Book Review of Where Stones Speak in India Today

Mehrauli: Monuments that speak of Indias multiculturalism

PTI  October 4, 2015 | UPDATED 11:55 IST
New Delhi: A church that wears looks of a temple and a mosque too, a festival that dates back to the Mughal rule and numerous monuments that have stories to tell. A new book ‘Where Stones Speak’ by historian Rana Safvi tells many little known stories associated with monuments around Mehrauli, the first and also the oldest of the seven cities that make modern day Delhi.Although it is one of the most visited monuments of the capital, not many know that the nondescript second floor a mosque in the Qutub complex was a women’s mosque and it was standing on this floor that the young Razia was chosen Sultan by people of Delhi overthrowing her tyrant brother Ruknuddin Firoz Shah.The author takes the reader through the narrow, congested lanes of Mehrauli, describing the religious diversity of its monuments, from the rocky Qula Rai Pithoura to the Dargah of Sufi saint Khwaja Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki and the ancient Yogmaya temple, telling stories associated with these.Mehrauli is home to India’s ancient pluralistic and multicultural tradition. It is here that the Mughar emperors offered tribute to the Yogmaya temple and the dargah of Khwaja Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki.Also befitting is the St. John’s church built on the ruins of a Mughal fort- the structure incorporates the architectural features of a mosque and a temple, truly symbolising the syncretic culture of Mehrauli and India, the author says.

Nothing epitomises the multicultural flavour of Delhi as the ‘Phool Walo’n Ki Sair’ or ‘Sair e Gul Farosha’n’, the procession of flower sellers that is currently held in October after the monsoons.

It began when in fulfilment of her vow Mumtaz Mahal Begum, wife of Akbr Shah II (1808-1837) organised seven days of merry making and celebrations when her exiled son Mirza Jahangir was allowed back in Delhi by the British. Hindus and Muslims joined the festivities and on public demand the emperor decided it would henceforth be an annual affair. Akbar Shah also offered a ‘pankha’ (a fan made of flowers) at the nearby Yogmaya temple.

Till the Mughals ruled, this festival was celebrated with great pomp and show. It is held even now and pankhas are offered on behalf of President of India and the Lt. Governor of Delhi, the book says. The festival was stopped for some years, but later restored, the author says.

The appointment of Razia was a radical step in those days when women were confined to the harem alone. But Sultan Iltutmush, though a far-sighted visionary, had not taken into account the aversion that the nobles had in being ruled by a women and her brother Ruknuddin was on the throne.

However Razia was made of sterner stuff, she presented herself to the peole from the terrace with her grievance.

People of Delhi then proclaimed Razia as the new Sultan.

This was one of the first instances of a popular vote of sorts because people were given a chance to crown their monarch, the author says.

However, Sultan Razia, though hailed as a great monarch, was not allowed to reign for long and was removed and later killed. She was known as Sultan Razia and not as Razia Sultan as is commonly written. She rejected the feminine Razia Sultan, a weak title, shrugged off her feminine clothes and donned the robes, tunic and turban of a man. Sultan Razia also stopped wearing a veil, the author says.

The original founder of Delhi probably chose the rocky Aravali hills in Mehrauli as his headquarters, for the strategic and military advantages it offered. “Thus it was necessity rather than caprice on part of the rulers, which required the shifting of Delhi to either, say near the water source to accommodate a growing population or to build a strong defence, the book says. This led to Delhi being built several times over- as many as fourteen, it says.

The author also suggests an itinerary for those who want to take a look at the monuments in Mehrauli and its monuments.
Delhi’s New Story Tellers

Rana Safvi, 58 Author

Rana Safvi describes her book, Where Stones Speak: Historical Trails In Mehrauli, The First City Of Delhi, as a labour of love. “I’ve been fascinated by the stories hidden in stones from childhood. This book is my tribute to those stories,” she says. Safvi’s book is an extensive research and a storehouse of stories on Mehrauli, the first city of Delhi. Safvi has done a Masters in History from Aligarh Muslim University. She is also a passionate promoter of Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb-a cultural fusion of Hindu and Muslim elements. She runs a blog,, which is a treasure trove of “Delhi’s stories, food, customs, traditions, tehzeeb and monuments”.

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