Hauz Khas – The 14th century ‘Knowledge City’

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As one explores the Hauz Khas ruins, the first one is the Poti ( Grand Daughter’s) and Dadi ( Grand mother’s) tomb -Royal tombs for sure – the bigger one built in Lodi period & the smaller one in Tughlaq period. One more tomb, a 12-pillared Lodi tomb stand on the road to the madrasa, on which nothing much is known.

Next on throne after his cousin Mohammed bin Tughlaq, Feroz Shah had an eye for restoration of dilapidated structures, including de-stilting the Hauz Khas & building the Madrasa in 1352. This 14th Century center of academic excellence made Delhi – the envy of Baghdad, the rival of Cairo & the equal of Constantinople.

If three things defined Feroz Shah’s rule, they are : governance, hunting & building. When Delhi’s Tughlaqabad was considered a mere military outpost at the far corner of the global Islamic world, Hauz Khas was raised by Feroz Shah as a knowledge city and a center of excellence – a city for the savants – where the refugee intellectuals fleeing the Mongol onslaught on Samarkand, Baghdad & elsewhere, took shelter.

The Madrasa was built almost 25 years after Tughlaqabad was abandoned in 1325 & Feroz Tughlaq’s coming to the throne in 1351.

The two level L-shaped Madrasa , wrapped around by a huge flight of stairs going down to the reservoir, its luminous golden tombs & brilliant red walls reflecting on the calm waters, was pivoted around the tomb of its builder, Feroz Shah Tughlaq. An unique architectural highlight of the Madrasa was the protruding Mihrab walls onto the lake where the faithful can have a limited view of the calm waters.

Poet Mutahhar of Tughlaq court writes: “The moment I entered the blessed building..its fragrance possessed the odour of amber, hyacinths, basils, roses, tulips.” & on the food: “..pheasants,herons, fish.. heaped everywhere & students sat cross-legged on carpets brought from Shiraz & Yemen..”

The first principal of the Madrasa was one Jalal Rumi, who knew 14 sciences & all 4 Quranic recital methods. I tried to fill the time-ravaged structure with the images of academic seminars & discussions among the students and their learned professors under these very roofs..some 700 years ago.

Of all the subjects that this academy excelled in, particular highlights of Delhi was Astronomy & Medicine.

Unani Medicine, believed to be originated in ancient Greece by Hippocrates known as Buqrat, passed onto universities of Samarkand & Tashkent, and finally brought to India by the refugee scholars.

For his final resting, Feroz Shah Tughlaq chose this place in the city of Mehrauli, away from Ferozabad, the administrative “New Delhi” of those times. Built around a band of Koranic scriptures & stucco medallions – later on decorated by Ibrahim Lodi ….the dome on Feroz Shah’s tomb is exquisite. The open courtyard flanking the Emperor’ tomb defines the space , rather than defending it – something not common with Tughlaq buildings – displays a daring and open architectural style, akin to Buddhist garden tombs.

Not directly attributable to any historical artifacts, the many Chattris in the garden ‘perhaps’ were the teachers’ mausoleums, offering some space to students to sit & study on these pavilion tombs.

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This walk was led by Sohail Hashmi of ‘Delhi Heritage Walks with Sohail Hashmi’

References:

City of Djinns, by William Dalrymple

Chapter by Anthony Welch, in “Muqarnas: An Annual on the Visual Culture of the Islamic World)” by EJ. Brill

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