A passage to the past

R.V.SMITH takes you through the history of Nizamuddin baoli, in news for the recent discovery of a secret passage leading to the saint’s tomb

The discovery of a secret passage leading to the Medieval Nizamuddin baoli here has created quite a sensation as it seems to bear out the old story that the saint used to visit the baoli late at night when nobody was around. Why did Hazrat Nizamuddin have to be so secretive about his actions? First and foremost was the enmity of Ghiasuddin Tughlak who was jealous of his popularity and was determined to harm the saint in some way.

With his supernatural powers Nizamuddin could have warded off any attack on him but he preferred not to make use of them in a personal matter, as he himself had observed once, it is better not to invoke God’s powers when plain common sense can provide a solution. Hence, the need for the precautionary step he took. The second reason, according to some, was his desire to be left in peace to commune with the Almighty. And what better place than the baoli?

The third reason, say the devout, was the daily meeting with jinns, who acted on his dictates and fulfilled his wishes. Some may find this hard to believe, but faith has no limitations. However, one thing that the new discovery has disproved is the age-old belief that Ballishtiyas, or pygmies the size of a man’s palm, had laid the base for the secret fountain that watered the baoli.

Excavations have brought to light that the fountain was not a mystical one but very much a work of human hands and had a jamun wood tree base. The tunnel is wide enough for a man to pass through without crawling and surely a marvel of its time. The baoli is enclosed by walls on the south-east and west, the descending steps being on the south side.

On the June 30, 1914, there were 40 steps above the water level. Buildings have been erected on the walls of the baoli at different times, and on its southern and eastern sides is a narrow arcaded passage leading to the tomb of Nizamuddin.

From the top of the buildings on the western side, men and boys dive for bakshish (tips) in the water below, a drop of 60 feet, observes Maulvi Zafar Hasan.

Cause of contention

They still do so and the baoli is infamous for claiming at least one life every year. The baoli was built by Hazrat Nizamuddin and became the cause of contention between Ghiyasuddin Tughlak and the saint. The sultan wanted the masons working on the baoli to concentrate on his fortress of Tughlakabad. But the masons were so devoted to the saint that they worked on the baoli secretly at night.

The sultan heard of this and banned the sale of oil, which the masons used to light up the place to work at night. Nizamuddin, by his miraculous powers, caused the water of a nearby pond to burn like oil and the project was completed. When Hazrat Nizamuddin came to dwell in this area it was a deserted place but during the course of his long life people started moving hither, and a basti came into existence.

The Khankha (abode) where the saint held his daily langar and distributed rotis attracted the richest and the poorest. Kings, noblemen, merchants, soldiers and the common folk, all came to seek his blessings.

The saint still attracts people from all walks of life (more so after the new discovery). The shops are a virtual rabbit’s warren and a whole row of them sell only joss sticks, flowers and batashas to be offered at the shrine. Biryani is sold by the kilo; so are halwa and paranthas. Seekh kababs and khichra are made the whole day. All thanks to the baoli which will see better days now — free of encroachment and the accumulated filth of 800 years.