Youth for Heritage Foundation, headed by Vikramjit Singh Roop Rai, has been holding an exhibition, “Forgotten Heritage of Delhi” since March 1. It was started from the four core lobbies of the India Habitat Centre and on April 18 (World Heritage Day) moved to the Red Fort, having been inaugurated by the Director-General of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), Pravin Shrivastava and conceived by the Superintending Archaeologist of Delhi Circle, V. S. Swarnkar. Due to close at the end of this month, the exhibition provides a peep into the Capital’s past with 73 pictures of 34 monuments on display. They include Lodi Garden, Jama Masjid, Sultangarhi, Hauz Khas monuments, Khirki and Begumpuri mosques, Hazrat Makhdoom Sabzwari’s shrine, the Green Park monuments, Zafar Mahal, Dadi-Poti tombs, Roshanara Bagh and Badli Sarai.
Among the lesser-known monuments Khirki Masjid, a double storied mosque, built by Junan Shah, Vazir of Firoz Shah Tughlak in the 14th Century, has three gateways with imposing minarets. The building gets its name from the khirkis or perforated windows which have corresponding cells in the first storey. The pillared courtyard has nine domes. One wonders why the khirkis were built and for what purpose? Was the mosque meant for the exclusive use of purdah ladies? Its fort-like structure gives the impression that from the windows one could watch happenings outside without being detected or get shot by a traitor’s arrow.
The Begampuri mosque in Begumpur village on Aurobindo Marg is another structure of comparable proportions, also built by Junan Shah who is credited with having constructed seven imposing mosques before Delhi’s Jama Masjid came up. ‘Dadi-Poti’ (grandmother and grand-daughter) on Hauz Khas Road is a puzzling monument. Who are these two personages? Their graves seem to date back to Lodi times. During that period graves built on a platform were those of members of the nobility. The Dadi-Poti tombs are also referred to as those of biwi (mistress) and bandi (maid). This further adds to the riddle of this monument.
Zafar Mahal in Mehrauli has fallen on bad days. Built by Akbar Shah II, son of Shah Alam, it was completed by Bahadur Shah Zafar who also erected its magnificent gateway and named it after himself. The pattern of the Mahal is akin to that of Chhatta Chowk in the Red Fort and its gateway bears a faint resemblance to the Buland Darwaza of Fatehpur Sikri, which Zafar saw as a young man. Sultangarhi is the “first example of a monumental Muslim tomb in India, except for some monuments in Kutch” Situated on Mehrauli-Palam road, it was built by Altamash in 1231 for his eldest son Nasiruddin Mahmud who died at Lakhnauti (Bengal) in 1229. It is a maze-like monument with the character of a crypt (ghari) and a hidden staircase. There are other tombs also of the Slave period in this cryptic edifice.
Roshanara garden has the tomb of Roshanara Begum, younger daughter of Shah Jahan, (died in 1671) who was very close to Aurangzeb. The tomb was planned by Roshanara herself in 1650 with a beautiful garden, ornamental fountains and canals. Now a Japanese-style garden adds to its attraction. The garden tomb houses the Roshanara Club, set up after the third Afghan war by the British, which organized the first cricket tournaments in North India. Badli Sarai on the Delhi-Karnal Road in Badli village marks the site of an inn built in Mughal times. Here a fierce battle was fought in 1857 between the sepoys and the Gordon Highlanders who are commemorated by a sandstone monument. Now only the gate of the serai stands as a silent memorial.
The Lodi gardens, later developed by Lady Willingdon, wife of the Viceroy, contain the tombs of some Lodi sultans. The Shish Gumbad built by Sikandar Lodi Nizam Khan, the greatest king of the dynasty, is not a head hunters’ monument but known so because of its glazed dome which takes its name from the Persian word shish (glass). The gumbad contains a number of graves which have remained unidentified so far but not that of his son Ibrahim Lodhi who rests in Panipat. The pictorial exhibition, in an Army Officers’ barrack in the Red Fort, is worth a visit to witness the glory of the Delhi that was. It showcases a history of over 700 years.
The author is a veteran chronicler of Delhi