Chinmaye

Exploring Alauddin Khilji’s Siri Fort


Bastion of the Siri fort at Shahpur Jat

Delhi is full of monuments that belong to an era spread over one thousand years. Every warrior who dreamt of ruling India had to capture Delhi first. The most prominent ruler of the Khalji dynasty built the second city of Delhi after Lalkot. The early 14th century saw Mongol forces invading India and Allauddin Khilji built a walled city known as Siri to protect the city from invading Mongol raiders. Khilji lived in Lalkot and Siri was more of a military garrison as per initial plan, but later several extravagant buildings were built in this city.. Which was also called Dar-Ul-Khilafat (Seat of Islamic Caliphate) Some say that the name Siri came from the fact that severed heads of Mongols were buried under the foundations and walls of this city. However, scholars like Syed Ahmed Khas do not approve of this theory, and link the name to the presence of a small town called Siri at the spot. We can explore the dilapidated remnants of Siri in Hauz Khas and Green Park area.

This trail begins in Hauz Khas area, near Shahpur Jat village we see large rubble masonry walls and a bastion too. We can walk into the village and after exploring the narrow bylanes we can see the Tohfewala Gumbad. A simple but large mosque built in Khalji-Tughlaq style.

Tohfewala Gumbad, Shahpur Jat village

Inside the Gulmohar enclave we can see the Moseque of Darwesh Shah, while this is inside the fort area, it is a Lodi period monument.

Darwesh Shah Mosque

We need to reach the Panchasheel park area to see the fortifications of the Siri fort. It is inside a park near DDA park and the entry to this area is from the step-by-step nursery school. It is possible to see the construction pattern and thickness of the fortification. According to historic details the width of this wall was as big as 18 feet and soldiers could move inside to carry supplies and shoot arrows at the attackers.

Another location to closely inspect the walls of Siri fort is near the ASI Children’s museum. Though the walls here are not very tall, we can see the width and rubble masonry and also understand the overall plan of Siri.

There is a beautiful Lodi period masjid inside a walled area here. Apart from Quranic calligraphy we can also appreciate the corbelled gate to the mosque and the domed structure.

Inside the elite Hauz Khas enclave there are couple of more important heritage monuments. Eidgah built under Nasiruddin Tughlaq’s period by Iqbal Khan or Mallu Khan and the Chor Minar built by Allauddin Khilji.

Eidgah

We all know the iconic Qutb Minar of Delhi … an architectural marvel from the Mamluk era. But let us go a bit ahead by about a hundred years and we find mention of another Minar. Not so tall and grand and not celebrated either … today located inside a quiet housing area in Hauz Khas enclave, this monument stands in fairly good condition. It is a 13th century monument built during Allauddin Khalji reign between 1290-1320CE. One can notice many holes on the top cylindrical part about 225 of them. It is said that when a thief was caught and beheaded, his head was hung on a spear and displayed here…. Therefore, it was also known as the tower of beheading.

Well the monument looks very interesting … perhaps cute …. but it has a morbid past. According to ASI records Khalji beheaded about 8000 Mongol settlers in Delhi during Mongol raid on the city to ensure they could not join the aggressors. Those severed heads were displayed here. There is an opening to go up through a spiral staircase but it was locked. So predictably there are ‘haunted’ stories about this monument too.

One of the most important structures built for Siri fort was the Hauz Khas tank or Hauz Alai. This is next to the Deer Park in Hauz Khas village. The tank was repaired by Firozshah Tughlaq.

Hauz Alai was built in 1295 CE by Alauddin Khilji and it was repaired by Firoz Shah Tughlaq in 1354. This was about 70 acres in area and Timur in his chronicles mentions that an arrow could not be shot from one side to the other. There are couple of important buildings around this area – One mosque, a large L shaped Madarasa and Firoz Shah Tughlaq’s tomb.

According to Sir Syed the Madarasa was an elite centre of learning in that period and was headed by Syed Yusuf Bin Jamal Hussaini till 1388CE. Sultan Firoz Shah’s tomb is right next to the Madarasa and was built by his son Nasiruddin Tughlaq in 1389 CE. It also houses graves of Nasiruddin Tughlaq and Alauddin Sikander Shah (Firozshah’s grandson)

It is interesting to see the scale and grandeur of the rubble masonry and how it shines more than contemporary concrete buildings in the area.

There are several Lodi era tombs in this locality, Bagh-i-Alam ka Gumbad inside the deer park is special because of its location inside thick forest. There is another unnamed tomb nearby called Kali Gumti

Bagh-i-Alam ka Gumbad

This is the tomb of Miyan Sheikh Shihabuddin Taj Khan and it was built during Sultan Sikander Lodi’s reign in 1501 CE by Sultan Abu Saeed (Forgotten Cities of Delhi – Rana Safvi page 26)

Kali Gumti

There are a few more Lodi era tombs. Some do not have any grave inside and perhaps they were built and not sold. Chhoti Gumti and Sakri (narrow) Gumti are two such examples.

Chhoti Gumti
Sakri Gumti

Just across the road from Sakri Gumti we can see a tomb styled monument called Barah Khamba (built on 12 pillars) The texture of rubble masonry and the proportionate design of arches makes it a must visit monument.

Bara Khamba
rubble masonry and arches

Before we exit the trail on the Aurobindo marg we see two large tombs inside a gated garden area. It is the Dadi Poti tombs. According to a local story, these tombs were built by a noble lady. Her name is not known. The larger tomb was built for herself and the smaller one for her faithful lady servant. There is an interesting open hexagonal lantern made in red sandstone on the Poti’s tomb.

Dadi Poti tombs

This is the story of Siri … the second city of Delhi! There are many Lodi era tombs in Delhi. The most majestic of those are inside Bagh-e-jadd or the Lodi gardens. That needs another elaborate visual travelogue.

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