Delhi 101: #11 The fifth city of Delhi – Firoz Shah Kotla

Firoz Shah was the first ruler of Delhi who stayed away from sounding battle cries at the slightest provocation, choosing to focus on public good instead. Especially after the residents of Delhi were still recovering from his eccentric predecessor and cousin Mohammed bin Tughlaq’s crazy act of making the residents move to Daulatabad in the Deccan only to ask them to return. But that’s another story.

Delhi 101: Cover image of book by Ajay JainThis post has been taken from Delhi 101, a book written by Ajay Jain. It is about 101 surprising ways to discover Delhi, one of the most amazing cities in the world for travelers. To know more about the book and to order one, click here.

During his rule from A.D. 1351-88, Firoz Shah concentrated on building canals for irrigation, gardens, hospitals, public baths, bridges, mosques, villages, reservoirs and dams. And a new city called Firozabad. The city’s expanse included a hunting lodge, currently near the Bara Hindu Rao Hospital in the northern Ridge of Delhi. He repaired the water tank at Hauz Khas, and built his tomb near it with a madrasa or University next to it. He carried out repairs to the Qutab Minar, damaged in an earthquake. The Kushk-i-Firoz or the citadel of Firoz Shah or Firoz Shah Kotla were a part of the new city. Kotla is derived from Kot meaning a fortified area within a city.

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The citadel itself is impressively laid out. It was made along the Yamuna at that time, with steps leading to the water. The river has since moved some distance away. A mosque (Jama Masjid, not to be confused with the one in Chandni Chowk) within the complex, the largest built by Tughlaq, must have been an impressive structure when intact. The western prayer wall, or the mehrab, still exists and is used even today. The mosque itself stands on a series of cells on the ground floor. When the Central Asian conqueror Timur (historically known as Tamerlane in English) invaded Delhi in 1398, he is believed to have been impressed with the structure and took back artisans and masons to have a similar one made in Samarkand. A baoli, or stepwell nearby, was used by the emperor to cool himself in the summers. It was inhabited till the 18th century before being abandoned as it offered little protection against dacoits and robbers.

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The place is best known for the Ashoka Pillar standing atop a three-storeyed pyramidal structure; each of the floors is smaller than the one below and made of cells with arched entrances. The 3rd century B.C. Ashoka Pillar was brought from Topra near Ambala, and transporting it was no mean task. It was 12.8 meters tall and weighed 27 tonnes. Wrapped in silk cotton, it was gently lowered on a specially prepared bed and encased in reeds and raw skins. A 42-wheel carriage pulled by 200 men was used to move it to the river Yamuna where it was transported by boat. A golden dome or kalas on it disappeared when Marathas and Jats attacked Delhi in the 18th century.

In case you are wondering, there were reasons for Muslim rulers to engage in frenzied construction activity. A new city was a show of strength for the ruler, and it also created employment opportunities. Making new cities is also regarded a pious act in Islam. Much of the city was stripped of its materials by successive rulers, especially by the fifth Mughal Emperor Shahjahan for his new city of Shahjahanabad (the present day Chandni Chowk and Red Fort area).

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