Tag: History

Delhi History Walk: Chiragh Delhi

Sufi saints and Delhi go back a long way. The greatest of them, Khwaja Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki, made Delhi his home during the reign of Iltutmish. Qutb Sahib, as he was popularly known, was a disciple of Muinuddin Chishti of Ajmer and laid the foundations of the Chishti order in Delhi. The reverence in which he was held can be gauged from the fact that the Sultan himself led his funeral prayers and that Emperors and Kings ranging from Sher Shah Suri to Bahadur Shah Zafar paid his shrine in Mehrauli a visit. Many of the later Mughals are in fact buried in his dargah compound which is the largest such royal graveyard in Delhi.

Qutb Sahib’s status as Delhi’s patron saint was challenged only by Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. Nizamuddin was a disciple of Baba Farid Ganjshakar of Pakpattan (now in Pakistan) who was himself a disciple of Qutb Sahib. While Chishti saints lived simple lives, they nevertheless stayed in the cities where they had a huge following. It was probably a measure of the troubled times in which he lived that Nizamuddin Auliya left the city of Delhi (i.e Mehrauli and Siri) and settled in a village some miles to the east known as Ghiyaspur. The name of the village refers to the Sultan, Ghiyasuddin Balban, who ruled during Nizamuddin’s early years in the City. Before long the original name was forgotten and the village came to be called Basti Nizamuddin Auliya-a name that holds even today.

Inspite of his fame and reputation for piety, Nizamuddin Auliya ran into difficult times with some of the Delhi sultans-notably Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq who was notoriously insolent to him. A popular Delhi myth recounts an instance where the Sultan prohibited the sale of lamp oil in the City to dissuade Delhiwallahs from working on digging a baoli (a step well) for Nizamuddin Auliya. It was then that the saint’s disciple, Nasiruddin, filled up empty lamps with water and the wicks miraculously lit up. This earned him the sobriquet- Roshan Chiragh e Dehlvi (the Illuminated Lamp of Delhi).

Nasiruddin Chiragh Dehlvi succeeded to his master’s place after the latter’s death. Originally hailing from Ayodhya, he came relatively late to the Sufi life-becoming Nizamuddin’s disciple at the age of forty. He had a more orthodox reputation and frowned upon the use of music in Sufi sa’maas. It was possibly this orthodoxy that compelled him to leave the eclectic environment of Basti Nizamuddin and move some distance to the south. Before long a small settlement had grown up around the saint’s hujra (residence), mainly to house his close disciples and cater to the pilgrims who made the trek to see him. These were the days of Muhammad bin Tughlaq and the famously eccentric Sultan was on a building spree having abandoned his father’s citadel of Tughlaqabad along the river. The scattered ruins of Jahanpanah are all that remain of this period of frenzied construction. It is not possible to determine where exactly the walls of Jahanpanah ended but it is quite probable that the saint’s residence either lay along the city walls or just outside it. Nasiruddin Chiragh Dehlvi died at the age of eighty in 1356-deeply mourned by the people of Delhi and the Sultan Firuz Shah Tughlaq.

The village of Chiragh Delhi is now firmly a part of South Delhi. Administratively, it remains one of the Lal Dora urban villages where municipal by-laws and regulations do not apply. The villagers lost their agricultural land during the construction boom of the 60s. This land is now occupied by parts of Malaviya Nagar, GK III and Masjid Moth.

While it is easier to access Chiragh Delhi from the Outer Ring Road, I have always preferred to walk the couple of kilometres from Malviya Nagar Metro Station. The walk along Press Enclave Marg takes you along another urban village called Khirki that houses the Khirki Masjid-one of Delhi’s largest. It is the only Sultanate era covered mosque in all of North India. Some distance ahead is Satpula-an earth and rubble dam built to provide drinking water to Jahanpanah during the Tughlaq era. The stream it dams is the Naulakha-once Delhi’s most important water source. It arises in the foothills of the Aravallis beyond Mehrauli, feeds Iltutmish’s Hauz e Shamsi near the Dargah of Qutb Sahib before disappearing into a nullah near Sainik Farms. It then re-emerges beyond the MB Road, skirts Chiragh Delhi, bisects Panchsheel Enclave and becomes the broad stinking drain that welcomes people to Defence Colony-where it has now been covered over by a park. It finally ends its journey in the Yamuna near ISBT Kale Khan and is spanned shortly before that by the Barapula-a beautiful bridge built during Jahangir’s era and now taken over by vendors.

The Anicut (Satpula) on the Naulakha Stream, Press Enclave Marg

Returning to Satpula, it was the practice for pilgrims coming to Chiragh Delhi to bathe in the Naulakha here before walking along the stream to the village. That road is inaccessible now and one has to walk all the way to Shaheed Bhagat Singh College before taking a left and then a right at a crumbling gate built by Firuz Shah. One is now in the village proper and it is possible to appreciate how a Hauz Khas or a Shahpur Jat would have looked like before gentrification obscured all traces of the years past. The entire village was once walled-only traces of this remain now. The narrow, twisting streets inexorably turn to the right highlighting the fact that the village is oriented vis a vis the saint’s dargah. A crumbling tomb wall with an AC protruding out is the only thing of interest before you suddenly end up in the broad village square. Elders on charpoys smoke hookah under a couple of trees while a street is occupied by the main market of the village. Immediately looming to your left, at the end of a lane selling agarbattis, chaadars and flowers is the white, domed gate of the dargah.

Chiragh Delhi Village Gate
The Tughlaq era Chiragh Delhi Village Gate

Unlike the heavily commercialized Nizamuddin, the dargah is an incredibly peaceful and serene place. There are no touts offering to show you around, no kebab sellers, no throngs of people and none of the hustle and bustle. Instead all you find is a huge khirni tree that shelters the dargah compound and a few people lounging about. Occasionally a mother would get her ill child along who is then ‘treated’ for possession or nazar by the khadim of the dargah offering her an amulet. The village lost its entire resident Muslim population in the tumultuous days of 1947. The saint’s descendants had left much earlier, possibly sometime before the Mughal invasion. They moved to Gujarat, attracted by the opportunities at the court of the Sultans there. Some of them may still be found in Ahmedabad. The local residents, all Hindus, nevertheless, share a deep bond with the shrine-their families having lived here for more than a century. In one corner of the compound is the ruined wall of a mosque built by the Emperor Farrukhsiyar around 1715. A garish new mosque has appropriated much of the older structure. The Mehfilkhana or gathering hall, probably built by the Lodis, has also been ‘renovated’ and its antiquity is hardly recognisable.

Chiragh Delhi Gate
The entrance into the Dargah. Firuz Shah’s Domed Gate
Bahlol Lodi's humble tomb in Chiragh Delhi
Bahlol Lodi’s humble tomb in Chiragh Delhi
Chiragh Delhi Mosque
Farrukhsiyar’s Mosque (1715)-now dubiously renovated. The Khirni tree is also seen
Chiragh Delhi A
Graves in the Dargah compound
Chiragh Delhi Compound
Lodi tombs (white plaster) with modern construction
Chiragh Delhi Mausoleum
The tomb of Nasiruddin Chiragh Dehlvi (background) with that of his disciple

The compound is a veritable graveyard. Apart from the main shrine of Nasiruddin Chiragh Dehlvi, there are two other domed graves that allegedly belong to his disciples. In addition, there are numerous graves spread around-mostly those of old village notables or some pious soul from Shahjahanabad who had willed his burial here. A Lodi era tomb is used as a temporary storage facility and another unidentified Lodi building has people living in it. The domed gate is probably the oldest extant building in the compound and was built by Firuz Shah Tughlaq. It is a classic Tughlaq building-heavy, sloping rubble walls with a half dome. Exiting from the same gate and going behind the dargah compound takes you to the humble tomb of Bahlol Lodi who founded the Lodi dynasty out of the mess left behind by the later Tughlaqs and the Sayyids. It is a flat roofed, multiple arched building with a central cenotaph-now used as a wicket by local children playing cricket. There was another tomb nearby but that has been subsumed by some recent construction.

The village of Chiragh Delhi does not have much to recommend itself in material terms. But if you come here in the monsoons when the gloomy grey skies turn the weather sombre and the rain has washed the tombs clean, it is possible to forget that you are in South Delhi-in the middle of 15 million fellow humans, and just for a fleeting second step back into time with nothing but the timeless gravestones and the broad canopy of the khirni tree for company.

Delhi History Walk: Jorbagh

Long before Edwin Lutyens received his commission to design New Delhi, Delhi was a rather small city restricted to Shahjahanabad and a few outlying suburbs. The vast bulk of what now passes for the City was open plain, dotted with ruins and villages. Even as late as 1931, Robert Byron could describe the area beyond Lodi Road as “flat country-brown, scrubby and broken…quite [like the] Roman Campagna: at every hand tombs and mosques from the Mughal times and earlier, weathered to the colour of the earth-bearing witness to former empires”.

These ruins still dot much of South Delhi. They are today enclosed by colonies, parks, markets and roundabouts. Some are well known-like the Qutb, some are shadowy figures that are seldom visited-like Masjid Moth. Still others are known by sight, like the solitary tomb that stands under the flyover near Nizamuddin. There are countless others that have barely survived the ravages of time. Their crumbling walls flit by as one drives through post 1947 Delhi, their names too insignificant to feature on maps and guidebooks. This post is the product of late afternoon’s rambling walk through one such South Delhi colony.

Getting off at Jorbagh Metro Station, one can wander right into the Nursery next door. This is the last surviving remnant, though in a modern avatar, of the Bagh-e-Jud, whose trees gave its name to the locality. Throughout the later Mughal era, this area was a part of the estate of the Awadh Nawabs, the second of whom-Safdarjung, is buried in a magnificent tomb on the opposite side of the Qutb Road. The village here was then known as Aliganj and the site now occupied by the Nursery was a graveyard where Delhi’s substantial Shia community ended their Muharram taziyah processions. The practice was stopped for a few years after Partition but resumed soon after, though on a smaller scale. Today the much reduced graveyard occupies a portion of the plot. In its centre is the distinctive tomb of Mah e Khanum (around 1725 CE). The tomb structure is nothing but a gateway and the burial chamber lies deep underneath. The Farsi inscription on her grave describes her in rather flowery language as ‘the brightest star in the zodiac of chastity who hid her face in the cloud of God’s compassion’. On most afternoons, there is nobody around save an old caretaker who moved here from Western UP in the 80s.

The graveyard in the Nursery compound
The graveyard in the Nursery compound
The descent into the real burial chamber
The descent into the real burial chamber
The external gateway
The external gateway to the Mah e Khanum Tomb

Taking the exit to the east of the graveyard, one passes a Mughal era wall mosque. Much like an Eidgah, these have only a western wall indicating the direction of Mecca. Mehrauli is dotted by plenty of such structures. The one here now has a brand new shamiana covering it along with signs of recent construction. This flurry of activity has to do with the simmering dispute between the management of the graveyard and the people who run the Nursery. Tempers have been frayed in the last couple of years and stone pelting was reported barely a few months ago. A couple of rifle toting policemen are always around to maintain the peace. The very idea of communal violence seems incongruous in this homely, lower middle class colony named after BK Dutt, the revolutionary who was Bhagat Singh’s accomplice in bombing the Central Assembly.

In the centre of the locality is the Shah e Mardan, Delhi’s best known Shia shrine. Like such shrines all over the world, this is not an actual dargah. Instead it symbolically commemorates the Caliph Ali and his wife Fatima, the son in law and daughter of Prophet Muhammed, respectively. The building is all gleaming white marble and contrasts sharply with the filth around it. Grimly smiling Shia Ayatollahs with flowing beards look down from posters. A gateway is all that remains of the original structure that the new shrine has replaced. For such an important shrine, it is remarkably deserted. The Shias who originally inhabited the area moved out after Partition. The Punjabi refugees who inhabit the colony now have little to do with it. Right next to it is the tomb of a child saint called Sayyed Arif, again late Mughal. In a case of questionable judgement, it has been covered all over with bathroom tiles.

The bathroom tile covered facade of the Sayyed Arif Ali Shah Dargah-the miraculous child saint
The bathroom tile covered facade of the Sayyed Arif Ali Shah Dargah-the miraculous child saint
The much altered wall mosque outside the graveyard
The much altered wall mosque outside the graveyard
Dargah Shah e Mardan-Delhi's holiest Shia shrine
Dargah Shah e Mardan-Delhi’s holiest Shia shrine


Travel Diary: Daulatabad and Khuldabad

This autumn I had been to Aurangabad and its environs for a short trip of 3 days. Aurangabad is located in the Marathwada region of Maharashtra. Being ruled by Sultans of Ahmadnagar, the Mughals and the Nizams one after the other, the city in many ways resembles some of India’s great Indo-Islamic cities like Hyderabad, Shahjahanabad, Lucknow etc. Its a fascinating place for a history buff. Ruins peep out from unthinkable places, the pace of life is slow and unhurried, the people are refined and cultured and whether Hindu or Muslim, speak pure Urdu, a version rarely heard outside old Lucknow. Aurangabadi Biryani is one of the tastiest versions of the dish, second only to the much hyped cousin of it’s, the Hyderabadi Biryani.

Daulatabad is a small town about 16 kms from Aurangabad. It’s main attraction is its fort, one of the largest and THE most magnificent in India. The area near Daulatabad has been inhabited since about 100 BC. There are the remains of a few caves here, called the Aurangabad Caves. Though not as well known as the Ajanta Caves which are about 90 kms from here, they nevertheless resemble them in quite a few aspects. Then known as Devagiri, Daulatabad was the capital of the flourishing Yadava dynasty. Alauddin Khilji’s General, Malik Kafur ended the Yadave dynasty by defeating its ruler, Ramchandradeva during the course of his South India campaigns. Daulatabad again rose to prominence when the eccentric Tughluq Sultan, Muhammed bin Tughluq shifted his capital from Delhi to Daulatabad. It was under him that the existing Daulatabad Fort was refurbished, strengthened and given its present appearence. Huge banyan trees planted by the Sultan to shade his subjects in the long march from Delhi to Daulatabad still survive. Unfortunately the Sultan failed to provide for the lack of water in the arid Deccan wastes and had to move back to Delhi in a few years. Daultabad again fell into disrepair till the Bahmani and later the Ahmednagar Sultans repaired it, recognising its value in guarding the vital Golconda road. However the city itself never attained anything of its past glory.

Daulatabad Fort and village

The elevation of Aurangabad as the de-facto capital of India during the last quarter century of Aurangzeb’s life gave Daulatabad renewed importance as it guarded the direct route to it. However when the Mughals’ successors in the North Deccan, the Nizams shifted their capital to Hyderabad in the 1760s, Daulatabad again became a mere outpost subject to frequent pillage by the Marathas. The long rule of the Nizams saw the irretrievable decline of Ahmednagar, Aurangabad and Daulatabad and the ascendancy of Hyderabad as the new capital of the Deccan.

Today the fort at Daulatabad seems a mere shadow of its former glory. It is strikingly located, perched on a 200m high hill that dominates the landscape. There are extensive ruins along the fort perimeter, remains of the one time capital of India. Present Daulatabad is a tiny highway side town whose income entirely depends on tourism and supplying food to the highway commuters. The entry to the fort is a nominal Rs 5/-. There are massive bastions guarding the main entrance. Cannons lie around, ornate Mughal ones, early Nizami ones and the mobile British ones.

Daulatabad Fort from afar

Besides the fortifications Daulatabad contains several notable monuments, of which the chief are the Chand Minar and the Chini Mahal. The Chand Minar is a tower 210 ft. high and 70 ft. in circumference at the base, and was originally covered with beautiful Persian glazed tiles. It was erected in 1445 by Ala-ud-din Bahmani to commemorate his capture of the fort.

The Chini Mahal, or China Palace, is the ruin of a building once of great beauty. In it Abul Hasan, the last of the Qutb Shahi kings of Golconda, was imprisoned by Aurangzeb in 1687.

Chand Minar, Daulatabad

The climb to the summit is very hard. The only means of access to the summit is by a narrow bridge, with passage for not more than two people abreast, and a long gallery, excavated in the rock, which has for the most part a very gradual upward slope. The summit has a magnificent Mughal era pavillion along with a cannon called Mendha Tope (Sheep cannon). There is also a Bhool Bhulaiyya or maze with many false routes all of which lead to a trench! Ideal for the enemy to get lost in. At one end of the Fort is a small open air gallery consisting of Jain, Buddhist and Hindu relics unearthed in the neighbourhood. A standing Parasvantaha looked quite impressive to me. The Fort also contains a structure called Bharat Mata temple. This has been a Jain Temple, a Hindu temple and a Muslim mosque before it attained its present form in 1948.

Bharat Mata Temple, Daulatabad

A few kilometres from Daulatabad lies Khuldabad. A small town, it is dominated by the shrine of the Sufi saint, Khwaja Burhanuddin Gharib. Sufi qawwali and the chants of the Bhadra Maruti temple mingle in its air. Adjoining the saint’s dargah is a small enclosure. It contains an earthen grave with a few tulsi plants on it. This is the resting place of the last of the Great Mughals, a man whose writ ran from Ghazni to Chittagong and from Kashmir to Mysore, the Emperor Muhiuddin Muhammad Aurangzeb Alamgir. Six and a half feet of earth is all that he requires now. The puritanical Emperor had forbidden any strucutre on his tomb and had asked that the money he had earned by sewing caps alone should be used for his funerary expenses. The marble flooring and the jaali are the gifts of the Nizam and the British who thought that the Emperor’s resting place was a bit too modest. I uttered a silent prayer for the last Mughal. It’s hard not to feel pity for the man, how much evil he may be accused of. Thankfully, Modern day historians are gradually disproving the many myths regarding Aurangzeb. One day maybe, he will take his true place as one of the greatest administrators of Medieval India.

Aurangzeb’s tomb in Khuldabad