Losing oneself in Kotla’s history
As one travels along the National Highway-248 from Gurugram to Nuh, the mise-en-scene metamorphoses gradually, as multistoried buildings make way for a yellow spread of mustard fields that flank both sides of the road leading up to Kotla village.
Located more than 60 kilometres from Gurugram, Kotla in Nuh is a historic village and served as the capital of Mewat several centuries ago, as per historical accounts. The village played host to many rulers, who left an indelible imprint on the history of Mewat and remnants of their legacy can still be found in the various historical structures— a mosque, tomb, and a fort— that bear testimony to the village’s rich history.
At first glance, Kotla comes across as any other nondescript village of Mewat, one where humans jostle with cattle for space, and streets are lined up with mounds of dung cakes. Young boys herding goats appear in and out through the labyrinth of narrow streets that map the village.
Nestled amid the heart of these intersections, one gets a glimpse of the historic Kotla mosque that stands tall on a raised platform. A set of massive stairs, carved out of stone, lead to the mosque that is flanked by the Aravalli mountains. Together, the two exude the aura of a glorious past. Within the mosque complex are the remains of a tomb, often recognised by experts as the tomb of Bahadur Khan Nahar, a Khanzada ruler of Mewat.
The Khanzadas are a community of Muslim Rajputs from the Mewat region. “The Khanzadas of Mewat are Rajputs who converted to Islam during the reign of Firoz Shah Tughlaq. He had influence over the region until Babar arrived,” said Parul Munjal, associate professor, Sushant School of Art and Architecture.
As per the records of the state, the mosque and tomb date back to 1392-1400 CE. A textual reference to the same could be found in the Gurgaon district gazette. “Over the ruined gateway is an inscription, giving the date of its building as AD 1392-1400. The mosque is raised on a high platform and is strikingly situated in a hollow of the hills, which, at this point, are crowned by the ruins of an ancient fortress,” states the gazette.
Banani Bhattacharyya, deputy director, department of archaeology and museums, said that the mosque dates back to the 14th-15th century and predates the Sultanate period.
The mosque also finds a mention in Alexander Cunningham’s travelogue of a tour of eastern Rajputana in 1882-83. Cunningham was the first director-general of the Archaeological Survey of India. “The mosque was started by Bahadur Nahar himself in AH 795 and finished by his successor in AH 803, as recorded in the inscription over the entrance gateway of the enclosure,” Cunningham noted.
The inscriptions that Cunningham talks of can no longer be spotted at the mosque. Locals in the area deny knowledge of any such inscription. However, Bhattacharyya said that the department officials, including her, had spotted the inscription a year ago and the department has a photograph of the same.
The mosque is made of red sandstone and grey quartzite which have been skilfully combined together. It contains one dome, a number of alcoves both on the outside and inside and several attached minarets at the corners. While the mosque seems sturdy and demonstrates its original colours and elements on the outside, the inner portion of the mosque has been undergone massive changes over the years.
The enclosure has been whitewashed, while marble has been placed across the floor. “Many modifications have been made to the mosque on the inside, but it continues to display its heritage character. It looks antique and the outer portion demonstrates the magnificence of the mosque’s historicity,” said Bhattacharyya.
Expanding on the architectural elements of the mosque, experts said that the raised platform of the mosque was possibly due to the topography of the region. “Across south Haryana, one can notice that many historical structures have raised platforms. It could be due to the environment prevailing in the region, due to the Aravali mountain ranges. Water percolates down the range and creation of a raised platform was possibly seen as a better option,” said Bhattacharyya.
The mosque is used as by villagers for daily prayers, while a madrasa runs adjacent to the mosque. The original area of the mosque has remained unchanged over the years, but newer constructions have taken place on the premises. As far as the tomb is concerned, only six pillars of the original 12 pillars remain. Broken portions of the six pillars can be spotted in the courtyard.
Naseeb Khan, 72, who visits the mosque daily to offer prayers, said that the mosque had seen some changes over the years. He recalled that portions of the tomb and various graves had fallen into ruins over time. “Earlier, 24 steps led to the mosque but now, only 19 remain. Portions of the mosque’s outer boundary wall also fell to bits. Twelve pillars were placed on the courtyard, but six of them fell, gradually, over the years,” said Khan.
In June 2018, the state government initiated the process of taking the Kotla mosque under its protection. However, until today, no concrete step has been taken in this regard. Officials of the state department of archaeology and museums said that the process of taking the monument under protection was delayed due to bureaucratic delays.
Bhattacharyya agreed that changes to the site might have taken place in the past two years, but attributed the slow pace of work to bureaucratic hurdles. “The main problem is that we cannot proceed unless we get a report from the deputy commissioner. The DC report is a must for the file that we prepare. Due to this reason, we have not been able to take many monuments under protection in other areas of Mewat. We keep writing letters seeking details about the area or the revenue records, but this takes time,” she said.
Mohammad Hashim, the imam of the mosque, said that villagers took care of the mosque and donated for its upkeep. Most villagers said that they did not need any help from the state. “We are self-sufficient and don’t need any support from the government for running the mosque. Locals share the costs whenever repairs need to be carried out,” said Hashim.
A serpentine trail from the mosque takes one further inside the village and leads to an area, from where a small natural stream of water emerges— a well-kept secret of Kotla that not many visitors are aware of. The stream and its surrounding catchment area appear like a hidden green oasis. While this part of the village is possibly the most picturesque part of the village, the beauty is dampened by the lagoons of soap water that accumulate at the bottom.
Dressed in a yellow salwar kameez, 18-year-old Sumaiya rubs soap on clothes before beating them against one the stones of the hill. Like most women from the village, she comes to the jhirna (stream) daily to wash clothes. “People in the village purchase water from tankers. By washing our clothes here, we are able to save money. During monsoon, the quantity of water that comes from the stream increases and people from other villages come here too,” said Sumaiya.
The stream of water emanates from the same hill atop which rests the Kotla fort. Overlooking the village, the fort can only be accessed by climbing up the hill and doing so is no less of an adventure. Traversing the uneven trail leading up to fort requires involves treading on a path made of massive stones, jumping over mesquite tress, and tiptoeing through thorny plants.
As per government records, the fort dates back to the 15th century. Historians say that Bahadur Nahar got the fort constructed during the reign of Feroze Shah Tughlaq. The ramparts of the fort are partly in ruins, enclosures are open to the air, while huge trails of mountain stones form a boundary all across.
A number of beliefs and legends surround the fort. Some villagers say that it is possessed by djinns (spirits), while others share a popular story that finds resonance among various villagers.
According to the legend, several years ago, a calf wandered into the hills in the evening and was never found again. While looking for the calf, however, locals chanced upon a tunnel that ran deep. The depth of the never-ending tunnel is something that everyone in the village enthusiastically shares. “When the calf got lost, our ancestors climbed up the hills to find it. We lit many torches (mashal) with oil to find the calf but just couldn’t do it. Around 50 kilolitres of oil was used to light up the torches but the calf couldn’t be found. There was a deep tunnel and people tried to step in only to return, since there seemed no end in sight to the tunnel. Most people came to the conclusion that the calf had wandered into a tunnel,” said 58-year-old Aas Mohammad.
While a small alcove-like opening can be spotted as one enters the fort, it is shallow and blocked by a wall. Locals believe that the wall blocks the entrance to the tunnel.
Residents of the village make frequent rounds to the fort for collecting firewood and grazing their animals. The department officials said that they have no immediate plans of taking up the protection of the fort.