July 06, 2015

Qila Rai Pithora, Saket, Delhi

“Primordial Delhi set the pattern for violence – it has always marked the city’s existence. Small wonder that all the Delhis that were to follow faced political upheaval involving a fair amount of violence. The first recorded war for the throne of Delhi – mythological as it might be – is narrated in the Mahabharata.”
– Raza Rumi, “Delhi by heart”

For a historical entity whose near-perennial existence chronologically spans over 5,000 years and is yet far from culmination, a singular diurnal event might as well be regarded as a minor occurrence with unbelievably little chance of surviving in memory and consequences against the rapid passage of the sands of time – and yet, occasionally transpires a remarkable event, often unforeseen, that, through the repercussions that follow its manifestation, literally mutates for successive ages not only the physical landscape but also the emotional and creative wellbeing of the entity involved. With respect to Delhi’s unrelentingly fierce and unusual history, this one event can at best be summed up into one particular moment of enormously significant impact – the defeat of Maharaja Prithviraj Chauhan III’s powerful armies at the hands of the fearsome forces commanded by Sultan Muhammad Muizzuddin ibn Sam Shihabuddin Ghuri in the Second Battle of Tarain (AD 1192). The sudden military upheaval that witnessed the transformation of the powers that be of Delhi, altogether a formidable regime in terms of territorial and financial capabilities, from native Hindu to Turkish-Afghan Islamic Emperors left behind an unsurpassable legacy in terms of religious, architectural-artistic and emotional existence of the entire subcontinent and continues to pose far-reaching effects that unceasingly evade conclusion – of these, of course, the foremost being the question of the religious subdual, inexorable massacre, chronic exploitation, remorseless enslavement and cultural genocide of the Hindu population of the country at the hands of these foreigner Islamic armies and the post-independence status – religious, cultural as well as territorial – of the descendants of these ravaging Muslim invaders and the natives whom they converted to Islam over several centuries of uninterrupted reign.

As gleamed off from the epic poem “Prithviraj Raso” composed by contemporaneous bard Chand Bardai, highly embellished and often fabricated threads of mythology and bardic folklore juxtapose with cruel facts of history to constitute the life, territorial domains and exploits of Prithviraj Chauhan who presently is unambiguously regarded as one of the foremost rulers to have reigned over the subcontinent and presented an aggressive opposition to the relentless fanatical forces of pillaging-plundering Islamic invaders. He defeated, albeit not crushingly, Muhammad Ghuri and magnanimously set him free, only to be ruthlessly opposed, contemptuously defeated, barbarically imprisoned and disdainfully dragged as a captive to the vast, unpitying plains of Afghanistan the very next year by him. Of course, the decimation of the armies commanded by Maharaja Prithviraj, who was bequeathed the throne of Delhi at the age of 13 by his maternal grandfather Anangpal Tomar II (another theory is that Prithviraj defeated Anangpal around 1150-60 AD), had less to do with the military might of the enemy and more to do with his own policy of territorial aggression against his neighbors which alienated him from all the major political centers and warlords of the country, including his own father-in-law Raja Jaichand Rathore of Kannauj (in modern-day Uttar Pradesh) whom he unrepentantly humiliated by arriving uninvited at his daughter’s “Swayamvar” (where a princess chooses her husband from amongst the assembled suitors) and eloping with her.

The first Delhi

In Afghanistan, the formerly mighty king was beaten mercilessly and blinded by the soldiers of Muhammad Ghuri and dragged alongside the regal procession so he can witness the proceedings and rue his own pitiful existence – on one such ordeal, observing an archery competition, he expressed his wish to participate against a worthy opponent – Sultan Ghuri himself if he dared face him – only to be ridiculed and taken to the task. Chand Bardai (who claimed to be a captive himself in the exceedingly long train of enslaved prisoners) magnifies Maharaja Prithviraj’s feats by claiming that he killed Ghuri by shooting a “Shabadbhedi baan” whereby an archer, blind or blindfolded, estimates and targets his enemy by merely listening to his voice! He was afterwards brutally murdered by the rampaging soldiers of Sultan Muhammad and his sarcophagus in Afghanistan, located immediately adjacent the latter’s, is still abused, spat upon and stomped on by Afghan locals and warlords alike – occasional noises are made by Indian Parliamentarians and Hindu leaders to have the remains exhumed and transported back to Delhi, but, as is the case with all noise, it too fizzles out and is forgotten without much action or groundwork. The fact is of course not recorded in history and Muhammad Ghuri’s own chronicles record that Maharaja Prithviraj had attempted to flee the battlefield in the face of disgraceful defeat and captured and executed on the battlefield, though Sultan Muhammad decreed that his bloodied mortal remains be carried to Afghanistan where he be buried like a Muslim as a final humiliation heaped post-death. Sultan Muhammad himself was later assassinated by the henchmen of some local warlords.

It would come as a surprise to note that the remains of Maharaja Prithviraj’s impregnable fortress’ unassailably thick rubble walls exist merely a stone’s throw away from the perennially crowded Saket metro station-bus stop combine! Notwithstanding how impressive the ruins are, one could be forgiven to wonder why Emperors would face off for these stones and sacrifice the lives of hundreds of thousands of praiseworthy loyal men. Christened Qila Rai Pithora after Rai Pithor as Maharaja Prithviraj was often referred to as, the colossal fortress’s periphery walls, appearing like a grey-red pearl necklace, survive as a perceptibly curving thick curtain wall punctuated by enormous fortified bastions that exist as mere stubs weathered almost to the base by the unremitting forces of nature and the advance of urbanization and construction which over time prompted the inhabitants of the surrounding areas to even cart off the rubble to build new edifices. Along its sides runs a narrow tract of grass-shrouded lawn, dotted with thorny shrubbery and the occasional Indian Laburnum trees (“Amaltas”/Cassia fistula) indiscriminately showering the ground around with heartwarming golden-yellow petals, which delineates and veils it against the flow of traffic and the peering eyes that peep through the numerous residential blocks existential across the road. But tread the ground for almost a kilometer and chillum-smoking groups of youngsters give way to dreadfully silent isolation; vibrant, brilliantly colored butterflies disappear and in their place appear huge hornets and hordes of persistently buzzing, low flying mosquitoes; and the grass carpet turns into deep, mushy soil that smells of rot and dung and death by stench! The fortress walls themselves, in the beginning 2-18 feet high and 5-6 feet thick, transform into near-collapsed ruins, the glimmering grey quartzite dressing disappearing and revealing the brown-red underbelly of brick and mortar, threateningly reclaimed by foliage and thoroughly colonized by overwhelming shrubbery and vines into thick, dangerously dark and grotesquely gnarled wild hedges – the desolation is total, the stillness ear-splitting.

A touch of gold

Gazing at the ruined desolation, one cannot help reminiscing the words of Bahadur Shah “Zafar” II (reign AD 1837-57), the last Emperor of Delhi –

“Nahi haal-e-Dehli sunane ke qabil, ye qissa hai rone rulane ke qabil
Ujade luteron ne wo qasr is ke jo the dekhne aur dikhane ke qabil
Na ghar hai na dar hai raha ik Zafar hai, faqat haal-e-Dehli sunane ke qabil”

(“Not worthy of narration is the tale of Delhi. This story is for crying and wailing
Raiders have destroyed such palaces that were to be praised and described
Neither home is left nor hearth, Only Zafar remains to tell the tale of Delhi")

Location: Couple of meters from Saket Metro station on the road leading to the garden of Five Senses (Coordinates: 28°31'13.2"N 77°11'58.7"E)
Nearest Metro station: Saket (Saiyadul Ajaib exit)
Nearest Bus stop: Saket metro station
Entrance fees: Nil
Photography/Video charges: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: 30 min
Relevant Links -
Other monuments/landmarks located in the vicinity -
  1. Pixelated Memories - Ahinsa Sthal
  2. Pixelated Memories - Azim Khan's Tomb
  3. Pixelated Memories - Dargah Dhaula Peer
  4. Pixelated Memories - Hazrat Kaki's Dargah
  5. Pixelated Memories - Khirki Masjid
  6. Pixelated Memories - Mehrauli Archaeological Park
  7. Pixelated Memories - Qutb Complex
  8. Pixelated Memories - Satpula
  9. Pixelated Memories - Tughlaqabad Fortress Complex
Suggested reading -
  1. Ghumakkar.com - "Qila Rai Pithora – the First City of Delhi" (dated April 19, 2013) by Nirdesh Singh
  2. Wikipedia.org - Muhammad of Ghor
  3. Wikipedia.org - Prithviraj Chauhan

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