Djinns of Ferozshah Kotla

Jami masjid

The last time I had been to Ferozshah Kotla, I had wondered why people were lighting diyas inside the ruins of Ferozshah Kotla which was once a Muslim palace. Today was the day to find that out – on a walk organized by the India Habitat Center and led by Shahana Chakravarty.

Two things stood out for me on my first organized group walk. One was of course the story of the diyas and the prayers happening inside and the second was the further exploration of the place which I had missed out on the previous occasion. The second gave me some interesting shots which I had only day dreamed about the last time, while the first revealed the reason of the name of one of my favorite books – City of Djinns by Willliam Dalrymple.

The doors are closed to prevent Djinns from coming out
To keep the Djinns locked inside!

The first line of the book says about the Djinns of Ferozshah Kotla but it was on today’s walk that I realized the link between the Diyas and Djinns. Sometime in 1970’s a story emerged that Djinss or spirits resided at the Ferozshah Kotla. And it is to please them that diyas and agarbattits are lighted, milk is kept in bowls and even meat is kept at different places all around the fort. Don’t know if the Djinss taste them but the plenty of eagles and dogs there – ready to taste it as there were the cats thriving on all the milk, originally meant for the spirits.

People even write their requests to these Djinns and put it up in different cells beneath the Jami Masjid. They also express their gratitude by offering prayers if a request is granted by the Djinns, they offer their gratitude. This is done in the three floor of cells below the monolithic Ashoka Pillar which was specially brought in by Feroz Shah Tuglaq and installed in his citadel.

Some of the written requests to the Djinns

There were many other interesting facts explained by Shahana during the walk like the architectural details and the visit to the Baoli – for which permission has to be taken. But a key takeaway was a suggestion to come here at night especially on Thursdays when the whole place is lighted up with Diyas and candles. Let’s keep that on the list. May be I can see some Djinns of Delhi !!

Ashoka PillarThe Ashoka Pillar

Feroz Shah Kotla – The Fort

Remains of the mosque courtyard

Dark skies with a hint of rain in the air made the ruins of Feroz Shah Kotla look amazing. Guess it did the same for many other people who had come there with their DSLR’s (mostly new) hanging from their necks. (Reminded me of the recent article on DSLRs I had read). For some whom I overhead, this was a just ‘some old fort’ with good photography opportunities.

For me it was an extension to the visit of the ancient college at Hauz Khas where Feroz Shah Tuglaq was also laid to rest. Feroz Shah was a reformer who built hospitals, colleges, mosques, reservoirs for irrigation. Many of them were part of Ferozabad – the fifth city of Delhi. This city extended upto Hauz Khas and Feroz Shah Kotla was the city’s highlight. Timur, who plundered the city some years later, too was impressed by this fort and very gladly took away all the ornamentation. The rest of the building material from the city was taken away for construction of Shah Jahan’s Shahjenabad.

One thing that still eludes my understanding is the fascination with pillars. There is a pillar in the Qutab Complex(one of the first cities in Delhi), here at Ferozabad and one in the latest city – the Luytens (inside Rashtrapati Bhavan).
Unlike the other two pillars, the one in Ferozabad is given special attention. It is placed on a 3 story high platform.

Ashoka Pillar

Also present inside the fort is the Jami Masjid, which impressed Timur so much that he took masons from here and built a replica in his hometown, Samalkhand(Uzbekistan). Interestingly, I found Diyas lit and people performing a prayer ritual in a true Hindu religion fashion near the stairs leading up to the masjid. Perhaps it is a good representation of the communal harmony that existed at the prime of this fifth city. In fact it was this tolerance towards Hindus which prompted Timur to invade India apart from the wealth – which can be only imagined adorning these ruins now.

City of Tombs

Barakhamba

If you roam around Delhi, you can get a sense of how people loved their after life. May be it was their relatives who wanted them to be remembered. Many of the monuments here are tombs. And though Humayun’s tomb is the largest and most beautiful of it all, the ‘parampara’ did not start with Mughals. It was prevalent much before – Feroz Shah Tughlaq being one of the examples.

May be the rulers at that time had not imagined that space would be such scarce in few hundred years. They designed the resting places of their ancestors/relatives as colossal and peaceful places. Standing alone and visible from a distance, they look like an imposing figure in their old ‘black and white’ photos taken a few hundred years ago. Today they jostle for space. Many of them are nestled among the modern markets, hidden by the trees, ignored and visited by people interested in sleeping under the cool tree shades.

These shades along with neatly pruned green grass was what pulled me too, towards two such monuments in Hauz khas as I, tired after walking a lot, passed by them. There is no recorded history of these places. Barakhamba is nowhere near the barakhamba road and simply called because there are 12 pillars in the structure. The dadi poti tomb does not get its name from a granddaughter and her grandmother buried there. It is more linked to the size of the tombs. As you can get an idea from random names, no one knows who is buried here and they even belong to different eras (Dadi – Lodhi and Poti – Tughlaq). They have been taken by the Archaeology survey team for improvements and now they look like Aishwarya Rai – beautiful but artificial.

Sunday Morning Greens


Apart from a cosy bed, where else would you like to be on a fine Sunday morning. There could be hundreds of options, of course. Chandigarh’s Sukhna lake is one at top of the mind. Recently I managed to find another one in Delhi. It is the Hauz Khas Tank – built in the early 1300′s to meet the water needs of a brand new fort – Siri. The fort is nothing more than mere walls now. But the tank or a lake if you can call it, still stands. It is like an island – a small area of peace in the middle of a mad rush of a colossal city.

There is a thick cover of trees which keep things really cool and  instant relaxation is what you get when you see the huge water pool. There is a jogging track to keep you fit and beautiful ruins form the backdrop when you sit.

It actually has something for everyone. Solitude for loners, privacy for lovers, views for photographers, ruins for history lovers, birds and animals for people interested in them and vast space for children to express their freedom. All in all a peaceful place for which I would gladly trade some sleep on a Sunday morning.

 

The College with a View

Students studied under the shadow of their teachers

There are tombs strewn all over Delhi. But perhaps one of the most beautiful after-life view is enjoyed by Feroz Shah Tughlaq. He is the guy who built Feroz Shah Kotla – not the cricket stadium but a city which once stood and was later destroyed (the cricket stadium came in there many years later).
He was a liberal ruler, who came in after his tyrant uncle Mohammed Tughlaq and focussed on education and medicine. He built around seventy dispensaries and many Madarsas. One of the them was at the Hauz Khas overlooking the magnificent Hauz Khas tank. He liked the view so much that he decided that this place would also be his resting place. Along with the madarsa he built his to-be tomb 30 years before he died. The tank is now an algae ridden lake but considering the view, studying at this Madarsa must have been a delightful experience. A chronicler of those times once wrote, “People come from East and West in caravan after caravan just to look at it”.

view from college

View from the College


It is hard to imagine that this place, with a dense cover of trees is in the middle of Delhi. May be that is an important difference between Delhi and Mumbai. In Mumbai you hardly find a place where you have the out-of-the-city feel. Delhi on the other hand has many Delhi’s within it – some ruined, some beautiful and some like this corner of Hauz khas – Peaceful. May be it looked peaceful because it was an early Sunday morning.

But I was not alone this morning. There was another group of people who were there visiting the tomb and the Madarsa. A lady in the group was diligently picking up the wrappers of chips, biscuits etc which people had strewn the place with. And some time later as I passed the group, I realized that I knew one of the persons in that group. It was Nandan Nilekani.

More Photos

Perfect Ruins

What it must have been once
Perfect Ruins. It may be an oxymoron but holds perfectly true for the ruins at the Tughalakabad. Colossal is the first word that comes to mind when you cross a bend on the Mehrauli – Badarpur road and have the first glimpse of what was the third city (of the 7 cities) in Delhi. Once inside, the 12 foot thick walls make the traffic sounds simply disappear. It is quite clearly meant to be a military strong-hold but in his hey days had seen splendor too. The famous traveler Ibn Batuta (made more famous by the song in the movie Ishqiya), spent a significant time here under the tyrant king Mohammed Tughlaq. In his words, “..inside Tughlukabad is the great palace whose tiles the Sultan has gilded. When the sun rises they shine with a brilliant light that makes it impossible to keep one’s eyes fixed upon it”. Today that palace is just two broken perpendicular walls, conspicuous in their isolation

Remains of the Palace

On the eastern side there are some spectacular ruins of what was once a market place. Some houses are clearly recognizable. From some of the bastions you get breath taking 360 degree view of a vast flat land. It reminds you of a famous curse associated with this place. Nizamuddin Aulya, the famous sufi saint had once cursed Ghiyassudin Tuglak with the words, “Hunuz Dilli dur ast” (Delhi abhi door hai)

As you sit some 20 meters above the ground, cool breeze gently ruffling you with nothing but silence to give you company, Delhi truly seems far away.

Tughlakabad City

Delhi seems far away

kisi zamane ka ghar

Must have been some one’s home once


Ruins of Tughlakabad

Splendid Ruins

(Ibn Batuta Quote from the book City of Djinns by William Dalrymple)


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 144 other followers