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The Mystique of Mehrauli

The Hindu Daily

January 01, 2017

Each monument at Mehrauli Archaeological Park carries interesting nuggets of history

The Archaeological Park in Mehrauli is the site of many a monument and the abode of history. Every lane and stone in it is historical, for here flourished many kings, princes, princesses, Wazirs, generals, warriors, saints and mendicants. Prehistoric tales associate Mehrauli with the descendants of the Pandavas. Later, it saw the building of Quila Rai Pithora which bears witness to the glory of Prithviraj Chauhan. But after the Rai’s defeat in the second battle of Terain at the hands of Mohammed Ghori, Qutubuddin Aibak made Mehrauli his capital and the Slave kings who followed him continued to rule from there. Then the Khiljis took over and monuments like the Qutub Minar, Alai Darwaza and Alai Minar of Alauddin took shape. The Tughlaqs built their own capital nearby and the Sayyids and the Lodhis also left behind their grand creations.

The Moghuls too built monuments there as they were great devotees of the saint Qutubuddin Bhakhtiar Kaki after whom the Qutub Minar is named. Near the post office in Mehrauli is a rugged, nondescript building that gives the impression of a fortress, a small one, which marks the site where Banda Singh, the famous Sikh warrior, was executed by emperor Farrukhsiyar. Now more than 250 years after Banda’s martyrdom, a shrine has been built in his memory.

Semi-divine females or Yoginis have been an integral part of the Indian folklore. These women were naturally beautiful and had voices which could charm the listener by the emotional intensity of their songs, a sort of heavenly chant which was not of this world. Many a king and commoner was enchanted by Yoginis who appeared suddenly in wood, glen and dale or standing under a gnarled tree or beside a stream where the angler was taken by surprise. A temple dedicated to yoginis is said to have existed in Mehrauli which legend says was built by the eldest of the Pandava brothers, Yudhishtra. It was after them that the part of Delhi not covered by the imperial city of Indraprastha was known as Yoginipura. The temple of Yoginis is now referred to as the Yogmaya or Jogmaya Mandir. To its north is Anang Tal, a tank said to have been built by Anangpal or Anandapal, son of Raja Jaipal, who was defeated by Mahmud of Ghazni. Anangpal also built a sun temple close to the Yogmaya Mandir but of this no trace remains.

When Taimur the Lame camped on the bank of Hauz Khas in 1398, his historian Sharfuddin Yazdi remarked that the place was not only a good retreat, but worthy of respect for its creator, whom he wrongly thought was Feroz Shah Tughlaq. The tank was actually built by Alauddin Khilji, who reigned from 1296 to 1316. Feroz added to the complex. One heard the song, “Jab Shaam Dhale Aana, Jab Deep Jalen Aanaa” sung by Yesudas in that setting at sundown many years ago and the echo is still heard deep in the heart even in the mundane surroundings of Hauz Khas.

Viewing the tomb of Iltutmish from inside one instinctively looks up at the sky, for it is roofless. It is believed that the Slave Emperor, who ruled from 1210 to 1235, had asked his beloved daughter Razia not to get him buried under a roof, though there are some who think that the roof caved in during an earthquake. It was subsequently repaired by Feroz Shah Tughlaq, though the original construction was completed by Razia.

The tomb of Adham or Adam Khan in Mehrauli gives the impression of peace and quietude, but it has a turbulent history behind it, a history of rape, murder and bloodshed. The person who lies buried below it is Adham Khan, Akbar’s foster brother, and the son of the Emperor’s wet nurse Maham Anga. He was a man with a great deal of swagger and could not bear the sight of Atgah Khan, the husband of another wet nurse of Akbar’s. So he murdered him one day in the Agra Fort. When Akbar came to know of it he was mad with rage and struck Adham Khan a blow on the head that knocked him down senseless. Some say the infuriated king threw Adham Khan down a balcony of the fort. The monument is rarely visited by women because of the stigma attached to him as a womaniser.

The tomb of Jamali-Kamali is a riddle of sorts. Sheikh Fazalullah was a noted poet and saint who lived through the reigns of Sikander Lodhi, Ibrahim Lodhi, Babar and Humayun. He died in 1536, exactly 10 years after the Moghul rule had been established. His romantic bent of mind found expression in poetry which was highly appreciated and because of this young Fazalu went about with his head high in the air. One night Fazalu paced the green grass up and down as the hours went by and at last saw a form approaching through the trees. Thinking that his beloved had come, he bounded forward and caught hold of the figure draped in a robe. But on parting it found to his surprise that it was an old man who looked like a dervish. Since that night his life changed and he became a hermit himself.

The tomb of Dadi-Poti (grandmother and grand-daughter), on Hauz Khas Road, constitute a legend. Who were these two personages who, despite being nameless, are still remembered by people? Were they members of some royal family who were waylaid by ruffians and eventually lost their lives? The graves seem to date back to Lodhi times which mean they are several hundred years old. During that period graves built on a platform were of people belonging to the nobility.

A palace shaped like a ship, that’s Jahaz Mahal in Mehrauli. The Mahal is located on a corner of Hauz Shamsi and is believed to date back to the Lodhi era. It was built as a retreat for the Emperor in the summer months when the heat and dust of Delhi made life uncomfortable, even for royal families. Or was it a resort for pilgrims? At that time too the capital had many shrines of Muslim saints where people came not only from all over India but also abroad – Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Arabia to pay homage.

The proverb that a saint of a distant country attracts more admires held good here too and it was only natural for the ruling dynasty to build pavilions and rest houses for the pilgrims and their horses or caravans. It was considered not only a work of piety, but also a social obligation and, as a result, the city developed, with more buildings coming up. Not only this, it also created employment for many, though there was no population explosion at that time.

One is impressed by its rectangular courtyard in the centre, the arched chambers at the sides and an arch which gives the impression that part of the palace was a mosque. There are blue tiles in the pavilion which leads to the gateway and the monument has square towers or “Chhattris” at its corners. It is a romantic building and forms the backdrop of the annual Phoolwalon-Ki-Sair. That’s how the Mehrauli Archaeological Park unravels the past.