The renovation of the mosque of Darwesh Shah has made it accessible to a larger public. But the identity of the darwesh remains a mystery

INTACH has done a highly creditable job in renovating the Lodhi period mosque of Darwesh Shah, near Gulmohar Park. Carping critics may cry themselves hoarse at the supposedly unaesthetic way the masjid has been repainted and repaired with lime and plaster, but the fact remains that nothing else could be done to save this monument. For years it presented a dismal sight, overgrown with shrubs and bushes and hidden by leafy trees. It was so even during the time of Maulvi Zafar Hasan of the Archaeological Survey of India, who had carried out a survey of the monuments of Delhi in the 1920s. Now the mosque presents a different face and one which should draw more visitors, both Indian and foreign, to it.

One thing surprising about the monument is that the identity of the holy man whom it commemorates still remains a secret. Darwesh Shah is an honorific, not a name. A saintly man just came to be known by that name. Six hundred years ago is a long time, and the world was far different then. People who visited him were blessed. Their wishes having being fulfilled, the darwesh acquired a halo over the centuries.

Just imagine what Gulmohar Park must have been like in those days when there were no newspapers and journalists, who now form the majority of the residents of the colony.

It is not even certain if there were gulmohar trees there then, or anywhere else in India. Gulmohar or peacock flower tree is said to have been brought by foreign traders rounding the cape of Good Hope in Moghul times and replanted in India as an exotic species which was at first disliked by man and bird and beast — just like the resistance to the eucalyptus tree brought from Australia, in the then New World.

Architectural features

About Darwesh masjid, this is what INTACH has to say: “In DDA Park, opposite Gulmohar Park, entry from Dalbir Saxena Marg (road from Siri Fort to Uphaar Cinema)… This wall mosque stands on a raised platform and has seven mehrab recesses, the central one being emphasized by raised battlements and flanking minarets. The courtyard measures 23 meters by 18.9 meters and contains several graves. The courtyard would have been entered through the north-east end, but is today inaccessible as the steps leading up to it have disappeared. At the lower level there are arched dalans on the north, south and east sides.”

This description is based on Maulvi Zafar Hassan's observation. The renovation has made the mosque accessible now. Who was the darwesh? Was he the one who had asked a group of boys over six centuries ago whether they would like to buy the kingdom of Delhi for 2,000 tankas? Only Bahlol agreed and was blessed by the darwesh. His friends later made fun of him for being “a fool”. Bahlol replied that it was not so, because if the darwesh's word was true he stood to gain a kingdom, and if it was not so, he had done the right thing in giving a fakir what he desired. How right he was is evident, for Bahlol Lodhi became the founder of a dynasty which bore his name.

Maybe the mosque was built in the darwesh's memory by him or his successors. But who lies buried in the graves near it? The darwesh's family members or devotees? Probably the latter, for they couldn't have found a better resting place.