‘Hauz Khas is so large that an arrow cannot be shot from one side to the other’ wrote Timur, who raided Delhi in the 14th century. It is ironical that he defeated the Tughluq ruler & hastened the end of the dynasty, but was full of praise for buildings erected by the same dynasty. He camped at Hauz Khas, prayed in the mosque at Kotla Firuz Shah and wrote all about it in his memoirs.
Our heritage walk covers one such site: Hauz Khas village which has the monumental madrasa complex & the adjacent Deer Park. We meet at the entrance to Deer Park and weave our way through cafes & shops in HKV, to reach a gateway leading to the madrasa. The complex today comprises of an L-shaped ruined complex looking over a lake. There is a small patch of garden, with some scattered pavilions.
The water tank was excavated by Alauddin Khalji in 1303 close to his city, Siri, and named it as Hauz I Alai (Hauz stands for tank). Almost 50 years later, Firuz Shah Tughluq had it de-silted, constructed embankments and renamed it, Hauz Khas, and erected a madrasa on the fringes of this royal tank. Again, recollecting Timur’s descriptions of the site: ‘this is a reservoir which was constructed by Sultan Shah and is faced all round with cement. This tank is filled by the rains in the rainy season and it supplies the people of the city with water throughout the year’.
Firuz Shah, the son of a Hindu mother, succeded the throne after the death of his cousin, Mohammad Bin Tughluq. He became sultan of Delhi in 1351. From 1354 till his death in 1388, he launched extensive and expensive building and repairing activities. Such a vast construction & maintenance programme is quite unique. There are of course innumerable examples of royal patronage of architecture. However the scale & organization put in by Firuz Shah is quite unparalleled. In fact, his court writers say, building & hunting were among the favourite activities of the king.
The madrasa bordering the tank was the largest college of its kind. It welcomed students and teachers from afar, was located along a vast tank with upper storey compromising of halls for study and cell like rooms for students in the lower storey. The madrasa was supported by the grant of rent free lands. The complex also has a mosque (which is perpetually closed), a few pavilions on lawns which are tombs probably of teachers associated with the college (Nasiruddin Mohammad Shah, Alauddin Sikandar Shah, Sultan Abu Syed) and the tomb of Firuz Shah himself is located at the junction of the two wings of the madrasa.
Standing on a grey stone plinth, this square mausoleum has slopping rubble walls and high dome rising above other buildings. Decorated with red sandstone and marble and carved battlement, is enclosed by stone railings, typical of Buddhist architecture. The doorway showing mingling of pre-Islamic and Islamic styles, a Hindu temple gateway with lintels placed inside a typical Islamic arch. The recesses on north and west walls, which are now closed, had connected it to the madrasa. The ceiling of the tomb chamber is decorated with incised plaster and Quranic inscriptions in Naskh style.
The second part of this walking tour takes us into Deer Park. The Park has three monuments which almost come as a surprise among the vegetation. The first stop here was Bagh-i-Alam ka Gumbad, a tomb build during the Lodi times. The tomb is well preserved and is similar to buildings one gets to see in the Lodi Garden. Nearby is the Kali Gumti, a one room structure associated with Tughluq rule. Its hut like plan gives it the name ‘gumti’. Another stern looking Tughluq building is the Tohfewala Gumbad. It has some massive gravestones made of quartzite, but no one is really sure whose burial these are.
(posted by Moby Zachariah & Kavita Singh, team members, Delhi Heritage Walks)