If you are a Delhiite, chances are you have heard of the Surajkund Mela, and possibly even been there and emptied your wallet at least once in your lifetime. But have you ever heard of the actual “kund” (tank) where this fair has been held every year for the last 25 years? Neither had I, until recently…and the story of a thousand-year-old sun temple had been lurking in my mind ever since I’d read about it in a nondescript guidebook. So when I found out that the 26th Surajkund Mela was to be held from the 5th to 15th of this month, I mustered up all the courage I had to brave the throngs of people headed in the direction of Faridabad. It was a Sunday, and it seemed the whole city had come down to perch on these fairgrounds to enjoy one last bit of winter and one glorious day of shopping.
After I had snaked my way through the long queues, got jostled by a hundred women and frisked by an overworked guard, I finally emerged on the other side of the gate, to freedom and much-needed oxygen. Despite all my woes, however, I have to admit that the fair was lovely. But let me not launch into a full-fledged account of all the wonderful wares on display there…worldly temptations that I sternly checked to achieve the larger purpose of this visit to Surajkund…
“Monument? What monument?” was the puzzled look I got from most of the guards on duty there.
“Hindi mein bolo bhai”, said another. (Say that in Hindi please!)
“Oh, you mean the kund! It’s dry now, not worth the walk!”
Finally I learnt my way, and away I trudged across the fair grounds, drinking in a riot of colors and some earthy folk music along the way.
Not to mention, tickled by some innovative social messages 🙂
(As an aside, let me add for all the shopaholics… the theme this year was Assam, and there were silks and artifacts galore form the north-eastern state, and ornate gates welcoming you to different sections of the bazaar.)
But now finally, I was at the exit! Across the road was an unexpected ASI sign-board and a tiny ticket counter. For Rs. 5, one could walk across the steps of a giant amphitheater and enter into the dried-up base of a reservoir built by the Tomar Rajputs more than a thousand years ago. One could experience the oldest known city built in the vicinity of Delhi (barring the legendary Indraprastha of Mahabharata fame, of course). These Tomar Rajputs were the ones that shifted to the Surajkund and Mehrauli area from the Aravalli hills around the 8th century AD, and built their palaces in Lal Kot (what you know today as the Qutb area). In time these Rajputs would give way to the Afghans, the Turks, the Mughals, and then the British, until finally you and I would be born….This ancient “kund” has witnessed it all!
Thanks to the mela, there were some visitors enjoying the sunset when we visited. Indeed, what an ideal place for sun-worship this must have been! A vast semi-circular water-tank curving eastwards, created to resemble the rising sun, and a majestic sun-temple on its side! It is said the tank was named Surajkund (literally, sun-tank ) after the sun temple. Another theory suggests that it was named after the Tomar king Surajpal, during whose reign the reservoir was probably built.
The amphitheater is still very much intact, restored as it was by the king Feroze Shah Tughlaq (master builder and lover of irrigation works) some four hundred years later. During the monsoons, you may even find some water in the tank. Unfortunately, all that remains of the sun temple today are the steep steps leading up to a platform which must have led to the holy shrine at one time, and a family of monkeys that zealously guards the ruins to this day.