Once upon a time, many centuries ago, the mighty military rulers of the Tughlaq dynasty built a fort in Delhi. They called it Tughlaqabad. And although it had walls as thick as can be- standing sternly, majestically, almost menacingly, to this day- the ravages of time have badly crumbled up the buildings within it, until all that remains in the 21st century is some rubble and a few odd stories to bring it to life….
The Fort stands on the south-eastern fringes of Delhi. A metro stop on the Violet line today commemorates the center of power of the 14th century. But the fort itself is long forgotten by a people far more obsessed with the future than reminiscent about its past. That is as it should be, of course, for we are an emerging nation, single-mindedly marching towards further progress and upliftment. But in the process, somewhere, we are forgetting the whispers of the rich past….
When Shalabh (who blogs here) took me visiting there a few months back we had a great time exploring what remains. We tried to pin an identity to the few structures that had escaped destruction:
This ramp must have seen the king’s elephants trodding slowly into the fort! And the moat under it would have held cruel crocodiles to discourage attackers.
Those narrow slits on the ramparts! Sloping downwards so that soldiers hidden behind could attack with arrows any enemy approaching the fort…
Could this have been an underground marketplace? Maybe the walls held flaming torches to guide buyers and sellers…Maybe the rooms at the back stored huge stacks of grain? Alternately, maybe these underground rooms were cool resting places during the harsh summers…
Surely this one is a royal bath or hammam?
And these are perhaps stables for the royal horses?
That stone there must have been a grain-crusher surely! I can almost imagine a strong ox walking slowly around to help crush the grain.
And this structure! Must be the remains of a mosque where the faithful offered their prayers.
But most enigmatic of the remains was an innocuous looking opening in the underbrush. It sloped downwards and out of sight…to God knows what treasures? Shalabh enticed me to enter it, and full of the thrill of adventure, I did. Who doesn’t want to find out where a secret passage leads to? All my sense disappeared at the prospect of an unsolved mystery! I am sure I would have reconsidered my plan had my crafty companion told me more about the passage he had traversed earlier. For now, I was just thrilled to be following in the footsteps of the Tughlaq soldiers. Who knows, maybe even the king had used this passage!
I went scrambling down, with Shalabh right in front…the tunnel was dark but thankfully whatever I touched happened to be loose stones, no rat or snake or anything else to scare the life out of me. When we emerged at the other end, relieved at the burst of sunlight, we were standing on a ledge on the ramparts of the fort. My first exhilaration at having found an escape route out of the fort was soon replaced by dismay….a sharp 10 meter drop to the ground below! There was no question of going back into the fort by that passage, it would be a nightmare going uphill through that! So, after much name-calling and shrieking (on my part), and many excuses and sly laughter (on my so-called friend’s part!), we managed to scramble over the fort wall and back into the fort in single piece. Relief.
For a long time after we admired the military bent of mind of the Tughlaqs. Their fort was no delicate mesh of jalis and marble domes like the more popular Red Fort (which we explore here) built three hundred years later. The Tughlaq empire was still being consolidated…..the fierce Mongols were a very real threat (that manifested itself not many years later as an attack by the ruthless Timur Lane). So Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq, the founder of the Tughlaq dynasty and the builder of this massive fort, had one and only one thing on his mind: defence. And that is plainly visible from the huge ramparts, the thick sloping walls, the deep moat surrounding the fort, and the mysterious escape route. Ghiyasuddin even built his own mausoleum nearby, connected to the fort by a causeway, like a little fort surrounded by water! Ghiyasuddin’s Tomb is a beautiful monument preserved to this day, but more about that some other time….
In his worry about the safety of his kingdom, Ghiyasuddin got the fort built at a frenetic pace, completing it in 4 years. And for a city with a circumference of 6.5 km and an age when huge blocks of stone had to be cut by hand, this is no mean feat. But unfortunately the life of the fort was limited to only 6 years, some say on account of acute water shortage…
A more romantic story is of course the intense rivalry between the emperor and the most revered Sufi saint of the day….Nizamuddin Auliya. Yes, the same saint whose shrine is visited by hundreds even today in the Nizamuddin area of Delhi. Well, the emperor couldn’t have been happy with this parallel force in the city, and he ordered everyone who was working on constructing a baoli (step-well) in Nizamuddin’s complex to leave their jobs there and help build the royal fort instead. Legend has it that the workers were so faithful to the saint that they would work on the fort during the day, and on the well during the night! The king would have none of this insolence from his subjects, so he cut off the supply of oil to Nizamuddin, which the laborers needed to light lamps in the night while working.
Now Nizamuddin was angry. He ordered his disciple Nasiruddin to fill up the oil-lamps with water instead, and miracle of miracles, it is said that the workers were able to light those lamps and continue to work! Nasiruddin therefore came to be known as Roshan Chirag-e-Dilli (which means the lamp of Delhi), and his Dargah is still visited by many near Saket. Nizamuddin uttered a curse for the king. “Ya rahe ujar, ya base gujjar” (May your fort be deserted, or inhabited only by nomads), and this uncannily came true. Ghiyasuddin was killed soon after in an accident (some say plotted by his son Muhammad bin Tughlaq), and the mighty fort of Tughlaqabad was abandoned forever.
Photos by: Shalabh