It is hard to imagine that the cramped Chirag Dilli was once a glorious fort with a large ground, green pastures and water bodies. The present-day urban village, near Greater Kailash, is enclosed in the shape of a square within the ramparts of the fort wall and four gateways. While one of the gateways on the western end has been lost in urbanisation, the other three are falling apart.
The maze-like alleys of the village are difficult to navigate without the help of an insider. The lanes are dirty with poor sewerage system. Rampant unauthorised construction over the years has eaten up the large open spaces, leaving it struggling to retain its glorious past.
The village that came to be known after a great Sufi mystic Nasiruddin Mahmud Chirag Dehlavi, still looks up to the patron saint. His mausoleum still has the huge old tree in the middle, under which people would relax during the summers. Old-timers recall that post Partition, a large number of people took refuge in the dargah.
The village has a sizeable Jat and Gujjar population. Khemchand Ahlawat, 92, who was born and raised in the area, said, “Even today when our children fall sick, we take them to the dargah. People are actually healed after visiting the shrine. The dargah still has a khirni tree, which is as old as the shrine. Its fruit is also believed to have healing properties.”
Ahlawat remembers that till 1942, a mix of Hindu and Muslim population in the village lived in harmony and participated in social events together. “At that time there was great warmth among people. Whenever there was an attack by an outside force, the two communities would give shelter to each other and make sure the other is safe. Those were different times,” he said.
He said, at that time, there were no other residential areas except Nizamuddin and Dilli Gate. “All these colonies including Sunder Nagar, Kaka Nagar and Greater Kailash came up later. There used to be kachha (dirt) roads and forest areas,” Ahlawat added.
The ancient dargah is also crumbling now. Plaster is falling off the domes and the structure needs immediate repair. Residents claimed that the authorities have never restored this structure or the three archways that lead to the colony.
According to the Delhi Urban Arts Commission (DUAC) report, improving the area requires infusion of new socio-cultural amenities, upgradation of infrastructure and streetscape. Only a few old houses are now left in the village and merely 20% of the original residents now stay here while the rest are tenants. Besides, there is a small set of old communities such as potters and weavers. The population of the colony, which had only a few hundred houses back in 1900s, is more than a lakh today.
DP Bharadwaj, whose family has been living here since 1920s, said the village land was equal to seven revenue estates (72 bigha and 14 biswa). There were 13 wells here, all of which are covered now. Besides, an unauthorised auto stand has come up on the land of a large johad, which dried up a decade ago. Residents said that since parking was an issue here, they requested the municipal corporation to build a parking lot in this space. However, since the surface had water beneath, it could not be approved for any construction. “Now unauthorized construction by the builder mafia is eating up the space and leading to vertical growth. There is no place to park vehicles, as no open spaces have been left. They have turned it into a concrete jungle,” said Bharadwaj.
He added, that it was the only village at that time which had a middle school where students from at least 22 neighbouring villages would come to study. After that people would go to Mehrauli high school for further studies.
“Boys and girls from surrounding villages such as Khanpur, Madangir, Khirki, Hauz Rani, Begampur, Said-ul-Ajaib, Tughlaqabad and Shahpur Jat, among others would come to the first District Board Anglo Vernacular (DBAV) middle school. The school was here till 1957,” said Bharadwaj.
The Legend of Chirag Dehlavi
The title Roshan Chirag-e-Dilli was conferred on the Sufi mystic Nasiruddin Mahmud Chirag Dehlavi by Feroze Shah Tughlaq, the sultan of Delhi (1351-1388) after he was humbled by the greatness of the saint. The village grew around the tomb in 1800s and still goes by his name.
As the legend goes, the saint was approached by masons who were then working on building the Tughlaqbad fort. They would work at the fort in the day and in the night they would dig the baoli (stepwell) at Hazrat Nizamuddin’s dargah. When the emperor came to know about it, he got angry and stopped the supply of oil to them. The masons went to Hazrat Nizamuddin for a solution, who directed them to approach his disciple Nasiruddin Mahmud for a solution.
The workers then went to him and Mahmud asked them to use the baoli water to light the lamps in order to continue the work. The water actually lit the lamps and when Tughlaq saw it, he bowed down to the saint and gave him the title.
According to INTACH, Chirag Dilli was enclosed by an outer wall and four gates: Northern gateway, popular among locals as ‘Dilli darwaza’; the southern gateway or ‘Kasai darwaza’ as a large group of butchers lived here more than two decades ago; the Eastern gateway or the ‘Takht darwaza’, is double-storeyed and has two piers which would have held a wooden door. The Western gateway has disappeared