Have you ever tried to figure out the significance of calling a road Barakhamba or the existence of Qutub Minar’s lookalike in Hastsal?
Harry Truman once famously said, “The only thing new in the world is the history you do not know.”
Barakhamba Road is one of the better known roads in Central Delhi where imposing buildings and towers abound. However, a layman, uninformed about the historical background of the place, would wonder about the reasoning behind its name. The word “Barakhamba” in Hindustani translates to “twelve pillars” and an inquisitive mind might try to find the twelve pillars after which the road is named.
The site of Barakhamba Road originally had a house of a nobleman or a saint of which little has survived. Architect Ashish Nangia mentions in his article “The Tughlaq years”, “The surviving evidence is of interest because this is one of the few cases when secular architecture — as opposed to religious or military — has been found in any degree of preservation this far back in time. A reconstruction of the house would show it enclosed in a high perimeter wall containing an open courtyard with rooms around, a roof terrace, a court with a chabootra or platform for sitting in the open, as well as a quirky three-story high tower, probably used for looking at the city.”
The house was constructed during the reign of Sultan Mohammed Tughlaq, and like many of his notable works, perhaps this one also fell out of favour of historians, who chose to focus on the sultan’s ill-advised decision to shift the capital from Delhi to Daulatabad.
Also, the number of pillars bears significance as pointed out by Delhi’s seasoned chronicler R.V Smith. “Figure seven and figure 12, in particular, seem to have mystical significance to real time events such as 12 hours in the day and 12 in the night, 12 months, 12 apostles, 12 signs of the zodiac, 12 tribes, 12 branched candlesticks and 12 kinds of men and women, and so forth.” Many other buildings in North India from the ancient and medieval times have the influence of number twelve in their architecture.
There also exists a Barakhamba monument in the Nizamuddin area of New Delhi. However, it is dated back to the reign of the Lodhi dynasty, to which the road bears little relation. Today, on Barakhamba Road, there is not a trace of a pillar, no mention anywhere in any building or site of the famed 12 pillars. The road though is still named Barakhamba!
While the Qutub Minar continues to draw tourists, its lesser known replica is waiting for attention in West Delhi. The Hastsal Minar or Hastsal ki Laat as it is popularly called was built by Mughal emperor Shahjahan in 1650 as a hunting lodge. Later it was abandoned by the Mughals and over a period of time it suffered the ignorance of historians and the general public. Today, it lies in a decrepit state in Nangloi area, where for the local populace its surrounding area is reduced to a children’s park.
The 17-metre high tower resembles the Qutub Minar in design and is also made of red sandstone. There is an underground tunnel between the tower and the place of rest or the baradari, as it is called. It is said that the rulers used this tunnel to escape in case of emergency. One of the legends says that the minar was originally built by Prithviraj Chauhan.
There are many other legends associated with the tower. It is said it was the hunting resort of the Mughals, where their elephants used to rest. That would explain its name. However, today, the real matter of concern is the poor state of the monument. It is surrounded by debris, and the filthy approach road mars the traditional value of the monument.