If you have read about the history of Delhi or been through The Last Mughal by William Dalrymple then you would know about the existence of a Zafar Palace in the by-lanes of Mehrauli. This was where Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal Emperor, wanted to rest in eternal slumber. So intense was his yearning to be buried here that during his exile in Rangoon, miles away from his beloved land, he penned the popular ghazal:
“Lagtaa nahin hai dil meraa ujday dayaar mein
Kis ki bani hai aalam-e-naa-paayedaar mein
Kah do in hasraton se kahin aur jaa basein
Itni jagah kahaan hai dil-e-daagdaar mein
Umr-e-daraaz maang kar laaye they chaar din
Do arzoo mein kat gaye do intezaar mein
Kitnaa hai badnaseeb Zafar dafn key liye
Do gaz zameen bhi na mili kuu-e-yaar mein.”
(My heart is not happy in this despoiled land
Who has ever felt fulfilled in this transient world
Tell these emotions to go dwell elsewhere
Where is there space for them in this besmirched heart?
I had requested for a long life a life of four days
Two passed by in praying/wishing, and two in waiting.
How unlucky is Zafar! For burial…
Even two yards of land were not to be had, in the beloved land.)
It was the pathos in these words that engendered a wish to unearth where this “beloved” place was located and see what it’s current state was. I tried to find out it’s location but never succeeded. When I heard about a heritage walk to Lal Kot being organised by the Youth for Heritage Foundation that would officially end at Zafar Mahal, I knew that I could not afford to miss it.
The Heritage Walk : Yogmaya Temple, Anangtal, Lal Kot
While I was a student at Indian Statistical Institute, Delhi, Lal Kot used to be my favourite spot to spend quality time with myself! There would be endless debates between my friends and me regarding which offered the better view: PSR in JNU or Lal Kot. My vote always went to the latter. Consequently, the walk from the Yogmaya Temple to Lal Kot via Anangtal was like reliving my post-grad days, with the added advantage of the company of a brilliant story-teller: Vikramjit Singh Rooprai, our guide.
If you are in Delhi but haven’t walked along the fort walls of Lal Kot, built by Prithviraj Chauhan as a protective measure to counter the threat of Mohammad Ghori’s invasion, then you should give it a try. The view from there is quite different from what is expected apriori, and if you are lucky enough to have good weather and good visibilitity then the experience is going to be worth the effort of walking through Sanjay Van to reach the place. Watching sunset or sunrise at Lal Kot is an ethereal experience. Visiting Lal Kot’s Ranjit Gate/Ghazni Gate at midnight is an adventure that is not recommended (due to questions surrounding its legality and safety). It was something I did with my college friends and was just one of the many stupid things that we ended up doing. The motivation for the stupidity was to go searching for the woman-in-white that apparently haunts Sanjay Van. Needless to say, we found no woman, clad in white or otherwise.
Within the forest is the Ashiq Allah Dargah. We left Sanjay Van to proceed towards Adham Khan’s Tomb popularly referred to as Bhool Bhulaiya. The tomb had been used as a residence by a British officer and then as a rest house and post office subsequently. It was Lord Curzon who restored the tomb.
How to Reach: Yogmaya Temple- The nearest metro to Yogmaya Temple is Saket. The temple by itself is barely 100 meters before the Mehrauli Bus Terminal (coming from Qutub Minar).
Lal Kot: There is a way to Lal Kot from the Yog Maya temple. Alternatively, you can enter Sanjay Van from any of its gate (near Qutub Minar or near Indian Institute of Foreign Trade) post which you will have to find your way to Lal Kot through the forest.
We walked through the labyrinthine alleys of Mehrauli to finally reach the destination I had so eagerly been waiting to visit. Referred to as the Lal Mahal and Rang Mahal, the Zafar Mahal was built in two parts- the first, constructed by Emperor Akbar Shah II, was a single floor comprising of few rooms, some open area, Moti Masjid and Naubat Khana. The second part was added by Zafar; another floor and the majestic Hathi Gate were erected.
I had always wondered why the Mughals had built a summer palace all the way in Mehrauli. The answer to this question encompasses a story that is particularly relevant in today’s context of rising intolerance.
Mirza Jahangir (Zafar’s younger brother) was the preferred choice of his father Akbar Shah-II as the heir Apparent. The British Resident, Sir Archibald Seton, did not approve of Mirza Jahangir as the successor. Once Mirza Jahangir, who was a reckless youth, while merrymaking on the roof of Naubat Khana in the Red Fort, fired a shot at the Resident. Seton escaped but his orderly was killed. For this act of his, Mirza Jahangir was sentenced to death and sent to Allahabad under orders of the British Resident.
The mother of Mirza Jahangir, Queen Mumtaz Mahal Begum, was distraught and took a vow that if her son was released from Allahabad she would offer a chadar of flowers at the dargah of Khwaja Bakhtiar Kaki in Mehrauli. When Mirza Jahangir was released after a few years, Mumtaz Mahal Begum went to Mehrauli to redeem her vow. The entire Imperial Court along with the populace of Delhi shifted to Mehrauli for a week of merry-making. Amidst all this merrymaking with great pomp and show, a chadar made of flowers was to be offered at the Dargah of Khwaja Bakhtiar Kaki. Given the secular attitude of the Mughal king, he ordered an offering in the shape of a floral pankha at the ancient and revered Yogmaya Temple situated in the vicinity, alongside the chadar to be offered at the Dargah. Since that day in 1812, this festival referred to as Sair-e-Gulfaroshan (Phoolwaalon ki Sair) has become a symbol of communal harmony and continues to this day. It was suspended by the British in 1942 (as a part of their divide-and-rule strategy) but was re-instated by Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru in 1962. Since then, the Prime Minister of India has been a patron of this festival. Every year, the President, Prime Minister and the Lt. Gov. of Delhi offer Pankha and other offerings to the dargah and Yogmaya temple.
Our next destination was the reason behind the location of Zafar Mahal in Mehrauli: the adjoining Dargah of Khwaja Qutubuddin Bakhtiar Kaki. Vikram told us an interesting story about the nomenclature of Qutub Minar (unverified by me). According to his narrative, the standard text book fact of Qutub Minar being named after Qutubuddin Aibak is factually incorrect. He cited several facts that point to two main conclusions: First, Qutubuddin Aibak did not build or initiate the construction of the Minar; the Minar was built by Iltutmish. Second, it was named after the revered saint Qutubuddin Bakhtiar Kaki and not his namesake.
The atmosphere inside the Dargah was alive with the notes of Qawwali singers in the air. Just as we were about to leave the Dargah, Fauzan Sahab (who is the Manager of Dargah Bakhtiar Kaki) took us on a tour of the subterranean baoli called “Hafiz Dawood Baoli” at the Dargah. Locked for general public, Fauzan Sahab escorted us through the stairs winding down towards the baoli. The state of this water reservoir was pitiful. However, the efforts of Fouzan Sahab to revive this baoli and his clear and logical thinking in that direction are commendable. We had a nice long discussion with Fauzan Sahab at his office after which we proceeded towards the last and final destination of the walk Gurdwara Shahidi Asthaan Baba Banda Singh Bahadur. The Gurudwara has a gruesome past. This was where Baba Banda Singh Bahadur was tortured to death by the Mughals.
How to Reach: It is a maze of alleys that one has to traverse to reach the Zafar Mahal, the adjoining Dargah Bakhtiar Kaki and the Gurudwara. Reaching the Mehrauli Terminal and asking the locals for the way would be the most feasible and practical way of reaching these monuments/worship places which have been gobbled up by encroachment. The level of encroachment near Zafar Mahal is deplorable, with houses adjoining the walls of the palace.
Post the walk I headed towards Andheria Mor which was hosting Dastakar, a Nature Bazaar. While travelling to Andheria Mor I thought to myself about the stories that lie buried in the innumerable alleys of Delhi.