stadium its name. The city was constructed by third Tughluq king, Firuz Shah Tughluq in the 14th century. Our heritage walk to Kotla was organized on Sunday evening which saw a good number of devotees who were in the complex to pray to the djinns. The local tradition is that this is the abode of djinns. The city is believed to have extended from a hunting lodge called Kushak –i-Shikar (presently at Northern Ridge) to Hauz Khas (in south Delhi). The city continued to be inhabited till 18th century but was abandoned later because it had no wall to give protection against dacoits and looters. At present, there are only three prominent monuments which remain standing in the citadel area: Jama Masjid, the pyramidal building with Ashokan Pillar on it and a circular baoli.
The complex can be divided into two areas- public area and private area. In our heritage trail, we first approached the public area which had a series of courtyards which once had gateways. This was used as the official area which was once surrounded by grape gardens. This was followed by remains of the palace area, the more private areas which was known as Kushak-i- Firuz meaning the palace of Firuz. This area had the zenana or women’s quarters for the royal women and few rooms, of which some of them were double storied. It was the first city among the various capital cities of Delhi, to be built along the river. A series of vaulted cells which forms the base of the Jama Masjid of Kotla is used by people to offer prayers to djinns. We saw votive offerings including flowers and incense scattered here and there along with the most interesting, hand written letters for the djinns with personal petitions. According to one source, these beliefs and practices started only in the 1970’s. On the storey above, is Masjid-i- Jama, a mosque which is still active. The Central Asian ruler, Timur, is said to have offered prayers at the Jama Masjid and he ordered all builders and stone masons to build a mosque similar to this one in Samarkand. Another interesting monument of the complex is the pyramidal structure with Ashokan Pillar on top, the latter dating back to the 3 cent. BC. The pillar bear inscriptions ranging from the ‘principles of Emperor Ashoka’s administration’ to ‘regulations restricting slaughter and mutilation of animals’; Ashoka’s initiatives such as planting trees, constructing roads, wells, sarais etc. Uprooted from Topra, Firuz Shah carried it to Delhi and placed it here in his citadel with a new name, Minar –i- Zarin which means the ‘golden column’. For some it is the ‘walking stick of Bhim’ and for some it is the chief djinn known as ‘Lat Baba’. We saw many people praying at the cells and to the ‘Lat Baba’. From above, we got a good view of baoli, an unusal circular double storied step well, which was once used as a pleasure pavilion. The complex with its fascinating past and present motivated few of us to stay back after the heritage walk. Thank you everyone for being a part of the walk.
(blog post by Moby Zachariah & pics by Kanika Singh, both team members, Delhi Heritage Walks)