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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Tughlaqabad, the Curse of a Saint

Ya base gujjar, ya rahe ujjar.' (May [this city] be the abode of nomads or remain in wilderness.)

These words, with which the great Sufi saint Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya cursed Ghiyas-ud-din's city, seem to still echo all over the ghostly ruins of Tughlaqabad. The citadel frowns down ominously like some Gothic palace all over the Qutub-Badarpur road and seems to prefer its splendid isolation, which is of course not exactly what Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq had in mind when he started out building it. It would have broken the old sultan's heart if he had seen just how swiftly the saint's curse went into action; soon after his death in fact.

Tughlaqabad fort, situated as it was on high rocky ground, was ideally located
to withstand sieges. Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq helped matters along by putting up formidable walls which, though short on aesthetic value, are excellent examples of solid unimaginative masonry and not the type that any invading army could hope to scale in a hurry. Tughlaq put ramparts towering at heights of anywhere between 9m (30ft) to 15.2m (50ft), and rising up to 29.8m (98ft) around the citadel, between himself and the Mongols.


It seems that even when he was far from being a king, Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq had dreamed of raising his city, Tughlaqabad. Earlier, Ghiyas-ud-din had been a general (he rose to being the governor of an important province like Punjab, but that's another story) in Ala-ud-din Khalji's army. Once while on the road with Ala-ud-din, Ghiyas-ud-din, on spotting this area, mentioned to the sultan what an ideal setting it seemed to provide for a new city. Upon this the king indulgently (and, knowing Ala-ud-din, also perhaps patronizingly) replied, 'When you become king, build it.' Knowing fully well, as every boss, that while he was around there was not a shadow of a chance of anyone else taking his place. After the death of Ala-ud-din, various events conspired to put the general on the throne at last. Then he fulfilled his long-cherished dream.

The crumbling ruins of the Tughlaqabad Fort convey a sense of lost grandeur and remains as the only witness of the embattled past and the terror and valor associated with that period in Delhi. Many unforeseen incidents took place during the construction of this structure. The king had a spat with the great saint Nizam-ud-din regarding the laborers who were to work on this project. The king took away all the workers who were working on the saint's shrine at the time, for completing his own fort, thus incurring the wrath of the saint. The saint cursed the king and indeed the king was mysteriously murdered while on his way to Delhi in 1325. Almost immediately after the death of the king, this fort lost all its former glory as his son Jauna (Ulugh Khan) succeeded him under the title Mohammad-bin-Tughlaq and wanted to build his own new city instead of following in his father's footsteps. The fort was abandoned unceremoniously in the year 1327 and strangely, true to the curse of the saint, it soon became a haunt for the Gujjars tending their cattle within the abandoned fort of Ghiyas-ud-din.

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