Mehrauli area of Delhi is one of those sites of the world that has a history of continuous habitation for almost a thousand years. One of the most famous monuments of India, the Qutb Minar (built in the early 13th century) is located in this area. But there are many other tombs, palaces, baolis (stepwell), shrines, mosques and other historical structures that are to be found there. Mehrauli Archaeological Park has trails developed around medieval monuments dating from the 13th to the 19th century. In other words, beginning from what is commonly referred to as the time of the Slave dynasty right up to the early colonial period.
Posts Tagged ‘Heritage Walks’
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.
Many of us know that Delhi has the unfortunate title of one of the most polluted cities in the world. However, standing at the gate of Mehrauli Archaeological Park, an expansive 100-acre space, with greenery all around, it’s quite easy to forget about the pollution. To be sure, the park has many stories to tell; the Mehrauli area is the oldest continuously inhabited part of Delhi. From the 11th century Rajput cities of Lalkot, and Qila Rai Pithora, to monuments from Delhi Sultanate, the Mughal, and the British era— there is perhaps no other place in Delhi with such a diverse history. We started our exploration at Balban’s Tomb, the resting place of the Mamluk king who ruled Delhi in the 13th century. Interestingly, the only grave remaining in the tomb complex is not Balban’s, but that of his son, Khan Shahid. Khan Shahid was not known to be a religious figure, but people do pray in front of his grave, and the enclosure often smells of incense. An example of the past and present interacting— popular memory does not always follow historical accuracy.
‘I’m going to Kotla Firoz Shah’— say these words to a Delhi-ite, and more often than not, his/her first impression would be that you are going to watch a cricket match at the stadium by that name. Yet, just behind the stadium lies the Kotla Firoz Shah monument complex, housing the ruins of the fifth city of Delhi. With numerous arches and pathways with steep steps, the ruins are surrounded by lush green lawns. Birds of prey are constantly gliding around the area, making for quite a dramatic setting. It is not surprising then, that people think this area is haunted. The ruins were almost deserted on a Sunday morning, but that is not always the case. Popular belief about the presence of djinns brings throngs of people to the complex on Thursdays. They carry offerings and bring their wishes/prayers written on a piece of paper, in the hope that the djinns would fulfill their desires.
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.