Wandering in Ancient Ruins of Delhi (08 June 2014)

Jahaj Mahal, Hauzi Shamsi, Pavilion of Hauzi Shamsi, and Jharna….. all in Mehrauli….

Two weeks, including Saturdays of grueling work at Office, was a bit too much to bear and I was finally struck by “Wander lust to ancient monuments in Delhi”!

Not bothering about the ritual of “sleep in a bit during Sunday mornings” I was up and about early morning to make a hasty run to my beloved monuments and also to avoid the cruel beating down of the June sun.

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Jahaj Mahal (Mehrauli-Delhi)

Lo and behold, I found myself in front of Jahaj Mahal (Mehrauli). Feeling very light and energetic, and free to float in everywhere, I looked around suspiciously, fearing that I may have passed away and this was my “Rooh”!

Exhilarated at this new found freedom, I rapidly flew past Jahaj Mahal, its three sided and shallowed moat. One side being covered by the road! The famous Jharna (now a sorry sight) in a depression opposite Jahaj Mahal, the Pavilion of Illtutmish and his dream, Hauzi Shamsi………

But that was not to be.

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Suddenly, whilst I hung midair, admiring the intricate stone carvings on the pillars of the Pavilion, I hear a soprano of “Madam Madam….” (Sung by my driver), then a pandemonium of cars honking, screeching breaks…, only then did I realize, that I had simply dozed off…….

That hour or so long drive from my place to Mehrauli, had rocked me to an exhausted slumber, but my mind still yearned to be at places I had decided to be. Hence, was already there ahead of me……

Now began the actual survey.

Jahaj Mahal

No this is not the Jahaz Mahal aka Hindola Mahal of Mandu.

Surrounded by a moat that Jahaz Mahal is located next to Hauz-i-Shamsi in Mehrauli, Delhi.

It was so called as its reflection in the surrounding Huazi Shamsi, resembled a ship floating on a lake. It is inferred to have been built during the Lodi dynasty period (1452–1526) as a pleasure resort, Sarai or an inn. Its construction is dated between 1451 AD and 1526 AD, before Babar’s invasion and the beginning of Mughal rule in Delhi.

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Side view of Jahaj Mahal

It is said that one reason for building the Jahaz Mahal retreat was to provide transit accommodation as a Sarai or (inn) to the large number of pilgrims from Afghanistan, Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Morocco and Turkey who came to Delhi the revered land, to visit the many Muslim shrines.

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Turret of Jahaj Mahal

Another version is that it was built as a retreat for the emperors, Akbar Shah II and Bahadur Shah II and their families, during the summer months, away from the heat and dust of Delhi.

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Courtyard in Jahaj Mahal

A courtyard is in the center of the palace. The palace has carved impressive square pavilions/chhatris (six of them with different numbers of pillars – six, eight and twelve) or towers in the corners and the center, ornamented with beautiful squinches in different chambers and walls (pictures in the gallery).

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A Pavillion of Jahaj Mahal

The domed pavilion over the central gate is decorated with blue tiles. A small mosque is also located within the palace, as discerned from a mihrab in a niche on the west wall.

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Mihrab in the Jahaz Mahal

As there are rooms aligned on the ground floor in Jahaj Mahal, so are there rooms at the level of the Moat-Perhaps they served as ‘Cooler Rooms’ then.

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Jahaz Mahal is the venue of the annual colorful festival of the Phool Walon Ki Sair (means a procession of the florists) or ‘Sair-i-Gulfaroshan’ held in October. A procession of flower bedecked pankhas (fans) made and carried by the flower vendors starts from Mehrauli at the overflow outlet of the Hauz-i-Shamsi tank, called “Jharna”, stops at the Yogmaya Temple for the first offering of the flower fan as mark of reverence, moves to the Jahaz Mahal and finally ends at the famous dargah of Hazrat Qutbuddin Bakhtiar Kaki for the presentation of the fans and chaddar at Kaki’s darghah.

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A floral Pankha (fan)

It marks the syncretic Hindu-Muslim composite culture. The festival was started by Emperor Akbar Shah II in 1820. It was popularized by Emperor Bahadur Shah II. It was discontinued from 1942 for a time during the British period but was restarted in 1961 at the initiative of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India.

Hauz-i-Shamsi

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Old photo of Hauz–i- Shamsi

(The water is full of dirt and aquatic weeds now)

The Hauz-i-Shamshi was a large reservoir built by Shamsud-Din Iltutmish, the second Sultanate ruler in 1230 AD and, hence, named after him. The tank’s water has always been believed sacred because of its association with famous saints and sufis who visited the tank.

Due to the association of the reservoir with a greatly revered saint such as Kaki, the water attains a sacred touch to it as well. 

I could not identify the tomb of 17th century Persian writer in the Mughal court, Abdul-Haqq Dehlavi, located at the edge of Hauz-i-Shamshi.

Pavillion at Hauz-i-Shamsi

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Pavillion at Hauz-i-Shamsi

According to legend, it was Prophet Mohammad himself who come in Iltutmish’s dream to give him the idea of constructing a reservoir and also suggested a likely venue for it so as to solve the water problems of Delhi.

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The stone in the center of the Pavilion at Hauzi Shamsi marks the place where the hoof print of Prophet Muhammad’s horse were found

Hoof marks of the prophet’s horse were found in the very place and therefore to commemorate his visit Iltutmish constructed a pavilion over the hoof marks and dug a deep reservoir around it making the pavilion stand in the centre of the reservoir.
A variation of the legend says that Qutub-ud-din Bakhtiyar Kaki also had the same dream and when both reached the location they found the hoof marks there.

Our old man friend and his memoir

Now there was this old man sitting in the Pavilion of Hauzi Shamsi, perhaps hallucinating the scenario and scents of bygone days. Dressed in tattered clothes, unkempt hair, warty dark skin, he seemed to have risen from a grave.

Our old man friend told me that he had been born in this part of Mehrauli, near Hauzi Shamsi. A sad smile played on his face when he said that earlier there were not as many buildings, the place was full of greenery abounding with trees of Tamarind, Neem and Mangoes. The air was clear and the breeze scented, with the smell of Mango bloom, blew past the pavilion. The water of Hauz Shamsi was so clean and potable, that he used to drink from there, like his father did before him.

However, the place now reverberates with an aura of smell of rotting garbage in waters of Hauzi Shamsi, the waters themselves have turned putrid and green with overgrown aquatic weeds and stagnation. Then to add to it, in the pavilion one catches whiffs of smell of human faeces. Perhaps now the place also serves as an open air public convenience!

Whilst he narrated, his old eyes with rings of cataract, glazed with tears of pride and happiness. Then almost enjoying my rapt attention, he added with a “matters of fact know it all” air that “no wonder the Lodhis decided to build the Jahaj Mahal here, the Shangrila of Mehrauli” and for a while got busy with mixing his next dose of Tobacco!

Then again he continued, by jumping to Bahadur Shah II, that the Emperor too, enchanted by the picturesque beauty of the place and breeze like the elixir of life, used to come here with his entire family to enjoy cool summers. (“Well, Akbar Shah II also did the same, before him” ! I added mentally).

Whilst I was wondering which Lodhi Emperor was to be credited with the construction of Jahaj Mahal- i) Bahlul Khan Lodi (1451–1489) or ii) Sikandar Lodi (1489–1517) or iii) Ibrahim Lodi (1517–1526) ? Or the person who constructed Jahaj Mahal belonged to which years of lodhi Era-1451 to 1526? Some odd 75 years?……

Suddenly, our old man friend had a changed, desperate and angry expression painted on his face. His eyes now glared with his flared nostrils, “the Jharna was so serenely beautiful, but those Coal Mongers have occupied most of it and it has now turned into a garbage bin”! He rasped.

Before his anger had any other manifestations, I made a hasty retreat, with a Rs. 20.00 bill pushed in his palm and a “Shukriya. Khuda Hafiz”. He made as if to hit me with his raised arm, but later I realized that he had raided his arm to angrily throw the Bill in the waters of Hauzi Sahmsi. There after he glared at me and laughed, sounding like a goose cackling.

While leaving, I heard him say in muttered tones-“I don’t need money-I need those bygone days to come back, in all their glory”!

Was he a ghost of one of the Mamluks or Lodhi’s or Mughals?

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Old Ohoto of Hauzi Shamsi and Pavillion.

(That Colourful Horse is not visible any more)

Jharna

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A painting of Hauzi-i-Shamsi feeding a Jharna for the garden with two pavilions

 (Metcalfe’s collection)

Proceding on began my hunt for Jharna, A water fall emanating from the Hauz-i-Shamsi. In the absence of a proper route map, little did I realise that across the road, just opposite Jahaj Mahal is the Jharna !

I did find it, snuggled in a depression behind the road, amidst encroached houses, glaring stares by the inhabitants and also a Billy Goat alike. The Billy Goat decided to shoo me off with a threatening ‘Goaty-Stare’, curved horns ready to be used if required and poised to attack, with certain unfriendly grunts!

However, after negotiating this “unfriendly Wel?-Come”, I entered the dilapidated gateway of ‘Jharna’.

It is identified as a significant water structure that had been developed by Nawab Ghaziuddin around 1700 AD as a pleasure garden during the Mughal rule. An underground pipe (still visible in ruins) supplied the runoff to the Jharna from Hauz-i–Shamshi. This was in addition to an open channel close by that carried the overflow of the tank to Tughlaqabad fort to enhance the drinking water supply.

The Jharna structure was built in three parts (pictured – painting from Metcalfe’s album). The first part consisted of the reservoir or the tank, the second part was the water fall and the last part consisted of the fountains.

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Pavilion of Akbar Shah II

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Central Pavilion of Bahadur Shah II

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Original Pavilion of Jharna

Akbar Shah II built the pavilion on the side and his son Bahadur Shah II added the central pavilion, more in the style of Hayat Bakhsh pool in the Red Fort.

(Note: The pavilion built by Bahadur Shah II does not show up in Matcalfe’s painting. Both were contemporary. May be Bahadur Shah II had not commissioned the pavilion when Metcalfe had the place portrayed).

The painting of Metcalfe shows the two graves, which are still there. Obviously, no Mughal emperor would like to sit with graves in the vicinity or inside his pleasure house! But Bahadur Shah II had a pavilion built there, so it means that that he did used to go to Jharna. So are the graves of after Bahadur Shah II? But Metcalfe’s painting does not show the pavilion of Bahadur Shah II, and they both were contemporary!

There is a mismatch of time some where.

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Graves at Jharna

The Jharna, which was once the Mughal retreat and the highlight of the three day festival of the Phool Walon Ki Sair, is seen now partly in ruins and the surroundings have been encroached upon (25 families are reported to be living here now). The water fall is seen more in the form of a drain in need of urgent restoration measures.

Journey Back

With so many exquisite monuments, their memories embedded in my mind forever and my “Wander lust to ancient monuments in Delhi” satiated for at least today, I made my journey homewards, punctuated by cool glasses of “Bel Juice” and in numerable sticks of Kulfi.

All the while, on my drive back, I kept remembering that strange encounter with “Our old man friend” and his muttering -“I need those bygone days to come back, in all their glory”!

Was he a ghost of one of the Mamluks or Lodhis or Mughals?

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