Balban’s Tomb

Ghiyas-ud-din Balban rests here..
Balban’s Tomb and (in the background) one of the pillars of the now broken first dome in India

Ghiyas-ud-din. The name doesn’t suit a king. Does it?

The first thing that comes to my mind whenever I hear Ghiyas-ud-din is a person jisko life mein bahut Ghisna pada. May be a lowly servant in a king’s palace.  Though there have been 3 kings of Delhi named Ghiyas-ud-din, but Ghiyas-id-din Balban was indeed a servant – a slave. But he was also a king – the last king of the Slave dynasty. (Literally speaking his grandson who became the king after his death but he ruled for a mere 3 years before the start of Khilji dynasty).

Balban was captured by Mongols as a child and later on ‘bought’ by Iltumish (Razia Sultan’s father and a popular king of slave dynasty). Balban rose in power and became one of the nobles in the court and after much Ghisayi became the king at the age of 60.

The place, which may have been Balban’s palace is also known for it being the first instance of a true arch in Indian architecture. Before that Corbeled Arches or Trabeated arches were used. I did not know what a true arch means before this visit and it is quite interesting to find out the differences.

Balban’s tomb is also known for the site of the first dome in India. The dome no longer exists but the pillars on which it stood are visible and you can imagine a huge round structure on top of it.

Also, some ruins of a city have been unearthed near the place which show homes, markets etc – although in complete ruins.

Jamali Kamali: At the intersection of two eras

Jamali kamali tombJamali Kamali’s Tomb

I have recently started reading a quintet on five Mughal emperors by Alex Rutherford. The first one was about Babur. Towards the end it is all about his conquest of India and establishing the Mughal empire here. This he did by defeating the Lodhis. In the Lodhi king’s court, there was a poet – Jalal Khan a.k.a Shaikh Fazlullah a.k.a Jamali (He is said to have the same status as Tansen did in Akbar’s court). Later as the power shift happened, he also was a member of Babur’s son – Humayun’s court.

ArchesThe arches at the Mosque

Jamali designed the mosque at Mehrauli near the Qutub Minar. The design is similar to that in Purana Quila – the difference being that it is said that this was the first mosque to have such a design. But what is truly amazing is the adjoining tomb. The tomb was designed and prepared (1528) before Jamali died in 1536. There some rare Persian work on the flat roofed structure.

Jamali Kamali - under the shadow of QutubThere was some rare and fine persian work (blue) which has now eroded

The whole place is right now disputed. Right to pray there by the community members on one hand and the archaeologists wanting to save the site on the other. Obviously if people are given easy access to this place, there will be nuisance – as it is there in the rest of Mehrauli Archaeological park (broken signboards, information boards etc).

Due to the dispute, the place needs special permission to visit. It was courtesy Vikramjit (who was leading the photo walk) that some clicks were possible inside the tomb which is worth a dekko. There is a sense of disproportional inside – reason similar to that in the Taj Mahal. Taj Mahal is exactly symmetrical in every way except one. It was designed to have one tomb – that of Mumtaz Mahal but Shah jahan was buried there too thus spoiling the symmetry. It is similar here. The design seems to have been for Mr. Jamali only. But a certain Kamali – supposedly the best friend of Jamali, was buried there alongside (perhaps much later).

The work on the walls is amazing and the roof tops it – literally and figuratively.

Aamazing view for the deadThe inside of the tomb

Mehrauli is full of monuments from a wide range of eras. Jamali Kamali tomb and mosque come from an interesting period. India’s history generally draws a line in 1527 when the Sultanate period ended after around 300 years and ushered the famous Mughal era which was to last another 300 years. Jamali Kamali stand – or rather lie at either side of that line.

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

Sunheri Masjid

There are two Sunheri Masjids – both in Old Delhi. One, built in 1751 is just outside the Red Fort. Its ‘sunherapan’, which it got from copper gilded domes, has long gone. The other one, built 30 years earlier in 1721 is on Chandni Chowk – next to Sees Ganj Gurudwara. Unlike its younger counterpart, this one still retains the golden colored domes though they are in a pretty bad shape as is the rest of the mosque. Had it not been the golden touch, it would easily merge with the rest of the buildings and be ‘just another mosque’ which it actually is not.

The Sunheri masjid, which stands on a balcony with shops beneath, has been known for some wrong reasons in the past. The mosque was built by Roshan-ud-dualah, the treasurer of Mughal King Mohammed Shah. Roshan-ud-dualah, it is alleged was a notorious bribe taker.

Then later in 1739, Nadir Shah invaded Delhi. After the defeat, Mughals invited him to Delhi. All was fine till his men murdered some cows as a sacrifice. Religion has always been a sensitive spot in the Indian mentality. Slowly the matter snow balled and many of his men were killed. It was escalated when a rumor starting floating that Nadir Shah was poisoned. He then came out to see what was happening. Facing hostilities on Chandni Chowk he dismounted and went up the Sunheri masjid. Here an attempt on his life was made when someone fired a bullet. All this angered him and, he ordered a mass massacre of Delhi. As Mr. Shah sat watching on the balcony, around 30,000 people were killed through the night. Some historians say the number was 120,000. In any case it is counted as one of the bloodiest slaughters in the world.

 An old drawing of the mosque in its prime

Around the Red Fort

Nigambodh Gate

The aim was to find the fifth gate of the old city – Nigambodh Gate. The first four gates – Kashmiri, Delhi, Ajmeri and Turkman were easier to find. For Nigambodh, I studied the pre-1857 Delhi Maps and tried to figure out where the gate would be today. It’s easy theoretically but after searching around I could not find the actual gate. I may be wrong but there is not gate at all. What is left are two walls and the road that divides them. This is probably the same road that led out of Shahjanabad eastwards onto the boat of bridges over the river Yamuna and further ahead to Meerut. Presently it leads to the Ring road that too under a flyover.


Walking on the water

Turn right after emerging out of the city and you are walking where Yamuna used to flow once. There are 2 bridges over the ring road. One which was built much later is for the trains coming out of old Delhi railway station. The other one is the one which originally connects Red fort to Salimgarh Fort. In the old photos of Delhi, one can see a branch of Yamuna flowing under this bridge where today the flow now consists of a stream of cars and buses.

The bridge to Salimgarh fort

Red Fort – the Prajja Point of view.

If you visit the red fort, you get to be a Mughal emperor in your imagination. Come out to the ring road and you get to see what the residents of Delhi saw. The king used to come out on the terrace and wave at the audience every day. It is said that if he missed out on this ritual, it used to create an anxiety among the populace and set rumors about his health or being getting overthrown. There is nothing red about this view of red fort as you see the personal chambers of the king in pure marble white.

Red Fort - the King's chambers


Gumshuda Talash Kendra

The Gumshuda Talash Kendra of Daryaganj’s nayi kotwali is a historical place in itself for the Doordarshan generation. Walking on the ring road, turn to the right on reaching the Southern wall of the red fort. A few meters of walk brings you to this piece of modern history.

Gumshuda Talash Kendra

Sunheri Masjid

The royal mosque which was built by wife of Mughal king, Ahmad Shah in 1751 had domes gilded with copper giving it the name. Later they were repaired and replaced with Sandstone by Bahadur Shah Zafar – the last Mughal. The mosque, fortunately survived the onslaught of soldiers and the British.

Sunheri Masjid

Turn right from the Sunheri Masjid and you are back facing the Lahore Gate of the Red Fort.

Red Fort

Red Fort

The 'Oval Office' of the Mughal king - Diwan-i-KhasA shadow of its glorious past

The phrase, “If there is paradise on earth, it is here, it is here“, is often quoted in reference to Kashmir.
It was originally said by the father of Qawwali, Amir Khusrau, in praise of Delhi.
The same can also be seen written in persian, embedded on two pillars at the Diwan-i-Khas at Red fort. Diwan-i-Khas was a special court room, akin to the Oval office of USA where the Mughal emperors used to meet their advisors and take important decisions apart from normal chit-chat with close friends.

Red fort was the jewel of the new town of Shahjanabad. It took 9 years, 3 months to be built and cost 60 lakh rupees. The now ruined but still beautiful marble buildings inside the fort could easily have rivalled the Taj Mahal had they not been destroyed by the British in 1857. Even in the condition they are now, the mirrors of the Rang Mahal do reflect the glory of the exorbitantly rich past.

The whole fort meanwhile is a juxtaposition of the British and Indian architecture. After 1857, many buildings inside were broken down and 4 huge buildings – the barracks – all distinctly British were constructed. They are an eye sore as they overshadow the beautiful gardens.

The most beautiful part of the palace, though I could only imagine it was a stream of water flowing throughout the line of the royal buildings – the Diwan-i-Khas, Khas Mahal, Rang Mahal. Imagine a drawing room completely built from Marble with a stream of water throughout with a huge beautiful fountain in the middle, a peacock throne to sit on, silk curtains, persian carpets. Now how could a person who lived there ever doubt about him living in a paradise.

“If there is a heaven on earth”

“It is here. It is here.”

The British Magazine

During the 1857 uprising, hundreds of sepoys came into Delhi after a  mutiny in Meerut where they killed all the British. In Delhi too they went about killing all the English – men, women, children they could find. By the afternoon, almost all of them in the city had been killed. At around 4 PM, the sepoys went to the Mughal king – Bahadur Shah Zafar to seek his blessing and support for the uprising.
The old king, having very less options, reluctantly agreed to it. As soon as he came back to his quarters after announcing this publicly, there was a huge blast north to the Palace (The Red Fort). It was so strong that it was heard 20 miles away.

The epicenter of this blast was the British Magazine – North India’s largest arsenal of ammunition and guns. Lieutenant Willoughby was defending this Magazine since morning. By the afternoon he was fully surrounded by the sepoys. To prevent such a large cache of arms and ammunition landing in the mutineer’s hands, Willoughby blew up the whole building along with a large mob of the sepoys who were attacking it and of course himself.

What remains of this magazine are the two entrances around 100 meters apart. Kashmiri Gate Post office stands where perhaps  there was a warehouse of the ‘modern’ Enfield rifles which were the primary reason for the 1857 uprising.

Khooni Darwaza

Khooni Darwaza

Khooni Darwaza – the name itself has horror written all over it. Had this place not been in the middle of a road, it could easily have been an ideal place for shooting of a supernatural themed movie. There is already an original story in place for the movie.
Khooni darwaza was originally called Kabuli Darwaza and formed the boundary of Shergarh – the city which was originally built by Humayun and later taken over by Sher Shah Suri. Kabuli Darwaza became Khooni darwaza 300 years later in 1857.

When the British re-captured the city after the sepoy  uprising, Bahadur Shah Zafar – the last Mughal King went into hiding at the Humayun’s tomb along with his family. The British offered to spare his life if he surrendered. He did so. But his sons (who had led forces against the English army) kept on hiding. Some time later, when British came to know about them, they asked them to surrender too. Thinking that their lives would be spared like their father, they surrendered too. The British, meanwhile had no intentions to keep them alive. While Captain Hodson was taking them back to the city, a crowd started gathering, threatening to rescue the princes (this fact is disputed though).
Hodson then stripped the princes and shot them in cold blood at point-blank range. This happened at the Khooni Darwaza.

It is said that the spirit of the princes still haunts the place. Though they did not disturb me but the place does have the haunted look to it. It lies hidden among the trees with an old chowkidar mysteriously sitting there all by himself. While I was clicking some photos, I day dreamed about the chowkidaar slowly walking up to me and in his shaky voice telling me that he was a Mughal descendent and had royal blood in his veins.

Oh Damn. Was that a day dream or did it really happen!!!

Safdarjung Tomb

Safdarjung's tomb

Safdarjung is a very popular name in Delhi. There is a hospital and an airport after the name besides the tomb which is perhaps where the name came in the present consciousness. Safdarjung was the Nawab of Oudh (Awadh) – the present east U.P. When the Mughal power began to decline after Aurangzeb’s death, Safdarjung began to increase his influence, ultimately becoming the chief minister of India and a virtual ruler, the ineffective king being just a puppet in his hand. Soon the power got to his head and he fell out of favor. When he died, Safdarjung’s son asked permission to build his tomb in the ‘waste lands’ south-west of Shahjanabad (the present Old Delhi). Today the waste land is one of the poshest areas of Delhi.

When you see the Safdarjung’s tomb it looks similar to a person with a small body and huge head. Inspired by the Humayun’s tomb, Taj Mahal and Mughal architecture in general, this tomb is one of the last buildings to be built in the 300 year long Mughal period.
Marble was in short supply as the now weakened Mughal dynasty did not control the quarries near Agra, so marble was used from other buildings in the vicinity. Obviously it was not enough as it is clear if you closely look at the patchy work. But the walls, ceilings and pillars, all are intricately and lavishly done. It could easily have been a palace had a marble tombstone not been there at the center of it.

The only drawback being the present guards of this palace who were on the wrong side of the rudeness scale.

Gates of Old Delhi – part 2

Kashmiri Gate of the Shahjanabad (old Delhi) was the way out to the North side of the city – facing towards Kashmir, as the name suggests. This can also be termed as the most important one as out of all the gates, only this one had an entrance with double gateway.
Today, the inter-state bus terminus(ISBT), which is known by the same name has become a symbolic representation of this gate by being a point where people come and exit the city of New Delhi.

The actual Kashmiri gate lies anonymously on the side of a road under the colossal shadow of the ISBT metro station. Surrounded by buildings, it is one of the busiest areas in Delhi and as you enter the compound you can very well lose your sense of direction and wonder whether you are standing inside the erstwhile Shahjanabad or outside it.
But one look at the gate is enough to tell you.

During the 1857 mutiny, five months after the Indian soldiers had taken over the city, the British launched an attack at the city through the Kashmiri Gate. They pounded it with Canons and the damage from those canon balls is still preserved. So if you are facing the side of the gate with these damaged walls, you are actually outside the old city and standing at a point which once used to be a moat around the walls.

Kashmiri Gate - as viewed from outside the city

On the inside, some part of the wall is still standing with the barracks built into these walls. It is rather interesting to see some photographs of the gate during late 1800′s and run your imagination around them.

.Kashmiri Gate - the view from inside the city

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