Known for its 1000 years of continuous occupation, Mehrauli is a famed for its richly scattered 440 historically significant monuments and haunting tales. Spread over 300 acres of tract, this heritage area is covered in remains of what we call ‘The Ancient Delhi.’
Continuously been the capital of some or the other dynasty, the area has been consistently inhabited for roughly ten centuries now. New rulers came, and the old ones perished, but the area has never been abandoned.
Being in Delhi all my life, the idea of finding out its roots intrigued me. So, I packed my camera and went on to explore this heritage site – Mehrauli Archeological Park. The first one was a failed attempt because I couldn’t find the entry of the park and got lost in the residential area of Mehrauli with unfriendly eyes gawking at me. It was an absolute disappointment because I wanted to do this from a long time.
After almost two years of waiting, I got an opportunity of visiting this place again, and my friend was kind enough to accompany me. And so, we were ready to conquer this area of 300 acres on foot wearing our sports shoes and a camera in hand.
Inhabited by the oldest dynasties, it is still one of the lesser known places in Delhi. The area has been ruled by Khalji Dynasty, Tughlaq Dynasty, Lodhi Dynasty of Delhi Sultanate, Mughal Empire, and the British Raj. But the ruins of Lal Kot by Tomar Rajputs in 1060 CE, makes it the oldest extant fort of Delhi.
The park was originally the burial ground of Lodhi’s and Mughals including the Tomb of Balban – the slave dynasty ruler of Delhi.
Mehrauli is so rich in archaeological importance that for every two steps you walk, you’ll hit a ruin. The area is literally littered with ruins (that’s the word I would like to use). The park consists of many monuments – the prominent ones including Balban’s Tomb etc and if you explore further, the ones, which we have no idea about! It is home to many and many tombs, mosque, step wells, remains of settlement, caravan-serai’s, gardens, etc.
For your better understanding, I will explain Mehrauli by dividing it into – Tombs, Mosque, Stepwells and other Ruins.
First, you enter the archaeological park leading through the ruins; you will see the tomb of Balban. The place is just left with walls surrounding the tombs. And if you look up, you will see frequent flights passing above the area – making a perfect subject for your pictures.
So, Ghiyas ud din Balban was one of the early rulers of Delhi who ruled around the 13th century. He was known as the King of Slaves. He was captured by the Mongols carried to Ghazni and sold in his younger days. Later, the same boy reduced the power of the treacherous nobility and heightened the stature of the sultan. In spite of having only a few military accomplishments, Balban earned the position of the strongest ruler between Shams ud-Din Iltutmish and later, Alauddin Khilji. He was a very dominant personality of the 13th century. Just to rule, he killed his 40 contemporaries and ruled for 40 odd years.
The tomb is one of the earliest surviving buildings to use the real art in its construction technique. Before this building, there is no evidence of true art being used in any construction.
As you walk further crossing the Rose Garden, you will find the most stunning tomb in the city. The tomb belonged to the son of Emperor Akbar’s nurse – Maham Anga and also the notorious brother of Adam Khan – Akbar’s most trusted general. And later was converted into a monsoon retreat for Sir Thomas Metcalfe in the 1850’s.
Quli Khan’s tomb stands in the middle of a vast landscape covered with dense forest and overlooking Qutub Minar. The monument is today a protected monument under the aegis of the Archaeological Survey of India and is being maintained by INTACH.
Outside the Archeological Park and in front of Mehrauli Bus Stand is the tomb of Adam Khan. This is the place I visited on my first visit to Mehrauli and unaware of the inhabitant of the tomb. The tomb of Akbar’s favorite general is built on a platform in the middle of a road; overlooking the Qutub Minar Complex on one side and residential buildings on the other.
It is popularly known as Bhool-Bhulaiyan (a maze or Labyrinth) as it lies on the walls of Lab Kot and earlier surrounded by dense forest area. The architecture is very Lodhi and Sayyid Dynasty style with a domed octagonal chamber and verandah on each side. Visitors often lose their way amidst the several passages in the thickness of its walls.
One of the many fascinating stories about Mehrauli is that once a group of Baraatis (wedding attendees) who took refuge in this tomb got lost – disappeared into thin air. The area is now said to be haunted by ghosts. In 1830’s, Blake of Bengal Civil Service converted this tomb into his residence by removing the graves of Adam Khan and his mother to make way for his dining hall. After his demise, the tomb was used by many British officers as a resting place and even a police station and a post office. But later, Lord Curzon restored the tomb; the grave of Adam Khan lies below the central dome, but his mother Maham Anga was lost.
The least known tomb in the area is the Chaumachi Khan’s Tomb or the Kala Gumbad. The tomb is located near the Mehrauli market and can be seen from a higher platform, but you cannot enter the place as it placed within a private property.
There are hundreds of ruined tombs that resides under the vicinity of Mehrauli untouched and forgotten.
Stay tuned for Part 2 – Jamali Kamali Monuments.