In 1450 the Mughals began their reign starting with Babur, the Mughal empire flourished and reached its pinnacle during Akbar’s reign. He was an ideal king and is considered one of the best rulers among all the Mughals.
Emperor Akbar is usually associated with Fatehpur Sikri, the capital is founded in Agra but I wanted to explore the bits of his story that lives through the ruins in Delhi. I went to the two places in Mehrauli, the tombs of Muhammad Quli Khan and Adam Khan, sons of Maham Anga and Akbar’s foster brothers. I think her remains too are buried along with Adam Khan here but I am not sure. Maham Anga was Akbar’s chief wet curse and held an important place as an adviser to the teenage Emperor. Shrewd and ambitious she was in-charge of the empire and acted as the de-facto regent of the Mughal Empire from 1560 to 1562. The worse kind of petticoat government that ever was.
Khair ul Minazil was commissioned by her during Akbar’s reign and the complex has a mosque and a madarsa (Islamic seminary). The name means ‘ the most auspicious of houses’. This is an important structure because there aren’t many instances of surviving architecture which have the patronage of a woman. It was perhaps the first Mughal Mosque in Delhi.
This serene mosque is located on Mathura Road, opposite the Old Fort or Purana Qila. Driving down the busy road in the front of the mosque I had always wanted to stop by and spend some time there. This time I especially made a plan to do so. One can see hundreds of pigeons flying around the structure and for once I didn’t despise the sight.
It all blended in so well. Perhaps in olden times this complex was part of the Old Fort complex. Not many people actually venture into this beautiful structure and that is a pity for one can sense the grandeur of the place by just standing inside the complex. History tells that an assassination attempt was made on Akbar’s life from the first floor of this mosque in 1564.
The double storied gateway of the mosque is made of quartzite and red stone but the mosque and the madarsa are made of rubble. If you look from inside the magnificent gate has medallions and intricate stucco patterns etched on it.
On both the sides of the mosque stands the two storied madarsa in dilapidated state. The larger rooms are on the ground floor and a narrow passage leads to the smaller ones on the first floor. Most of the walls are crumbling and no doors or windows are left if there were any.
The vast rectangular courtyard has a waju hauz which is not working hence not in use. The old well, on the other hand, is working and people draw the water for waju (ablution).
One can see water pitchers near the hauz that are filled everyday for the residing pigeons.
The mosque is better preserved than the madarsa. Earlier there were five arched bays leading to the mosque but now only three are visible. There is a dome at the central bay of the prayer hall while the other bays have been roofed with vaults. The mehrabs, curves and Qur’an scripts are on the verge of decay due to the neglect of the structure.
The Persian inscription set above the central entrance that tells us that this was built by Maham Anga with the assistance of shihabuddin Ahmed Khan. We also see two more names apart from Akbar that of Niyaz Baqsh who constructed Khairul Manazil and Darvesh Hussain who supervised the construction. The name ‘Khair-ul-Manazil’, when written in Persian, yields the number 969 Hijri (AD 1561-62), the year of its construction, and thus is a Chronogram. A very interesting and unique feature of this structure.
The inside floor of the mosque is still in a fairly good condition because people offer Namaz but the outer floor is in very bad state.
One can see copies of Quran sharif kept in one of the brackets in the wall.
The Mecca facing western mehrab still has some remnants of the exquisitely vibrant blue, red, violet green and yellow enamel tile work, a testimonial to its glorious past.
Most of the awe inspiring artwork is now lost to the years of neglect and the gorgeous facade bears a blackened appearance and yet it stands tall as a witness to the beauty and grace this place has managed to keep even now leaving behind the rectangular protruding projections. One can imagine how grand this mosque would have looked in its prime days. Maham Anga was resourceful, rich and very confident woman and left no stone upturned to make this a work of art. No tow tiles of the facade are of the same design. The geometrical and floral patterns are different in each tile. There are some verses from the Holy Quran inscribed on the walls.
On the outer wall of the mosque one can see the brackets that once supported the chajjas or the wide eaves that were meant to keep the sun away.
It is hard to believe that the mosque is erected without any foundation.
The iron gate and the boundaries restrict the movements if you wish to photograph the complex from various angles.
I wanted to take some pictures from the expansive lawns of Sher Shah Gate or Lal Darwaza complex but it is under restoration and public is not allowed at the moment.
I hope more people visit this stunningly beautiful mosque but I also feel that the lack of interest in this has also preserved it from the onslaught of those ‘tourists’ who harm the monuments by engraving their names or drawing cupid hearts etc on the walls.
I also hope Archaeological Survey Of India considers some restoration work here before we completely lose whatever artwork is remaining now. Do visit this place whenever you are on Old Fort side.
सब्ज़ बुर्ज से कई बार हुमायूँ के मक़बरे तक
खामोश रास्तों पर हम कभी कभी युहीं
पैदल ही निकल जाते थे
निजामुद्दीन की हवा में एक खुमार सा है
जिसे लफ़्ज़ों में बयां करना मुश्किल है
एक अजीब सी कशिश, एक खुशबू
शायद उस नीली नदी की जो कभी
पास से गुज़रा करती थी
अमलतास के पेड़ के नीचे बैठ
हम घंटों दूब के क़ालीनों पर उभरते
शाम के सायों को मूक आखों से ताका करते
और परिंदों के कोलाहल के बीच
तन्हाई में लिपटा हुआ संगेमरमर
और बुलिअा पत्थरों से बना हश्त – बहिश्त
बेबस सा ये मक़बरा अपनी रगों में
मुग़ल सल्तनत की महक समेटे
बगीचे की नहरों के पानी में
कुछ ढूढ़ता रहता
और इस बीच आहिस्ता से समय
युहीं कहीं किसी
मेहराब या गुम्बद पे आके थम जाता
जड़ पकड़ लेता दरख्तों की तरह
हम अपने ख्वाबों की परवान को थामे
किसी दर -ओ -दीवार की परछाईं
नापते और अतीत के झरोखों से
छन के आती सूरज की आख़री किरणों
में ज़िन्दगी के मायने खोजते
और फिर हाथों में हाथ दिए
बस्ती की तंग गलियों में निकल जाते
तुम कबाब और बिरयानी की खुशबु में खो जाते
और मैं महबूब ए इलाही के रंगों में रंग जाती
आज बारापुला फ्लाईओवर से
निजामुद्दीन बस्ती की छतों पे सूखते कपड़ो
के पीछे उन्ही रंगों की महक उजले
नीले आसमान में उड़ती नज़र आयी
और मन फिर जा कर अमलतास की उस डाल
से लिपट गया
I have some fond memories of going to the Annapurna Bhandar opposite Sheesh Ganj Gurudwara in Chandni Chowk as a little girl. Only a promise of chumchum and nolen gurer sondesh or jalbhara sondesh would make me take the trip with mom. Later as I grew up I would often visit the lanes of old city and feast on the sounds and colors the place offered. Food of course was one of the attractions but whatever I may eat there was always some place for these two favorites.
I would watch my dad in fascination as he made the softest melt in the mouth sondesh once in a while as a treat to me. There aren’t many good memories I associate with my growing up years but this is one of the few that ever were.
I learned to make the plain sondesh but never got the same texture or taste as dad’s or those bought from Annapurna. I seemed to be doing everything right but something was still missing.
Few days ago I decided to make the pressure cooker rosogullas and that is another sweet which has been a bit of a challenge for me. So, I decided to do some research. As usual my first stop for all food related issues is Sangeeta Khanna’s blogs. I found an old post on How to make Rasullas step by step and while I read I realized what exactly was wrong in my approach.
It was the technique of making Chenna /chana/ that was causing the issue. I always feel that cooking is a science and once you master that you can be as creative as you want.
I made chena/ Indian cottage cheese as per Sangeeta’s instructions and nailed it this time. The chenna was perfect, the rasgullas soft and spongy as they should be ( will post recipe soon) and then I couldn’t stop myself to make the fabled Nolen gurer sondesh.
A friend had given me some date palm jaggery and I had a little left of it. Though sondesh is best made with cow’s milk I opted for full cream toned Mother Dairy milk.
Here is the link to Sangeeta’s recipe but I will post the steps anyway.
I prefer fresh Nolen gur, ‘Notun Gur’ or ‘Khejur Gur’ or date palm jaggery over the sugarcane one for its unique flavor, fragrance and texture. It is available only in winter and has many health benefits. It helped in raising my HB during the treatment of anemia. It is rich in magnesium as well. Google more. 😀
How to Nolen Gurer Sondesh
Here is how I made the perfect cottage cheese / chenna/ chana at home. The important thing to keep in mind while making Bengali mithai is – Fresh homemade cottage cheese or chenna otherwise the sweets won’t come out well.
To make perfect chenna :
Full fat milk / Cow’s milk – 4 Cups
Juice of lemon – 1 lemon or 1/4 cup curd (home cultured preferably or 1/4 cup white vinegar
- Heat a pan of water and keep aside. Keep a sieve over a large pan ready.
- Slightly wet a thick bottom pot, add milk and heat till the first boil comes. (slight variation from Sangeeta). Turn off the heat.
- Start adding the lemon juice mixed with 1-2 tablespoons of water. Do it slowly and keep stirring. The milk needs to curdle slowly after each addition. I added in four steps till the greenish, transparent whey separated from the cheese. If it doesn’t then reheat the milk and it will in a few minutes. Don’t stir too much or the chnna will become hard.
- Once the whey is separated nicely strain the whey through the steel sieve. Here I learned that the good cheese or chenna will stick to the spoon which is indicative that it will be a cohesive mass ideal for the sweet making.
- Toss the chenna/cottage cheese into the center.
- immediately dunk it in the hot water ( this is where I went wrong earlier. I was using the cold water method.)
- Rinse the cheese properly by pressing it to the side of the bowl a few times. The water may turn milky which is good.
- Now, put it back in the sieve and remove the excess water by lightly pressing. No need to press hard. A little moisture will give you a better sondesh or it will turn dry and crumbly.
- Once all the water is drained, take in out in a large plate and rub and knead with the heals of your palm till you get a smooth, lump free dough. When you feel the fat from the cheese on your hand its done. Do not overdo it. Make a smooth ball of it and cover with a damp cloth.
- Now your chenna is ready for making sondesh or rasgullas. Use as you desire.
To make Nolen Gurer Sondesh
Chenna we just prepared
Date palm jaggery – 1 cup grated and softened ( I did it in microwave)
Green cardamom powder – 1/4 tsp ( optional)
A few raisins – Optional
Warm ghee ( I used homemade) – 1 tsp
- Once you have the smooth chenna dough add softened jaggery to it. Rub again with the heals of your palm till you get a homogenous mixture and the jaggery is well absorbed.
- Heat a non stick pan on low flame and add the mixture to it. Cook it for 4-5 minutes not more.
- Take it out in a large plate and let it cool completely. You can cover it with damp cloth and keep in fridge for half and hour or so.
- Once cooled break it with fingers, add atsp of warm ghee and knead it again with heals of your palm to bring it all together nicely. Add cardamom powder if using and mix.
- Now make small balls of the chenna and decorate with a raisin. If you have molds then use them to shape the sondesh.
- You can make them when the chenna is slightly warm too. It will take some time for them to hold the shape.
- I love the slightly grainy texture of the sondesh but you can make them smooth too. It depends on your taste and the quality of your cottage cheese.
- Serve them at room temperature.
Mine were norom pak sondesh which are melt in the mouth. The other ones are kora pak sondesh which are a bit harder.
You can use sugarcane jaggery too instead of the date palm jaggery.
If you do not heat the mixture and make the sondesh directly they will be known as Kancha Golla. They too taste delicious but I prefer the cooked version.
Do try and let me know the results. Making any dish is a labor of love so do not rush through the steps. Getting the perfect chenna is the tough step then it is a cakewalk.
I often wonder how I never paid any attention to this solitary tower in K block Hauz Khas Enclave. I have seen almost all the big and small structures around this area but never stopped here. Yesterday I was wandering around the city and was in the neighborhood so decided to walk down and take a closer look at the tower of punishment, a landmark with a gory history, that is usually ignored by many.
The minar is located in the midst of posh bungalows of Hauz Khas. This supposedly haunted structure is encircled by a garden and serves as a traffic roundabout. The monument is made of rubble masonry where large irregular chunks of stone are held together by thick mortar. The tower, with 225 regularly spaced holes on the upper half, is kind of macabre to look at. It also seems incomplete and gives a stump like look. If you view it from a distance it appears to have its head chopped off. Sends a shiver up your spine to think what it hides in its dark depths.
Delhi has had its own share of horror filled past and this Chor Minar is a fine example of that. Built in early 14th century, under the reign of Allauddin Khilji (1290–1320) , this tower was used to display the severed heads of thieves and criminals. The heads would be impaled on spears stuck into the holes, to act as a deterrent to others. Though there is no proof if that was the sole purpose of this tower it is very much possible as those times were very turbulent.
I stood there imagining 225 blood dripping heads staring at me from the stone walls of the Minar and turned away only to face the tree in the compound with hundreds of dried seed pods hanging on its branches. It is perhaps one of the Khejri (Prosopis cineraria) trees but I need someone to identify it correctly.
I can’t tell you if I was amused or repulsed. The eerie silence holds you captive as you marvel at the structure, the bloody times in which it was constructed and the Sultan’s preferred way of delivering justice.
Perhaps with the growing threats from the Mongols, it was necessary to maintain law and order for Khilji. Only with a streamlined administration he could have faced the challenges imposed by the mongols and other invaders. It is believed that when the crime rate increased then heads of only the important noted criminals were displayed and the rest were piled like a pyramid next to it. A blood curdling scene that is hard to imagine as one stands there looking at the manicured square patches of grass that surround the tower.
There is also a belief among the historians that a large number of Mongols who attacked Delhi during Khilji’s regime were defeated and captured and their severed heads were hung from the holes in the Minar for striking terror among the masses.
I wondered if the man who peacefully slept under the warm winter sun, the girls who took selfies next to the Minar or the creme de la creme living in those upper crust houses knew of the headless ghosts that may be grinning or peering at them.
Unfortunately not many people are aware of its history and the morbid tales associated with it and the tower stands there seeped in its blood soaked secrets.
I sat there on the bench taking in a piece of history one would wish to forget. The tower is headless and that seems like too much of a coincidence. It stands on a platform with three arched recesses on all four sides. The central recess on the east is the entrance to the tower with a spiral staircase leading to the top. The gate is locked now and is inaccessible. Only the birds, the squirrels and the bats can see what’s in there.
A woman walking the dogs gave me a strange look as I stood at the gate peering at the minar and hoping against hope to get a signal from some presence in there. It was a hot winter day and the afternoon sun was blazing in its full glory. I had a few more monuments to visit so said goodbye to the ancient inhabitants of the Chor Minar promising to be back soon as my elder son lives a stone’s throw away.
Do visit this haunting beauty whenever you are in this part of the city. The place isn’t very far from the Metro station and the guards near the colony gates or the autowallas will guide you there.
I never took writing fiction seriously. Someday I would just open a word doc and type furiously as if possessed by the very words I was writing and slowly a story would come to life. El Pino Ruins is one such story that I am very proud of. It recently got published in the final edition of Le Zaporogue XVIII by various authors. You can read it by downloading the ebook format free of cost from HERE
This is what a fantastic writer friend Jerry Wilson had to say about my story
Jerry is one of the finest short story writers today and you must pick up his books. Just click on the link above.
Another writer/ columnist Kiran Chaturvedi also shared her thoughts with me. You can read some of her articles by clicking the link.
Here’s the complete note.
I read your wonderful El Pino Ruins short story today and enjoyed it very much. Loved the classic style and haunting mood. It has such a vividly evoked setting, and a rich narration that makes for a captivating read. You have paced the action fluidly and built the puzzle beautifully. You should write more prose and I suspect you are specially good at such other worldly story twists. “
Thanks so much Kiran.
Have you downloaded the free ebook? Please do by clicking the link above.
Meanwhile, my second poetry book Wayfaring reached Sabine Pollack Merle in France. She sent me a very heartwarming note after reading the poems.
“I read your poetry book, Tikuli, and once again you have moved me with your words written here, and that you whisper in my ear…
Some of these poems have made me cry because they are so meaningful.
It is such a precious one.
I really can say but one thing, many people should read Wayfarer.
Tikuli, you are a beautiful woman.
You can read her review on amazon.fr
I posted these on Instagram earlier. You can follow me there.
Some copies of the book are up for review and I am eagerly waiting for more feedback. Do write to me if you are reading Wayfaring. The book is available with all online booksellers across the globe. Do get your copy soon.
Bhavana Nissima is a fabulous writer, artist, educator and NLP practitioner. She is based in Hyderabad, India. I have always loved her writing. She is also a very compassionate human being and a friend I cherish. In last few months she unconditionally healed me from distance in one of the toughest phases of my life. I am grateful to her for helping me connect with myself.
In August last year she did a wonderful write-up with one of my poems along with one another poet I admire. You can read it here –
Thank you Bhavana for this generous gesture.
The whole world watched the phenomenal #SuperBlueBloodMoon on 31st on Jan. I took these pix from my #OnePlus3T Sometimes I regret not having a good camera. The sight was enthralling to say the least, the rare convergence of a ‘supermoon’, a ‘blue moon’ and a ‘blood moon’. Thankfully Delhi weather didn’t play up that night and I was able to watch the total lunar eclipse.
I am writing some more of Hindi poems on Delhi and will soon start sharing. Last two months have been very hectic and I have been unwell too. Apart from a verse here and there I haven’t written much.
is impatient with itself,
my inner – disquiet,
my intellect – not satisfied,
my heart – not still,
my mind – ruffled,
I’m restless as a
willow in windstorm.
If you are afraid to step into quicksand
landmines in poet’s mind
I am trying to get back into the rhythm and start reading more blogs from friends. Do keep giving the support and leave your comments if you visit the blog so I know you’ve been reading my stuff.
A small note to end the post –
We take people for granted. We feel ‘entitled” and this feeling of entitlement blocks us from giving or receiving and when we aren’t receptive to gratitude whether in receiving or giving then we may be lacking many other positive emotions.
Relationship becomes stronger and deeper when a little grace and humility is shown.
Great Relationships are precious gifts. Be grateful.
Thank you for being part of my journey.
Love and Light.
Bhajane in Marathi means ‘to dry roast’ . This flatbread is made with roasted multi-grain flours. Every Maharashtriyan household will have their own recipe and proportions of Bhajani but basic recipe has whole grains, legumes and spices in some cases. This nutritious flour can be used to whip up many delicious recipes like thalipeeth, variety of vadi, crackers etc.
The thalipeeth flour or bhajani as it is known in Maharashtra is made with
1 Teaspoon – Cumin seeds
To make the Bhanjani, dry roast all the ingredients one by one till their color changes slightly and a nice roasted aroma starts coming. Be careful not to burn them. Grind them together in a food processor or grinder. Put it in air tight box and it will stay for a long time.
Fresh Fenugreek leaves are in season these days and I have used them for this variation of basic thalipeeth . You can use a variety of vegetables like cabbage, spinach, cauliflower, cucumber, carrot etc.
You can easily grow methi in pots and use the micro-greens in various recipes including this one.
Bhajani – 1 Cup
Fresh fenugreek leaves – 1/2 cup (finely chopped)
Onion (small) – 1 (chopped fine)
Green Chilli – 1-2 ( chopped fine )
Coriander greens – 2 tablespoon ( chopped fine)
Salt – to taste
Red chilli powder – to taste ( 1/4 tsp)
Ajwain – 1/4 tsp
Ginger- garlic – 1 tsp ( chopped fine/optional)
Water to kneed the dough
Oil for cooking
In a large plate mix the bhanjani flour ,salt, red chilli powder, ajwain, chopped onion, fenugreek leaves, coriander leaves, ginger-garlic, chopped green chilies and rub with fingers. The moisture will be released from the veggies. Slowly add water to make a soft dough. It will be very sticky so use a few drops of oil to bring everything together in a smooth dough. You do not need to kneed the dough to much. It will not make the thalipeeth crisp if you do.
Make 2-3 balls from the prepared dough. The size wil depend on the quantity and number of thalipeeth you need.
Traditionally thalipeeth is made by patting the dough ball with wet fingers till it takes a the shape of a flatbread or roti. You can use two small plastic sheets or cling wrap squares to make the process easy. Just grease the sheets a little and place the dough ball on one sheet. Cover with the other and roll like a roti with a rolling pin or pat with fingers to shape it.
Make a few small holes in the thalipeeth for even cooking.
Heat a non stick tawa and grease it a little with oil. Place the thalipeeth on it carefully.
Put a few drops of oil in the holes and around the thalipeeth and let it cook covered on medium heat. You can smear some water on the top side of thalipeeth so that it doesn’t dry out.
Once one side is nicely roasted flip the thalipeeth. add a few more drops of oil around the edges and let it roast properly. You’ll hear the sizzling sound when its done.
Once crisp from both the sides take it out in a plate and serve with mirchi kathecha, dry garlic chutney, curd, coriander chutney etc. Use fresh homemade white butter/ghee or yellow butter to enhance its taste.
I made some fresh thecha to go with this crisp flavorful thalipeeth
Here’s how I did it.
Hirvya Mirchi cha Thecha ( Green chilli thecha)
This is one of my favorite chutneys made just with green chilies and raw garlic pods. Thecha means ‘to pound’ in Marathi. The ingredients are coarsely pounded in mortar-pestle to get this excellent dry chutney.
I sometimes add roasted peanuts to it. Techa is a very popular side side in Maharashtra and every household makes their version. It tastes awesome with bhakri or thalipeeth. Eat it sparingly as it is extremely fiery. If your spice threshold is less you can add some freshly chopped coriander leaves and/or roasted peanuts. You can squeeze some lemon on it too to reduce the hotness.
Fresh thin green chilies – 8-10
Garlic cloves – 5-6
Roasted peanuts – 2 tbsp (optional)
Salt- to taste
Oil – 1 tsp
Coriander greens (chopped) – 3-4 tbsp (optional)
Chop the green chilies and garlic cloves. Chop coriander if using.
Heat a small saucepan and add a tsp of oil.
Add the chopped green chilies and till it is slightly seared from sides. Add garlic and stir properly to saute for a minute or two.
Add the coriander leaves if using and stir.
Turn off the heat and let it cool completely.
Once cooled add the mixture to the mortar along with salt and roasted peanuts.
Pound till you get a coarse mixture.
You can coarsely grind it in mixer too.
Take it out in a bowl and serve.
I made some fresh amla coriander chutney too in the morning and had another set of thalipeeth for breakfast.
Thalipeeth tastes best with these condiments, fresh butter or sujuk toop (warmed fresh ghee). Buttermilk or tempered thin curd to which chopped onion, coriander leaves are added goes well as an accompaniment.
You can have this nutritious meals any time of the day.