There are very few of us unfamiliar with the craze that seizes Delhi when cricket matches are held at Kotla cricket stadium in Delhi. But how many know of the monumental ruins that stand adjacent to it? The citadel of Kotla Firuz Shah, the remains of the capital city of Firuzabad. In fact, it is the citadel which gives the stadium its name. Built in the 14th century by Tughluq king, Firuz Shah, there are only three monuments left in this citadel. Yet, these three have spectacular stories associated with them, both of the past & the present.
We begin our heritage walk walking through the remains of the palace area. This area consists of a series of courtyards which was probably the official area. A few gateways survive, which would have performed the function of dividing the courtyards, the public areas from the private ones. This area leads us to the eastern edge of the citadel, one which was built along the river. There are remains of rooms here. Some historians have identified this as the residential unit, probably women’s quarters. The river has long shifted course and now the Ring Road lies on the track where the river had formerly been. One can also see the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium and the Indraprastha Power house across the road. The road is now lined with lawns along the edge of the monument.
There is very little that is left of Firuzabad, but contemporary sources give us some idea of the excitement with which the new city was welcomes by the residents of Delhi. There are vivid descriptions how the route between old Delhi & Firuzabad was a virtual procession of people on their way to or returning from the new city. Its extent is believed to have been from Northern Ridge to an area near Hauz Khas, which is vast, even in present times. A lot of building material for the new city was procured from older cities of Qila Rai Pithora & Siri. And the same happened to Firuzabad, as newer cities of Delhi were built by later rulers.
The palace area leads us into a series of vaulted cells built around a square plan. This forms the base upon which the Jama Masjid of Kotla is built. The purpose of these cells is not clear, though one finds them in many Tughluq buildings, including Tughluqabad. Some think of them as prisons, others as storehouses. Presently, these are rooms where people come and offer prayers to djinns. It is a local belief that djinns are residents of kotla and people make offerings, leave prayers and pleas on paper for fulfilment by the djinns. For the non-believers, the association of Kotla with djinns is made famous by William Dalrymple’s book City of Djinns. The entry to Kotla is free every Thursday, which is the special day designated for meeting the djinns. And the transformation of these lonely ruins is there to see. On rest of the week, it is the lonely cat exploring the ruins for food, on Thursdays, it is like a fair, full of people!
The Jama Masjid on the storey above is entered through a gateway on the north. This is an active mosque. The Central Asian ruler, Timur had raided Delhi towards the end of 14th cent. bringing Tughluq rule to an end. However, his historian & his own memoirs give us descriptions of Delhi’s buildings. Timur is full of praise for Tughluq’s architectural projects. It is said that he offered prayers at the Jama Masjid at Kotla and was so impressed by its beauty that he instructed his architects to build a mosque like this one, in his kingdom. There is circular patch of grass in the centre of the mosque’s courtyard. There might have been a well here. But contemporary accounts tell us that Firuz Shah had a pavilion put up here, which contained inscriptions which spelled out some policy measures initiated by Firuz Shah. One of them was letters of forgiveness collected by Firuz Shah, from people who had been tortured or killed by his predecessor, Mohd Tughluq. Firuz Shah claims that he pensioned off these victims, asked them to write letters of forgiveness so that his predecessor’s soul may rest in peace, and had these letters put together in a box which he buried at Mohd’s grave. Its ironical, given that Mohd was reputed to have received hate letters during his lifetime, was not been gifted letters of forgiveness after his death!
The next stop on our walking tour is the pavilion with Ashokan Pillar on top. Firuz Shah found two pillars on his hunting expeditions. He couldn’t make head or tail out of it, so decided to carry them to his capital. This itself was no mean feat, as the pillar at Kotla is a monolith, weighing 27 tons. It was an elaborate process of dismantling it from its original location and getting it to the capital city through the river. Once in his capital city, Firuz Shah decided to built a magnificent building on which is Minar –i zarin (Golden Column) would be the crowning feature. Firuz Shah erected it as a monument to future generations. He called scholars from far & wide to interpret the writing on the pillar, but none succeeded. It is said that one smart Brahmin, who wanted to flatter the king, suggested that the inscription was a prophecy-one which said that ‘this pillar would stands for centuries until a great ruler by the name of Firuz would come to the throne of Delhi & have it carried over to his capital’. It’s anybody guess whether Firuz Shah bought this story! Contemporary accounts which talk of the pillar call it the ‘walking stick of Bhim’. Bhim who was the most powerful of the Pandava brothers, of the famous epic Mahabharata, they said, used these to herd cattle! The pillar happens to be the chief djinns here & goes by the name of ‘Lat Baba’!
The stop on our heritage walk was a step well. It is circular in plan & still full of water which has some huge catfish in it! The baoli seems to a pleasure pavilion within the citadel complex. It is two tiered & has opening for ornamental flow of water. Archaeological excavations tell us that there was a channel connecting the baoli at Kotla to the river Yamuna.
So, Kotla Firuz Shah may be a small complex to explore, but there are plenty of intriguing stories about it. It tells us the story of king, who wasn’t considered too competent, but made his mark by initiating a tremendous amount of public works. Building was one of the chief interests of the Sultan & his contribution in this field is perhaps unparalleled-mosques, madrasa, wells & tanks, sarais, new cities & repair of old buildings too.
(posted by Kanika Singh & Awadhesh Tripathi, team members, Delhi Heritage Walks)