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Delhi's Khooni Darwaza... wicked as ever

THE KHOONI Darwaza is in the news again. It was not one of the 14 gates built by Shah Jahan in the city of Shahjahanabad but a building of Sher Shah Suri's time. Then it was known as the Kabuli Darwaza because caravans to Afghanistan passed through this the northern gate of Suri's capital city which had the Purana Qila as its central citadel, says the book on elgi monuments compiled by Maulvi Zafar Hasan in the 1920s.

Situated opposite the Ferozeshah Kotla, this gateway is 15.5 metres high, built of Delhi quartzite stone, with three staircases leading to different levels of the gate. The staircase leading to the terrace was used by the three rapists to push the medico of Maulana Azad Medical College to the topmost part of the gate where the criminal assault took place.

After the rapists fled, the hapless girl descended this flight of stairs alone with great difficulty, her clothes besmeared with blood and hair dishevelled and was accosted by two beat constables who were the first to learn of her plight.

The gate came to be known as the Khooni Darwaza during the Moghul days, though even in Sher Shah's time in the 1540s, when it was constructed, it was used presumably both as an outpost and the place where heads of criminals were exhibited, since it was on the outskirts of the city.

However, it's a fact that Emperor Jahangir in the early decades of the 17th Century ordered the killing of the two sons of Abdur Rahim Khan-e-Khanan here on a trumped up charge that they were traitors. The truth was that Jahangir had taken a dislike to the great Khan, one of Akbar's nine jewels and near kinsman (he was the son of his uncle, Bairam Khan who acted as Akbar's regent after Humayun's death).

Jahangir got piqued because Abdul Rahim, a towering personality of the Moghul Empire, had supported the claim of Jahangir's eldest son, Prince Khusrau, to the throne after Akbar's death. In this he was supported by Mirza Raja Man Singh and Mirza Aziz Kokaltash, son of Akbar's wet-nurse, Ji Ji Anga. The latter two were also shabbily treated by Jahangir. The bodies of the Khan-e-Khanan's sons were left to rot and be eaten by birds of prey here.

When Aurangzeb ousted his father, Shah Jahan, after the defeat of the imperial forces under Dara Shikoh, he had his elder brother's head displayed at this gate. Later, on September 22, 1857 the sons of Bahadur Shah Zafar, Mirza Mughal and Mirza Khizr Sultan and grandson Mirza Abu Bekar, were murdered at the gate by Major Hodson after the king's surrender to the British. The princes were brought from Humayun's Tomb in Nizamuddin where Zafar had taken refuge in a bullock cart. A crowd of 3,000 people from Shahjahanabad and Nizamuddin followed the British party.

Near the Khooni Darwaza Hodson panicked, thinking that the crowd would attack him and his men and rescue the princes. So he shot them in cold blood. Hodson was censured for this by the British authorities. But before that he had the audacity to take the bodies of the princes, who had been stripped naked, to the Chandni Chowk where they lay in front of the Kotwali for days, rotting in the sun.

Nemesis caught up with Hodson in Lucknow, where he had gone and was among those who were plundering the Begum Kothi after the capture of the city the next year. A rebel sepoy shot him through the liver and he died the way he deserved, the blackguard.

During the riots of 1947 also the Khooni Darwaza saw much bloodshed as refugees were murdered here while they were proceeding for safety to the Purana Qila, where the Government had set up a camp for them under the guidance of Rajkumari Amrit Kaur -- Health Minister in Nehru's Cabinet. These refugees were from the walled city of Shahjahanabad.

Before the building of New Delhi the Khooni Darwaza stood in an open land which led to the Muslim cemetery, now hidden behind the buildings of Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg. On the other side of the Darwaza, where now stand Maulana Azad Medical College, G.B. Pant Hospital, Guru Tegh Bahadur Hospital and Jayaprakash Narayan Hospital -- the erstwhile Irwin Hospital named after the Viceroy's wife -- was occupied by fields where vegetables were grown. Cauliflower, radish and turnips cultivated here were supposed to be the best in town. In these fields stood the famous Daurani- Devrani-ka-Kuan -- well of sisters-in-law -- which cannot be traced now.

Opposite the fields was Shahji-ka-Talab or lake, which later became the Ramlila Grounds and beyond that Turkman Gate and the inhabited area of Delhi. Another old construction amidst the fields, besides the well, was Bhuri or Bhuli Bhatiyari ki Masjid, the mosque of the fair woman innkeeper. Whether this mosque was connected in some way to Bhuri Bhatiyari-ka-Mahal on the Ridge opposite Karol Bagh's Link Road is not known.

Maybe the innkeeper was a particular favourite of Feroze Shah Tughlak who built a mahal --actually a shikargah -- for her and also a mosque quite a distance away. However, Syed Ahmed Khan thought that Bhuli Bhatiyari was a misnomer for a nobleman, Bhu Ali Bhatti, who had once occupied the building.

The Khooni Darwaza is said to be haunted because of the gory incidents connected with it. Folklore says it's in the realm of spirits and djinns and that blood stains can still be seen on its walls. These are actually the worn-out stones of the gateway which have acquired a reddish hue. Hence some also call it Lal Darwaza, though there are at least two other gateways known by that name -- one opposite the Delhi Zoo built by Sher Shah and the other opposite Bazar Sita Ram in the Walled City built by Mirza Mughal Beg Khan as the gateway to his house during the decadent years of the Moghul Empire in the early 19th or late 18th Century.

The Khooni Darwaza was the venue of a unique cultural meet two years ago. It would be in the fitness of things if more such functions are held there or a library or office of the Archaeological Survey are housed in it. If that's not feasible then at least a police post can be set up to prevent further mischief as the gateway is used for illegal activities by criminals, vagabonds and drug addicts. Homosexuals and prostitutes have also operated there. Time to end the nuisance at this wicked gate.


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