How Bahlol Lodhi bought Delhi

From the founder of the dynasty to the end of an era, what distinguished the man as a child and as a ruler

February 10, 2020 01:20 pm | Updated 01:20 pm IST

 Tomb of Bahlul Lodhi

Tomb of Bahlul Lodhi

The tomb of Bahlol Lodhi is a forgotten monument in Chirag Delhi. It is situated near the shrine of Hazrat Nasiruddin Mahmud (after whom the area is known), for the 14th-century saint is regarded as ‘the lamp of Delhi’ by his devotees.

The story goes…

While still young, Bahlol and his friends met a dervish who asked each boy by turns if he would like to buy the kingdom of Delhi for 2,000 tankas. Only Bahlol agreed and was blessed by the dervish. His friends later made fun of him for being a ‘fool’. But Bahlol replied that it was not so, because if the dervish’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.

Bahlol’s birth too was unusual. His mother died in a house collapse, but he was successfully taken out of her womb and nursed by his aunt and uncle. Sultan Shah, the uncle, saw signs of greatness in the boy and brought him up accordingly, not even scolding him for playing on his musallah (prayer mat).

The child grew into a fine man. At that time Mohammad Shah of the Sayyid dynasty was the ruler of Delhi. But his kingdom was in a mess. Bahlol managed to get himself appointed Governor of Punjab, and when Alam Shah came to the throne, he contrived to get the kingdom for himself.

The ascent

One day a group of his followers dressed as Mirasis (roadside musicians) tricked the guards into allowing them to enter the house of the powerful Wazir, Hamid Khan. They forced him to surrender and after that it was an easy job to oust Alam Shah, though the khutba (sermon) continued to be read in his name.

Alam Shah retired to Badaun, and Bahlol became the first ruler of the Lodhi dynasty in 1451.

Brave and generous, he was always fond of intellectuals and holy men. Being a good general, he conquered Jaunpur, Dholpur, and Kalpi. The Sarqis of Jaunpur were the lords of the east and their downfall was the Lodhi’s biggest gain.

But Bahlol never let success go to his head. He remained humble, never sitting on a throne, but on a carpet along with his nobles. He died in July 1489 after a long reign.

Bahlol’s tomb is a drab place compared to other mausoleums in the region. It is a square chamber with three arched openings on all sides, surmounted by five domes, the central one being the biggest.

Verses from the Quran are inscribed on the arches, but there is hardly any other ornamentation. Perhaps a tomb that reflects the times in which Bahlol lived — rugged and sans the sophistication of the later rulers. But he was the only one to ‘buy’ a kingdom from a dervish.

The descent

His son Sikandar Lodhi, who succeeded him, became the most powerful ruler of the dynasty. The tomb of Sikandar Lodhi, on the corner of Lodhi Garden, has a gash in its dome, the result of the plaster peeling off, but to a visitor it is a reminder of the fact that the Sultan’s dynasty had suffered a mortal blow. That was in the First Battle of Panipat when Barbar defeated his son Ibrahim Lodhi. Sikandar did not live to see that day. After ‘life’s fitful fever’ he sleeps in a place which is quiet and serene.

Nizam Khan Sikandar Lodhi, in whose reign Vasco da Gama landed in India, was the most powerful of the Lodhi rulers. He made conquests in Bihar and Bengal, subjugated Gwalior and founded the city of Agra in 1504. The story goes that the Sultan set out on horseback from Delhi and rode for three days sleeping in the forest at night and drinking from the wells under the neem trees.

Sikandar Lodhi and his party passed by Mathura and galloped for several Kos before they reined in their horses. Post lunch the Sultan and his Wazir set out in a boat over the Jamuna. When they had sailed for some time, the Sultan asked, ‘Where shall we found our new city?’ The Wazir thought and answered ‘On this bank’.

‘No’, said the Sultan, ‘that which is agar’ (ahead). Thus was the city of Agra founded. But the next year, there was a big earthquake in which most of its elegant buildings were destroyed and thousands of people were killed.

Ibrahim Lodhi was a child when he had felt the tremors in Delhi, for the capital also rocked. As he grew up he became haughty and the power that came into his hands when Sikandar Lodhi died in 1517, turned him insolent. He would keep his nobles standing for hours to show his contempt for them. Not only they but even his uncle Alam Khan revolted and the Mughals were able to establish an empire.

His father’s tomb, therefore, is of special interest to students of history, for had Ibrahim been like him, Babar would never have ventured into India.

When you see the octagonal tomb, a typical example of Lodhi architecture, with a covered verandah and symmetrical arches, remember that the man who lies buried in it was a great king but an unfortunate father.

The writer is a veteran chronicler of Delhi

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