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Updated: January 16, 2010 18:05 IST

Delhi's Mahabharata connection

R. V. Smith
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Not many know about the history behind the Kunti Devi temple in Purana Quila, said to be built by the mother of the Pandavas

The Purana Quila has many secrets hidden in it, among them the Talaqi Darwaza and the Kunti Devi temple. The latter is said to have been built by the mother of the five Pandavas and is dedicated to Shiva and Durga. Hence, it is also known as Shiv-Durga Mandir. History books are mainly silent on this little temple, which was renovated in 1915 by Pandit Ghasiram Bhardwaj, the 108th Mahant of his sect. Even now the mandir is being looked after by his heirs, under whose possession also come the adjoining dharamshala, platform, garden and surrounding land, as stated in the inscription displayed outside the temple.

Few visitors to the old fort are attracted to this place, which should originally date back to 1000 B.C., more than 1,500 years older than the fort built as Dinpanah by Humayun and later built upon by Sher Shah Suri, who ousted the second Moghul emperor barely 10 years after his reign. Sher Shah ruled for only five years and then his son Salim Shah came to the throne, after which Humayun, who had taken refuge in Persia, came back and recaptured his kingdom. But he ruled for less than a year before falling to his death from the Sher Mandal inside the fort.

A group of people, including students and their parents, who were taken for a walk in the fort last week by heritage activist Surekha Narain, stumbled upon the Kunti Devi Mandir by chance and were fascinated by it. Excavations in the Purana Quila have unearthed black polished ware and painted gray ware, the former dating back to 300 B.C., which strengthens the belief that the site now occupied by the fort was probably part of the Indraprastha built by Yudhistar, with its ‘fairy gates'. Coins dating back to the Gupta and pre-Gupta periods have also been unearthed.

The Imperial Guptas reigned from 319 to 495 A.D. and the fact that they had control over this area long before the Delhi Sultanate came into existence is proof that their kingdom included Delhi and the areas north of it – Punjab, Kashmir and perhaps parts of Afghanistan too. As a matter of fact, it is believed that Maharani Kunti's sister-in-law Gandhari, wife of the head of the Kauravas, Dhritrashtra, got her name from her native place Ghanadar, as Kandahar was once known. So Kunti Devi's temple is of some significance.

As intriguing as this temple is the Talaqi Darwaza or Forbidden Gate, which has a mural of a man fighting a lion. Why this gate was considered forbidden is not known but there were probably some secrets lying locked beyond it as it happened to be the northern gate of the fort and perhaps full of telltale ruins of the Mahabharata days and women in bondage, of which orthodox Sultans did not want their subjects to know about.

The Bhairon Mandir, outside the northern wall of the Purana Quila, is also said to date back to the Pandava times and is closely associated with the strongest of them, Bhimsen. Incidentally, the Purana Qila had 1,900 people living in it in village-type huts.

They were evicted in 1913 when proper maintenance of the fort began. During the partition days of 1947 refugees from the Walled City of Delhi were camped there by Rajkumari Amrit Kaur (Union Minister for Health) and after their departure the ones from Punjab and Sindh found refuge in it. Sounds amazing that a medieval fort became a sanctuary for 20th century refugees.

Surekha Narain, who has led walks to Ghalib's haveli, the First War of Independence monuments on the Ridge and other places, made the students accompanying her visit the fort museum and attempt a quiz on the objects it contained. The Kunti temple and Talaqi Darwaza, with which Lutyens aligned the Central Vista of New Delhi, were also part of the questionnaire. Heritage walks are proving to be a novel way of rediscovering the history of the Capital.

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