27 November 2015

Jahaz Mahal and Hauz-i-Shamsi, Mehrauli, Delhi


“Dilli jo ek sheher tha alam me intekhab, rehte the muntakhib hi jahan rozgaar ke
Jis ko falak ne loot ke veeran kar diya, Hum rehne wale hain usi ujde dayar ke” 

“Delhi, that singularly celebrated city where lived only the remarkable few of their time 
Fate has devastated and rendered it deserted, I belong to that very destroyed city.”
– Muhammad Zauq, renowned Urdu poet (lived 1789-1854)



Jahaz Mahal - An enigmatic ship washed ashore


Despite the viciously bone-chilling, teeth-clattering cold they invoke, winters in Delhi, merciless in their extortion and cruelty, can occasionally be tremendously heartwarming (pardon the expression!) – the otherwise vibrant, perennially overcrowded landscape transmogrifies into a chillingly bleak and thoroughly deserted ghost city colonized by such impenetrably dense fog that early morning one cannot see the buildings across the road, conducive of course to steal a few quick smooches from one’s sweetheart as I have often been guilty of. The chance appearance of minute slivers of warm sunshine are merrily greeted by the entire neighborhood – the infirm elderly quickly rush out to catch up on the gossip, the effusively cheerful children skip and run about, the slightly older ones calmly settle down in the verandahs and balconies with books and earphones and, not to be left behind, the resourceful homemakers too instantaneously bring out the vegetables and fruits that they are to shred and dice and gleefully spend extra minutes bargaining and (often unnecessarily) scolding the “reri-wallahs” (fruit-vegetable sellers, recyclemen, garbage collectors, papad-wallahs and the likes), an ancient convention which they would have otherwise rudely interrupted to rush back into the mellow warmth of the house.


The irony, the religious hypocrisy! - Hauz Shamsi and the sandstone pavilion enshrined with Buraq's sacred hoofprint


Engaged in a losing skirmish with these infinitesimal rays of sunshine, the universally abhorred forces of impermeable fog hastily call a temporary retreat only to regroup and reappear later around dusk, in the meanwhile leaving behind only a few scattered wisps sentinel-like hanging about keeping eagle-eyed watches over the larger lakes and hyacinth-shrouded water bodies. No mist however hangs over Hauz-i-Shamsi – where there once was a huge artificial lake exclusively encircled by luxuriant pleasure pavilions, vibrant orchards and manicured gardens, today is an uneven crater bursting with stinking murky water capped with plastic garbage, rotten organic rubbish and human and animal excreta enclosed by a vast contour-less plain where can be spotted even more of this malodorous waste in addition to putrid animal carcasses and shards of beer bottles! Disappointingly, reality, in this case, does not even come close to holding a candle to mythical legends.

According to popular folklore, 1230 years following the crucifixion of Christ, two men dreamt the same lucid dream – the Prophet Muhammad, seated on Buraq, the celestial winged steed with a head that instantaneously transformed from that of a heavenly horse to a glorious woman and back, beckoned them to follow and thus quickly traversed several miles. Suddenly halting, the otherworldly Buraq kicked the ground with its muscular foreleg and immediately erupted there an immense fountain of sparkling clear water.


Not a drop to drink!


Now these two men could be any ordinary persons living anywhere, but they weren’t – they happened to be the legendary Chishti Sufi saint Hazrat Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki and Sultan-i-Azam Shamshuddin Waddin Abul Muzaffar Iltutmish (reign AD 1211-36), the emperor of Hindustan, and being incredibly pious men they decided that the formidable Sultan must set out with his entire immense retinue to determine if the dream was indeed prophetic. Intriguingly, some distance away from the regal citadel was discovered the hoof print of the mighty Buraq and thus resolved, the Sultan instantaneously issued a royal decree to commission an immense tank, christened “Hauz-i-Shamsi” (“Shamshuddin’s tank”), encompassing as its centerpiece a small domed pavilion conceived around the stone slab bearing the celestial hoof print thus preserved for posterity. Drinkable water supply then being terribly acute, the blessed water, besides being religiously venerated, was immediately drawn via terracotta canals and pipelines to supply the thriving residential enclaves within the medieval fortress of Qila Rai Pithora and later Tughlaqabad (refer Pixelated Memories - Qila Rai Pithora and Pixelated Memories - Tughlaqabad Fortress complex). Unbelievable now, considering the present insufferable levels of pollution!


Blues and reds


During the architecturally glorious reign of the Lodi Dynasty (AD 1451-1526), a magnificent floating pavilion accessible by a large causeway was constructed along the peripheries of the majestic tank divinely thus ordained and regally thus patronized – referred to as “Jahaz Mahal” (“Ship Pavilion”) on account of it being immediately reminiscent of an enormous ship gracefully floating on the brilliant blue waters underneath, the graceful retreat was envisaged as a transit accommodation (“serai”/inn) to serve devout pilgrims from central Asia and Europe arriving in Delhi to visit its numerous, devoutly worshiped Islamic shrines and accordingly is composed of numerous individual chambers tastefully designed and opulently adorned. Later it was repaired by the Sultans Alauddin Khilji (reign AD 1296-1316) and Feroz Shah Tughlaq (reign AD 1351-88) and was eventually refurbished to function as an ornamental pleasure pavilion for the last Mughal emperors Akbar Shah II (reign AD 1806-37) and Mirza Abu Sirajuddin Muhammad Bahadur Shah “Zafar” II (reign AD 1837-57).


Relics from an age long gone - A ruined chamber (mausoleum?) in the vicinity of Jahaz Mahal


Rendered visually imposing by the employment of massive square chattris (umbrella domes surmounted on slender pillars) and conical buttress corner towers, the gorgeous palatial edifice possesses a U-shaped layout arranged around a large central courtyard (where presently are organized the extravagant cultural and literary celebrations associated with the annual “Phoolwalon ki Sair” aka “Sair-i-Gulfaroshan” festival) and is much embellished with Persian glazed blue and white tiles, multi-patterned alcoves, numerous pointed arches, staggered cross-shaped decorative depressions and ornamental embossment facades. An odd octagonal chattri crowns the mihrab (western wall of a religious/funerary structure indicating the direction of Mecca, faced by Muslims while offering namaz prayers) distinguished by the fixation of white (now yellowish) tiles.

Long gone is the celebrated age when come monsoons the infinite expanse around the hallowed Hauz was rendered marvelously enthralling by flowering shrubs that would blossom overnight and hundreds of species of multi-hued butterflies romanced midair under the immense canopy of the crookedly gnarled branches of the massive trees peppering the entire verdant landscape; the earth reeked of the mesmerizing post-rain fragrance while good-naturedly querulous birds flitted from branch to another just as the hundreds of magical glittering glimmering dragonflies skimmed the surface of the numerous runoff-collecting tanks and natural water bodies; magnificently-plumed peacocks and spellbinding docile deer freely roamed about, defeated only in numbers by the gently-cooing pigeons and flawless white doves quietly making love against the vibrant red sandstone of the monuments that littered around. The lavish retinues, of Mughal emperors and British officials alike, would lugubriously encamp here and reverberate even till wee hours of the starlit mornings recounting tales of hunts past and phantoms and banshees, interspersed only by fierce drinking bouts and delightful musical and dance soirees set in rhythm with the heavenly descent of torrential rain and thunderous streaks of fearsome lightning.


Forgotten history? - An undocumented medieval mosque across the road from Jahaz Mahal


The sacred tank has been ignominiously reduced to less than a quarter of its original proportions and the preserved hoof print of the mythological Buraq too has been removed even though the twelve-pillared sandstone pavilion constructed to encompass it still exists buoyed in an ever-multiplying stream of foul-smelling garbage and excreta. Even the geographical continuity amongst the numerous medieval mosques and unusual mausoleums that mushroomed around the Hauz on account of its legendary sacredness has been ruthlessly shattered by malignant slum encroachment and extraordinarily ill-planned urban development – the Lal Masjid (“Red Mosque”) nearby, possibly a Lodi-era monument judging from its numerous ornamental features and architectural innovations including melon-like fluted corner towers and painstakingly embellished protruding central mihrab, has been redeveloped on all sides and converted into a grotesque multistoried brick-and-cement residential-cum-religious edifice, its singular domes and the slender minarets too waiting to be assimilated within this tasteless monstrosity but seemingly spared for the time being to herald its regal antiquity. Come to think of it, substitute the domed corner towers with low rectangular buildings and the wall mosque would almost visually resemble its cousin Madhi Masjid, distant both in terms of geographical separation and state of conservation and restoration (refer Pixelated Memories - Madhi Masjid).


Lost in a deluge of encroachments - Lal Masjid across the road from Jahaz Mahal


Another substantially huge medieval mosque, fitted with glass windows and iron grilles and alienated from the pleasure palace by a road stretched like an evil serpent between the two, has been entirely engulfed in an all-pervading deluge of encroachment and even the narrow mausoleums adjoining it have been bricked up and converted into makeshift residences!

“More than his (Sultan Iltutmish’s) wars or his conquests, it is with the water supply he has built for the people of Delhi that he has won his place in heaven!”
– Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya (lived AD 1238-1325)

Sultan Iltutmish, Hazrat Qutbuddin and Hazrat Nizamuddin have been long deceased and their mortal constructions and conceptions shall too follow soon, murdered by the so-called educated intellectuals and civic planners who have irredeemably failed to preserve traditional water management techniques while simultaneously failing to adopt to rapidly evolving climatic and geographical realities and pressures. Why still do the educationalists insist on reminiscing about baolis (step-wells), artificial tanks, bunds (embankments) and surakhs (water tunnels) in CBSE primary school textbooks is perplexingly incomprehensible!


Towering - A lone mausoleum adjoining the aforementioned undocumented medieval mosque


Location: Mehrauli village (Coordinates: 28°30'51.5"N 77°10'42.7"E)
Nearest Metro station: Both Qutb Minar and Chattarpur stations are approximately 1.5 kilometers away
Nearest Bus stop: Mehrauli terminal, approximately 1.2 kilometers away
How to reach: Walk/avail a rickshaw from the bus stop or walk/avail an auto from the metro stations. The locals can easily supply the requisite directions.
Entrance fees: Nil
Photography/Video charges: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: 45 min
Relevant links -
Other monuments/landmarks located in the vicinity -
  1. Pixelated Memories - Adham Khan's Tomb
  2. Pixelated Memories - Ahinsa Sthal
  3. Pixelated Memories - Azim Khan's Tomb
  4. Pixelated Memories - Gandhak ki Baoli
  5. Pixelated Memories - Hazrat Bakhtiyar Kaki's Dargah
  6. Pixelated Memories - Mehrauli Archaeological Park
  7. Pixelated Memories - Moti Masjid
  8. Pixelated Memories - Qutb Complex
Suggested reading -

1 comment:

  1. Very well written. The limes on the top however are attibuted to Mir not Zauk. This was his indignant riposite to courtiers who made fun of him in Awadh.

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