Mehrauli – The Second City of Delhi

July 02, 2013 By:

Muhammad Ghori was so incredulously relieved upon being released unharmed by Prithviraj Chauhan after his defeat at First Battle of Tarain in 1191 that he decided to come back to test his luck again in 1192. This time Prithviraj Chauhan was defeated and killed. It is said that not even Prithviraj’s father-in-law turned up for his help. Ghori and his trusted general Qutb-ud-din entered the Fateh Burj gate of Lal Kot walls into Mehrauli to establish Muslim Rule over India for the next 600 years.

Qutb-ud-din Aibak (1206 – 1210) was a mamluk or a slave. Mamluks were mostly of Turkish ancestry who had settled in Afghanistan and other parts of Central Asia. Ghori had recruited an army of Mamluks who were trained and educated in military warfare and administration. The Mamluks admired for their martial skills and loyalty rose quickly through the ranks to hold important positions in Ghori’s territories as he had no children.

Ghori appointed Qutbuddin as his Regional Head – Northern India or Naib us Sultanat, conferred him with the title of Aibak in Lahore and went back to Ghori to quell local disturbances. Ghori died in 1206 after being reportedly shot by Prithviraj Chauhan’s arrow during an archery contest. Aibak proclaimed himself the Sultan and established the Slave Dynasty of Delhi which would rule until 1290 when another mamluk Alauddin Khilji established the Khilji Dynasty and built Siri, the Third City of Delhi.

Aibak established Mehrauli as the Second City of Delhi. Mehrauli at that time comprised of a settlement within the Lal Kot Walls and scores of temples. Historically, Mehrauli was earlier called Mihirawali and was founded by King Mihir Bhoj I (836-885), an earlier contemporary of Rajput Tomars who founded Lal Kot which grew into Qila Rai Pithora, First City of Delhi.

Mehrauli quickly became a hotspot for construction which continued for centuries and today perhaps boasts of more monuments than any other part of Delhi. The building of Mehrauli started just a kilometre away from Fateh Burj where Ghori and Aibak entered Qila Rai Pithora after defeating Prithviraj. These existing monuments stretch in time continuum from the Lal Kot walls of the Rajput era (11th century), Slave Dynasty (12th and 13th century), assorted tombs belonging to the Lodhis (15th century), Mughal era (16th to 19th century) to the British times when the East India Company resident Thomas Metcalfe built his weekend getaway (early 19th century) in the form of living quarters, boat house, guesthouse and follies.

To celebrate his victory over Prithviraj Chauhan in grand style, Aibak immediately started the construction of Qutb Minar in 1192. The minar was modelled on similar tower of victories in Afghanistan. For Aibak, Qutb Minar the Tower of Victory signified his arrival. He also commissioned the construction of India’s first mosque Quwwat-al-Islam few yards away from Qutb Minar in the north-east. The inscription on the East Gate of the mosque says that twenty seven Hindu and Jain temples were knocked down to build the mosque. Not only the mosque but structures throughout Mehrauli can be seen carrying the remnants of engraved temple pillars.

It is also believed that Aibak constructed Qutb Minar in honour of the famous Sufi and the Patron Saint of Mehrauli, Qutbuddin Bakhtiar Kaki. The Sufi was popularly called Qutb Sahib and the Qutb Minar came to be known as ‘Qutb Sahib ki Lath’. The tower apparently was Qutb Sahib’s staff or stick. So now you know how the phrase ‘Laat Sahib’ came into popular use!

Qutb Minar - View from Alauddin Madarsa

Qutb Minar – View from Alauddin Madarsa

Ultimately, the red and buff sandstone Qutb Minar turned into a magnificent edifice five diminishing storeys tall. Later Sultan Iltutmish added three storeys to Aibak’s incomplete one storey minar. When lightning hit the tower and damaged it, Feroz Shah Tughlaq knocked off the top floor and added two floors in white marble. Later, again when the minar was damaged by earthquake, a chhatri was installed on the top, only to be brought down later and now sits in the garden beside the minar. Entry into the tower is closed to visitors since 1981 when a tragic mishap took place inside.

The Towering Qutb Minar

The Towering Qutb Minar

Qutb Minar - Panels with Detailed Inscriptions

Qutb Minar – Panels with Detailed Inscriptions

Qutb Minar - Exquisite Muqarnas Corbel Details under the Projecting Balconies

Qutb Minar – Exquisite Muqarnas Corbel Details under the Projecting Balconies

Today, Qutb Minar with its fluted columns, tapering structure and four projecting circular ornate balconies is the most visible symbol of Delhi. Just below the balconies are the most astounding detailed decorations of the muqarnas corbel that carries the projecting balcony above. Surrounding the structure are panels or bands inscribed with Islamic calligraphy. These were the early days of Islamic rule. Most of the craftsmen and masons were locals who had perfected their art during the construction of lavishly carved Hindu Temples – especially the pillars and under the domes of temples. Qutb Minar is considered as the perfect and the first fusion of Islamic & Indian styles; techniques and skills known as Indo-Islamic Architecture.

Huge crowds throng the monument. On a clear day with blue skies, the soaring UNESCO World Heritage Site Qutb Minar looks majestic and uplifting; a level above the other two popular sites in Delhi – the now forlorn Red Fort and the muted but elegant Humayun Tomb.

Quwwat-al-Islam - Prayer Hall

Quwwat-al-Islam – Prayer Hall

Quwwat-al-Islam - Pillars with Hanging Bells

Quwwat-al-Islam – Pillars with Hanging Bells

Quwwat-al-Islam - Mosque Courtyard with Arch Screen and Iron Pillar

Quwwat-al-Islam – Mosque Courtyard with Arch Screen and Iron Pillar

Quwwat-al-Islam - Magnificent Dome and Pillars in East Colonnade

Quwwat-al-Islam – Magnificent Dome and Pillars in East Colonnade

Aibak in 1193 also simultaneously built the oldest mosque in India, the Quwwat-al-Islam or Might of Islam mosque next to the Qutb Minar. The mosque has a rectangular courtyard with pillared cloisters or colonnades on three sides. This is the same courtyard where the uncorroded Iron Pillar stands from the Tomar era. The East and North colonnades incorporate the finely sculpted pillars of the razed temples. The pillars are richly adorned with hanging bells and other ornamentation. Some carry human figures while others have carved Kirti Mukha – a stylised face. In some places the pillars are stacked over another to raise the roof levels. The mosque has entrance bays surmounted with Rajput style ornate domes pilfered from the mandaps of the temples. The rear of the courtyard has the prayer hall of the mosque.

Arch Screens with Glorious Nakhsi and Decoration

Arch Screens with Glorious Nakhsi and Decoration

Aibak also erected the magnificent five arch screens in 1199 that give the distinctive look to the Qutb Complex. These arches built on the western edge of the courtyard could also have served as the Mihrabs (a niche in the wall of mosque that indicates direction of Mecca and is faced while offering prayers) to the mosque. The arches are built of dressed stones of different hues. The walls were then carved and decorated with glorious sculpture. On an early summer morning in delicate sunshine, the arches and their intricate carvings look simply breathtaking and pose as a wonderful photography subject. Qutb Minar along with the arches was an integral part of the mosque and was used to give out calls to the faithful for prayers.

Aibak died in 1210 within four years of becoming Sultan ironically after falling off a horse playing polo and leaving Qutb Minar unfinished at just one storey.

Shams-ud-din-Iltutmish (1211-1236) of Turkic origin, a slave of Aibak and later his son-in-law became the third ruler of the Mamluk Dynasty. He was the greatest ruler of the Mamluk Dynasty and shifted the capital from Lahore to Mehrauli. In the beginning of his rule, Iltutmish had assorted problems with his Turk nobles and then the Mongols. Death of Ghenghis Khan in 1227 provided him some respite and he was able to recapture North West frontier from the Mongols. Later he turned his attention to Rajputs and was able to conquer a number of forts in Rajasthan but was defeated by the Chalukyas of Gujarat.

Iltutmish's Colonnade - South Gate

Iltutmish’s Colonnade – South Gate

Iltutmish continued from where Aibak left and contributed to several monuments in the Mehrauli area. He added three storeys to the unfinished one storey Qutb Minar. The mosque was extended by adding additional stone arch screens on either side of the Aibak’s screens. Also, constructed were additional colonnades and walls. The unfinished colonnade can be seen in the east and a part of the enclosing wall along with a gate survives in the south.

Iltutmish Tomb with Pishtaq

Iltutmish Tomb with Pishtaq

Iltutmish Tomb - Marble Mihrab, Squinch Arch & Incredible Inscriptions

Iltutmish Tomb – Marble Mihrab, Squinch Arch & Incredible Inscriptions

Just ahead of the arch screens on the right is the most exquisite tomb built by Iltutmish for himself in 1235. From outside, it looks like an unassuming square red sandstone tomb except for the pishtaq on the entrance. Pishtaq is the square facade that surrounds the doorway of buildings. The pishtaq will be widely seen in the later buildings in Delhi. Inside you see wall to wall engravings. Practically every inch of the stones is etched with beautiful inscription in Kufi and Naksh characters, geometric patterns and motifs. Three walls have arch gateways while the western wall houses the mihrab ornamented in marble. Also seen for the first time in India was the squinch arches. Squinch arches help turn a square structure into a circular or octagonal structure so that a dome can be mounted on top. You are spoilt for photography. Reportedly, the tomb had a dome which fell. As always, the original builder of Delhi Feroz Shah Tughlaq came to the rescue. Unfortunately the dome fell again and today it is an open tomb under the blue sky with the high marble cenotaph in the middle and the grave below. Just beyond the boundary walls, few feet away, you can hear the DTC buses rumble on their way to Mehrauli Bus Stand.

The Qutb Minar, Quwwat-al-Islam Mosque, Iltutmish Tomb, Arch Screens, Alauddin Khilji’s Tomb & Madarsa, Alai Darwaza & the incomplete Alai Minar all combine to offer you an outstanding collection of monuments belonging to the Muslim Rule with no parallel elsewhere in the country; and all beautifully maintained by ASI. Come visit on a clear day and go crazy with your camera.  

The Qutb Complex is the most visible part of Mehrauli. But that is not all. Mehrauli has lot of surprises waiting for you among its narrow by-lanes and woodland; just a little walk from the Qutb Complex.

Qutub ul Aqtab Hazrat Khwaja Syed Muhammad Qutbuddin Bakhtiar Kaki (1173 – 1235) was a Sufi Saint of the Chisti order. He was the disciple and successor of Ajmer’s Moinuddin Chisti and established the order in Delhi. He came to Delhi during Iltutmish’s reign supposedly from Baghdad. Kaki’s disciple Fariduddin Gajashakar or Baba Farid in turn turned out to be spiritual master of Nizamuddin Auliya, the patron saint of Delhi. Qutb Sahib was much revered by the Sultans. It is believed that Qutb Minar was named after him. Moinuddin Chisti decreed that faithful coming to him in Ajmer should first visit Qutub Bakhtiyar. This is something similar to Nizamuddin where the devotees first visit Amir Khusrao’s grave before seeking blessings of his master Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya.

Start walking into the Mehrauli village from Mehrauli Bus Stand. Ask the locals and you will be directed to the Dargah of Qutb Sahib. This is the oldest dargah in Delhi. The village grew around the shrine. Later, the Mughals built a palace – Zafar Mahal – just next to the dargah. Graves of later Mughals and empty grave where the last Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar was supposed to be interned exist within the walls of the palace.

Take your shoes off, cover your head and walk in. There is a steady stream of devotees but the dargah is not as crowded as Nizamuddin Dargah. Also, unlike Nizamuddin the atmosphere is little sombre. You sense that the joviality associated with Nizamuddin is missing here. There is no one clicking photographs – not even with mobile phones. You seem to be only one with a camera. You shoot off some photos before you realize you are being watched. The camera disappears in the backpack.

Entrance to Hazrat Bakhtiyar Dargah

Entrance to Hazrat Bakhtiyar Dargah

Hazrat Bakhtiyar Dargah

Hazrat Bakhtiyar Dargah

The shrine started as an earth mound with a simple cloth covering. But the later rulers added a dome, railings and marble. The pillars and arches are embellished with mirrors and glass tiles. Just like at Nizamuddin, there are graves all around. Rulers and common people alike wanted to be buried near saints’ graves. Later Mughals like Bahadur Shah I, Shah Alam II, and Akbar II are buried next door in Zafar Mahal. Women are not allowed inside the dargah and pay their obeisance from behind stone latticed windows. The dargah is also the venue of the three day Phoolwalon ki Sair festival held in September every year.

Gandhak ki Baoli

Gandhak ki Baoli

Iltutmish reverence led him to build the Gandhak-ki-Baoli for Qutb Sahib. The oldest baoli in Delhi is close to the dargah on the eastern edge of Mehrauli village. The narrow baoli is hemmed in from all sides by civilization. There are five levels with the associated well in the back. The baoli probably got its name from the odour of sulphur that came from the underground springs. You are surprised to see water in it though stagnant and the neighbourhood boys cooling themselves and doing their laundry on a hot summer day.

Hauz Shamsi with the Pavilion

Hauz Shamsi with the Pavilion

On the other side of the village is the Hauz Shamsi or the Sunny Watertank, a tank built by Iltutmish in 1230. The site is easily reached after a short walk from Chattarpur Metro Station. The Prophet had appeared in a dream and told Iltutmish where to build the tank. Next day when Iltutmish inspected the site he found the footprint of Prophet’s horse. A pavilion was built to house the footprint and the surrounding area excavated to build the tank that would supply water to Mehrauli. The pavilion was once in the middle of the tank. Today it is on the edge of the west bank. In the distance, on the eastern edge of the tank, chhatris of Jahaj Mahal built later by Mughals are visible. You can see just like the rest of the water bodies in Delhi, this too is suffocating and will soon be silted and encroached upon.

Graves of Mohd Ghori's Soldiers beyond Mehrauli Idgah

Graves of Mohd Ghori’s Soldiers beyond Mehrauli Idgah

Walking north of Mehrauli Bus Stand along the Lal Kot walls will bring you to the Mehrauli Idgah. Just beyond is a high platform where Mohammad Ghori’s soldiers are buried who died while storming the Fateh Burj. The graves are covered with colour tiles. Qutb Minar’s top is visible over the trees in the east. This complex also houses the Chilla – meditation place of Sufi Saints – of Qutb Sahib’s successor Baba Farid.

When the Governor of Bengal revolted, Iltutmish sent his son Nasiruddin Mahmud, Governor of Oudh, to quell the revolt. Nasiruddin defeated and killed Ghiyasuddin Khilji and became the Mamluk Governor of Bengal. Nasiruddin died in 1229 before his anguished father Iltutmish.

As you drive from Andheria Mor towards Mahipalpur, on the left just beyond Vasant Kunj flats you can see a structure rising above an Aravali outcrop. The outcrop is called Rangpuri Pahari. You soon find the road which leads right upto the entrance. Sultan Ghari Tomb was India’s first Muslim tomb and was built by grieving father Iltutmish in 1231 for his eldest son Nasiruddin Mahmud a little distance away from Mehrauli city.

Sultan Ghari Tomb

Sultan Ghari Tomb

Sultan Ghari Tomb – Prayer Hall, Central Dome, Ghari

Sultan Ghari Tomb – Prayer Hall, Central Dome, Ghari

The first thing that strikes you is that the structure is both good looking and quite unusual. In the soft early morning sunlight, the structure looks beautiful. Stones used remind you of the work at Qutb Complex. It almost looks like a fortress. There are turrets or burj like structures on all four corners. Steps lead up to the entrance arch with calligraphy on marble. Emerging into the raised enclosed courtyard you see an octagonal dome about five feet high. Steps lead down to the dark burial chamber – ghari or cave – under the dome. Just beyond the dome on the western wall is the marble mihrab with a small prayer hall. The hall has a distinctive conical dome. Firoz Shah the saviour of buildings of Delhi again claims to renovate the tomb. He probably added the marble elements to the original sandstone structure. On the right of the tomb there is an octagonal chhatri; probably the tomb of the other son of Iltutmish.

Ruins around Sultan Ghari Tomb

Ruins around Sultan Ghari Tomb

The tomb is sacred to the local community of both Hindus and Muslims of Mahipalpur and Rangpuri. Newly-weds come to the grave for blessings of the ‘saintly peer’ and almost every week a feast is organized. Delivery trucks had already started arriving for the feast preparation on a Sunday. Around the tomb are ruins of a number of Mughal structures and a Tughlaq era mosque.

In 1236, on his deathbed, Iltutmish nominated his daughter Raziyya al-Din as the heiress to Delhi Sultanate as he thought his remaining two sons were not capable enough. This was disliked by the nobles that resulted in a period of intrigue and instability when five of Iltutmish’s successors including two sons, Razia and two grandsons were put to the sword. Of all the successor, Razia Sultan – as she is known in popular culture – is the most recalled ruler of the Mamluk dynasty. She was the only woman Muslim ruler during the entire Sultanate and Mughal times. She dressed like a man, had a black slave as her lover and eventually married the governor of Bathinda. She died an ignominious death along with her husband in 1240 – most probably robbed and killed – and is reportedly buried in an unmarked grave in the narrow bylanes of Old Delhi near Turkman Gate.

Iltutmish’s last successor Nasir ud din Mahmud (1246–1266) was the son of Nasiruddin Mahmud (of Sultan Ghari Tomb). Mahmud was a pious man and was said to possess qualities of saints. Since he had no male heir, he let his Deputy Sultan or Naib, Balban run the Sultanate and married his daughter to him.

Ghiyasuddin Balban (1266–1287) became the ninth Sultan upon the demise of Mahmud. He was a strict and powerful ruler who had spies everywhere and brought the unruly people of Mewat under control. However, the pesky Mongols kept harassing the Sultanate. In one of these battles, Muhammad Khan, Balban’s favourite son was killed in 1286. Balban posthumously gave his son the title of Khan Shahid – The Martyred Khan; and commissioned a tomb in what is today’s Mehrauli Archaeological Park. 

Khan Shahid Tomb Entrance

Khan Shahid Tomb Entrance

Khan Shahid Tomb

Khan Shahid Tomb

Mehrauli Archaeological Park is a short walk from Qutb Minar parking close to Jamali Kamali Mosque. You climb few steps into a walled platform through an imposing gate. Below the gate probably existed water channels and waterfalls. High walls surround the area. In the middle lies the octagonal tomb. The dome has fallen. The west wall has some remains of colour tiles. There is no sign of any grave. Visitors light up incense sticks in the surviving niches of the walls; you can smell ittar in the air. The grounds have bushes and lots of litter. In the west few steps away is a wall mosque. So where is the grave? And is this really Khan Shahid’s Tomb? The answers to these questions are still unclear. Lucy Peck thinks this is a Mughal structure due to presence of incised decoration. Also, Mughals were fond of water bodies in their pleasure gardens.

Balban Tomb with True Arches

Balban Tomb with True Arches

Balban Tomb Gateway - View from Tomb

Balban Tomb Gateway – View from Tomb

Khan Shahid Grave - Balban's Tomb

Khan Shahid Grave – Balban’s Tomb

Balban grieving for his son was in a state of shock and soon died.

Balban’s Tomb lies close to Khan Shahid Tomb in the Mehrauli Archaeological Park. A huge gateway leads into the tomb area. Balban’s tomb was the first structure in India to employ true arches and true dome. The tomb has three interlinked chambers. All domes have apparently fallen. Balban was probably buried in the middle chamber; but no grave is seen. There is a cenotaph in the western chamber that probably belongs to Khan Shahid. The cenotaph is almost intact and embellished with calligraphy.

Here I will go out on a limb and offer my humble interpretation: To start with, it was Khan Shahid Tomb originally. But two years later, when Balban died and according to his wishes, Khan Shahid’s grave or cenotaph was exhumed or shifted and placed in chamber next to Balban’s grave chamber in Balban Tomb. Later when Mughals came, they built their own buildings in the area. They added Jahaj Mahal to Hauz Shamsi, put in water channels to harvest water run-offs and created a garden with the Jharna some yards away. Feroz Shah Tughlaq would also repair the earlier monuments and would sometimes provide his own touch; for instance, by adding marble to Qutb Minar which was essentially red sandstone structures. The Mughals decided to do something similar to this tomb which had no grave. At Khan Shahid Tomb, the Mughals decided to add decorations to the structure, created water channels and a waterfall to create another paradise garden.

The last Mamluk Sultan was Muiz ud din Qaiqabad (1287–1290) who was also the grandson of Balban. He, for the first time, moved the capital from Mehrauli to Kilokri on the banks of Yamuna. The location could be close to today’s Sarai Kale Khan bus stand. Nothing survives from Kilokri today. However, it is said that Lal Mahal – the oldest Muslim Palace in India – located in Nizamuddin Basti has some connection to Kilokri. Lal Mahal is in news as more parts have been demolished to make way for contemporary palaces. Qaiqabad suffered from a paralytic stroke and was soon disposed of by his Khilji chief.

And so ended the first of the five dynasties that ruled Delhi Sultanate but not before giving us the first mosque, first dargah, Delhi’s first baoli, first tomb, and architectural elements like pishtaq, squinch arch, true arch & true dome. Khiljis would later build Siri, Third City of Delhi. However, unlike other early Delhi Cities like Siri and Kilokri that were abandoned or lost, Mehrauli continued to thrive. Khiljis, Lodhis, Mughals and even the British continued to build their tombs and palaces in Mehrauli. Probably it is the divine presence of Qutb Sahib.

About Nirdesh Singh

Nirdesh Singh has written 23 posts at Ghumakkar.

Never met a Fort I didn’t like and never missed meeting a Fort within 200 kms. I love history and archaeology and wildlife and nature and books. Wish I was a historian or archaeologist. Currently travelling and discovering India. Perfect day would be watching sea waves crash into rocks, climbing Machu Picchu in Peru, admiring Blue Mosque in Istanbul and hoping to capture that blue bird in camera.

35 Responses to “Mehrauli – The Second City of Delhi”


  1. Wow Man, a great post about living fossil Mehrauli. Actually your post is beyond Mehrauli. It is a very story like and informative.

    Thanks.

    • Nirdesh Singh says:

      Thanks, Praveen!

      Mehrauli is much lessor known than other places in Delhi. But it has so much to see. It can easily take an entire week to comb through the area.

      And Mehrauli carries imprints from every successive dynasty that ruled Delhi.

  2. Prasad Np says:

    Another mammoth post Nirdesh, and I learned more about Delhi in this single post than in my history books. Going by the dates Mehrauli is the real Old city of Delhi with, what we call old Delhi, just a bachha ( baby) in front of Mehrauli.

    • Nirdesh Singh says:

      Hi Prasad,

      Thanks for the appreciation!

      Yes, Mehrauli deserves recognition as it is where Delhi came into being.

      During the British time when the Mughal power was waning, Shahjahanabad was the place where the court was. When Lutyens’s Delhi or New Delhi was born, Shahjahanabad was called Old Delhi or Walled City. Shahjahanabad came into being during Shahjahan’s time in about 1640.

      While Mehrauli goes back a long time and therefore is the real Old City, while the other cities are bachhes!

  3. Stone says:

    I second Prasad here, I wonder why they don’t teach history like this in school.
    Hats off to the details you’ve brought in, otherwise dynasties/palaces/temples/mosques all start to sound repetitive after a while.

    • Nirdesh Singh says:

      Hi Stone,

      Thanks for reading!

      Mehrauli was totally unfamiliar to me beyond Qutb Minar a few months ago. After a number of visits to Lal Kot, Qutb Complex, Mehrauli Archaeological Park and the Mehrauli village, the stories started unravelling.

      I have still not covered the entire geographical area. There are lot more monuments and stories waiting to be discovered.

  4. Giriraj Shekhawat says:

    A history lesson before a good night sleep is a cherished idea … although it may not hold good for many/. Delhi has always fascinated me because it has assimilated so many cultures in the due course of time…The upheavals in the medieval era where she was the focal point of political turmoil till the time when she became the darling of the East India company greatly metamorphosed her innate self. ..She is a winner
    It was great reading your elaborate historical account on Mehrauli (the legacy of the Sultanate era)…..I wish to see the whole of Delhi from the topmost floor of Qutub Minar…let’s see what the government machinery has to say about this…
    I think Qutub uddin Aibak never constructed the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque but converted the temple into a mosque.. In my last visit to the Qutub Complex i was amazed to see this Rajput era structure which still boasts of figurines of gods and demi gods ornamented on its pillars and columns… the sculptures of the gods and the demi gods had disfigured faces which is an outcome of a possible sabotage. .. I may be wrong but not evidently incorrect.
    The iron pillar was erected by Chandragupta Maurya 2 …the Gupta ruler of 4th century AD in Udaygiri later to be shifted to AnangPal Tomar 2 to his capital Lal Kot …i.e.., present Qutub Complex ..The pillar has inscriptions in Brahmi or some other Prakrit language which states that the pillar was dedicated to Lord Vishnu … So Anangpal Tomer 2 built a vishnu temple in front of the iron pillar which was later metamorphosed into Quwwat Mosque …..
    Nirdesh Bhai this mighty superstructure was missing in your post … Qutub Minar was built after a lot of hardships facing natural calamities like lightning and earthquakes . Standing erect with a stellar superstructure surely makes it an emblem of architectural marvel culminating both Ghurid and Indian Art….

    I remember watching a television serial “Main Dilli Hun” which used to be aired somewhere around the mid 90’s on Doordarshan …. I was a kid then totally smitten by the character of Delhi …You have given words to Delhi with which she can proudly say “Main Dilli Hoon” …… Thank you for this time travel … Now i want to give us an insight of Delhi before the Rajput ,Turk and the Sultanate period ……

    Pictures were good ..descriptions were elaborate and Delhi was smiling with her everlasting glaze….

    • Nirdesh Singh says:

      Hi Giriraj,

      Okay, first things first – do you like reading history before going to sleep or after getting up early in the morning?!

      I don’t think you will be able to climb the Qutb Minar unless you can get some special permission from ASI.

      Yes the inscription on East Gate does say that 27 temples were razed to build the Quwwat-al-Islam Mosque. We are not sure if the temples looked exactly the same way like the colonnades do now. But what is sure is that they used the pillars and domes to build the mosque. In some places the pillars are stacked over each other. Some carvings are disfigured but most of them are in good shape.

      You are right about the Iron Pillar. I had covered it in the earlier post of Qila Rai Pithora since the Iron Pillar’s installation took place during that era. Similarly I had covered the remaining Qutb Complex monuments like Khilji Tomb & Madarsa, Alai Darwaza and Alai Minar in Delhi’s Siri post.

      Qutb Minar is truly an awe-inspiring sight.

      We will wait for your ancient Delhi post.

      Thanks for reading and taking time out for the comments!

      • Giriraj Shekhawat says:

        Nirdesh Ji,
        It was a typo.. sorry for that ..actually i wanted you to give us an insight of Delhi before the Rajput,Turk ,Sultanate and Mughal Rule … I hope your research will give words to Delhi with which she can again proudly say “Main Dilli Hun” … Give it a thought !!!!!…

  5. Mamluks were slaves and they carried their inferiority complexes.
    They built towering monuments all over they ruled, including India, Egypt and Iraq etc.

    • Nirdesh Singh says:

      Hi Praveen,

      I am not sure if the Mamluks had inferiority complex since they rose to top positions and married their masters’ daughters.

      But they were hell of builders – Aibak, Iltutmish, Balban, Khilji.

  6. abheeruchi says:

    Hello History sir,
    Seriously Ncert should think of changing history syllabus and should make it more interesting like ur post.i generally avoid history posts whenever i see it, but whenever i see ur name i somehow convince myself to atleast check it out in case we come to know something interesting and informative.and my decision of reading ur post turns out to be good .
    Thanks for such a detailed post with beautiful pictures.Btw where u work? U should join ASI or similar org.u r simply great.
    Thanks again

    • Nirdesh Singh says:

      Hi Abhee,

      Thanks for taking time out and reading.

      I am not sure if ASI will hire me. I have been sending them some uncomfortable emails. I also appreciate them by calling and writing to the local circle if I think they are doing good job.

      I appreciate that you find my history posts interesting enough to read them.

  7. Vibha says:

    Wow! Never read such a detailed account on Mehrauli. Kudos to your passion and attention to details Nirdesh. The material in here is good enough for a book. Ever considered writing one?

    • Nirdesh Singh says:

      Hi Vibha,

      Nice to see you here!

      Yes, with every visit to Mehrauli, there is a feeling that there is so much to see here. Me and Vipin have already visited Mehrauli Archaelogical Park twice but want to do it again during the rains – Rajaon ki Baoli might get some water and the park will turn green. As you read more and see photos on the net you are always like kicking yourself, man I missed that or I should have taken the photograph from this angle.

      Mehrauli Village is full of monuments – some crumbling, some part of built up houses and some totally obscured. The village will also need another couple of visits to see every monument. Then beyond Mehrauli Idgah I missed seeing Baba Farid’s chilla so that will need separate visit!

      Mehrauli has so much to see and write about. The post is more about discovery and self-learning.

      After reading Khushwant Singh and William Dalrymple, I dont think I am good enough to write a book on Delhi.

      So i really dont know.

      But thanks for the appreciation and the motivation!

      Keep Visiting!

  8. Nandan Jha says:

    And before you get further pampered and poached by ex-editors (Vibha, so nice to see you after a long time) let me grab your attention.

    ‘Laat Sahib’ was a find. I would have definitely wondered about it and if the origin is indeed ‘Qutub Sahib’s staff’ then it is brilliant. And for some reason I also thought that Qutub Minar is named after the ruler. Seems that is not the case. May be the ‘Maha Maya Flyover’ (not too far from your place) is also indeed on ‘Mahamaya’ and not ‘Behan Maya’.

    I was loitering (well, almost) in the Ghitorni area a few days back, looking for a bookshelf and the likes. I would have been to Qutub few times and can relate some photos and some text (they also have a AV thing run by tourism department) but frankly, I am feeling pretty ashamed at my attempts. So I better go again and with greater focus and meaning. Thank you for making us wiser.

    • Nirdesh Singh says:

      Hi Nandan,

      I can smell something burning!

      Yes, the Laat Sahib thing is pretty interesting – if it is true!?

      There are different conjectures about the naming of Qutb Minar so we are not really sure – It is a big point of argument among the historians.

      Mahamaya would be the mother of Buddha and since her name is almost namesake, it does not hurt!

      You are not the only one – Why do you think I made three trips to Qutb Minar and still missed a few!

      Thanks for reading!

  9. AUROJIT says:

    Hi Nirdesh,

    Such a nice and engrossing re-telling of history. The series is interesting as much as informative.

    Once again, as the series brings out here – we have so much of history but we need to develop tools for both; its preservation and presentation. Your posts do surely contribute towards the second tool – presentation; (first one is beyond human control, i.e. sarkari work is beyond human comprehending) :-)

    Qutb v/s Qutb, the mystery behind all those mismatched collectibles adorning the walls which we wonder about during our visits to the minar, etc. well, thanks for all those information.

    Enjoyed.

    • Nirdesh Singh says:

      Hi Auro,

      Welcome back! I am sure you are brimming with stories now.

      Believe me there are lot of people out there who are doing both presentation and preservation. Friends of ASI organises photography walks every week. They have got the Mother International students who look after the the backyard Begumpur Masjid along with the residents of Begumpur village.

      Recently, there was an online petition by Change.org to save the Lal Mahal in Nizamuddin village.

      But then on the flip side we have the great Indian Families who run amok when visiting monuments – kids climb over statues, older ones caress the carvings and everyone loves to litter, spit and pee.

      I loved the phrase ‘mismatched collectibles adorning the walls’. Yes, Mehrauli is a smorgasbord of monuments stetching from the beginning of Delhi – just like Mandu and Chanderi.

      Thanks for the appreciation!

  10. Rakesh Bawa says:

    Nirdesh I am just floored by your mastery on these monuments but what I personally feel is that decline in humanities subject in the colleges and universities as more and more kids are taking applied sciences we shall loose a cultural heritage in the days to come and I am convinced about that unless the job scenario changes drastically.

    • Nirdesh Singh says:

      Hi Rakeshji,

      Thanks for the appreciation!

      All is not lost. There was a spike in demand for MBA and Engg few years back but a record number of colleges have closed down. Good old Humanities courses are still coveted in good colleges.

      But slowly parents are also helping by letting their children choose their own career options rather than forcing them into engg colleges.

      Also a lot of people hold IT and other related day jobs but on weekends become historians.

  11. Amitava Chatterjee says:

    Hats-off to you, Nirdesh for such a detailed & lovely post.
    Not only the post, but all the comments are full with rich contents.
    This post may be used as reference by many, including scholars.
    History was never an interesting subject for me personally during school days or may be it was not told like this way…

    • Nirdesh Singh says:

      Hi Amitava,

      Thanks for the appreciation.

      Just read up on a few books and wiki and bingo the post is ready.

      There are people who have written entire posts on each of the above monuments. So, yes with a story interwoven the reading becomes less history and more fun.

      But then people who spell Suez as sewage in our school history books, we have no expectations.

  12. Saurabh Gupta says:

    It was very difficult for me to remember the name of kings and remember the date of events. Due to that history was not one of my favourit subject but now I think it is easy to remember all the things if it is presented like this.

    Great work, great post, great information.

    Thanks for this.

    • Nirdesh Singh says:

      Hi Saurabh,

      Thanks for visiting!

      Lets hope the books become more interesting so that more students opt for Arts.

      Just read today that the cutoffs in DU for Arts have gone up while for Sciences have come down!

      Thanks again!

  13. Smita Dhall says:

    Wow! Early morning heavy dose of enlightenment! :-) Very nice work, Nirdesh, thank you for sharing this.

    The victory towers were then adapted into the hindu kingdoms, like the famous one in Chittorgarh that was erected after the victory over the Khiljis.

    I had no idea about Mihir Bhoj’s rein and am now wondering why have they named the Nizamuddin bridge over the Yamuna as ‘Gurjar Samrat Mihir Bhoj Marg’. For the sake of history, the roads and places should be named after their respective rulers/influencers/days-gone-by.

    It was a lovely read and I’m doing a run through second time over now :-)

  14. Nirdesh Singh says:

    Hi Smita,

    Thanks for the appreciation!

    The builders just needed an excuse to build!

    Whether it was a conquest or Jahangir had tweeted that he would be visiting your subah. And voila a palace came up in double time.

    Yes, its nice to name places and roads after rulers as long as it is apolitical and the names are not changed according to the current ruler’s whims.

    I am not sure if Nizamuddin Bridge was the formal name which got changed. Nizamuddin Bridge made sense since this was the old Grand Trunk route which went straight just next to Humayun’s Tomb and Nizamuddin Dargah and through Sunder Nursery. They could have named some road in South Delhi around Mehrauli after Mihir Bhoj the founder of Mehrauli.

    I am glad you enjoyed the dose of history!

  15. Vipin says:

    Here comes another interesting story from potli baba ki, kudos Nirdesh bhai! The way you join the different threads together is pretty impressive that really helps readers connect & understand in a much much better way than the boring history books (which even don’t have better pictures to at least attract learners)…while you narrate a story, there is a subsequent image to better support your tale and we can actually see those historical evidences do the real magic then…

    We usually go to monuments for fun most of the time…but then when we are a bit aware (through some interesting & informative stories like yours), our perspective of looking at these structures changes completely…am sure next time, all the ghumakkars (who have read your story) would enjoy these monuments much more than before, they would go with some curiosity to know about these heritages further..this is the magic that connection puts into you…& you are a master in this art!

    Regarding these living heritages, the more we see…the more seem to come our way, there is no end at all…you think you’ve covered it all & suddenly there pops up another one from nowhere…Delhi is known to have more than 1300 such structures…surely a treasure trove for a history lover like you!

    I am no good in history, but one thing that did not enter inside was death of Ghori, you mentioned he died in 1206 by Prithviraj Chauhan’s arrow whereas Prithviraj died in 1192? I have once been to Razia’s grave (supposedly buried with Yaqut, her so called lover) in the narrow lanes of Old Dilli, ASI now have put their signature board there with details (this place seems to be an active praying place with a mihrab)…a lot remains to be seen, thank you once again for reviving these structures in an interesting way!

  16. Nirdesh Singh says:

    Hi Vipin,

    I just noticed – I think it is you in the Gandhak-ki-Baoli photo. What a coincidence – we were there on the same day!

    Interesting question about Prithviraj’s death – Wiki says he died in 1192 during the 2nd battle of Tarain. Popular folklore says that he was taken as prisoner to Ghori. He was accompanied by his court poet Chand Bardai who composed the balad Prithviraj Raso. In Ghori, Prithviraj was blinded. During one archery competition, the blind Prithviraj shot Mohd. Ghori with an arrow while Chand Bardai fed him with the exact coordinates of Ghori sitting on his throne through a song. Prithviraj’s grave is said to be in Afghanistan and attempts have been made to bring the grave back to India. So, we are not sure when Prithviraj died.

    Similarly with Razia Sultan, we are not sure if she is buried in Old Delhi or Haryana. Whether the accompanying grave is of her husband or Yakut or her sister is again a mystery. But then what does ASI know?! I do not take at face value what they write on their signboards!

    Thanks for being a partner in this discovery of Delhi’s history.

    All this effusive praise is uncalled for – please cease and desist in the future.

  17. Giriraj Shekhawat says:

    Prithviraj didn’t kill Shahbuddin Ghori … Prithviraj died fighting in the 2nd batlle of Tarain (now in Haryana) in AD 1192.. Shahabuddin Ghori is believed to be assassinated in AD 1206 near Lahore … The assassins might be people from his religion who were looked down upon by Ghori. … Chand Bardai was a royal bard and Prithviraj Raso is an eulogy for his master …So,i don’t largely believe it .. Although Prithviraj Chouhan was a great ruler and a brave warrior .
    It was the biggest historical mistake when Prithviraj showed mercy upon Ghori in the First battle of Tarain …. Prithviraj’s maternal grandfather Anangpal Tomar 2 had no legal heir ..so the empire of Lal Kot or Dihilika(dilli) was handed over to Prithviraj ..later to be annexed by the Afghans ..
    Prithviraj Chauhan burried in Pakistan or Afghanistan … i don’t believe that

  18. Giriraj Shekhawat says:

    Dear Vipin ,

    Rightly pointed the dates …. I failed to notice it before …Razia Sultan and the slave Yakut ..it can be such a great romantic script for a bollywood blockbuster
    Pls read :::: HISTORY OF ANCIENT INDIA — EARLIEST TIMES TO MEDIEVAL BY —– Radhey Shyam Chaourasia … Nice one

    • Nirdesh Singh says:

      Hi Giriraj,

      Kamal Amrohi’s movie Razia Sultan released around 1984 had Hema Malini in the titular role and Dharmendra played Yakut’s role.

      Yes Vipin had some observation!. Will try to read the recommended book. When are you writing about Ancient Delhi?

      They say there are two tombs near Ghazni – bigger one has Ghori and the smaller one has Prithviraj’s grave. Nobody knows for sure.

  19. Sp Singh says:

    Dear Nirdesh

    Merauli also house the gurdwara sahib – Saheed Baba banda singh ji Bhadhur.

    Its a must visit.

    The brief is that Baba banda ji was brought to Delhi with along with 40 sikh warriors , Baba Banda Singh ji, His four year old son Ajai Singh allong with forty Sikhs were tourted here to death by Moghuls. Baba Ji son Ajai Singh was killed and his heart was thrust into Baba Banda Singh ji’s mouth, Baba Jis eyes were gouged out with knife and left foot was cut, Baba jis Body was hanged on Gate and flesh was torn off. Body was pierced with hot pincred and later it was cut limb by limb.

    Its true

    Delhi has seen it all

  20. Nirdesh Singh says:

    Hi SP,

    History is replete with gore and cruelty.

    I covered Mehrauli of 13th century when it was the newest city and capital of Delhi.

    ‘Improbable Delhi’ is a nice book covering both early and contemporary times of Delhi.

    Thanks for reading!



Leave a Reply


1 + = nine