Unraveling the Invisible Jewels in the neighborhood of Old Fort

We walked along a small patch of the ‘Sadak-e-Azam’ or ‘UttaraPatha’ road from Mauryan times, rebuilt by Sher Shah Suri, and considerably upgraded by the British.. and explored few interesting sites that once dotted the river banks of Yamuna before it changed its course :  one of city gates of Shergarh built by Sher Shah Suri;  a site where Akbar was almost assassinated by an archer; a quaint Dargah of a Sufi saint who turned a pot of iron pellets into jiggery and chickpeas with his spiritual prowess;  a forgotten and dilapidated tomb of a poet which a visiting Head of State had insisted to visit; and a temple where devotees offer bottles of whiskey to the God.

As we tried to lift the cloak of invisibility from these almost-invisible, seldom-visited, largely unheard historic ruins, jewels from the past, it made us appreciate what Mirza Ghalib felt:

“I asked my soul, what is Delhi?

She replied: The world is the body

And Delhi its soul.”

Although clustered around a kilometer or so of short distance along the busy Mathura Road, the chronology of these monuments are staggeringly far-flung : The Bhairon temple from the ancient times of Indraprastha and Mahabharata stand aside the two dargahs of Matka Pir and Malik Yaar Paran dating back to Sultan Balban’s Slave Dynasty in the 13th century; while Lal Darwaza and Khair ul Manazil as 16th century remnants of Suri and Mughal Empire are juxtaposed with the serene Bagh-e-Bedil, the tomb of the 17th century poet.

 

Khair ul manazil:

In Mughal society, the bond between a wet-nurse and the royal child she had suckled was lifelong, but in Akbar’s case it was a case of shrewd manipulation rather than love and respect. In fact, Maham Anga, the foster-mother of Akbar, was the de-facto Regent of the Mughal Empire from 1560-1562 when she schemed along with her son Adham Khan  to advance her own authority, a ‘petticoat government of its worst kind’ under the harem-party.

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Very few monuments in India are attributed to women builders in India, and this mosque-madrasa complex is one of them. Literally meaning “ The Most Auspicious of Houses ‘ , it was built in 1561 by Maham Anga, shortly before she died following son Adham Khan’s execution by Akbar. Only after 1562,  Akbar was able to rule peacefully without further interference.

Once, in 1564, when Akbar was passing through the bazaar in front of the Lal Darwaza and the mosque, an arrow was fired at him by a slave, grazing Akbar and killing a guard. Akbar is said to have escaped the assassination bid due to his short height, and he afterwards visited Nizamuddin Dargah to pray and thank for his survival.

The mosque is said to be erected without foundations. As one enters the neatly cut red sandstone large and majestic gateway entrance with a hollow concavity, once faces the large rectangular open courtyard with the double storied madrasa rooms on three side and the 3 arched mosque flanking the fourth side, directly opposite the gateway. A hemispherical dome topped with a Mughal-styled filial sits on the central of the 3 arches. Inside, the prayer chamber consists of five compartments, and the central one is the most beautiful, however, only faint remnants of multi colored paint and tile work remains on the central mihrab. The mosque is still functional, though in limited use. A well on the right is still being used by the faithful for ablutions. 400 years back , the small cell-like rooms in the now ruined madrasa must have housed the small boys whose young voices must be filling the courtyard with their loud recital of Koranic scriptures.

A marble slab fixed on the central arch reads in Persian:

“ In the time of Jalaluddin Mohammed who is the greatest ( Akbar ) of just kings, When Maham Anagah, the protector of chastity, created this buiding…”

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Lal Darwaza

After defeating Humayun in 1540, Sher Shah Suri demolished and re-used the materials from the cities of Dinpanah, Feroz Shah Kotla, and Siri, and raised his new city, SherGarh “the abode of the Lion”. While his Qila is enclosed by  three gates referred to as the Bada Darwaza, Talaqi Darwaza and Humayun Darwaza; the outer city in front of the fortress was demarcated by few more gates, such as the Lal Darwaza, and Kabuli Darwaza.

The intricately adorned red-and-white Lal Darwaza made from red sandstone and grey quartzile, marked the southern entry to the city, while the Kabuli Darwaza marked the northern periphery of the city boundary. At the Lal Darwaza, rows of arcades lined both sides of a road built from the gate into the city, and they were possibly housed a bustling bazaar. The gate is flanked on either side by walls and bastions. Merlons with loopholes adorn the top of the gate as well as the rounded bastions in the wall curtain.

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Though ruled for 5 short years till 1545, Sher Shah is referred to as a “Nation Builder” with a rare foresight. Administratively speaking, he set up the foundation of governance upon which Akbar built his super structure. While Babur and Humayun did not have much time to carry out any long term constructive planning,  Akbar –  no doubt the greatest ruler of the Mughal empire –  heavily borrowed many executive policies from Sher Shah. It is doubtful if Mughal empire could have re-establish itself in India from 1555, had Sher Shah continued for a longer period. Sher Shah was killed in 1545 during the siege of Kalanjar.

Apart from laying the massive highway from Chittagong in Central Bangladesh to Kabul for tax free trade, dotted with caravanserais and shady resting stops along the road, establishment of postal and tri-metal currency systems; he started governance initiatives such as religious tolerance, an impartial justice system, provincial government structure, and a land revenue system.

The other city gate that still exists today from Sher Shah’s reign, is the Kabuli or Khooni Darwaza whose bloody history and association with slaying and butchery has earned its distinguished name over the ages, but nothing  matches with what happened here in 1857.

In 1857, at the Khooni Darwaza, Captain William Hodson – credited with setting up Hodson’s Horse irregular cavalry unit, and an extremely efficient intelligence network  in Delhi –  did something very horrible while transporting the arrested Mughal princesses from Humayun’s tomb. As if to compensate for his earlier unauthorized guarantee of life given by him to Zafar, Zeenat Mahal and their youngest son Jivan Bakht – he asked the three Mughal princess to get down from the cart and strip naked, and then taking out his Colt revolver, he shot them point blank one after another, and then pocketed their turquoise armlets and bejeweled swords. The bodies of the three princesses were then thrown in front of Kotwali where the British troops queued up to see the corpses. Hodson definitely enjoyed his act, for, he later boasted, “ In 24 hours, I disposed the principal members of the house of Timur”; referring to his series of successes starting with his negotiations and surrender of Zafar and Zeenat Mahal a day earlier.

Bagh E Bedil ( Garden of Bedil)

This  complex has two graves, one that of the 17th century poet Bedil, and other one of Sufi Saint Malik Yaar Paran.

Malik Yaar Paran:

Shaykh Nuruddin, or Shaykh malik Yaar Paran,  migrated to India from Persia during Sultan’s Balban’s reign, and settled near Matka Pir’s khanqah. When Matka Pir objected to the encroachment, the visiting Shaykh magically produced a letter from Sultan Balban although the Sultan was out of city on an expedition. The amazed Matka Pir commented – My friend, the flying king “ Yaar Malik Paran’, and the Shaykh was accordingly known afterwards.

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Nizamuddin Auliya is said to occasionally visit Shaykh Nuruddin’s dargah to offer prayers. Once Nizamuddin could not visit the dargah and wished if there was some transport available. Miraculously, few days later, a devotee of Shaykh Nuruddin presented a horse carriage to Nizamuddin saying he saw his master in his dreams directing him to do so.

Bedil:

“Bedil, weep not for your losses for;

This party that is life is, after all, held in a glass-maker’s shop.” – Bedil, 17th century poet.

Bedil was one of the greatest poet this country has produced, but though he is virtually unknown in India, it is the Afghan literati who have been keeping his poetry alive, where he has a near-cult following.

Bedil’s poetry and philosophy has been hugely influential upon Persian Sufi thinkers and poets in Afghanistan. His birth place is controversial : some believe it to be Kabul, and some as Patna; but he came to settle in Delhi in 1664. Equally controversial is his place of demise in 1720: at least 3 claimants exist – one just outside Shahjahanabad that has possibly been disappeared in Yamuna’s change of course, or, destroyed by many attacks on the city; the present one near the Purana Qila that is considered as “an imagined approximation”, and at Khwaja Rawash in Kabul where his body was reportedly taken to be buried.

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Bedil was well versed in Rekhta ( an earlier form of Urdu), Sanskrit, Turkish, Persian, and Arabic, and soon acquired fame as an accomplished Persian poet. Not only Ghalib, Momin, Iqbal and other Indian poets were deeply influenced by him; he also became an inspiration in Tajik-Persian literary circle.

Ghalib is said to adopt Bedil’s style of metaphysical expression, but he acknowledges that Bedil is of a higher plane.

He used to write in extremely difficult metaphors, and was therefore respectfully referred to as Abu Al-ma’ani ( ‘father of meaning’):

Sample this:

At time’s beginning

that beauty

which polished creation’s mirror

caressed every atom

with a hundred thousand suns.

But this glory

was never witnessed.

When the human eye emerged,

only then was he known.

He was witness to Shahjahan and Aurangzeb’s reigns. Aurangzeb during his rule encouraged long beards as a symbol of faith, which Bedil is said to have dismissed, saying a long beard would block a Mullah’s entry to heaven as nothing aesthetically offensive is accepted in the Heaven!

Till date, there are poetry groups run by Afghan cab drivers in Washington on Bedil, where meetings are held once or twice a week to discuss the great poet’s work. Two such rival groups are “An Evening with the Dervishes”, and “An Evening of Sufism”

The  present site shot to prominence when the visiting President of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmanov in 2006 paid a visit here; prompting DDA to quickly spruce up the dilapidated tomb, erect a boundary wall and raise a stone slab with inscriptions in Urdu, Persian, Tajik, Hindi, and English.

In the 1930’s, the ‘discovery’ of the present grave site is credited to the then head-Caretaker of Nizamuddin Dargah, Khwaja Hasan Nizami near the grave of Malik Yaar Paran, and he built the tomb with financial help of Rs 2000 from the Nizam of Hyderabad.

Anyways, thanks to the Tajik people and their President, for whose great attachment to Bedil, his grave is restored, and his story known to common people here.

Matka Pir:

The quaint dargah stands on a small hillock, with earthen pitchers hanging from trees.

Matka Pir belonged to Haidari Qalandars, named after the Turkish founder, and came to India during Mongol invasion of Persia in the mid 13th century.  Qalandars were wandering Sufi saints with a distinctive dress and behavior styles.

Ibn Battuta wrote of Qalandars moulding hot iron rods, turning them into necklaces, rings, etc and wearing through their ears, hands etc.

I am the mystic gypsy called qalandar,

I have neither fire, home nor monastery,

By day I wander about the world, and at night,

I sleep with a brick under my head.

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It is said that the Pir had cured a traveler suffering from an incurable skin disease by offering waters of Yamuna charged with spiritual powers. Shaykh Abu Bakr used to provide his disciples with waters of Yamuna in earthen pots, and said to have mystical powers.

Sultan Balban was not happy with people turning to the Shaykh’s Khanqah more than to the Sultan’s court, so he sent  a female slave Tamizan to seduce him, but Tamizan became a disciple of the Shaykh. She is buried in the same compound. Then Balban sent him a pot containing iron pellets, and the Shaykh turned the pellets into jiggery and chickpeas, and the Sultan also became his disciple. He died in 1300.

Even today, the offerings to the Pir include chana, gur and milk in matkas. To deal with huge number of matkas in the dargah left behind by the devotees, the administration has introduced a novel idea of hanging them from tress for wish-fulfillment.

In 1912, the then Head-Caretaker of Nizamuddin Dargah, Khwaja Hasan Nizami predicted a deadly attack on Viceroy Lord Hardinge in a news paper, which actually happened near the Town Hall in Chandni Chowk few days later. The Viceroy who was riding on an elephant survived miraculously whereas the mahout was killed. As a gratitude to him, Lady Hardinge visited Khwaja Hasan Nizami, and agreed to his demand not to demolish the Matka Pir Dargah although it was planned to be razed for the construction of a new road.

Shaykh Abu Bakr’s khanqah was on the banks of Yamuna where regular music gatherings were being held, and Hazrat Nizamuddib used to attend the same. He was awarded the title of ‘white falcon’ – ‘Baz e Safid’ symbolizing his rare mystical achievements.

Matka Pir, or Shaykh Abu Bakr was stabbed to death by one of his disciples. Although his fame during his lifetime matched with that of his contemporary Nizamuddin Auliya, his silsila died out with his death, as he had not appointed anyone as his spiritual successor.

Bhairon Temple:

The temple –  dedicated to Lord Kala Bhairava, or Lord of Time-Death –a fierce incarnation in human form created by Lord Shiva ,  who  ripped off the central fifth head of Brahma. Bhairav, or Bhairon, is often played out as a wine-drinking, meat-eating God playing the role of  Guardian door-man to cities and temples, carrying the severed head of Lord Brahma. In spite of his Brahmanicide act,  the  ‘impure &  anti-Brahmin’  Bhairava  is elevated to ‘God’ status in mythology & recognized as the Supreme Divinity by Vishnu & Brahma; precisely because he carried out Shiva’s order to do so, to strike off the fifth head of the ‘pure & non-violent’ Brahma : a symbol of ambivalent compromise in society – a scapegoat “sin-eater’, a necessary evil required for societal balance.

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When the Pandavas were given a barren piece of land in Delhi to set up their city, they cleared it of the jungle and started building the most magnificent Vedic city of Indraprastha;  Bhima built two temples at the backyard of their legendary city : ‘Doodhiya Bhairava temple’  where devotees offer milk in the temple, and ‘Kala Bhairava temple’ where devotees offer alcohol.

As per legend, Lord Bhairav agreed to come with Bheem under the condition that he should be placed only in the city of Indraprastha, however Bheem inadvertently placed him outside the city and Bhairav would not budge from that place. So Bheem had to build a temple at that very spot. It is said that Bheem used to worship here and got his psychic powers, or Siddhi.

The walk leader was Kanika Singh from Delhi Heritage Walks.

References:

The Sufi Courtyard, by Sadia Dehlvi

Invisible City, by Rakhshanda Jalil

Love’s Alchemy: Poems from the Sufi Tradition; by David Fideler and Sabrineh Fideler

Criminal Gods and Demon Devotees; Edited by Alf Hiltebeitel

Sahil Ahuja’s blog on ‘Khair ul Manazil’: http://pixels-memories.blogspot.in/2011/12/khair-ul-manazil-mosque-new-delhi.html

Poems of Bedil:http://www.poetry-chaikhana.com/Poets/B/BedilAbdulQa/CreationsWit/index.html;

Bagh-e-Bedil: http://www.outlookindia.com/blogs/posts.aspx?ddm=8&kid=102132&kname=Bagh-e-Bedil

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3 thoughts on “Unraveling the Invisible Jewels in the neighborhood of Old Fort

  1. Beautifully written.. Loved it… The other story that Kanika told was the rivalry between the different Sufis of the age.. And demarcation of their territory of ‘influence’..

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Woderful! I’ve been to these places earlier..but kind of visited the places again ‘virtually’ through your blog! Your research is deep and you express that in an interesting manner as well. Tuned in for more 🙂 Best wishes! And thanks for mentioning the reference to my video in the previous post 🙂 Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for this write-up. Having been fascinated by Wiliam Dalrymple and then by Alex Rutherford’s accounts, your write-up brings to life these places.
    Please keep up the good work.

    Liked by 1 person

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