(A painting by Daniells from their Oriental Sceneries in 1795)
To any cricket fan the name Firoz Shah Kotla is very familiar. Who can forget the thrill of watching Anil Kumble take 10 wickets in a single innings in that stadium! So it did not come as a surprise to me that my driver drove me very promptly to the stadium instead of the Fort when I asked him to take me there. He apparently had no clue that there was an old fort after which the stadium was named and so had to ask around for directions.
Firoz Shah Kotla, the ruins of Delhi’s 5th city lie on Bahadur Shah Zafar Road. The nearest metro is Pragati Maidan (1.5km) and any auto will bring you there.
Firoz Shah Tughlaq built this city on the banks of the Yamuna, in the village of Gawin in 1354. It was originally called Ferozabad and later changed by the British to FerozShah Kotla or Firoz Shah’s citadel. It was built on a grand scale covering 18 villages and extended from Indarpat ( Purana Qila ) to Kushk e Shikar or the hunting palace also built by him on the Ridge.
Today however it is in ruins as material from here was used to build Shahjahanbad or the 7th city of Delhi and only few structures survive. It was used as a prototype for later Mughal fortresses, as this is the first time that the concept of Diwan e Aam for the public and a Diwan e khas for nobles was introduced
An old painting by William Orme from 1794 which shows the western Gate of the citadel.
Today however what we see when we enter is this
sun setting over the ruins.
Firuz Shah Tughlaq is known as India’s first conservationist and builder. He not only built many hospitals, sarais, mosques and palaces he also repaired the older structures such as Qutub Minar, Hauz Khas and the tombs of Iltutmish and Alauddin Khilji. He had added sandalwood chaparkhats to the tombs.
On his return after a victorious campaign to Lakhnauti and Jajnagar he lamented the lack of a historian to record his triumphant return. Barani had died so the Emperoro took it upon himself to write about it. Shams Siraj Afif notes in his Tareekh e Firoz Shahi
“Among his other qualities, he had a remarkable fondness for history. Just at this time Maulána Zíáu-d dín Barní, the author of the Tárikh-i Fíroz Sháhí died, and the Sultán expressed to every learned man the great desire he felt for an historical record of the events of his own reign. When he despaired of getting such a work written, he caused the following lines, of his own composition (az zabán-i khwesh), to be inscribed in letters of gold on the walls (‘imárat) of the Kushk-i Shikár-rav, and on the domes of the Kushk-i nuzúl, and the walls (‘imárat) of the minarets of stone which are within the Kushk-i Shikár-rav at Fírozábád:—
“I made a great hunt of elephants, and I captured so many:
“I performed many glorious deeds; and all this I have done“That in the world and among men; in the earth and among mankind, these verses
May stand as a memorial to men of intelligence, and that the people”
of the world, and the wise men of the age, may follow the example.”
Not the best of verse but then when an Emperor pens it the world stops to read.
Unfortunately lost to us as today those palaces lie in ruins. The Ashoka Pillar can be seen in the background.
The Tughlaq architecture though by now technically perfect as can be seen from the purity of this arch had lost its sense of celebration and was sombre, unadorned as befitted the unsettling times that they were constructed in.
The antiquarian that he was during his travels he saw two Ashoka pillar and ordered these to be brought to Delhi. The one in the Kotla is from Tobra, near present Amabala.
An eye witness account from “Sirat e Firozshahi’ (from a text composed in 1370 A.D.)
“… in the village of Topra, by the banks of the Jatan, stood the stone pillar, the like of which in height and circumference had not been seen by anyone… The sages and wise men of the time were simply astonished at the sight, and though they dived deep into the sea of thought they succeeded not in bringing out the pearl of the solution of these secrets – namely whence and how this heavy and lofty stone monolith was brought to this place and what were the exact engineering methods employed in its erection here. Verily such an achievement could hardly have been accomplished by human beings for the simple reason that it is beyond the power of Man.”
According to Maulvi Zafar Hasan in his 1911 book on “Monuments of Delhi” a bed of ‘senwal’ silk cotton was made to cushion the pillar when it was uprooted from its old position, so that it had a soft, cushioned fall. The cotton was then removed carefully and it was covered with reed and raw skins for transportation. It was pulled in a carriage with 42 wheels and had ropes attached to each wheel, with 200 men pulling each rope. Next time you see it do spare a thought for the labour of these men!
“… orders were issued to commanding the attendance of all the people in the neighbourhood, and all soldiers, both horse and foot. They were ordered to bring instruments and materials suitable for the work. Directions were issued for bringing parcels of the cotton of the silk cotton tree. Quantities of this silk cotton were placed around the column, and when the earth at its base was removed, it fell gently over on the bed prepared for it. The cotton was then removed by degrees and after some days the pillar lay safe on the ground… The pillar was then encased from top to bottom in reeds and raw skins, so that no damage might accrue to it. ‘the felling and transporting of the pillar was accomplished with the help of divine inspiration, in accordance with human understanding… every detail of the work including the tying of ropes and the construction of masonry piers; pulling ropes in all directions and balancing the pillar with their help; the employment of elephants for dragging the pillar, and following on their failure the employment of longer ropes with 20,000 men and their success in carrying the pillar to the banks of the Jamna; then arranging well balanced boats for the pillar, loading the pillar on the boats and floating the same; its journey to Firozabad (Delhi); the making of all the arrangements over again for removing the pillar and carrying it in front of the Jum’ah Mosque, there constructing a large building, raising and placing the pillar thereon with the help of pulleys etc., and re-erecting the pillar according to the laws of wisdom – a gift of the most exalted God….”
The Sultan came to greet it when it entered Delhi, after which it was transferred to a boat capable of carrying 2000 maunds and then brought via the Yamuna.
“An account of the Raising of the Obelisk -When the pillar was brought to the palace, a building was commenced for its reception, near the Jámi’ Masjid, and the most skilful architects and workmen were employed. It was constructed of stone and chúnam, and consisted of several stages or steps (poshish). When a step was finished the column was raised on to it, another step was then built and the pillar was again raised, and so on in succession until it reached the intended height. On arriving at this stage, other contrivances had to be devised to place it in an erect position. Ropes of great
thickness were obtained, and windlasses were placed on each of the six stages of the base. The ends of the ropes were fastened to the top of the pillar, and the other ends passed over the windlasses, which were firmly secured with many fastenings. The wheels were then turned, and the column was raised about half a gaz. Logs of wood and bags of cotton were then placed under it to prevent its sinking again. In this way, by degrees, and in the course of several days, the column was raised to the perpendicular. Large beams were then placed round it as shores, until quite a cage of scaffolding was formed. It was thus secured in an upright position, straight as an arrow, without the smallest deviation from the perpendicular. The square stone, before spoken of, was placed under the pillar. After it was raised, some ornamental friezes of black and white stone were placed round its two capitals (do sar-i án), and over these there was raised a gilded copper cupola, called in Hindí kalas”. ( Shams Siraj Afif in Tarikh e Firoz Shahi)
This is a sketch of what the pyramidical structure could have looked like.( from http://www.archinomy.com/case-studies/1914/site-visit-to-feroz-shah-kotla)
It was called Hawa Mahal because of the many windows and entrances it had
An old photograph from 1860s
The pillar had a gilded bronze cupola but that disappeared somewhere in the 17th century. The last documented reference is by William Finch in 1611. The pillar was referred to as Minar e Zarrin or Golden Pillar because of the golden glow from the polished sandstone.
However that would be then, today it is called the Laat waale baba as according to belief the Chief of the Djinns residing in the fort stays in the pillar!
How did Djinns suddenly populate this abandoned city? None of the old texts, whether Sir Saiyed’s Asar us Sanadeed or maulvi Zafar Hasan’s Monuments of Delhi mentions it, yet today to talk of Kotla is to talk of Djinns.
From what I could gather is that in 1970s a faqeer named Ladoo Shah, who after the demolition of Turkman Gate where he used to live, came and started living in the ruins with his Djinns.Today the cells and rooms under the mosque and the pillar are full of letters to the Djinns asking for their needs or with diyas as mark of respect or flowers after fulfillfilment.
There are very few visitors to the place except on Thursdays when after 2pm entry is free as people come to pray, make supplications to the Djinns or make good their pledges after fulfillment of their prayers by distributing biryani and sweets.
These are the ‘arsis’ or pleas which are tied up on strings with letters to the Djinns asking for fulfillment of desires. The bangles are obviously either pleas for marriage or to save, safeguard it.
there are many such dark corners with divas and flowers offered by a grateful devotee. ( photograph by Subir Dey)
I am not suggesting anything here, I just happened to see and clicked this picture. The djinn have the capacity to take many forms and to change appearance. According to the Imam Ibn Taymiya, they can take a human or animal. They can also appear in the form of a black cat.
Somebody’s mannat fulfilled!
As per Islam Djinns are created from smokeless fire and were created before man. In fact when Iblees the chief Djinn was asked to prostrate to Adam he refused on the grounds that he , originating from fire, was superior to Adam who was made from clay. This led to his fall from grace and becoming the accursed Satan.
Jinn is a plural noun in Arabic literally meaning “hidden from sight”, and it derives from Arabic root j-n-n (pronounced: jann/ junn جَنّ / جُنّ) meaning “to hide” or “be hidden”.
As in human race, there are good and bad Djinns. The word genie who fulfills ones wishes comes from the Arabic djinn and in folk lore have great powers to grant wishes.
The village my ancestors come from was established by Jalaluddin Khilji and has a mosque dating to back then. I have grown up hearing stories of Djinn Mamus from my grandmother and other relatives. We have a Djinn waali masjid there and of course many tales.
The other notable building in the kotla or citadel is the Jami Masjid or congregational mosque. It was built by Firuz Shah’s Prime Minister Khan e Jahan and is one of the seven mosques he built. It was so grand that Timur offered prayers there and ordered a similar one to be made in Samarqand.
Today not much of it is left standing except the entrance, its steps and some part of the walls.
There used to be a well in the middle of the mosque for ablutions. Today thats been closed.
It is a functioning mosque and prayers are offered here thrice a day.
(This photograph by Subir Dey)
I talked to them but there was a caption in Urdu that “yahan aurton ka aana mana hai , so didn’t dare risk their ( and their spirit friends) ire by photographing them!
A conversation with the Imam and his friend there reinforced the idea of the benevolent Djinns. According to him, every masjid has Djinns and they guard the citadel and in fact Delhi.
As long as Djinns live in Delhi no harm can come to it!