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Tughlaqabad-Cursed By a Saint?

Tughlaqabad was a magnificent fort when built by Ghiasuddin Tughlaq in 1324. But soon after his death is became a deserted, haunted place. Why was the third fort of Delhi Abandoned?

As you drive down the road forking left of the Qutab Minar gate, passing through the line of village markets, institutional area and vast rocky stretches, you will see the huge bastions and battlements of Tughlaqabad fort towering over the landscape. Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq of Tughlaq Shah built this fort within four years between 1321 and 1324. It contained a vast number of buildings, mosques, palaces, towers, tanks surrounded by mammoth bastions. In fact Ghiyasuddin had selected this site for the fort when he was a mere soldier.

Ibn Batuta, the Moroccan traveler-chronicler, mentions that Ghiyasuddin had said to Mubarak Shah Khilji, ‘O master of the world, it were fitting that a city should be built here’. The Sultan replied to him ironically, ‘When you are Sultan, built it’. It came to pass by the decree of God that he became Sultan, so he built it and, called it by his name-‘ Tughlaqabad’. Now in sheer ruins, this fort has been plundered for free building material for subsequent forts of Delhi. There aweinspiring runis and enormous stones on the walls make one wonder if there were giants in those days. Thomas Bacon who visited the runs more than 150 years ago in 1831 observed: “I met with nothing which so deeply excited my interest, not even the runis of Futtehpore Sikri…nothing else which I have seen is half so gigantic, with the exception of Konarak, and that is one single building, whereas Tughlaqabad presents a small city of such wonders’.

Tughlaqabad was magnificent when the first Tughlaq Sultan held court here. Its splendour was incredible. But too soon it became a deserted, haunted place. No enemy had attacked the fort. No earthquake destroyed it. Why was the third fort of Delhi abandoned?

It is believed that Saint Nizamuddin was building his baoli at the time when Ghiyasuddin was using all his state power, and resources on the speedy construction of the fort. Out of reverence, people worked more agreeably for the saint than for the Sultan who forbade his men to work at the baoli. So they worked at night in lamplight. This irked the Sultan who prohibited the sale of oil. The saint worked a miracle and the baoli water, when used in the lamps, emitted bright light. This exasperated the Sultan. In a fit of bitterness, the saint cursed the city of Tughlaqabad-‘ya rahe usar, ya base gujar’ (either it remains barren, or else be peopled by the Gujjar tribesmen). The cruse prophesied doom on the city not yet fully completed. Ghiyasuddin, then out in Bengal, threatened to set the saint right when the returned to Delhi. The saint then quipped’, Hunuz Dilli dur ast’ (Delhi is yet far away).

It so transpired that when Ghiyasuddin returned after his victorious campaign, his son Muhammad Tughlaq arranged for him a reception at Afghanpur, a village outside Delhi. A grand wooden canopy was specially erected on this occasion. When the grand salute was in progress one of the elephants put its foot on the wooden contraptions. The whole canopy collapsed over the Sultan and his infant son, killing them instantly. The prophesy was fulfilled. The Sultan could not reach Delhi to chastise the saint. When Muhammad Tughlaq took over as Sultan, he chose to build his own city and fort-Adilabad. Within a year or two after 1324, the city of Tughlaqabad was just abandoned by Muhammad Tughlaq. It became a haunt of jackals, monkeys and the sheep tending Gujjars who roamed about freely in royal ruins.. The cruse had materialized.

Some suspected the saint’s hand in the conspiracy to kill Ghiyasuddin but it has been dismissed as sheer malice by the historians. Faith in the saint’s miraculous power continues to this date, confirmed by the he crowds at the dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin. The saint part of living memory; the Sultan consigned to history and dead stones.

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