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.
The antiquarian that he was during his travels he saw two Ashoka pillar and ordered these to be brought to Delhi. One he put in his palace at Ferozabad ( present day Firoz Shah Kotla) and the othe rnear his Kushk e Shikar on the Ridge.
The one in the Kotla is from Tobra, near present Ambala.
“… 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.”
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.
( From Metcalfe’s Dehlie Diary)
“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 this site)
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!
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 fulfillment.
The amazing fact is that I have always seen the diyas/ lamps burning even in daylight and its lights are always bright and lighten up all the dark nooks and crannies of this remarkable place.
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.
Try it sometime on a Thursday. Who knows there may be a wish waiting to be fulfilled there!