Table of contents for Daastaan- E - Dilli
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.