In Search of Muhammad-bin-Tughluq

Muhammed-bin-Tughlaq, often dismissed as a mad genius, was undoubtedly the most learned emperor of the Sultanate era, having mastery over Persian, Arabic, Turkish & Sanskrit & had a knack for original ideas far ahead of his times. His decisions -bold as they were – failed in implementation, coupled with widespread famine and rebels all around, did not help him either.

From Ibn Batuta (IB)’s Rihla, one can get a day to day account of Tughlaq’s court, where IB had received the post of Chief Judge at an unbelievably high salary – considering IB’s indistinguishable background; that shows the emperor’s legendary xenophilia : his quest for reverse brain-drain in those times where foreigners were literally weighed with gold to attract them to the Sultan’s court.

The Engine-house of Muhammed-bin-Tughlaq’s vast pan-India empire now reduced to dust and rubble, is traceable by its only remaining structure and reading of historical accounts like that by the Moroccan traveler-par-excellence: Ibn Battuta or IB who stayed in Delhi for almost 8 years during Muhammed’s regime.

Although helped by IB’s palace guide book written some 700 years ago ( except perhaps the pin code! ) it was difficult to imagine where exactly the sacred Hall of Thousand Columns , made intricately of wood once stood – amid the present scene of general destruction and the fast approaching all-around encroachments.

The first gate to the vaulted palace in his New Delhi, IB says in his Rihala, was the elephant gate where mass executions  by trained elephants and a battery of executioners was a daily ritual, followed by a domed vestibule, then by a 13-bay north gate, followed by a hypothetical audience hall, then finally the Hall of Thousand Columns where the Emperor sat and ruled.

We do not find any criticism of Muhammad from IB’s rihala, except that he was concerned with the Sultan being too free with blood-letting and violence. IB was not the one to complain ( except to report a severe boil on his bum) against the sugar-daddy of the Emperor who had bestowed such lavish arrangements for him, and whose empire spread from the mangrove swamps of Bengal to the southern tip of Kerala . Never had any emperor managed to rule such a vast swath of land, before the Mughals.

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The octagonal turret with its leaning walls- is the best preserved symbol of Tughlaq’s Vijay Mandal : his New Delhi of those times. Daulatabad would be an administrative capital whereas Delhi would remain his military capital : that was his plan – well thought out in strategy, but poorly executed.

The hunched and sunken shape of the genius king gets etched in mind, when one reads IB’s final description of him: one night, the emperor climbed over to the roof of his palace, and looked over the old Delhi of Qutub that he had ordered to be vacated: and not finding a single light, not a single lamp or smoke, he said “I am at last at peace with myself”

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Begumpur Mosque – looks as if a mirror copy of the beautiful mosques of Bukhara: except the glazed blue tiles! Its unusual design of a Ripple of Eggs is said to be of Iranian origin, and the mosque had played a major role as a social community hub through ages. This is one of seven mosques built by Juna Shah Telengani, prime minister of Feroz Shah Tughlaq, who -being a convert from his Hindu lineage- seems to be making an effort to prove his allegiance to his new religion. An alternate viewpoint cite its closeness to Vijaya Mnadal complex, to suggest that it was constructed by Muhammad bin Tughlaq only.

Khirki mosque : as if nine crates of eggs of some ancient bird has been neatly placed around with four square openings. Made of Delhi Quartz stones, available from the local Aravali hills,the militaristic design – devoid of the fine Mughal architectural decorations – forces one to see and appreciate the pattern in the stones: the ripple of the cupolas, the symmetry of the beams and arches ..all in stark naked solid stones without a single decoration. Shafts of lights fall through the four openings making the inter-play of the stones and shadows. At places, the ground floor prayer hall , looks pitch dark even with the natural indirect lighting.

Satpula barrage, used to control water flow of Yamuna’s tributary , with sluice gates, with provision for wooden  gates controlled from top. All  but two gates at either extreme end had controllable gates, the two believed to be left open all the time for fishes to swim upstream.

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

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Ref:

http://kafila.org/2009/09/17/the-khirki-and-the-begumpur-mosques/ by Sohail Hashmi

The Hall of Thousand Columns by Tim Mackintosh-Smith.

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