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Cursed citadels of Delhi

delhi Updated: Jun 02, 2008 23:43 IST
Sarat C Das
Sarat C Das
Hindustan Times
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The Purana Quila (Old Fort), that has stood witness to the periods of anarchy and the rise and fall of empires in Delhi, was built by Mughal Emperor Humayun. It was here that Humayun, the second Mughal emperor began to construct his city, Dinpanah (Asylum of Faith), four years after his father Babur established the Mughal dynasty in 1526. The historic structure presently houses the Delhi Zoo, a zoological park, and the famous Boat club.

The excavations at Purana Quila have revealed a thriving civilization at this place during 1000 BC. Unbelievably, till the end of the nineteenth century, there was a village called Indarpat (probably derived from Hindu epic Mahabharat's city Indraprastha) inside the fort. It is not surprising that rumblings from the past are heard since there are many layers of civilizations buried in this location.

Humayun's reign in Purana Quila was short-lived. In 1540, he was dispossessed of his fledgling empire by the Afghan chieftain, Sher Shah Suri who ruled for half a decade. When Sher Shah took possession of the citadel, he beefed up its fortifications, added several new structures and renamed it Shergarh. After his death, his successors were trounced by Humayun who recaptured his fort.

Humayun was overtly superstitious, and had faith in astrology and the occultism. Upon his accession as emperor, he began to reorganise the administration upon mystically determined principles. His servant, Jauhar, records in the Tadhkirat al-Waqiat: "The emperor would shoot arrows to the sky marked with either his own name, or that of the Shah of Persia and, depending on how they landed, interpreted this as an indication of which of them would grow more powerful." His daily routine and wardrobe too were planned in accordance with planetary movements. On the basis of his faith in occultism, Humayun's public offices were divided into four distinct groups, each named after an element - the department of Earth, Fire, Water, and Air.

Humayun made good use of the octagonal red sandstone tower known as Sher Mandal as his grand library and observatory at Purana Quila. Some Mughal historical documents reveal that Humayun died on March 4, 1556 as a result of the injuries he suffered after falling down from the steps of the Sher Mandal at Purana Quila. Possibly, the emperor who was an alcoholic, took pellets of opium and slipped through the stone steps.

Others say, he always had confusion about which step to put forward while walking. He refused to enter a house with his left foot going forward, and if anyone else did they would be ordered to reenter. Also, one most popular of all the accounts is the emperor loaded with books descending the stairway when the muezzin announced the azan (prayer summon). Hearing the prayer summon, he bowed his knee in holy reverence; his foot tangled in his robe and he tumbled down the stairway to hit a rugged stone. He succumbed to his wound three days later.

It is being said that the Mughals considering the fort to be a cursed after the death of the Humayun, and exit the edifice after a series of evils befell on them. Since then it is abandoned, and the ruins including the Sher Mandal is still haunted by the emperor.

Another cursed fort of Delhi was the Tughlaq fort. It is commonly believed that Saint Nizamuddin was building his baoli (step well or water reservoir) at the time when emperor Ghiyath al-Din Tughluq was building this fort. People, who hired as labour, worked more agreeably for the saint out of reverence than for the Sultan who forbade his men to work at the baoli.

Many however chose to work at both places - fort site during the day and baoli at night lighting lamps for visibility. Irked, the Sultan prohibited the sale of oil. The saint worked a miracle and the baoli water, when poured into the lamps, emitted light. Sultane then forbade people to enter baoli.

Angered, the saint cursed the city of Tughlaqabad -- Ya base gujjar, ya rahe ujjar (either it is peopled by the Gujjar
tribesmen or remain barren). The cruse doomed on the fort which could never be completed. Ghiyasuddin, then visiting in Bengal, resolved to set the saint right when he returned to Delhi. The saint then quipped the magic words: Hunuz Dilli dur ast (Delhi is yet far away).

It is said following his victorious campaign in Bengal as much Ghiyasuddin traveled towards Delhi the distance magically prolonged. Finally, his son Muhammad Tughlaq arranged for him a reception at Afghanpur, a village outside Delhi under a huge wooden canopy. When Ghiyasuddin receiving the grand salute one of the elephants planted its foot on the wooden contraption and whole canopy collapsed over the Sultan, and killed him. The prophesy was fulfilled. The Sultan could not reach Delhi to chastise the saint.

When Muhammad Tughlaq took over as Sultan, he too tried to overturn the curse and chose to rebuild the fort. But within no time, the city of Tughlaqabad was too abandoned by Muhammad Tughlaq. Possibly, because Tughluq was committed to move the capital from Delhi to Daulatabad, 700 miles south in the Deccan. Deserted, the fort became a haunt of wandering shepherds. It is said the cruse still looms large over the place.