Djinns of Feroz Shah Kotla : Discovering Delhi

Write a letter to the Djinns of Feroz Shah Kotla, and your wishes might come true!

Wait, I’m not kidding. Many of you know or have heard of Feroz Shah Kotla as the cricket stadium where Anil Kumble made a record by taking 10 wickets in a single innings, but there is more to this place, then meets the eye!

Located right next to this famous Feroz Shah Kotla Cricket Stadium, (off Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg) are the ruins of Feroz Shah Kotla. FerozShah Kotla was the imposing citadel of Ferozabad, the ‘Fifth city’ of Delhi. The great builder and Emperor Firoz Shah Tughlaq (1351-88) built the city of Ferozabad with its citadel in 1354.

Djinns are said to be found in these ruins. Every Thursday, one can witness people gather in hundreds, to pray and write letters to the djinns hoping for their wishes to come true. So much so, that the ruins are open for anyone to visit free after 2pm on Thursday. (On other days, the entry fee is a meagre Rs. 5)

According to Islam, Allah made djinns out of smokeless fire before he made humans out of clay. Unlike ghosts, djinns are shapeless beings who can marry and have children. Unlike humans, they are formless and can ‘live’ for centuries. But like humans and ghosts — and unlike farishtey (angels) — they can be bad or moody. Legend has it that when Iblis, a djinn, refused to bow before Adam, Allah cast him out as Shaitan (devil), not unlike Lucifer who was rebuked as Satan.

The main attraction of the citadel is the 13 meters high sandstone Ashokan Pillar on a rubble-built three-tiered pyramidal structure. Firoz Shah Tughlaq brought this 27 tonne pillar to Delhi from Topar in Ambala, where the great Emperor Ashoka erected it. The more interesting story is about ‘How they got it here’? Well, its hard to believe, but at one point of time the Outer Ring Road we know today, was the location of river Yamuna . This pillar was in fact brought by the river, in one piece. But unfortunately broke while being positioned above the structure.  Anand over at has a great story to tell.

The pillar is similar to the one fixed on the ridge, which was also brought by Firoz Shah. The transportation of both the pillars was done with much care and precautions to avoid any damage. Though made of sandstone, the pillar was so polished that till date it looks as if it is made up of some metal.

There are inscriptions on the Minar, and learned men were brought forward to read them. They could only read the latest ones, in Sanskrit. Some inscription on the pillar are only 250 years old and it is said to mention that Bisal Dev, Chohan, Rai of Sambhal, who came to worship certain idols on the banks of the Sarasvati River, and found this pillar in its present position. But the earliest inscriptions incised on the pillar remained bafflingly unreadable.

What is astounding about this place on a Thursday afternoon or evenings, is that, some people who come here, have been doing so since generations. Their families have come each Thursday and their prayers have been answered. A lady I met said five generations of her family have been coming here and they feel that by doing so, their prayers were herd and their lives are healthy.

There are others sights which one might see here, which can leave you baffled, slightly out of  your comfort zone and sometimes down right creepy! Exorcism – is not just for the movies…  the djinns here, people believe, help get rid of evil spirits.

With the place, almost resembling a scary movie at times, bats on the ceiling, dark dingy caves with lots of incense sticks burning, letters pinned against the walls  and then suddenly a scream. I saw a girl hitting herself with her own hands in this sort of trance like fashion where all I could hear was a faint murmur.I didn’t want to be an uninvited guest, so I left. But as I said before, there are supposed to be good and bad djinns. According to folklore, the bad djinns pray on young women, if young women are left unguarded or especially drying their hair on the roof, it is said that these spirits/djinns tend to haunt them. And the oddest thing, they apparently like sweets! Stories people tell!!

The irony of it all is, as the day ends, and people clear and so do the letters, the cleaning staff of the ruins takes out the letters daily and makes sure the walls are clean for the next day. I just hope the djinns have quick reading skills. Aside from just writing letters, people also stick coins on the walls, this also represents a kind of wish that they make, and hope for it to come true someday!

The main pillar of the chief of djinns called Laat wale baba, (Lat is the Hindi word for pillar) is at the centre of a practice of writing letters to djinns who are supposed to reside here. It seems that the practice of writing to the djinns starts in the late 1970s, when a fakir named Laddoo Shah came and started living in these ruins at the end of the Emergency of 1975-77, a year after the demolitions at the nearby Turkman Gate locality, which had once been part of Firozabad.

Aside from the pillar, there is actually a functioning mosque within the grounds. This is said to be one of the largest mosques of the Tughlaq period. I met the Imam there, and asked him the one question I had since I entered this place, ‘Has anyone really seen a djinn?’.  He to my surprise said he had! One day while he was reading the namaz, he saw a couple of people sitting behind and reading it with him. A while later when he looked back he saw that one person sitting in front had gone. He asked the other person who was sitting next to him, where the man went, and to the Imam’s surprise the answer he got was that ‘no one sitting there at all’! The Imam said that good djinns are those who are close to God and want to be closer, hence they live in or around areas where there are mosques.

Other than the djinns, bats, pillars and mosque, there is also a step well or baoli. Located in the centre of the garden, this is a circular baoli with a large underground drain for the water. Though one is not allowed to enter this now (most of these places in the city are chained, due to “accidental” deaths meaning, people accidentally wanting to end their lives! The area where the ruins exist is massive.

The one thing you have to love about old world architecture are the rocks; the way it was constructed, the expanse of the entire location is a visual delight. Even though its in ruins, try and take some time out to see something a little different next to the cricket stadium everyone loves, you might be surprised to see the other side !

(c) Photographs by Ritika Sabharwal

Humayun’s Tomb: New Delhi

“Spectacular!” that’s what visiting US President Barack Obama said about the Humayun’s Tomb on his recent visit to India.

I was also pleasantly surprised by the grandeur and magnificence of the monument. This beautiful red-stone monument in Nizamuddin (South Delhi), built over 450 years ago is being looked after thanks to the major renovation exercise taken up by Aga Khan Trust for Culture and Archaeological Survey of India.

Humayun ka Maqbara or Humayun’s Tomb is one of the must see architectural sites in Delhi, especially since it was the inspiration for one of the Seven Wonders of the world – the Taj Mahal.

This tomb has also been a much loved backdrop of many film-makers in Bollywood. In Jhoom Barabar Jhoom, Abhishek takes Preity to Humayun’s Tomb and tells her that since he didn’t have enough money to take her to see Taj Mahal, he brought her to see the tomb. A romantic song for the Kareena-Saif starrer Kurbaan was shot here. And even  Aamir Khan’s character in Fanaa takes Kajol and her friends on a Dilli darshan, and one of the places they visit is Humayun’s Tomb.

The entire complex is larger than what I had imagined; the first building one observes is the Isa Khan’s Tomb. This tomb is situated just outside the Humayun’s tomb. It was built in the honor of Isa Khan, a brave and valiant noble under Sher Shah, the Afghan ruler who had overthrown Humayun. It was built in 1547, and until the early 20th century, an entire village had been settled in the enclosure.

The actual Humayn’s tomb was commissioned a year before his death by his Persian wife Haji Begam and her son Akbar. The tomb was constructed from 1562-1572 by Mirak Mirza Ghiyuath a renowned Persian architect. He had previously designed buildings in Herat (now northwest Afghanistan), Bukhara (now Uzbekistan).

The muhgals built many architectural marvels in their times. Everyone from the Mughal Empire’s family tree left a bit of themselves in these buildings. It started with Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur, who founded the Mughal Empire in Indiain 1494. In 1530, Babur’s eldest son Humayun succeeded him as the king. After his death the fourteen-year-old Akbar, under the care of Bairam Khan, took charge. Akbar died in A.D. 1605 and was succeeded by his son Jahangir. Jahangir, passed the expanding empire to his son Shah Jahan in 1627. Aurungzeb imprisoned Shah Jahan and took over in 1658. Aurungzeb’s three sons disputed over succession, and the Mughal empire crumbled, just as the Europeans entered the subcontinent.

Back to Humayn’s tomb. The plan of the building is simply brilliant and very mathematical, with symmetrical ground plan and chambers that are sure to wow you. Although the architecture of the tomb was designed by the Persian architect, one can observe the distinctly Indian aspects of the tomb, like the Hindu chattris, that surround the central dome. It follows the Indo-Islamic tradition that was already emerging at the time.

The beautifully carved stone screens are not only artistic but only practical for the ventilation and light. Another prominent features is the center of a garden in the classical Mughal char bagh (four gardens) pattern. High wall surrounds the garden on three sides, the fourth side being bounded by what was once the bank of the river Jamna (Yamuna), which has since been diverted.

We saw some bats having a slumber party in one of the rooms that was being restored. The complex was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993, and since then has undergone extensive restoration work, which is still underway.

The recent attention from movies and foreign dignitaries visiting the tomb has helped increase the footfall among local as well as foreign tourists. We visited the tomb on a saturday and were surprised to see a large number of school Children on a field trip.

It is easy to get here, and if you are an avid photographer the visit will be well worth the effort. It is located on Mathura Road, near the Lodi Road crossing. No one can miss the Nila-Gumbad or the blue dome monument at this crossing. Also, an interesting story about the Nila-Gumbad is that, the architect who built the Humayun’s Tomb is buried underneath.

The monument is open for public all days, with parking available for busses, taxis and private vehicles. One has to buy a ticket for INR 10 for citizens and INR 250 for Foreigners.

(C) Photographs by Ritika Sabharwal