Monuments of Jahanpanah never fails to amaze you, the site is full of wonder and mystery. The name Jahanpanah means ‘Refuge of the World’ & was used for the fourth fortified city of Delhi constructed by Mohammad bin Tughluq in the 14th century. It is believed that his coming to throne was very dramatic and controversial after his father and founder of Tughluq dynasty, Ghiyasuddin Tughluq was killed by his own son. As per the plan, Mohd Tughluq linked the older cities, Lal Kot, the then Old Delhi and Siri of Alauddin Khalji, enclosed these cities and built his new city in the centre with his citadel, palace and a grand mosque at its heart. Today, one can see that the fortifications survive in a couple of places in south Delhi & the cluster of ruins in Sarvodaya Enclave is what is left of the citadel.
It is essential to know about the mastermind behind these buildings, he who is called a ‘man of contradictions.’ Ibn Battuta, who visited Mohammad’s court in 1333 and stayed till 1341 in India, writes, “Mohammad is a man who above all others is fond of giving presents and shedding blood. There may have always be seen at his gate some poor person becoming rich or some living one condemned to death. His generous and brave actions, his cruel and deeds have obtained notoriety among the people. In spite of this, he is most humble of men and who exhibits the greatest equity”.
We start our heritage walk at the Bijay Mandal (sometimes Vijay Mandal), from the Sarvodaya Enclave entrance. The complex itself came up over a period of time, there are traces of building from Khalji times, Tughluq dynasty & followed by the Lodi times. The first cluster of monuments a graveyard (a few graves being object of worship currently) & an arched building from the Lodi period. It is believed that one of the graves here is of Sheikh Hasan Tahir, a saint who came to Delhi during Sikandar Lodi’s regin, from Jaunpur, Uttar Pradesh. The area is visited and revered as a sufi shrine by the believers who put fresh chadars and floral offerings. The white plastered, prayer wall or qibla wall stands on the west. A few older graves are scattered around, most gravestone having half disappeared.
As we approach the Bijay Mandal, there is large domed building to our right. The exact purpose of this monument is still unknown, if the popular opinion have to be believed then it must have acted the residence of Sheikh Hasan Tahir.
This was followed by another curious building, which is today known as Bijay Mandal. The name means a victory pavilion, quite a contemporary name. There is a view that the name is a corrupted version of ‘Badi Manzil’. This structure is built on two successive platforms and topped by an octagonal pavilion open on all four sides. It is a fantastic view of the whole area including Sarvodaya Enclave, Kalu Sarai, Hauz Khas & on a clear day one can see up to Mehrauli & make out Adam Khan’s tomb at a distance. Through the narrow staircase, we stood on the top storey and got a view of the whole area. It is also said that this was part of the ruler’s private retreat or he stood here to watch his troops.
Ibn Battuta wrote extensively about Mohd Tuhgluq’s court, the city of Delhi & the people he met. His travelogues mention a structure named Hazar Sutun or a hall of thousand pillars. It is described as a hall of public audience, where the king held court. The pillars were wooden, carved & painted profusely. The site of Vijay Mandal has trace of pillar bases made of stone. Scholars believe these to be what is left of the Hazar Sutun. One of the interesting things here is a set of two pits along a wall in a hall. Some say these were wells, while others argue for grain pits. The commonly accepted view is that these are treasure chambers. This argument is supported by excavations here, which revealed precious objects here including rubies, corals, pottery, pearls, & coins, including a few from Alauddin Khalji’s reign. We hear of a Hazar Sutun during Alaudiin Khalji’s time also. According to Ibn Battuta, Alauddin’s palace of thousand pillars was in Siri.
Our walking tour takes us next to Begumpur Masjid (mosque), one of the least known, but one of the most spectacular monuments in Delhi. We walk through the village of Begumpur to reach the mosque. There is no agreement over the date of construction and patron of the mosque. For some, it was royal mosque of Mohd Tughluq, who constructed it for his new city of Jahanpanah. Whether it was a congregational mosque or a private mosque used by royal household still remains a question. Since, Ibn Battuta fails to mention about the mosque in his writings, another opinion holds that it was built in the mid 14th century after the death of Mohammad, by Firuz Shah Tughluq’s wazir or Prime Minister, Khan –i Jahan Junan Shah. The Khan I Jahan is also credited with seven great mosques in Delhi, including Khirki Masjid & Kali Masjid. Walking into the massive courtyard of Begumpur Mosque is quite an experience. It is absolutely huge & it is hard ot image such a space in the middle of Delhi’s densely populated urban villages. We took a narrow staircase to the women’s section in the mosque & further to the roof of the mosque. From here, there a number of winding staircases which take you to the top of the prayer hall, & the main qibla niche. Negotiating these steps & the final view of the area is quite a thrill!
The walk ended on a cheerful note with two young participants of our walk singing a song about Ibn Battuta, which they learnt at school… couldn’t have asked for a better ending! Thank you all for joining & hope to see you all on more walks.
(posted by Moby Zachariah & Kanika Singh, team members, Delhi Heritage Walks)