Rediscovering the history of Delhi during the past 3000 years made for an interesting lecture at India Habitat Centre last week. The speaker Vikramjit Singh Rooprai who heads the Delhi Youth for Heritage Foundation delineated facts and figures to illustrate the ups and downs in the city’s long march during which it was ruled by 125 kings of several dynasties, ending with the British Raj in 1947. However, it may not be very apt to conclude that Delhi was just a barren plain 3000 years ago as the commonly accepted date of its emergence is between 1500 B.C. and 800 B.C. Obviously, it did have habitations and chieftains jealously controlling their areas of influence, but towering above them all was the twin Kaurava-Pandava clan. It would, therefore, not be too far off the mark to say Dhilli, Delhi, Mihirapuri, Macchhrauli, Mehrauli and Yoginpura has been in existence right from the time of the Mahabharata, though it was known as Indraparastha then and the Purana Qila is said to mark its site. But no trace remains of the castle of Yudhisthir because it was not built of brick and mortar but of wood and lac and could not last that long. Excavations by Archaeological Survey of India have revealed layers of habitation at the site which go back into the dim past, whose myths and facts were lucidly highlighted by Rooprai.
The iron pillar near the Qutub, dating back to the 5th Century, is the most famous of the ancient relics. Of a later period are Suraj Kund, Anangpur dam and Lal Kot which were built by the Tomars in the 10th and 11th Centuries with its 19 rulers, culminating in the Qila Rai Pithora of Prithviraj Chouhan. That was the period when Mahmud of Ghazni invaded the area now known as Meerut, though he did not come to Delhi probably because of the well-entrenched Tomars there. Long after came the invasions of Mohammad Ghori. After his victory in the second battle of Tarain, Ghori left behind his general and former slave Qutubuddin Aibak to carve out a kingdom. But soon after Ghori was murdered and Qutubuddin became the first Slave Sultan of Delhi. Siri Tughlakabad, Adilabad, Ferozabad, Dinpanah, Red Fort and Shahjahanbad were the creations of Khiljis, Tughlaks and other dynasties ending with the Mughals. The Qutub Minar is the crowning glory of the Slave rulers, followed by the Quwaat-ul-Islam mosque. The controversy that the minar was of Hindu origin has erupted from time to time. Though most historians, are agreed that it is probably of Turkish origin but built by Hindu craftsmen with the material of demolished temples.
Alauddin Khilji’s dream of a tower higher than the Qutub could not materialise beyond the first storey but is nevertheless an attraction like the tomb. The tomb was built by his eldest son, Khizr Khan who married Dewal Devi, daughter of the Raja of Gujarat, on whom the celebrated Amir Khusro wrote his love poem “Ashiqa” in 1319. The advent of the Tughlaqs saw the building of the formidable fortress of Tughlakabad which contains the tomb of Ghiasuddin and Jahanpanah of fourth Deli of his son, the eccentric Mohammad bin Tughlaq. Delhi owes a lot to the Tughlaqs and their contemporary, the saint Nizamuddin Aulia whose mureed or disciple Mohammad bin Tughlaq was, though his father disliked the saint. Feroz Tughlaq, was the royal archaeologist who, besides building his city of Ferozabad with the Kotla holding pride of place, also repaired the monuments of his predecessors, including the Qutub. His love for hunting manifested itself in shikargahs though several mosques, the Begumpur, Khirki and Kalan were among those constructed during his reign. The Hauz Khas Madarasa who also his creation.
The Sayyids built various tombs in Delhi and the Lodhis added to them. Bare Khan, Chhote Khan’s tombs and Bahlol Lodhi’s tomb being prominent. During Sikandar Lodhi’s time Masjid Moth, Bara Gumbad and Shish Gumbad came up. His son Ibrahim Lodhi built Darya Khan’s tomb and Nili Masjid. Then came the grand Mughals. Jamali Kamali’s tomb came up during Babar’s reign, along with Isa Khan’s Masjid, Humayun built his Dinpanah before his flight to Persia. Sher Shah added Qila-e-Kuhna Masjid and Shergarh. Salim Shah, his son, built Salimgarh. Humayun came back to rule India, followed by Akbar and 96 years of Mughal rule with Agra as the capital. During that period Humayun’s tomb, Isa Khan’s tomb, Arab-ki Sarai and the tombs of Adam Khan and Atgah Khan were built in Delhi, while the Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri came into being in Agra and Jehangir completed Akbar’s tomb at Sikandra. Shah Jahan moved his court to Delhi and then the Red Fort, the Jama Masjid and the city, of Shahjehanabad came up. His reign also saw the completion of Chausath Khamba, Khan-e-Khanan’s tomb, Fatehpur Masjid, Shalimar Bagh. Begum Bagh and Roshanara Bagh.
Aurangzeb added the Moti Masjid of the Red Fort while Bahadur Shah I built the Sunheri Masjid outside it. The Jantar-Mantar of Raja Jai Singh came up in Farrukseyar’s reign, the second Sunheri Masjid of Qudsia Begum in Mohammad Shah’s time, the Qudsia park and Safdarjung’s Tomb in Ahmad Shah’s reign.
The latter Mughals, Shah Alam, Akbar Shah II and Bahadur Shah Zafar added to the existing buildings, especially in Mehrauli. The advent of the British saw Metcalfe House, Skinner’s Church, Fraser’s House and the Town Hall, to be followed by the New Delhi of Lutyens.
Delhi still has many old buildings dotting the landscape. A lot of encroachment has taken place around them, a few however stand in solitary isolation, amid wild vegetation or desolate tracks. If the colonisers had their way they would not mind bulldozing them as blemishes on the face of time. But the greater danger comes from brash neighbours who break up the old monuments brick-by-brick. Naraina Fort is no longer there but the Najafgarh Fort ruins are among the 10 or so remaining forts. Absence of action by the authorities is taken as acquiescence and so the nefarious game goes on from generation to generation. May be Rooprai’s enterprising history youth brigade could motivate people to preserve Delhi’s heritage or whatever remains of it.
The author is a veteran chronicler of Delhi