A walk through Firoz Shah Kotla and Jami Masjid lifts the veil off the area’s historical and spiritual heritage
Hindustan Times (Gurgaon)15 Feb 2014
Rana Safvi ■ firstname.lastname@example.org Rana Safvi is founder and moderator of #shair, a popular forum for poetry lovers on Twitter. She tweets as @iamrana
Say Firoz Shah Kotla, and the first thing that pops into almost every mind is the eponymously named cricket stadium. But there’s more to Firoz Shah Kotla than the arena where Anil Kumble took 10 wickets in one innings. The name Firoz Shah Kotla is derived from the name of one of the five cities that makes up present-day Delhi, Firozabad, founded in 1354 by Firoz Shah Tughlaq on the banks of the Yamuna. The British changed the name to Firoz Shah Kotla or Firoz Shah’s citadel.
Firoz Shah Tughlaq is known as India’s first conservationist and builder. He not only built many hospitals, sarais, mosques and palaces but also repaired existing structures such as the Qutub Minar, Hauz Khas and the tombs of Iltutmish and Alauddin Khilji.
The antiquarian that he was, during his travels he saw two Ashoka pillars and being very impressed by them, ordered that they be brought to Delhi. The one in the Kotla was brought from Tobra, near Ambala. Once the decision to transfer it to Delhi was made by the Sultan, orders were passed directing everyone in the area to help in moving the pillar. Locals were told to bring parcels of ‘senwal’ or silk cotton. This was used to make a bed and the pillar was gently lowered on to it, to cushion its fall, once it was uprooted from its original position. The cotton was then carefully removed and the pillar was covered with reed and raw skins and transported in a carriage with 42 wheels. Ropes were attached to each wheel and 200 men pulled each rope to assist the movement.
The Sultan came to greet the pillar when it entered Delhi. It was transferred to a boat with a capacity to carry 2,000 maunds and then brought to Firozabad via the Yamuna. Skilful architects and artisans were employed to construct a building to house the pillar near the Jami Masjid (congregational mosque in Firozabad). According to Tarikh -e-Firoz Shahi by Shams Siraj Afif, the re-erecting of the pillar was done in a stepbyby-step manner, literally. “When a ste step was finished the column was rai raised on to it, another step was the then built and the pillar was again raise raised, and so on in succession until it reac reached the intended height.” A gild gilded copper cupola or kalash was placed at th the top but that disappeared sometime in the seventeenth century. The pillar was referred to as Minar-e-Zarrin or Golden Pillar because of the golden glow from the polished sandstone.
Today, however, it is simply known as the Laat Waale Baba, named after the chief of the djinns, who, it is believed, resides in the pillar. How djinns came to populate this abandoned city is another story altogether. None of the old texts — neither the accounts of medieval historians nor nineteenth century British officers of the Archaeological Survey of India — mention the presence of djinns. Yet, a mention of Firoz Shah Kotla today is inseparable from the talk of djinns.
From prevalent anecdotes, it seems that after the demolition of the Turkman Gate, a fakir named Ladoo Shah came to live in the ruins of Firoz Shah Kotla with his djinns sometime in the 1970s. In ancient folklore, djinns are shown to have the power to make wishes come true. And so today the cells and rooms under the mosque and the pillar are full of letters addressed to djinns by believers requesting them to fulfil their wishes. Those who believe that their wishes have been granted by the djinns, leave flowers and diyas as a mark of respect.
On Thursdays, after 2pm, people enjoy free entry and gather to pray, make supplications to the djinns, or after their prayers have been granted, to make the promised offering of distributing biryani and sweets.
According to Islamic belief, djinns were created from smokeless fire and were created before man. It is believed that 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 he became Satan.
Djinn is a plural noun in Arabic, literally meaning “hidden from sight”. As with humans, there are good and bad djinns.
The Jami Masjid, in Firoz Shah Kotla, is a functioning mosque and prayers are offered here thrice a day. A conversation with the Imam and his friend there reinforced the idea of the benevolent djinns. According to the Imam, every masjid has djinns and they guard the citadel and, in fact, Delhi. It is believed that as long as djinns live in Delhi no harm can come to the national capital.