January 03, 2012

Khooni Darwaza, Delhi

The notorious Khooni Darwaza ("Bloodied Gateway"), the most macabre of all gates of medieval Delhi has throughout its history seen enough bloodshed and violence to even paint its tears red and thus be known by its alternate nomenclature "Lal Darwaza" ("Red Gateway"). Situated opposite the entrance to Feroz Shah Kotla, the sixth city of Delhi, in the middle of a traffic divider, the gate is an impressive structure. Unlike other gateways, it has never been a victim of encroachment nor has a vandalizing hand ever been laid on it. Thus it stands, preserved almost in its original condition, except for the grilles that prevent entry to its interiors and upper floors (a relatively recent modification though). The majestic double-storied structure was once part of the several gates that Sher Shah Suri (ruled AD 1540-45) built into the wall he built for the protection of his city Shergarh that was headquartered at the Old Fort of Delhi – after defeating and chasing away the Mughal emperor Humayun (ruled AD 1530-40 and 1555-56), Sher Shah began ruling from the latter's seat in Old Fort and added several layers of defenses to the city to protect it from a rebuttal from the disgraced Humayun (refer Pixelated Memories - Old Fort). A mighty wall enclosed the entire city, and though no traces of the wall have ever been discovered, its size and girth could be imagined by the majestic gates that punctuated it. During Sher Shah's time, the gates were known by the names of the cities they faced and it is debated whether Khooni Darwaza is the Kabuli Darwaza through which the caravans bound for Afghanistan passed – there are no records to indicate the same but it has been argued time and again given the absence of a Kabuli Darwaza which is supposed to exist somewhere near this same location (it could also have been destroyed later on in one of the numerous battles of Delhi or when Emperors dismantled entire cities, including gateways and bastions, to provide construction material for new strongholds).

The gate is 15.5 m high and constructed using strictly local materials, most prominently the hard Delhi quartzite stone; the window frames are composed of red sandstone. There exist three separate flights of stairs leading to different levels of the gate.

A gateway hidden amidst the foliage

The structure derives its popular name because of the numerous bloodbaths committed in its premises. Following Emperor Akbar's (ruled AD 1556-1605) demise, his son Jahangir (ruled AD 1605-28) ordered the killing of two of the sons of his step-brother Abdur Rahim Khan-i-Khanan here on the charges of being traitors since they sided with the Emperor's elder brother Prince Khusrau during the brutal war of succession. Their bodies were left here to rot and be eaten by birds of prey. Khan-i-Khanan himself was a renowned noble in Emperor Akbar's court and went by the single name "Rahim" when composing couplets (yes! The same guy whose "Rahim ke Dohe" are still taught in schools in India). He himself was opposed to the idea of Jahangir's ascension to the throne of Delhi, but perhaps later reconciled with the new emperor since his other sons have been known to be powerful generals in Jahangir's army and assisted him in various military campaigns. Khan-i-Khanan himself was buried in a mausoleum he commissioned for his wife near the dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya and can be read about here – Pixelated Memories - Abdul Rahim Khan-i-Khanan's Tomb.

In AD 1658, Emperor Aurangzeb (ruled AD 1658-1707), after he ousted his father Shahjahan (ruled AD 1628-58) from the throne of Delhi and executed all his brothers, had the head of his elder brother Dara Shukoh hung at this gate. Dara Shukoh's body is buried in the crypt underneath Humayun's tomb in an unmarked grave while the head was presented to the aggrieved Shahjahan as a gift from Aurangzeb before being displayed very prominently at this blood-laden gateway. It is not clear if the head was also later buried with the body or was disposed off in some other disrespectful, gruesome manner – this has given rise to the fantastical but inconclusive speculation that a grave on the terrace of Humayun's massive mausoleum that flaunts a cleave in its marble panels over the portion where the head must be resting belongs to Dara (refer Pixelated Memories - Humayun's Tomb complex).

The gate is supposed to have seen bloodshed in 1739 AD when Delhi was ransacked by Sultan Nadir Shah of Persia. However, this is disputed – according to some sources, the massacre occurred at another gate of the same name located in the Dariba locality of Chandni Chowk (which is more likely since much of the killing was concentrated around old Delhi, Nadir Shah himself commanding from the Red Fort and the Sunehri Masjid in Chandni Chowk). A complete history of the invasion and the subsequent bloodbath has been recounted here – Pixelated Memories - Sunehri Masjid.

On September 22, 1857, as a retaliation to the Sepoy Mutiny that in itself was a retaliation against the practices of the British East India "trading" Company, Major Hodson murdered outside this gate Mirza Mughal, Mirza Khizr and Mirza Abu Bakr, respectively the sons and grandson of the last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah "Zafar" (ruled nominally AD 1837-57). The princes fought vehemently along with the mutineers but were overpowered and arrested. Hodson was escorting them to his superiors but panicked on seeing a 3000-strong crowd following them – he asked them to strip their garments in order to prove how powerless they were but even then when the crowd did not thin, he shot them through the head assuming the crowd was there to free them – such was the dejection and disenchantment of the population that, to Hodson's surprise, not a person stirred or protested against the cold-blooded killing. He then went on to kill all the remaining members of the royal family under his arrest. Like at present, the gateway was merely limited to an existence as an archway during the revolt of 1857 and not a gate in its traditional sense since Shahjahan had dismantled most of the walls to be reused as construction material while raising his majestic capital Shahjanabad that is hailed as the pinnacle of Mughal architecture.

The gateway again saw bloodshed during the riots of 1947 when the British decided to partition India into two sovereign states. Many refugees were murdered here while they were proceeding towards the camp established in Old Fort.

A few stories also refer to the place being used as an execution site by Sher Shah since it was on the outskirts of the city. The heads of those executed were displayed here as a fair warning to future criminals and traitors and conjecture is that the gate came to be known as Khooni Darwaza since then. There is however no record that mentions if Sher Shah executed people here, nor is the gate ever mentioned by its present name before the events of 1857.

The plaque installed by Archaeological Survey of India (ASI)

The gateway is said to be haunted because of the gory incidents connected with it. Folklore is that it is in the realm of spirits and djinns and blood stains can still often be observed appearing on its walls. Spirits of the slain Mughal princes are also said to apparition here regularly. Legend also has that blood drips from the ceiling during monsoons. Hence the name Lal Darwaza, though there are at least two other gateways known by the same name – interestingly, like the Khooni Darwaza, one of them too was commissioned by Sher Shah Suri as his city's frontier entrance and can still be observed in a much better preserved condition immediately opposite the Old Fort entrance.

Found in the undergrowth

The gateway is a protected monument under the aegis of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). It lies hidden among trees with a lone watchman sitting guard. Visitor entry to the interiors is prohibited by means of grilles and iron gates. One would not want to be there anyway, what if the blood starts dripping when one gazes up at the ceiling??

Location: Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, about 2 km from Daryaganj
Nearest Metro Station: New Delhi
How to Reach: Avail metro/local buses till Red Fort/old Delhi and take an auto from there on to reach Feroz Shah Kotla. The gateway is immediately opposite the Kotla ruins. The metro station is quite a walk from there and one has to take an auto from there too.
Entrance Fee: Entry prohibited
Photography/Video Charges: Nil
Relevant Links -
  1. Pixelated Memories - Delhi Zoo
  2. Pixelated Memories - Feroz Shah Kotla
  3. Pixelated Memories - Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah
  4. Pixelated Memories - Humayun's Tomb complex
  5. Pixelated Memories - Old Fort
  6. Pixelated Memories - Rahim Khan-i-Khanan's Tomb
  7. Pixelated Memories - Red Fort
  8. Pixelated Memories - Sunehri Masjid
Suggested reading - 

1 comment:

  1. This is one Darwaza that has lot of stories to tell. Great work, as I started reading your one post, I could not resist myself from looking into other posts categorized under different year & months. I believe you have done extensive research, and have roots back in WB. If so, you have the natural gift of writing & narrating. – Naina Siingh