Down Memory Lane Metroplus

A tale of two Delhi Gates

Delhi Gate at the entrance of Daryaganj, one of the 14 built by Shah Jahan in his city wall, has a quainter history than the other 13 though Kashmere Gate, Mori Gate and Lahore Gate saw most of the fighting during the First War of Independence. But earlier Kashmere Gate was witness to a big flow of wounded soldiers after the third Battle of Panipat in 1761. Delhi Gate did not see much action until 1804, when Jaswant Rao Holkar attacked the Capital. His siege was however broken by Col. Ochterlony, who defended the gate and the wall extending from it to the Turkman and Ajmere Gates. After the Battle of Patparganj a year earlier, Lord Lake is said to have entered the city through this gate to meet Shah Alam but some historians differ. About 54 years later, the rebel sepoys from Meerut entered Delhi via the Rajghat Gate (now no more). However, the British force under Hodson sent out to arrest Bahadur Shah Zafar, who had taken shelter in Humayun’s Tomb, went this way and brought back the bodies of two of the Emperor’s sons and a grandson, through it after their cold-blooded murder at the Khooni Darwaza.

How much importance Shah Jahan gave to his Delhi Gate can be gauged from the fact that besides naming one of the gates of the Red Fort also as Delhi Gate, he ordered this one to be more sublimely built. Going by oral history, two criminals were killed and their bodies buried in the foundation (something also believed to have been done when the foundation of the Red Fort was laid, though the number of condemned criminals was four or five). This was not unusual in those times, when such a tradition was followed, probably in continuation of the one in vogue in ancient Egypt, where cats were buried alive in the foundation, as the Pharaohs held the cat sacred. The story that the Delhi Gate, like the Kashmere Gate, is haunted is widely believed. While a White Lady (sic) sat outside the latter in a ghostly vigil after 1857, the haunting at Delhi Gate started 30 years later after the murder of a sweeper killed by her lover, a British sentry who had fallen in love with her and got offended when he learnt of her impending marriage. The woman did the sweeping early morning when the soldier was about to end his night duty. Others, however, think it is the peepul tree growing outside the gate that is haunted by a churail who at times startles passers-by with her jingling anklets.

The Delhi Gate in Agra, built on the road to the Capital by Mohammad Farrukhsiyar, is modelled after the older one. Farrukhsiyar, grandson of Bahadur Shah I, and successor of his uncle Muizuddin Jahandar Shah, erected the gate at the instance of his patrons, the Sayyid Brothers of Bara, Hussain Ali Khan and Abdullah Khan. It was with help from these two that he had defeated his uncle at Agra to usurp the throne and finally get Jahandar Shah imprisoned and murdered in the Red Fort. To commemorate his accession, he thought of building a gate in the city in which he had realized his ambition of becoming emperor.

This Delhi Gate also has a mosque adjoining it, which, however, that doesn’t prevent it from being haunted, not by a female ghost but by a Pir whose spirit is seen coming to offer Isha namaz (the last one at night) in the masjid. The story goes that the Pir was held in high esteem by Farrukhsiyar for bringing about his success (through his blessing) at the second and fatal battle, after his victory at the first one at Khajwah. It was on hearing of this defeat that Jahandar Shah had marched to Agra from Delhi in a bid to quell his nephew’s rebellion.

Salim Pehlwan, who had gone off his head, used to sit at the gate and slept inside it at night too, blaming a city dancing girl, who had discarded him, for his plight. Believe it or not, there was another character known as Salimuddin Masood who spent his days at the Daryaganj Delhi Gate, lamenting his fate after being thrown out of a Chawri Bazar kotha by the pimps who thought his presence there was affecting their business. Their grouse was that Kamli Bai spent too much time with him because of his money and virile manhood. Masood, who died in the 1970s, claimed that actually he was poisoned by the jealous dalals of the enthralled Bai.

However, the main Delhi Gate was not illuminated like the one at Agra, which had a thousand lights (diyas) burning at it on Farrukhsiyar’s orders. When his eventual successor, after two puppets, Mohammad Shah was crowned at Fatehpur Sikri, the new Emperor made it a point to visit the gate, 26 miles away, to offer fateha for his unlucky kinsman who had been tortured and assassinated after a brief rule of six years. Some say this was as per the prophecy of Banda Bahadur, the Sikh general, whom Farrukhsiyar had similarly tortured and killed after quelling his rebellion. However, of the two gates the namesake in Agra seems to have a more colourful history, though few are aware of it like the old bearded fruit seller who used to stand outside the gate, past which and Raja-ki-Mandi station visitors from Delhi go to see the Taj.


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Printable version | Oct 15, 2021 10:07:56 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/down-memory-lane-column-gates-of-old-delhi/article6603034.ece

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