Fed up with malls multiplexes and movies, last month during the onset of winter my wife came up with a different plan for the weekends. The plan was to enjoy the rich heritage of Delhi (as outside tourists do) on lovely and cosy afternoons of Delhi’s winter.
A list was prepared: outing to Qutub Minar/Complex & Mehrauli Archaeological Park, day’s picnic at Lodi Garden, stroll in Hauz Khas village with lunch at a restaurant adjacent the main reservoir, visit to Humayun’s Tomb and a walk in Chandni Chowk.
As we went about Delhi following our plan, I realised that Sultanate period (13th to early 16th century) has left a profound impact on the overall heritage of Delhi. It was a bit surprising for me, as in the annals of the history of Delhi, it is Mughals and Britishers who occupy the prominent place and, by and large, own the heritage of the city.
Delhi, however, has a clear and well-demarcated past: The Sultanate period (1206-1526), Mughals (1526-1857, it includes a brief period of Shershah Suri) and colonial rules by the Britishers (1857 onwards).
Barring a small fort built by Prithviraj Chauhan near Mehrauli (and maybe some establishment at Purana Qila site), Delhi had nothing until the beginning of the 13th century when Sultanate period started.
Circa 1192 was the turning point in the history of India when Prithviraj Chauhan lost a decisive battle and Islamic rule arrived in India. In 1206, the foundation of the Mamluk dynasty was laid and the period of next 320 years is known as the Sultanate period, which was ruled by five dynasties; Khilji, Tughlaq, Sayyad and Lodi and the Mamluk dynasty. In 1526, the last Lodi dynasty ruler Ibrahim Lodi was defeated by Babur and the Mughal arrived. Mughal ruled Delhi till 1857 when Britishers dethroned Bahadurshah Jafar and exiled him to Rangoon.
Mughals and Britishers built huge edifices in Delhi and hugely impacted the city the way it is today. Mughals gave, to name a few, Lal Qila, Jama Masjid, Chandni Chowk, Humayun’s Tomb to the city. Britishers on other hand changed the city forever with Lutyens’ Delhi, India Gate and main capital part.
Notwithstanding to what Britishers and Mughal did, Sultanate period has an indelible mark on the heritage of the city which quite often is bit underrated. Qutub Minar and other monuments in Qutub Complex led the pack. When I am asked by visitors about one place to see in Delhi to feel the true heritage, I put Qutub Complex on top unequivocally. Structures made during the Sultanate period constitute a major part in nearby Mehrauli Archaeological Park. I believe that overall rich heritage spread in Mehrauli area is unparalleled in India barring the exception of Hampi down south (Old Vijaynagar Kingdom).
Built by the first sultan of Delhi during Sultanate period in the early 13th century, Qutub Minar surpasses another heritage structure in Delhi. You need to appreciate that this 72-meter tall wonder was built 450 years before Red Fort, Jama Masjid and Taj Mahal and 700 years before India Gate and Lutyens’ Delhi
The sign of Sultanate period touches day to day life of Delhites. These structures and places of Sultanate period are behind the name of few famous places in Delhi, which interestingly we don’t realize. A Delight for morning walkers, Lodi Garden is one such gem of Sultanate period. It is a mesmerising park full of many structures, dating back to the Lodi dynasty (last dynasty of Sultanate period).
When we go to the Siri Fort Auditorium, not many of us realises that this is the fort constructed by Alauddin Khilzi (you are right, it is Padmavati fame) named Siri Fort. The prominent hub of boutiques, bars and restaurants Hauz Khas dates back to this period only. Hauz Khas (means Royal Tank) built by Khilji (later renovated by Tughlaqs) for meeting water requirement for his new fort and currently Hauz Khas complex is one of the most happening places in Delhi.
Tughlaqabad is also a well-known place in Delhi. It takes its name from the Tughlaq dynasty of the Sultanate period. Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq, the founder of Tughlaq dynasty, built this massive fort at this place and ruins of the same still exist.
Next time when you ride a train at Hazrat Nizamuddin Railway station then kindly note that Nizamuddin Aulia was a Sufi living in this area during Khilzi-Tughlaq dynasties (Sultanate period).
Malcha Marg is a famous road in Delhi near the diplomatic enclave in Chanakyapuri. It is named after a structure built by Firuz Shah Tughlaq and used by them as a hunting lodge. The place was in news recently when the Awadh prince, living alone here, died.
Similarly, there is Kushak Road in Delhi. It is also named after a hunting lodge of Tughlaq period called Kushak Mahal and it is not a very well-known fact it is situated right inside the Teen Muti Bhawan premises. So the first Prime Minister of India was living in a bungalow next to the hunting lodge of the Tughlaqs.
Delhi, undoubtedly, is one of the richest cities in the world in terms of heritage, monuments and culture. Mirza Ghalib once explained Delhi like this “Ik roz apni rooh se poocha, ki dilli kya hai, to yun jawab main keh gaye, yeh duniya mano jism hai aur dilli uski jaan (I asked my soul, ‘What is Delhi?’ It replied: ‘The world is the body, Delhi its soul”).
Undeniably, the Sultanate period takes a huge part of the credit to make Delhi the soul of the world.