Battlefields of Delhi

While roaming around the gory battlefields in Panipat and Kurukshetra-Sthaneshwar, a sense of gloom prevailed upon my heart and I started sulking under the slightest pretext of any further thoughts of wars and its losses. I could feel the presence of spilled blood beneath the surface of the earth upon which monuments had been subsequently built. The pleasures of visiting the Bhairav temple was another unforgettable experience.

Feeling homesick, I wanted to return back to Delhi to enjoy a pleasant evening amidst the cacophony of modern civilization preferably at the beautiful malls and posh restaurants of the present times. However, when I came back, it was the not the same Delhi, which I had known for some time. Wherever I turned my eyes I could see only the trails of the battles that were fought in the past.

To my utter disbelief and horror, my eyes saw that the entire old city of Delhi was nothing but a massive battlefield. Strange it might feel but, throughout the known history, either it had remained the cause of the battle or was itself a battlefield. While travelling past the backyard of the old fort, one finds the ancient Mahabharata era temple of Bhairav, which takes one to the 1400 BC, when two clans fought over the reign of epic city of Indraprastha.

Presuming that the temple is about 3000 years old, it can be categorized as the mute witness to all the wars and battles that were fought on or over the land mass, called presently as Delhi. So, it is the befitting protagonist of this story in which an effort to see a massive battlefield in Delhi has been attempted.

Pandav era Bhairav Temple

Pandav era Bhairav Temple

After the battle of Kurukshetra, the Bhairav Temple had seen the return of victorious but gloomy Pandavas to reign over a kingdom which was bereft of friends and relatives. It can only be imagined how many years would have taken to rebuild the city and to lift the morale of its inhabitants.

The temple had seen off the tearful eyes mourning the loss of the loved ones to the epic battle and it might have provided the much needed succor to the weary and lost ones. The war related grief and its perils must have been heavy on the rulers also. So, when the Pandava brothers renounced the kingdom, the temple might have wished them well.

About 1000 years later, it was the time of Emperor Ashoka and his armies to set foot on its soil. Though coming of the Mauryan Army was nothing new to the place, which had earlier seen the influence of Jarasandh and Chandragupta Maurya on its soil, the message was different than the previous one. This time, the temple had seen an army with a message of peace and compassion too.

Besides the Ashokan rock edicts at Sriniwaspuri, the evidences of presence of Ashokan authority in these areas would have been lost forever, if Sultan Firoz Shah Tughlq did not get two of its pillars transported to Delhi, one of which lies near present day Hindu Rao Hospital at ridge area. In the present times, however, the pillar seems to have lost its relevance in the minds of masses, though it is visited occasionally by some foreign and domestic inquisitive travellers.

 

Ashokan Lat near Hindu Rao Hospital, Delhi

Ashokan Lat near Hindu Rao Hospital, Delhi

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The stories of the exploits of the Alexander, the great and Seleucus must have been coming to the precincts of the temple and must be the source of some great discussions of those tumultuous times. Later, the temple also saw some peaceful times during the presence of the armies of Gupta Empire, when Samudragupta brought the entire north India under his control.

I could not find any direct physical evidences of Gupta dynasty on the land mass of Delhi, except the great Iron Pillar situated within the Qutub complex, which is considered as a sample of the technical advancement of Gupta period, especially in metallurgy.

The Pandav-era temple must have seen all and must have observed that erecting pillars or columns was a sign of notifying the seal of authority in ancient India. The temple remains a witness to the technological advancement in the civilization by comparing the stone pillars of Ashoka period to the corrosion-free iron pillars of Gupta period.

With some concern and worry, the Bhairav temple would have seen the events unfold in the society, when Iltutmish would have brought the iron pillar to Delhi and got it installed at the Qutub Complex as a sign of onset of a new authority. But, I could not find the physical evidence of Gupta-era wars and battles in the present city of Delhi. Amusing is the trend that the masses nowadays do not even remember Samudragupta as ruler of this area.

The iron-pillar of Delhi

The iron-pillar of Delhi

The Bhairav temple had seen that the mighty pandavas had gone to their heavenly abode after renouncing the kingdom for which they had fought a battle. It has also seen the gradual deprecation within the kingdom that continued upto the reign of Janmejay.

The question about the ultimate fate of descendants of Yudhisthira always remains unanswered to me. After a long lull in the timespan, in 730 AD, people from the Tomar clan, claiming to be the direct descendants of Pandavas, built a citadel, named as “Qila Lal Kot” in their attempt for maintaining safeguards against the various skirmishes and invasions. Strangely, they did not opt for the location of the fabled Indraprastha to build that new citadel and built a new one.

The Bhairav temple, standing alone at the site of old Indraprastha, might have felt forlorn to see the descendants building a citadel at a different site. The exact reasons for choosing a new site can only be guessed. The new rulers might have taken into account the safety, availability of resources, possibility of trade etc. But, was it also due to onset of new religions like Buddhism and Jainism, as we see the remnants of Jain architecture in Mehrauli.

 

The details of the Lal Kot

The details of the Lal Kot

Anyway, the Bhairav temple had lived long enough to see the fall of Qila Lal Kot also, the ruins of which can be seen at many places around Mehrauli. But for the best view, one should trek down to Sanjay Van via Mehrauli after taking right turn from the roundabout in front of Qutab Complex. The tomb of Adham Khan (A General in the Akbar’s Army) falls on the right and Mahrauli market comes ahead. After crossing the market, a narrow street on the right further leads to the fringe of the Sanjay Van. The trail first goes to “Idgah”, then further right to the “Dargah of Sheikh Shahabuddin Ashqallah”.

 

The trail towards Dargah

The trail towards Dargah

The location of the Idgah is almost outside the fortification of Qila Lal Kot. The write-up prepared by the World Monument Fund shows that it was supposed to be built by the Timurlane, after his conquest of Delhi for receiving the nobles and pious people and also to observe the religious rituals.

It means that the same ground would have seen the battalions of the Timurlane on its soil in 1398. It might be the place of worship for the invading army which had lain seize of Qila Lal Kot for a long time. Standing there, a few questions propped up in my mind. Was it the camp site of Timurlane? If it was, then why did he choose to camp at such a distance from Tughlaqabad? Or, was it that Tughlaqs still ruled from Mehrauli?

These questions were left unanswered within me as there was none to whom I could seek guidance. Moreover, the Idgah was also in private occupation these days so I could not trespass for a longer period as too much inquisitiveness would lead to perception of ill-motives. It was, however, worth to ponder that how the people at Bhairav temple would have received the news of seize of the fort laid by the invading armies of Turk and Mongol rulers.

Idgah

Idgah

Behind the Idgah, there is a burial place. It was quite scary to walk over there as a creepy feeling kept my company. I do not know whether it was my over-sensitiveness or someone was following in real. But, with small and steady steps, I came out from there and proceeded to the long walk towards the dargah of Sheikh Shahabuddin Ashqallah, which is situated almost in the little opening in the forest.

It claims to contain the Chilla of Khwaja Fariduddin Gajashakar, a Sufi saint of 12th Century. The chilla, which is still operational, was situated in a very small and warm enclosure at the back side of the dargah. A lot of small tombs/burial marks were also present in the Dargah. It is said that some of these pertain to the slain personnel of the invading Turk army.

Dargah of Sheikh Shahabuddin Ashqallah

Dargah of Sheikh Shahabuddin Ashqallah

After visiting the Dargah, I crossed over it from left and the trek down into the forest on an unmarked route with the help of a printed map showing the ruins of the Lal Kot. The setting sun was showing the direction towards the fort. A little ahead, another crumbling tomb was situated, which was venerated by the local villagers, but whose credentials were unknown.

It seemed to me that I was walking over the same ground where many army personnel would have lost their lives in the battle for Qila lal Kot, either for invading or for defending the same. Later, I had read that the Sanjay Van is still one of the haunted places within Delhi. After following the directions towards the ruins with the help of the Sun, I reached at the base of the wide walls standing tall above my height.

The fortification and a burial ground

The fortification and a burial ground

Carefully, I climbed up the wall using my hands and resting my feet on corners of the stones. Walking over its wide walls to its entire length gave me a mixture of feelings. I could feel the efforts of the masons, the purpose of the royalty, the routine of the army to protect and also the design of the invading battalions to break the fortification.

It is said that the Tomar clan had given this fort to Prithvi Raj Chauhan of Ajmer on marital ties, who ultimately lost the Battle of Tarain, (Modern day Tarori village) near Karnal at Haryana, in 1192 AD. It is very difficult to understand the war doctrine of those times, especially on the question as to what made Prithvi Raj Chauhan, being the ruler of twin city of modern Ajmer and present Delhi, to engage Muhammad Shah Ghori at Tarain.

After losing their king, the remaining army at the Lal Kot would not have posed much resistance to the invading army. The Bhairav Temple must be watching silently, when the news of loss of the ruling king in the battle of Tarain would have reached there. All of them have become the part of the history now. Presently, I had climbed over the walls and was just thinking how awesome it was to walk over the 1500-2000 years old walls.

 

The trail on the wide walls of the fort

The trail on the wide walls of the fort

 

I would certainly cajole like-minded persons to go for this trek. One should park the car/vehicle at the parking facility near Adham Khan’s tomb and walk. The total time required may be equal to two-three hours on a slow and steady pace.

If one has time and inclination to go for trekking within the city, it is a sure place that offers good views of Delhi’s skyline over the tree-tops, tranquility and peace and of course it is a battle heritage. In present times, however, people also use this place for pleasure drinking and all. Therefore, one should be cautious as well. The Pandav-era Bhairav Temple is still standing and watching over all the present activities.

 

The route-map

The route-map

In the meantime, can you imagine what would have happened after the fort had fallen? If not, then sit over its walls in complete tranquility for some time. The walls would let you hear the sound of the swords as well as the cries for mercy and peace. The tranquility after the battle is quite deafening. It gives only one message that God forbids, if there be another war on its soil!

  • MUNESH MISHRA

    Well written post Uday ji. A unique viewpoint to Historical Delhi is so impressive. Thanks for sharing your experience on “Delhi Ghumakkari”.

    • Uday Baxi

      Dear Munesh ji

      Thanks you.

      I am glad to know that you liked the post.

      Regards

  • Archana Ravichander

    Thanks Uday for another interesting Battlefield post.
    Each post is a gem and adds a different angle to the perception we have about these cities.

    Goodluck for the future posts. It surely was a great read!

    Best,
    Archana

    • Uday Baxi

      Dear Archana

      I hope to write a few more on this subject. Let’s see how does it materializes.
      But I am really glad to know that you liked the post.
      Regards.

  • Kaveri

    Though I have stayed in Delhi for years but it has always been a mystery to me. Every time you try to understand the city, many cloaked facts will come out.
    A very well written and circumstantial description of the history associated. I feel that I never knew this city.. Will I ever..?
    Cheers.

    • Uday Baxi

      Yes. You are right Kaveri. Delhi has many faces. And it is true that the city is unique in its heritage.

  • Dear Uday,

    Really it was your great effort to present the battle fields of Delhi with a different perspective. Good read!

    Regards

    • Uday Baxi

      Thanks Anupam for your encouraging words..

      Regards

  • Jatinder sethi

    Dear Mr. Baxi
    My personal book collection, which is reasonably quite large, and almost 90% of the books are historical and biographical volumes. The latest one The History of Akbar (Akbarnama) ,witten by Abul-Fazal who was commanded by the Mughal emperor Akbar to write a history of the reigns of the Timurid sovereigns in India. It has Akbar’s horoscopes and maps and his battles against Rajputs,Afghans And rebellious Mughal officers.

    Your posts of some of these battlefields are a great work of historical value. Why not publish all your posts together in one volume, which can be kept as a reference by people like me.If you have already not done it .My compliments to you and your lonely effort of great value.Keep it up.

    • Uday Baxi

      Dear Mr. Sethi

      I congratulate you for having an excellent personal library. I always wanted to have one for myself too. Let’s see when does it materialize.

      I always felt that the analysis of battle heritage might produce good source of information about the growth of psyche of the inhabitants of the place. But writing a book involves a great investment. So, presently through my short articles, I am trying to share historical values of those battlefields with contemporary civil development of the society around them with a hope that someone at some place might get these battle heritage their due share of importance.

      I enjoyed your comments. Nice to know that you liked it. Thanks a lot for your appreciation.

      Regards.

  • Wow. This would have taken a lot of reading, roaming and piecing together of events to make a lucid tale. Delhi indeed has a ton of history hidden around all corners of this circular city. Thank you Uday.

    This log warrants a more detailed reading, hopefully I get to read this again.

    • Uday Baxi

      Dear Sir

      Thanks a lot for an encouraging comment.

      Regards

  • Amit Puri

    Truly Mesmerizing…..As i was reading the travelogue, it almost felt as if i am watching a movie. Words-in-Motion, Manuscript-in-the-making.

    It is one thing to read all about the history of a city and attempt to find those hidden places and another to put it down so well. And it seems Uday Ji, that you poessess both these qualities. Way to go Baxi Sahab.

    • Uday Baxi

      Dear Amit ji

      Thanks a lot for your kind words. It is good to know that you liked the post.

      I will definitely try to improve further..

      Regards