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The Delhi of 14 gates, 14 windows

R V Smith | New Delhi |


Delhi of the Mughals never ceases to astonish one. Besides the vast literature on the subject one sometimes gleans gems of information that lie buried in obscurity. Would it surprise modern readers to know that Shah Jahan (whose birthday fell on 15 January) built not only a new Capital but also imparted a certain unique tradition to it.

According to Shama Mitra Chenoy, Delhi was not only Darul Khalifa but also 22 Khawaja-ki-Chaukhat (royal patronage hub and threshold of 22 saints). The city had 14 gates: Delhi Darwaza, Rajghat Darwaza, Khizri Darwaza, Calcutta Darwaza, Nigambodh Ghat Darwaza, Kela Ghat Darwaza, Lal Darwaza, Kashmiri Darwaza, Badarroo Darwaza, Kabuli Darwaza, Pathar Ghat Darwaza, Lahauri Darwaza, Ajmeri Darwaza and Turkman Darwaza.

There were also 14 Khirkis or windows in the Walled City. According to Prof Aleem Ashraf Khan, writing in the Indo-Persian Society’s publication, Delhi of the Mughals, printed by Mohammed Anees, the enclosing wall of the city, a mud one, built in four months, crumbled a year later in heavy rain and the emperor ordered it to be rebuilt in stone and lime-mortar.

It was about 6,664 yards in circumference, four yards in width and nine yards in height with 27 bastions, each 10 yards in diameter. The cost was Rs.4 lakh though the mud one had cost Rs.1.5 lakh. But the value of the rupee at that time was more than a hundred times of what it is now.

The saying was that Delhi had many gates of entry but none for departure (meaning that those who came to the city just stayed on). And why would anyone want to leave a city, which was grander than any in the world at that time? European travellers like Manucci were amazed by the beauty and variety of Shahjahanabad, whose Chandni Chowk was like a fairyland (the meeting place of writers,poets and storytellers), where one could buy anything from an elephant to a pin or even an afrit or jinn. There were precious stones as big as turkey's eyes and enchanted maidens, who could sing one to the land of the Lotus Eaters and bewilder both the residents and visitors.

The poet Bedil, records Prof Rehana Khatoon, was witness to the Rasm-e-Sati in the 26th year of Mohammad Shah’s reign in 1156 A H (corresponding to 1745 AD).

He says: "On 2nd Jamadus Sani, the wife of Bhagwan Narain Khatri, who lived in Vakilpura, became sati with her husband at the age of 35. His father was a friend of Rai Rayan Nagarmal and Nagarmal tried this not to happen but she (the wife) did not accept his advice and went to a jungle with the body of her husband. Bedil saw this rasm and remained disturbed for the whole day. Then he went to the Dargah of Qutubuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki (in Mehrauli) and wrote some rubais (quatrains)."

Dr Narayani Gupta says the city was divided into 12 thanas or wards, each in charge of a Thanedar. The thana was a honeycomb of mohallas, each of which was sealed off from the other and could be entered only by one gate. Each mohalla was named after the affluent resident, whose haveli dominated it.

The Thanedar of Daryaganj saved the life of Sir Theophilus Metcalfe when he was fleeing to Rajputana during the revolt of 1857. Incidentally, each ward also had the house of some prominent Iranian official, who exercised good control.

Dr Khalid Alvi of Zakir Husain College recounts that Sufis and poets would always gravitate towards Jama Masjid. There were many Kehwa Houses in Chandni Chowk (kehwa is a Kashmiri green tea). Coffee was introduced to India by Sufi Buddhan Baba in the 14th century. Incidentally, tobacco came in Akbar's time but smoking became popular only in Shah Jahan's reign.

After Aurangzeb there was a deluge of courtesans and cadamites in Delhi. In Moraqquae-Delhi Dargah, Quli Khan writes that Kasalpura and Nagul were the slums where prostitutes were habilitated. Delhi residents used to go to Arab-ki-Sarai to watch Arab cadamites. A rich man named Meeran hosted an all-night cadamites' revelry on the 11th of every month. Homosexuality was so common in the 18th century that both the feudals and commoners showed interest in it. Effeminate boys were frequently found dancing in Chandni Chowk and Chowk Sadullah. Besides the Armenian Sarmad, who befriended Abay Chand, Wali Dakhini, who came to Delhi in the 17th century, fell for a boy named Amrit Lal. Faiz composed poems on a boy, Ramzani.

Another poet, Mazhar-Jan-e-Jana loved Abdul Hai Taban and Mohammed Yar Khaksar was in love with the great Mir Taqi Mir. There were many other aspects of Delhi, which made one fall in love with it.And this holds true even today.

Sadly, Delhi's glorious heritage is fast getting eroded because of rampant despoliation, encroachment, urbanisation and neglect. Nawab Dojana's haveli, known as Dojana House in Matia Mahal, is now a flatted building, which is already showing signs of deterioration. Haveli Sadr Sadur, bang opposite it, has been so encroached upon and rebuilt in parts that it is hard to recognise it.

The haveli of Nawab Buddan, said to be a great fashion trendsetter, could not be traced, perhaps because of alterations. The old hamam in the same street, which had become a shop, is also not easily recognisable. The building behind Jama Masjid associated with Dara Shikoh had become a school.

The monuments of Mehrauli that are not among the official list (despite Maulvi Zafar Hasan's classification) are slowly disappearing as most of the care and attention is lavished by the Archaeological Department on the well-known edifices. The same is the case in Nizamuddin area. The gateway of the house of Mirza Jahangir, favourite son of Akbar Shah II and Queen Mumtaz Mahal II, in the Nizamuddin Dargah complex is showing signs of deterioration. His tomb and that of Mohammad Shah Rangila (which look almost identical) are also showing signs of wear and tear.

Mirza Jahangir is the one whose return from exile in Allahabad in the early 19th century resulted in the institution of the annual Phool Walon-ki-Sair. The Tughlak period Langar Khana in the same complex is a picture of neglect as is the eastern gateway of the Dargah.

However, the two dalans, or verandahs, of Atgah Khan's tomb complex, which were used as khanqas, or hospices, in Mughal times, look less dilapidated after repairs. Atgah Khan was the husband of Ji Ji Angah, a wet nurse of Akbar, who was murdered by Adham Khan, son of the other wet nurse, Maham Anga,out of jealousy. Atgah's mausoleum lately been renovated under the restoration plan of the Aga Khan Trust. But Bari-ka-Gumbad, east of Atgah Khan's tomb, is deteriorating, so also a gateway north of the Chausath Khamba.

The gateway of Inner Kot, west of Kali Masjid, is in a bad state. It leads to a small fortification which, according to INTACH, once had the houses of the Pirzadas of the Nizamuddin Dargah.

Khan-iJahan Tighlinani's tomb in Nizamuddin village shows signs of serious deterioration. He was the Wazir of Firoz Shah Tughlak and father of Khan-i-Jahan Junan Shah, who succeeded him as Wazir. It is supposed tobethe first octagonal tomb built in Delhi. New buildings have come up close to the tomb so that it is hedged in between them. Such grand monuments would have been preserved with care elsewhere but not in the capital.