Delhi Monuments – Ambling Through Hauz Khas – Darwesh Shah Mosque


At the outskirts of the ancient city of Siri stands a lesser known Lodi era wall mosque dedicated to Darwesh Shah whose identity is unknown. As we know, Darwesh Shah is a honorific, not a name. The DDA park in which the mosque is located is technically in Gautam Nagar next to Gulmohar Park but I am including it in my Hauz Khas trail. The Muhammadi Wali Masjid, the mosque of Darwesh Shah, the Nili Masjid, and the Idgah, all located in close proximity to each other, testify to the fact that the vicinity of Siri was an important location for religious and other significant structures.

The Lodi dynasty contributed immensely to the architectural heritage of the city. They were the last rulers of the Delhi Sultanate. A large number of tombs, mosques, gardens were commissioned during there reign and are splendid examples of late Sultanate architecture. Most of the structures that find mention in Delhi’s built heritage are in Lodhi Garden, the rest are scattered across the city and mostly remain unknown and unsung.

We have no information a  to who built this particular mosque but the legends has it that six centuries ago, the Sufi saint once asked a group of six boys if they would buy the kingdom of Delhi for 2,000 tankas (currency used in the 12th century by Turkish Sultans). One of the boys, Bahlol Lodhi, agreed and was blessed by the Holy man. His friends mocked him for being “a fool” but Bahlol said it was not the case, that if the saint’s words were true, he would gain a kingdom, and if they weren’t, he did the right thing by giving the saint what he desired.

We can see how true his words were as Bahlol Lodi  became the founder of the dynasty that bore his name and ruled over Delhi Sultanate for 75 years from 1451 to 1526.

On his death in 1489 A.D., he had expanded the Sultanate to nearly twice of what it was in the beginning of his reign. However, there is no authentication of this story about the interaction between Bahlol and Darwesh Shah. It is believed that perhaps Bahlol commissioned this mosque to honor Darwesh Shah but there is no documentation of that. 

One can imagine the pastoral setting of the mosque as one stands there watching the play of shadows and light in the the current green expanse around it. The spread out canopies of old Keekar trees, the grassy patches, the walking paths, the gazebo and the quiet nestled in the stone walls of this ancient mosque.

For a long time this unimposing mosque lay in shambles since 1920, overgrown with bushes, shrubs and hidden by huge leafy trees. Neglect had resulted in the collapse of one portion of the mosque but INTACH gave it a commendable face lift in 2009 before the Commonwealth Games making it more accessible to public and restoring the remaining parts. The mosque got saved or else it would have got completely destroyed. The limestone plaster developed a patina over the period of time and now most of the mosque has got back its antiquarian look.

Though the entry to the upper platform is closed to public but one can walk around the structure to access its beauty. In a way it is good as it protects the remaining building and prevents encroachment and offering of prayers thus leading to further damage.

Made with rubble masonry this is a wall mosque, with a rectangular enclosure for graves that stands on a high platform.There are eleven of them but no one knows who is buried in these graves. There is a doorway and stairs at the north-east corner that lead to this raised platform. The prayer wall on the west and east side has a set of seven recessed mihrab arches of which the central one is emphasized with raised battlements. The North and South sides have five arches. The center of the west side wall that contains the mihrab is slightly projected from outside and is flanked by two tall minarets till the parapet level. The description is based on Maulvi Zafar Hasan’s observation.

One can observe different facets of this mosque as the shadows play on its walls or take a stroll in the park taking in the sights and sounds.

Sometimes a peacock will surprise you or you may spot some interesting bird keeping an eye on the joggers, workout enthusiasts sweating it out or the folks lazing around on the grassy patches or the benches.

I spotted an Oriental Magpie Robin perched near the mosque and a few other birds watching the sun go down. Phone photos don’t do justice to birds so I usually refrain from clicking. Some things need to be enjoyed with the naked eyes too.

I sat beneath the shade of a tree thinking about and the Darwesh, the reign of the Lodis, the unique stories of the bygone era that fill the city I love and the rapidly emerging patterns of the urban expanse choking the remaining few breaths of the ancient built heritage of Delhi. As I see the apathy of the other forgotten and endangered big and small monuments I feel glad to see this one at least breathing easy.

As the autumnal sun reached its peak I bid adieu to the Darwesh and made my way to some of the other tombs in the near vicinity. I will be covering a whole bunch of these ancient structures dotting this area.

Delhi Monuments – Ambling Through Hauz Khas – Firoz Shah Tughlaq Tomb Complex – 1


I am rather late in writing about this. Health and other anxiety related issues have kept me away from most work but today let me share the first part of the Hauz Khas monument complex. The next post will cover the Madarsa and some other aspects related to this marvelous site and surrounding areas.

Hauz Khas complex has been one of my favorite places to go to when in search of solitude irrespective of the fact that it is always crowded with couples and people looking for a place to rest/eat or just linger around. In a good move ASI has put an entry ticket since April and I see the effectiveness of it. So, a few days back I went to explore the ruins and sit under the grand old tamarind tree.

This post is just my personal account of what holds me captive and pulls me to this place and not really a historical or architectural commentary. The most interesting aspect of these ruins and the Hauz e alai near by is the influence of three great rulers who ruled over Delhi.  Allauddin Khilji’s construction of the second city of Delhi, the city of Siri (1296–1316} and Hauz e alai the grand reservoir that provided for the water requirements of the city. Once Khilji died and his empire faded away the reservoir got neglected and perished.

Then as a mark of respect another great ruler of Delhi Firoz/Firuz Shah Tughlaq restored and got the silted Hauz cleaned during his reign (1351–88). He also commissioned a magnificent double storied Madrasa-i-Feroz Shahi (seminary), a mosque, few pavilions, chatris overlooking the restored lake. It is among these he built his own humble tomb where the great Sultan rests now. 

Later in the year 1507-08 yet another great sultan of Delhi Sikander Lodhi added the striking embellishments inside the tomb.

So when I walk through the 13th century ruins the stones whisper stories of many eras of sultans and their immense love for art, architecture and intellect. Firoz Shah Tughlaq was the third ruler of Tughlaq dynasty that ruled over Delhi. A man with a mission he loved to build things be it fortresses, canals, schools, cities, mosques, hunting lodges, sarais (rest houses), hospitals etc. He also commissioned repairs of old buildings, mosques etc. including Qutub Minar to which he added two floors after it was damaged by an earthquake.

Coming back to the Hauz Khas Complex one enters through a modest stone gateway into a the landscape of ruins set in the midst of manicured grassy patches. It is a world very different from the so called urban village you leave behind on the other side. Immediately a calm descends on you as you glance around at the ancient structures, the domed tomb of Tughlaq soaring above the rest of the buildings, old wise trees with birds merrily chirping in their lush branches and a little further and beyond the lake with its deep green waters. These are the secret keepers and the story tellers of ancient Delhi. 

Each ruler from the Tughlaq dynasty added their own architectural creativity to whatever they build. In Firoz Shah’s time these architectural achievements reached their zenith. The new architectural trend is visible in all the buildings erected during his reign.

The 5-6 pavilions with domes in different shapes (hexagonal, rectangular, octagonal) and sizes are the first thing you notice on entering the complex. Some of these structures were tombs and one can see a few graves. The roof and domes of these simplistic tombs is decorated with kanguras. You can see the small chatri in the foreground.

The pavilions and the ruins of the court yard are conjectured to have been used as part of the madrasa in the past. On the inside all the pavilion domes have lost the ornamentation but one can still see the exquisite foliated motifs on the drums and the kalsa motifs on  top of the domes. Most of the structures are falling apart and the bands of calligraphy are discontinuous or fading. I notices a few pigeons nestled in the holes inside.

The cylindrical pavilions don’t have any graves and perhaps they were part of a bigger structure as one can see stone beams projecting from the base of their dome drums.

I moved on from there to the hundred year old Tamarind tree which I will cover in next post. Next to the tree are Three domed colonnaded pavilions and the Mosque.

These interlinked pavilions make a T shape and again have broken bands of calligraphy inside the dome. The building is made of hard quartzite which is tough to carve. One can still see finials, kanguras and calligraphy in incised plaster in the plastered tombs. The long colonnaded halls stretch from north to south.

There are also signs of ornamentation of some sort which has vanished now leaving just dark holes and broken patches. The whole structure stands on a solid stone platform. It is amazing how these strong square pillars have supported the structure for last almost 650 plus years. Yet one sees the cracks that have developed over the period of time. Some restoration was done by ASI in 2012 I think. These structures were perhaps used as seminar rooms for the students of the Madarsa.

One can also see a ruined remain of a staircase with large windows and perhaps one can descend to the lower floor of the madarsa from there but I did not disturb the couple sitting there and moved on to the Mosque.

The small Mosque with overhanging jharokhas stands under an ancient Tamarind tree at the northern end of the Madarsa. The quibla wall of the mosque projects towards the water reservoir. If you see it from the lake side you can clearly see the five mehrabs.

The central mehrab with a domed chatri and open sides is like a pavilion and projects towards the reservoir. I have heard that the qibla wall has rich ornamentation but I couldn’t see it. Perhaps next time. The mosque was closed for public entry although the door was open. There’s a crumbling staircase next to it which leads down but I left it for another day of exploration.

I headed to the Tomb of Firoz Shah but then I spotted the two buildings flanking the original entrance not in use opposite Firoz Shah’s Tomb. One is closed to public and the other is ASI’s local office.  One of them seemed to be a guard house but not sure of the purpose of other one. 

The sun was getting to me now so I sat on some ruined steps and watched the common myna quench her thirst from the water pipe in the garden. A young girl sat reading on yet another set of steps shaded by the laburnum.

Firoz Shah’s Tomb looks very simple from outside. It is a square building with battered walls and an old surviving jali (stone lattice work) with calligraphic details and medallions above the entrance door that is set in a larger niche. During the reign of Firoz Shah the tombs were devoid of ornamentation and were very simple structures. Inexpensive material like rubble, lime and plaster were used for construction. Lack of skilled craftsmen and poor economic conditions were the prime reason for this. Constructed in 1388 AD Firoz Shah’s tomb is totally in line with the structures of Tughlaq era, made with quartzite rubble finished with plaster with slightly sloppy fortified walls and battlement ornamentation.

Situated at the pivot point of the two perpendicular wings of the madarsa it is the largest building now in the complex. It doesn’t have the defensive architecture pattern but has some simple ornamentation around the entrance. The walls are decorated with merlons on the two tiers. One above the cube and other above the octagonal square. The outer wall has a slight projection towards the center emphasizing the entrance door which depicts a blend of Indian and Islamic architecture.

The top of the tomb has a slightly pointed dome set on plastered squinches and corbelled beams making it an octagonal drum and then a sixteen sided drum before the actual dome.

There is a low platform in a courtyard on the southern side with horizontal and vertical stone railings and ledges similar to the ones found in Buddhist Viharas and stupas of that era. It is believed that that these were inspired from the Sanchi Stupa.

Somehow the tomb seems very impressive even in its plainness. Three steps lead inside to a beautiful interior with Firoz Shah’s grave in the center and the graves of his son and grandson to one side of it. The eight sided polygon roof is very different from the other Tughlaq era structures.

The squinch arches were a thing of past but are used in here. There is a band of calligraphy and a band of geometrical designs on which the dome rests. There are beautiful medallions of different shapes and sizes with Hadiths and Quranic inscriptions in narqsh characters. These medallions are arranged between two concentric stars and a large medallion in the center. It is believed that Sultan Sikander Lodhi who took up the repair work of many tombs commissioned these ornamentation during his reign (AD 1489-1517). They are typical of the architecture of his time. In Tughlaq’s buildings one doesn’t find such embellishments.

Next to the tomb there are two other domed entrances leading towards the madarsa. One was barred by iron door but  could see the steps leading down.

The structures are in dire need of restoration but I feel scared of the way current restorations are going on in Delhi. Ruins must look like ruins and all this whitewashing just spoils the original aura of the place. I sat on the stairs leading to nothingness and wondered how it must have looked when the place was in its prime glory.

The pillared halls, the crumbling walls, the musty dark corridors, the collapsed buildings, the  lake waters down below and the greenery around taking away all the worries and tiredness I felt. There is a certain energy that runs through the ruins stitching everything. Lean against a crumbling walls or just run your fingers gently over them and you’ll feel its presence.

The relationship of modern Delhi and its ancient architecture is complex and especially in this case you see how rapid unrestrained urbanization has marred the face of these ruins. The original spirit of Hauz Khas Village is long lost to the passages of time. As per my knowledge, Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) regulations prohibit construction of structures within 100 metres of protected monuments but here in the haphazardly expanding Hauz Khas ‘village’ no one seems to bother about any laws either MCD’s or the ASI’s. The sleepy green waters of the lake, the old wise trees and the ancient ruins watch the complete collapse of the cultural fabric as the metamorphosis continues to change the original landscape. The bubble is ready to explode any time soon. Meanwhile life continues to struggle to find breathing spaces between the ancient and the modern. In the end it is all about money and here there is no dearth of it.

We will cover the other areas of the complex in the next post. I am not keeping too well to explore right now but the truth is I am a nomad by and these ruins will pull me to their embrace sooner than I think. I am posting this with the current pictures I have but I will soon update with a few fresh ones. I realized that some photographs don’t do justice to the buildings or embellishments. I will upload rest of the photographs for this post on my Instagram account. Do visit.

Till then do go and enjoy the serenity that  surrounds this complex.

Delhi Monuments – Ambling Through Deer Park & Hauz Khas – 1


It is a daunting task to write about the monuments of Delhi, their historical and architectural importance, about the city itself especially if your knowledge is limited. I have some books marked for reading this year but I love dilli and often wander into its lanes, bylanes, parks and ruins to get narrow the distance between what was and what is.

Hauz Khas ruins have always been a favorite destination but I never really got around to look at them from a blog post point of view. Hardly clicked photographs or wrote about them. The old monuments were more of a refuge when I wanted to escape from madding crowd. Deer park too was a runaway place where I could spend hours with myself without any intrusion.

Since Adi shifted to HK and my visits became more regular to the area I decided to list and visit all the  monument in HK and surrounding Green Park etc. The walks started with Chor Minar. You can read about it HERE.

The places on my list are:

Hauz Khas complex with The tomb of Ferozshah and other structures, Baag – i – Alam Gumbad and the walled mosque (Humayunpur), Kali GumtiBarah Khamba, Biran Ka Gumbad, Dadi Poti ka Maqbara, Choti Gumti, Sankari Gumti, Idgah of Kharehra, Nili masjid, Munda Gumbad, Hauz-i-Alai to start with.

I have covered a few  of these and will write about each in the coming days.

Deer Park Monuments – Baag – I – Alam Ka Gumbad and The Walled Mosque

Deer park was once known as Bagh -e- Alam ( ‘Garden of World’ ) and lay between Sultan Allauddin Khilji’s Siri fort and Hauz – i – Alai now popularly known as Hauz Khas Lake which was the largest man made water body of that time. Even the garden was the largest one built outside Khilji’s city known as commonly referred to as dar-ul-Khilafat later known as the city of Siri. Now the garden is limited to what we know as deer park and the lake is reduced to 1/5th of its original size.

Tucked in the thick vegetation of deer park are a few very important monuments and we started our exploration with he impressive BaghI i – Alam ka Gumbad and the Walled Mosque.

Bagh- e- Alam ka Gumbad is the largest of the three monuments in the deer park. It is an example of typical Lodi era architecture. The date of  its construction (1501)  is mentioned in a Persian inscription on a panel on the western wall. Delhi Gazetteer says the tomb is of a saint Shihab- ud -din Taj Khan. The panel also names the builder of the tomb as Abu Syed.

The monument is usually locked but I have heard it has a beautiful painted ceiling and tear drop patterns.

Surrounded by unruly vegetation and massive trees is this imposing structure with walled quibla or mosque on one side.  The facade of the monument gives a false impression of it being three- storey. Three sides of the monument have trabeated entrances barred with locked grill doors and the forth west one that faces Mecca has a mehrab recess characteristic of all the Lodi era structures. It is decorated with Quranic inscriptions.

Similarly like all Lodi era structures this too is built with locally quarried red and grey stone blocks intricately placed together to create a stunning patchwork. There are arched windows over the entrances. The entrances and the windows are set within a larger arched niche which is further placed in a rectangular frame projecting outwards through the wall face. The Eastern wall has stairs to the roof. I tried to peer through the grills to get a glimpse of the roof but the interior was shrouded in darkness and nothing was visible so I just walked around to see the gumbad from other angles. It is then I spotted a parakeet happily settled in one of the arched niches.

The dome springs from a sixteen-sided drum. The roof and the drum (base) of the hemispherical dome are decorated with a line of battlement-like ornamentation called kanguras.

The walled mosque 

The Lodi era wall mosque next to it has five-mehrab niches pointing towards Mecca. It is flanked by beautiful octagonal domed towers on either side with arched entrances build within them.

The central niche is flanked towards its back by turrets. The central of these niches is the largest both in terms of height and width. The smaller niches were build  probably to keep little lamps at night. The Quibla’s large courtyard has two neat rows of unknown graves and the place resembles more of a cemetery than a mosque. One can see beautiful leaf motifs on the entire length of the wall.

I watched the play of light and shadows on the leaf littered floor of the courtyard. Even though the plaster has peeled off at many places giving a glimpse of the rubble beneath this structure is still in a better condition than other monuments in the vicinity. The whole area is thickly shrouded by foliage from all sides overshadowing most of structure.

A little ahead is a newly constructed modern enclosure that houses hundreds of hamsters and rabbits.  We walked passed that to an open area where a cricket match was in full swing. I could see the Kali Gumti as we walked on a pathway shaded by lush Ashoka trees.

For some reason we did not go to the gumti and Tohfewala Gumbad hidden in thick foliage. I will be writing about these two separately. From there we took the trail to the deer enclosure and then to Munda Gumbad.

Munda Gumbad 

Munda Gumbad or the bald dome is a ruined pleasure pavilion on top of a grassy hillock. It was once in the center of the lake and was connected by a causeway to the city. Now it  lies at the edge of the lake. The headless or domeless structure can be accessed from all four sides by a of stairs. Made of rubble masonry the structure is believed to have two storeys. Now just a ruin it still has a aura around it and once can stand there and look at the green waters of the lake and across it he back of Tughlaq’a tomb and walls of the madarsa.

Hauz – i – Alai or Hauz Khas Lake 

By the time we were through with the Gumbad the sun had completed its journey. The green waters of the serene lake shimmered in the golden sunlight as the sun bid farewell. We walked along the lake admiring the marooned dried trees, sunken boats, fountains and the gorgeous reflections of the sunset.

At some point we sat down to talk about the  hauz i alai in its hay days when Khilji constructed it in 1295. This largest man made reservoir acted as water catchment for southern part of the city. It is believed that originally the reservoir spread over 123.6 acres and was 13.1 ft deep. Now it is just a quarter of its original size.

Once the Khilji empire declined the reservoir got neglected and mostly silted up. It was taken over by encroachments till Firoz Shah Tughlaq came to reign and took charge to de-silt, clean and clear the clogged inlets and repair it to be used again. He named it Hauz Khas and built a madarsa ( Islamic seminary) and some other structures including his tomb at its edge.

The Northern limb of the Madarsa – e – firoz Shahi (1352), a medieval center of learning, starting from the Tomb of Tughlaq on the left as seen from the water reservoir Hai- i – alai or Hauz Khas lake.

The entire complex of structures built by Tughlaq in the 14th century make this area along the lake stunningly beautiful.

Taghlaq”s Tomb

Tughlaq was by far the most prolific and far sighted builder in medieval North India and his love for architecture can be seen here in abundance. He carried out a lot of public work projects especially in the area of irrigation. We will discuss those in the upcoming posts.

The lake or tank, its water channels are still a very impressive sight.

We left the park from the Hauz Khas village end and headed back towards Sakri Gumti. I will do a post on those structures later. The complex is one of my favorites and there was a time I would spend hours wandering in the midst of this ruined glory.

 

 

Stay tuned for more on Hauz Khas complex and some other monuments in the vicinity. Stay warm and keep the spirits high. I will update this with better photographs of the monuments as and when.

Delhi Monuments – Chor Minar ( The Thieves Tower )


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.