Shergarh – Sixth City of Delhi

Sher Shah Suri was medieval India’s first rockstar Emperor. Who else can lay claim to successfully chase a Mughal Emperor out of the country? Such was Sher Shah Suri’s fear that when Humayun’s son Akbar was fighting Sher Shah’s later successor Hem Chandra Vikramaditya in the Second Battle of Panipat, Akbar had his back towards Kabul so that he could flee like Humayun did sixteen years before. However, the ending this time was different as shown in the opening scene of movie Jodha Akbar.

Your first introduction to Sher Shah was when you were travelling in Sasaram about ten years ago in driving rain. Roads in Bihar were non-existent then and had turned into treacherous bumpy streams. This was when this truly majestic and beautiful edifice appeared. It just seemed so out of the place and incongruous in the surroundings that is Sasaram. You leapt out of your car, ran few yards in the rain to the entrance, read the information board and realised the GT Road you just transversed was built by this person. He would have been either mad to see the condition of the roads or mighty pleased that we were still using the roads he built without any repairs all these years.

Sher Shah’s journey from Sasaram in Bihar to being Emperor of Delhi is truly incredible. According to some reports, Sher Shah Suri was born Farid Khan in Sasaram. He was a commander in the Mughal Army under Babur and soon became Governor of Bihar. Legend has it that he fought a tiger with bare hands; the reason probably why he was conferred with the title of Sher Khan. Seeing his chance he revolted and took over Bengal; this probably after getting motivated by local and national hero Chanakya. In 1539, he defeated Humayun in the battle of Chausa and then again in Battle of Kannauj. Humayun fled India and Sher Khan took over Dinpanah, originally built by Humayun, renamed it Shergarh, proclaimed himself the emperor of India in 1540 and founded the Sur Dynasty. Today, Shergarh or Dinpanah is popularly known as Purana Qila.

Besides introducing elements to Dinpanah, Sher Shah built the mighty Grand Trunk Road from Chittagong to Kabul, built his own tomb in Sasaram, a hallmark of Afghan architecture in India, revived the ancient city of Pataliputra as Patna and introduced our currency rupiya – all this within a short span of five years. Sher Shah died in 1545 during the siege of Kalinjar Fort in Banda district of UP.

Boat on Moat

Boat on Moat


Before entering the main gate, get off at Mathura Road and enter the lake area. You can take the kids out boating. But you have more serious things to do. You walk towards the looming Talaaqi Gate. This gate like the others is also capped with chattris and protected with bastions. Walk along the ramparts on the right with the rim of the lake on your right. Once the moat probably ran around the fort but now is limited to the western flank. Just make some noise walking so that you do not startle love birds cooing in the bushes.

Talaaqi Darwaza

Talaaqi Darwaza

Humayun Darwaza

Humayun Darwaza

Bada Darwaza

Bada Darwaza

Chattri on Bada Darwaza

Chattri on Bada Darwaza

Shergarh is a sprawling compound bound by walls on all sides. There are three gates: The Western Gate for entering is called Bada Darwaza flanked with mighty bastions, Northern Gate is called the Talaaqi Darwaza or the Forbidden Gate and the Southern Gate is called Humayun Gate. Humayun Gate is the signature symbol of Purana Qila with the two ubiquitous pavilions on top. At the foot is an amphitheatre where the Light and Sound show about Seven Cities of Delhi is played out in the evenings.

Qila-e-Kuhna

Qila-e-Kuhna

Along with the three gates, the main attraction of the complex is the Qila-e-Kuhna mosque built by Sher Shah Suri. The mosque marks the transition from Lodhi to Mughal architecture. Marble in shades of red, white and slate has been used for calligraphic inscriptions. Beware of the lady brandishing a lathi stick lest you forget to take your shoes off while entering.

Sher Mandal

Sher Mandal

Sher Mandal is a small double storeyed building that was used by Humayun as library. After Sher Shah’s death, Humayun had come back to reclaim Purana Qila. Here in Sher Mandal, Humayun while answering call to prayers, slipped, fell down the stairs and died. Humayun’s reign might have been ordinary, but his death proved spectacular in the form of his tomb. Humayun Tomb is arguably the best looking monument of Delhi that might have inspired the Taj Mahal.

Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games had one great side effect. It might not have brought foreign tourists in droves but ASI has spruced up most monuments in Delhi. Outside, there are the standard red signs naming the monument in neat fonts. Insides have detailed nifty layout maps of the site. Each building at the entrance has easy-on-the-eyes information engraved on redstone tablets instead of the earlier ugly blue metal boards bent out of shape.

Signboard

Signboard

As is normal at monuments in Delhi, there are groups of raucous people raising hell, families dutifully leaving their picnic debris on the lawns; everyone generally trying to outshout everyone else. Some foreigners who dared to come inside cower on the sidelines; they take a quick look and scamper away – so much for a Rs. 100 ticket.

Sunset at Bada Darwaza

Sunset at Bada Darwaza

Walk out of Shergarh, cross the Mathura Road and you can see the Lal Darwaza, also called Sher Shah Gate. Entry to the gate is restricted as repair work is going on. Things don’t look too good for the gate as you can see a ghastly high tech red brick wall erected under the arch to delay the inevitable.

Lal Darwaza

Lal Darwaza

Khair-ul-Manazil

Khair-ul-Manazil

Right next to Lal Darwaza is the Khair-ul-Manazil. The mosque was built by Maham Angah the powerful wet nurse of Akbar. She raised Akbar when Sher Shah had sent Humayun on a leather hunt in Persia. Maham was the mother of Adham Khan, Akbar’s foster brother. You will remember Adham Khan possessing incredible bouncing properties after being dropped twice from the Agra Fort in the movie Jodha Akbar.

Now, go say hello to the monkeys in the neighbouring Delhi Zoo.

Getting There: Shergarh lies a short distance from Pragati Maidan Metro Station.

16 Comments

  • I am always fascinated with Shershah, Hemu and this qila and visited here several times. Well, luckily Shershah died near Khajuraho and those temples were spared or rather out of mind and out of sight from all who wanted to destroy all idols, local beliefs and heritage.
    Many other places were not fortunate.
    Recently as it happened with Buddhas of Bamiyan.

  • Nirdesh Singh says:

    Hi Praveen,

    I look at History as a spectator – I do not judge and I do not wonder what if. Just like Samay in Mahabharata.

    If we want to change history then our time is now. We have to make some difference today. Otherwise it is always what if.

    All in all, all these invasions, all this intercultural meshing is what gives India the colour. Otherwise it would have been a very boring history.

    And its not that it was always the natives fighting the invaders. Lot of fight went on among the indigenous people with associated treachery, looting exactly what is going on today.

    So just like US today is getting enriched by the immigrants despite all the opposition, India also benefitted from her history of different people coming.

    Thanks for reading and your valued comments.

  • Very informative post !!!

  • Vipin says:

    Exploration of Dilli continues, great! History, lovely visuals and a put of humour makes your posts a delight for the readers, Nirdesh Ji. While you were narrating this lovely tale, i was expecting that you will throw some light on the Bhairon Temple nearby which has always been a point of curiosity for me after hearing so many things about this…anyway now will have to dare to go there sometime to understand it…When we read the story of SSS in our history book, I would always visualize him as a hero fighting with Tiger….

    Pretty good read, thanks for sharing!

  • Nirdesh Singh says:

    Hi Vipin,

    Thanks for reading and enjoying the series on Delhi.

    Sher Shah Suri was an Indian Hero. He did a lot for economy – for one, building roads and rest houses that promoted trade. His revenue models were adopted by Raja Todar Mal during Akbar’s reign.

    Looking forward to a post from you about Bhairon Temple!

    Thanks again for appreciation!

  • Nandan Jha says:

    It is shame that I have not been to Sasaram, ever. To love being on road, it should be a pilgrimage, hopefully it would happen. More after the beautiful narration by you, with or without rain.

    If you are interested more, then I have a recommendation. I read this book a long time back but I can still remember its name. And now when I am talking about, I am already fantasising reading about it. Its called “Day and Nights on G T Road” by Anthony Weller.

    http://www.amazon.com/Days-Nights-Grand-Trunk-Road/dp/156924670X

    I do not see it on flipkart. Infibeam has it though
    http://www.infibeam.com/Books/days-nights-grand-trunk-road-anthony-weller/9781569247518.html#newUsedItems

    Though the place attracts all kinds of love birds but when I visited, it was not that bad. The SnL show in the evening is indeed all penny worth it. One can probably be here on a afternoon, spend time there, witness the SnL show and finally polish the day with some good food near Nizamuddin Dargah.

    When you are free, please read Auro’s functional note on SnL – http://www.ghumakkar.com/2011/05/03/purana-qila-light-sound-show-new-delhi/

    @ Vipin – Unless you are a Bharon bhakt (my Dad is), I would suggest to avoid going on a Sunday. I do cherish and love Bharon’s prasad though.

  • Nirdesh Singh says:

    Hi Nandan,

    Yes, Sasaram should be on every Ghumakkar’s bucket list!

    Thanks for suggesting the book on GT road. I will definitely read it. But first I have to finish Tuzuk – i – Jahangir and Discovery of India. In the meanwhile I have ordered highly recommended Lucy Peck’s Delhi – Thousand Years of Building.

    I order my books from uread – very prompt delivery.

    I think something is wrong with Ghumakkars when they start fantasizing about trips, books or monuments. Like me who is hell bent on spending one off day in a week among delhi monuments.

    Next time I will go catch the SnL at Purana Qila. From the photos it seems it is awesome. Red Fort SnL has only few bulbs going on and off and then it conked off during our visit last month!

    This winter all monuments in Delhi on Sundays have been packed – Purana Qila, Red Fort, Hauz Khas Village or Humayun Tomb. Temples always were.

    Thanks for reading and helping with the photos!

  • D.L.Narayan says:

    Loved the virtual tour of Shergarh, Nirdesh, and the history lesson. Sher Shah Suri is one of the most fascinating characters in medieval Indian history and I can’t help wondering what he might have achieved had he lived a longer life….the history of India and maybe even the course of world history would probably have been different. I know that you thoroughly disapprove of “what-if” scenarios,but I can’t help speculating nevertheless, lol.

    The administrative systems established by him have remained largely intact through the Mughal and British eras which is a testament to his administrative genius.

    Thanks also for the picture of the Sher Mandal, the building in which Humayun breathed his last. You have revived my fading memories. As a schoolboy I pitied Humayun; it was sort of tragic that he died in such a uniquely unheroic manner. Even more surprising is that the least flamboyant of the Great Moghuls gets the most magnificent mausoleum. I guess these quirks are the reason why history is so interesting, Thanks once again.

    • Nirdesh Singh says:

      Dear DL,

      Thanks for your appreciation. It made my day!

      Even I would think about the way Humayun died. It was an embarassing way for an emperor to die. But then his entire life was tragic. Yes, at least in death he got some respite in the form of the truly majestic tomb. Aga Khan trust is doing a wonderful job restoring the tomb. I was there a week before. The chattris surrounding the central dome have recently acquired blue glazed tiles. The tomb looked awesome on a sunny day with blue skies. Now the minor tombs surrounding Humayun Tomb like Isa Khan Tomb, Barbers Tomb are getting a face lift.

      Yes, If Sher Shah had survived for another 5 years, Indias history would have been different! No moghul dynasty and probably he would not have let British in!

      Thanks again for your valued feedback!

  • Amitava Chatterjee says:

    Loved the post Nirdesh.

    I have past through Sasaram several times while driving to Kolkata on NH-2. Last time we wanted to visit, but we started late from Varanasi quite late and couldn’t. May be this time, we will visit few places on our way, including Sasaram, Nalanda and Budh Gaya. No one can ever forget the man behind the GT Road, other than his administrative skills.

    Last winter, we also covered few monuments in Delhi and S&L show in Purana Quilla is just awesome. Other than S&L show, this place also famous for musical concerts.

    • Nirdesh Singh says:

      Hi Amitava,

      Thanks for the appreciation.

      Yes, I have seen Purana Qila SnL’s photos in Auro’s post and they are just awesome. I will have to go there soon with a tripod!

      Sher Shah Tomb in Sasaram is a must see. Of course, Sasaram happens to be the home constituency of our Lok Sabha speaker.

      I also want to do the Nalanda and Bodh Gaya route – maybe some day.

      Thanks again!

  • Gita AM says:

    Love the post and pics Nirdesh.

    I remembered you a lot recently, as I was meant to come to Delhi tomorrow and was hoping to see the Firoz Shah Kotla that you wrote about, but I am not coming now.

    I enjoyed my visit to the Purana Qila about a year back and rate that the best of the Delhi historic sites I have seen so far, along with the Qutb Minar area.

    PS: Retyping this as it got lost when I forgot the captcha!

  • Nirdesh Singh says:

    Hi Gita,

    Let me know when you are next in Delhi.

    Well my loyalty lies with Humayun Tomb. The site and splendour and the sweepingness of the monument is awe inspiring. Next of course comes Qutub Minar. Two weeks ago when we ther after years, the monument looked so endearing. Maybe the rains had washed the dust off. It was almost magical.

    Then comes the Hauz Khas village complex. You will see some of it in my next post and a few other lesser known monuments – These are all must see places, but then there is Nizamuddin Complex, Lodhi Gardens, Red Fort (kind of sad now), Mehrauli area. Purana Qila too has some charm but is not clean. Kotla too because it is so unknown.

    What Delhi has to offer is mind boggling – what I am discovering now.

    Thanks for the appreciation and for reading.

    Yes comments are getting lost a lot these days. So I type my comments first in word and then paste them here!

  • Gita AM says:

    Certainly, Nirdesh though I doubt it will be anytime soon and I would prefer to come now in winter.

    You know, I used to be very fascinated with Humayun’s Tomb which I have visited several times over the last three decades. On my last trip however which was perhaps a year ago, I suddenly found it uninteresting, I can not pin point exactly why though. Ditto with the Red Fort which I remembered enjoying some twenty years ago, yet on a re visit last year I was put off.

    The Qutb Minar site still draws me to repeated visits though. I have not been to the Mehrauli area, that is also on my list. The Lodhi Gardens are marvellous, a family of mongoose entertained us for a long time on my last visit!

    Delhi does have a lot to offer, no doubt about it. Now in only the winter would last all year round!

  • KEERTHI says:

    Thanks for sharing the knowledgeable information about the forts of Delhi.

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