R.V. SMITH gives you a peep into Kutcha Dilwali Singh, a Delhi locality steeped in Sikh history

Delhi has many kutchas or enclosed localities but Kutcha Dilwali Singh (or Singhan) is one which has an enviable history. The personage who lent it his name was the maternal uncle (mamu) of Guru Govind Singh, with much fondness for the nephew, which grew greater after Guru Tegh Bahadur suffered martyrdom in Chandni Chowk under the orders of Aurangzeb on Nov 11, 1675. Govind Singh was quite young when his father’s head was cremated at Anandpur Sahib (the body had been consigned to flames earlier at the site where now stands Gurdwara Rakabganj by a devotee, Lakhi Singh, a contractor at the Mughal court, and his eight sons. It was at Anandpur Sahib on Baisakhi day that the successor guru welded the Sikhs into a community of Khalsa warriors. Aurangzeb died in the Deccan 32 years later in 1707 and not long after Guru Govind Singh also passed away — having completed his mission.

He left behind two consorts, Mata Sundari and Mata Sahib Devi, who settled down in Kutcha Dilwali Singh, near Ajmere Gate. But because of the disturbed times they went away to Mathura in June 1725 for two years, returning to Delhi in 1727. Soon after the two ladies moved to their new abode in Mata Sundari Haveli, near present-day Rouse Avenue. They survived the Guru by 28 years and 30 years respectively and may have witnessed the sack of Delhi by Nadir Shah, when Kutcha Dilwali Singh was among the localities affected. However, it survived destruction and soon after the Persian invader left, the Sikh sangat returned to it briefly to restore confidence among the inhabitants of the locality, who were no doubt badly shaken up by the bloodshed in the city. It started from the steps of the Jama Masjid when a pigeon-seller refused to sell birds to Nadir Shah’s soldiers. Since Ajmere Gate was quite close to the place where the riot occurred, it along with Chandni Chowk, Daryaganj, Delhi and Turkman Gate, bore the brunt of the Afghan soldiers.

Now something more about Dilwali Singh, who was a Dogra soldier-diplomat and Munshi of Aurangzeb’s son, Bahadur Shah I, whom he had befriended since the time he was known as Prince Muazzam. The seventh Mughal emperor, unlike his father, was a man of broader views. Dilwali Singh, working in close association with him as Munshi, looking after accounts of earnings and expenditure on court affairs, including the upkeep of the harem, was a powerful official, almost second to the Wazir (P.M.) of the empire. He introduced his nephew to the emperor in his princely days (some think it was the other way around, with the nephew’s links with the Shahzada helping to mould Diwali Singh’s career).

When the war of succession among the sons of Aurangzeb broke out, Govind Singh sent a token force to help Muazzam at the battle of Jajua, near Agra, in June 1707, and then rushed in himself to ensure his victory over Prince Azam, who was fatally wounded. After that, whenever the Guru was in Delhi, he sent word to the new ruler through Dilwali Singh for a meeting. To confirm his arrival, he would shoot an arrow into the walls of the Red Fort so that Bahadur Shah could come out to meet him. One such meeting took place near Humayun’s Tomb at the place now marked by Gurdwara Damdama Sahib. When Mata Sundari and Mata Sahib Devi began residing in Kutcha Dilwali, there was a lot of schism among the Sikhs, with some trying to set up an 11th Guru. It was from the Kutcha that the Matas sent out “hukumnamas” (edicts) to rally the followers as far as Kabul in the north and Dhaka in the east. They used to travel in bullock carts and in palanquins through the Walled City and then up to their new house, Mata Sundari haveli. All this comes to mind when one visits Kutcha Dilwali Singh, now an almost forgotten mohalla.

The name Dilwali Singh is quite unknown even to the residents of the Walled City, as an A.I.R. team trying to trace the history of the kutchas of Delhi realised to its dismay. Most people thought it was the name of a large-hearted woman and some found in it much cause for mirth. But, as it happens, the person so named was in reality a nobleman who exercised a lot of influence because of his association with the then still nascent Sikh faith and his link with the Mughal royal court, in the 18th Century. It was in his house that the ladies of Guru Gobind Singh family found refuge after his death and the persecution that followed in the reign of emperor Farrukhsiyar. The Matas — Sundari and Sahib Devi — continued to visit the gurdwara for nearly 30 years thereafter for prayers and meetings with followers who could not make it to their new haveli outside the city wall. One granthi opined that the name was probably Dilwal Singh Dogra, which in course of time led to the identification of the place as Dilwali (from Dilliwali) Sangat. Thereby surely hangs a tale for researchers.