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Nomads at the end of a reign

Tughlaqabad’s lost glory can be traced back to myths and misfortunes, writes R V Smith.

art and culture Updated: Sep 30, 2008 14:47 IST
R V Smith
R V Smith

A fort full of the splendour of the past that was Tughlaqabad. It’s in ruins now and few visit it but those who do hear in the mind’s eye the blowing of trumpets, the clash of arms the neighing of horses and the shrill commands of the officers as invisible armies move out to make fresh conquests.

Several hundred years ago it must have been a beautiful structure, strong and capable of breaking the heart of the most determined enemy who dared to cast covetous glances at the Tughlaq empire. It was Ghiasuddin who built it and his son Mohammad Bin Tughlaq, unjustly nicknamed the “Mad” who inherited it.

They both lie buried within its precincts, forgotten and rarely visited by the thousands of tourists, both Indian and foreign, who come to Delhi every year. Time does take its toll even on the most magnificent of constructions. Tughlaqabad is no exception. Legend would have us believe that in this particular case it was the curse of Saint Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia that was responsible for the decline and decay of his fortified city, actually the third Delhi, which at one time afforded protection to thousands.

Ghiasuddin fell out with the saint who cursed the emperor and his city with these words, “Ya rahe barbad ya base Gujjar (Either it will remain desolate or be inhabited by the nomad).” The curse seems to have come true, for the city built with so much love and care Ghiasuddin is now a wilderness where the wandering shepherd find pasture for his flock. Even among the battlements which are overgrown with plants and shrubs.

But there are those who think the reason for the desolation of the fort was more political than religious, Tughlaq was a devotee of Nizamuddin Aulia and had differences with his father on other issues too. On th other hand, Ghiasuddin did not like the “mad” prince and would have liked his younger son to succeed him.

Fate willed it otherwise when a pavilion created to honour the emperor on his return from a campaign in Bengal gave way and both he and his favourite son perished. The emperor’s body was cradling that of the little prince whom he loved so much. Mohammad ascended the throne and began his own grandiose schemes. It was he who neglected the fortified city to built his own Jahanpana. His successor Firoz Tughlaq was also a great builder who carved out a separate city for himself, Firozabad. Thus the theory of the curse does not find many adherents.

However, what is important is the fact that the fort is neglected. It could be restored to at least some of its pristine grandeur and become a place of great tourist interest, now the Archeological Department and the Tourism Ministry have joined hands to launch such a project.

Then when the scheme is implemented one would not have to extend one’s credulity too much to imagine what Tughlaqabad must have been like in its heyday. Until such time as the scheme materializes, the Gujjar will continue to hold sway over these ruins.

The Gujjars are also linked with the gypsies, thousands of whom were taken away by Mohammad of Ghazni in the 11th Century to Afghanistan. Many of them migrated to Europe where they are known as Romanis. Gypsies in India continue to be nomads.

Spring brings the Gypsy girls to Delhi. They walk ever so gingerly in the lanes and bylanes, selling toys and tribal bric-a-brac for a song. But the tribes are dwindling fast and so are the girls.

First Published: Sep 30, 2008 14:42 IST