City Monument – Sultanate Souvenirs, Around Town
Before the Mughals.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
It is baking in the hot sun — Ghiyas-ud-din Balban’s tomb in Mehrauli Archaeological Park. The roof has collapsed, so have parts of the stone wall. Like many Delhi monuments, the edifice doesn’t convey the grandness of its early days. Squirrels are frolicking irreverently about the grave.
Balban was one of the sultans of Delhi Sultanate that spanned five dynasties, 32 rulers and 320 years. The Sultanate’s surviving landmarks are scattered across Delhi — in Feroz Shah Kotla, Hauz Khas, Mehrauli, Hazrat Nizamuddin, Shahjahanabad, Siri Fort and Tughlaqabad — yet it’s the later Mughal-era monuments, such as Red Fort and Jama Masjid, that seem livelier.
Perhaps because the Mughals are our more recent past, and the stories of their princes and poets remain fresh. The society of the Sultanate appears hazy, the lives of its greats barely familiar. Indeed, to us Delhiites, every monument unknown to us could as well be a Lodhi tomb.
One of the city’s most dreamlike — but unsung Sultanate-era — ruins lies near the IIT. Bijay Mandal (see photo) is believed to be the palace of Muhammad bin Tughlaq. It sits on a rocky slope. The Tangier-born traveller Ibn Battuta, a guest of Tughlaq, described it as a hall of a thousand wooden columns supporting a carved wooden roof. All that has survived are collapsed walls, a damp stairways and a broken roof.
But of course, Qutub Minar in Mehrauli is the Sultanate’s most recognisable souvenir. The problem is that it outshines everything else within its vicinity. Including a certain marble grave that is today reduced to a setting for (pre-pandemic) tourists to pose for selfies. This though is the resting place of Iltutmish, the Sultanate’s second ruler who became medieval India’s greatest feminist. He chose as his successor none of his sons, but daughter, Razia.
The meeting point of modern-day lovers and power fixers, Lodhi Garden — named after the Sultanate’s last dynasty — houses, among other historic landmarks, the tomb of Sikandar Lodhi, who shifted the capital from Delhi to Agra in 1505. Sikandar Lodhi also holds the distinction of fathering the last ruler of the Sultanate. Ibrahim Lodhi was defeated and killed in a fateful battle with Babur, who heralded a new age—and a new series of Delhi monuments, starting with the Humayun’s Tomb.
It’s all Lodhi to me