As Lutyen designed the Viceroy house/’Rashtrapati Bhavan’ on the Raisina Hills, he integrated it with old architectural highlights of the so-called-necropolis in perfect alignment. As the Viceroy would look around from the hill-top mansion, the ViceRoy house placed like a hen with other British buildings surrounding it like chicks ; he would find – perfectly aligned with India Gate and looking yonder the central vista- the Forbidden Gate of Lal Qila; with Qutub Minar on one side ; and Jama Masjid on the other.
The city of Shergarh erected by the victorious Afghan Ruler Sher Shah Suri after driving out Humayun was built where the second Mughal emperor Humayun had his Din-panah- after ascending to power a mere 4 years into Babur’s triumphant entry into India- on roughly the same area where eons ago, stood the abode of the Godly Kings –Indraprastha.
Short Lived Claimants to this ‘Unlucky’ Fort: Humayun:1533-1540; Sher Shah Suri:1540-1545; Islam Shah: 1545-1552; Humayun: 1555-1556; Himu: 1556-1556 (one month)
Humayun, a sandwiched personality between his charismatic father Babur and even more legendary son-Akbar; he had a fluctuating fortune of riches to rags to riches again …. his obsessions with occult and mysticism of the stars and galaxies, his rescue by a lowly water boy from river; fleeing through the Thar desert with his pregnant wife like a vagabond… leaving his 14-month son Akbar at Kabul; fleeing to Persia where he traded the priceless Koh-i-noor for the military support of Persian Shah to regain Hindustan; re-gaining son Akbar from Kabul ; and re-capturing Delhi; and his sudden death….
Humayun, superstitious to the hilt, must have chosen the auspicious location of Indraprastha not far from Nizamuddin Auliya’s shrine..where his own tomb is also located; while shifting from Agra to Delhi.
Humayun, though vanquished in battle against Sher Shah was full of praise to Sher Shah till his final years: such was the forgiveness of the noble Emperor!
Interestingly however, if Sher Shah- a great ruler as he was; and Humayun-who ruled the Mughal empire twice from this very spot; then where has the rest of the buildings vanished.. only thing that hits one eyes on entering the Purana Qila is the manicured gardens and lawns – so artificial & so empty !
It seems strange that although the gates and outer wall can be proved to be of Humayun’s time; there is not a single other structure of his time. Then, of course, Humayun’s tomb was built by Akbar and all other monuments – including this fort- slipped out of everyone’s attention.
Sher Shah Suri, an ethnic Pashtun, famously remembered for killing a tiger with bare hands was an able ruler: building Shergarh; issuing the first Rupaiah currency that is still being followed in many countries; re-organizing postal system; establishing the Grand Trunk Road from Chittagong to Kabul; and reviving the city of Patliputra to a modern Patna.
Although the exquisite design of the mosque is credited with Sher Shah, it does not look like a Pathan building. Look at the octagonal dome from the backside: it looks more “Lodi-era’ although it is a matter of interpretation and perception.
Qila-i-Kuhna mosque, the best preserved part of the fort with its 5 horse-shoe shaped doorways is the most beautiful example of symmetry : two on left representing “sawaal” and two on the right – “jawab”.
Green & Yellow are the first colors to fade with time: lucky are we, therefore to see the tinges still in the dome.
If there is one symbol that can symbolize Humayun: it can not be anything but Stars & the myriad constellations in the sky.
On that fateful Friday of 27 Jan 1556, Humayun was in full public view in his Sher Mandal. Both hands full of books and he was coming down the stairs of his Sher Mandal library, when across in the Qila-i-Kuhna mosque, the muezzin cupped his mouth and yelled the adhaan “ Allahu Akbar” , and as Humayun tried to bow his knees, he tumbled out of life down the stairs.. leaving a 12 year old lad – Akbar, to reclaim the Moghul dynasty.
Peeling off layers of history.. eons before the silence of intense war trumpets, … loud clanging of swords, and muffled thunder of horse-hoofs ; long before the genies and djinns made Delhi the magical and exotic fantasy for travelers and invaders; there was absolute darkness and deafening silence for millennia..till the city of Indraprastha rises up like never before and like never after…
Indraprastha in the present day Delhi was created by the Pandavas by exterminating the Naga race who were living here in the Khandava forest , and a magnificent palace was made by the architect Maya for the Pandavas at this very site. The peerless palace- described as one with golden columns, its golden walls and archways fitted with exquisite gems ; shining as if perpetually on fire – it rose upto the skies; had a tank filled with flowers with leaves made of dark colored gems, and stalks of bright jewels..and flanked by crystal stairways; it was guarded by 8000 Kinkara demons capable of flying.
( The Mahabharata, Book 2: Sabha Parva: Section I)
How old is Indraprastha: few google searches shows the experts’ analysis from Puranic references of 26 generations each averaging 18 years of rule, between Maha Padma Nanda (382 BC) and Parikshit (Arjuna’s grand-son) ’s grand son; thereby taking Mahabharata’s date to 382 + (18*26) = 850 BC & adding 100 years for Arjuna’s fourth generation, it comes to approx 950 BC. This matches the archaeological finding of PGW( Painted Grey Ware) artifacts at Mahabharata sites such as Kurukshetra, Hastinapur & Indraprastha; the PGWs being estimated to overlap with late Indus civilization of 950BC. Prof B B Lal of ASI attempted to co-relate Mahabharata texts with his excavated artifacts of Painted Grey Wares , and estimated the same date of aprox 900BC for the Mahabharata.
So, although the excavations have taken place only in a limited area in the Purana Qila area in Delhi, whereas the vast inhabited area near the Zoo and bank of Yamuna are yet unexplored due to paucity of funds; archeologists have failed to find any palace structure or stone dwelling or advanced artifacts, except the primitive PGWs associated with mud bricks.
This date of ~900 BC seems totally out of sync with the mythological reference of 3102 BC where Kaliyuga is said to have commenced after the Great Battle:
Is it then that the poets and bards while reciting the Mahabharata down the generations before Vyasa penned it down in Sanskrit , suffered from poetic imaginations? Or is the modern man insufficiently equipped to historicize places like Kurukshetra, Indraprastha, Dwarka and Hastinapura where excavations have surely thrown up finger prints of a lost civilization.
As the line between history and mythology become fuzzy and blurred; the truth may only lie in the eyes of the believer.
This IHC Walk was led by Beeba Sobti – historian & Delhi aficionado: Purana Qila- Afsane Purane: Tarane Suhane.