The walled city oozes so much spiritual history, every gali could turn into a trail. Here are four roads less travelled ♦
The pre-Shahjahanabad tour.
The walled city hides several sacred sites that predate Shahjahan’s imperial city. Four major ones are relatively close together and can be visited in one go.
The Turkman Gate area gets its name from the Shah Turkman Dargah, but locals know the grave complex of this Sufi saint – Shamsul- Arifin, also called Biyaban – as “Dada Pir”. Start at Turkman Gate and take the Bazaar Sitaram lane to the left of it. Ask for Basti Dada Pir and Mohalla Qabristan. The complex is tucked away to the right of the main road. The graveyard is on two levels: an upper concrete-covered level with half-sunken graves (including a sinking, inscribed marble tomb and an elevated grave) and a little mosque and adjacent dargah down a flight of stairs. According to Lucy Peck (in Delhi: A Thousand Years of Building, Roli, 2005), the different levels might be due to burials taking place one on top of the other over the years.
A gentleman we met there, who said his family had been taking care of the place for generations, told us that Shah Turkman (who he referred to as “aap”) came from Turkmenistan and is still commemorated during his urs, when people come from as far as Pakistan to venerate him (he died in 1240). Certainly the dargah was nicely decked up with tinsel and petals, the newer little mosque next door is studded with broken tiles, and the courtyard – though home to a family of cats, quite a bit of rubbish, and the caretaking family’s side business in machine parts – is a peaceful final resting place for “the dada of all pirs”.
Return to and continue up Bazaar Sitaram until you see the glimpse of a mosque to your left. Up a steep flight of stairs is the Kalan Masjid or “Big Mosque”, built by Feroze Shah Tughlaq’s prime minister Khan-i-Jehan Junan Shah in 1387. One of seven mosques built by Khan-i-Jehan (and his mother, according to a signboard inside), this one was repaired 12 years ago and is in good condition, rather gaudily painted in bright blue, purple, turquoise and green. There’s a marble courtyard fountain with goldfish swimming in the placid green water. When we visited, there were a few kids playing and a friendly mullah, who took us up to the fourth-floor roof, which is studded with the 30 wide gumbads – quite a surreal setting. The view from this tall mosque is breathtaking; we could see Rashtrapati Bhavan from one side and several interesting mosques poking through the spread of Turkman Gate on the other.
Continue up the main road, taking the second right to “Bulbul-i-khana”, where – at the very end of the gali – you’ll find Razia Sultan’s tomb, or “Rani-Saji ki dargah”. Razia Sultan was a follower of Shah Turkman, and her burial site is allegedly the place where he used to sit – though conflicting reports saythat she is buried in Haryana, where she died in 1240.There are two worn away graves in the centre of a courtyard; the one nearer the little modern masjid is supposedly Razia’s, and the one beside that, her sister’s. The gate to the small complex is locked except during namaaz times, but ask at the Farsi printing shop next door and someone will open it.
Go back to the main road, take a rickshaw up to Hauz Qazi and Lal Kuan, and ask for “Gali Batashan” in the Naya Bans paan market. Up this colourful street brimming with toffees, batasha, mishri and other sweets is the Hauzwali Masjid or “Masjid-i-Khari Baoli”, which was built around 1540-50. This smallish mosque has wide, low-sprung arches and gets its name from a tank within the complex. The sky-blue building looks a bit like a sarai; indeed, there was a man sleeping inside. In the courtyard, a couple of labourers, taking advantage of the quiet spot, told us that the mosque is mostly frequented by Bengalis working in the area.
The masjids the queens built
Not all the religious sites here were endowed by men.
We did a quick roundup of several Shahjahanabad mosques that were built by women. It’s possible to visit all of them in one, only slightly hectic trip.
Starting at the south end of Ansari Road, take an auto to Zinat-ul-Masjid (Khairati Ghat, Daryaganj), which abuts the city wall (and is just visible from the Ring Road). This serene mosque has rather tall minarets and is also referred to as the Ghata (cloud) Masjid, according to an INTACH board outside. The mosque was built in 1707 by Zinat-al-Nisa, Aurangzeb’s daughter, and is supposed to have been the Emperor’s final resting place until 1857, when his remains were moved and the mosque was appropriated for military purposes. The mosque is in good condition and, as a bonus, has its original sandstone exposed. The red stone is beautifully juxtaposed with striped black-and-white gumbads and, despite a rubbish-filled tank and several little buildings nestling up to its sides, the building is very striking.
From here, take an auto or a rickshaw to the Lal Qila parking lot, next to which is the petite Sunehri Masjid (next to Delhi gate of Red Fort). There are other Sunehri Masjids in Delhi, but this one was built in 1751 by Qudsia Begum, a former dancing girl who married Mohammad Shah Rangila and was the mother of Ahmad Shah. This diminutive mosque – which survived 1857 while the larger Akbarabadi Masjid (built next to Jama Masjid by one of Shahjahan’s wives) did not – has elegant details, like an entry gateway that is reminiscent of a miniaturised version of the Red Fort’s main ramparts, and has its warm yellow stone exposed. It’s in far better condition than the ruins in Qudsia Bagh in Civil Lines, also built by “Sunehri Begum” (as the mullah we spoke to called Qudsia Begum). Despite the masjid’s small size, we were informed that on Fridays and around festivals, the crowd spills onto the street outside and loudspeakers broadcast sermons. According to the mullah, a small mazhar behind the mosque marks Qudsia Begum’s grave. The domes were originally plated with copper, which was replaced with sandstone by Bahadur Shah II.
Take a rickshaw from across the street, past Jama Masjid and Hauz Qazi, alighting just after the Chawri Bazaar Metro station on the Lal Kuan road. On your left is Masjid Mubarak Begum (Bazaar Hauz Qazi, Sirkiwalan; on the first floor above some shops). Mubarak Begum, who built this mosque in 1823, was the wife of Sir David Ochterlony,the first British resident of Delhi. The board outside doesn’t say much about her except that she loved music, but according to some sources, she was a Brahmin dancing girl who converted to Islam. Apparently, this mosque, which was either built by Mubarak Begum or for her, was sometimes locally called “Randi Ki Masjid”. Now under the Waqf Board, the mosque, which has an inscription in Farsi over its entrance, is painted over in a red terracotta colour (with green trim) that attempts to approximate the sandstone beneath. You can make out scallops on the inside of the gumbads, as well as carved niches, but any painting that might have been on the walls is painted over. One of the turrets is missing a miniature gumbad. The mullah there enthusiastically told us the mosque’s committee wants to replace this and make other repairs but doesn’t have the funds. When we visited, he was cheerfully overseeing the mounting of two large rotating fans on either side of the entrance. He explained that this mosque is especially popular as an all-night hangout during Ramzaan.
From here, take a rickshaw to the Fatehpuri Masjid at the western end of Chandni Chowk. Built in 1650 by Fatehpuri Begum, another one of Shahjahan’s wives, this large mosque and madrasa complex has a wide courtyard and is partially exposed, partially painted. When we visited there was a minor commotion caused by a gaggle of schoolboys, who had made a game of harassing a stick-wielding, green-capped caretaker – the object of the game seemed to be to get as close to the mosque as possible before being chased away. Shouts of “Hari topi! Hari topi!” enlivened the otherwise relaxed atmosphere at the central tank. Though this mosque was once considered a place of debate and learning, clearly the school kids think of the courtyard as more of a maidan.
Take another rickshaw-ride to Lahori Gate at the end of Khari Baoli. To the right of the Walled City Museum, several large white gumbads are visible behind some shops. This is the Sarhindi Masjid built by Sarhindi Begum, yet another of Shahjahan’s wives, also in 1650. The sandstone mosque painted in bluish white has wide gates, but is sunken and slightly dingy. There’s a madrasa and rooms here where children are supposedly sent from Bengal, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh to study. The roof affords an excellent view of the railyard stretching to Connaught Place on one side and busy Khari Baoli on the other.
Jain temples in Dharampura.
The Lal Masjid Jain temple at the entrance of Chandni Chowk is famous for its location, age (its original structure is from the early eighteenth century) and bird hospital, but the area south of Chandni Chowk, between Dariba Kalan and Nai Sarak, is dotted with Jain temples. Start at Dariba and walk down, past the right turn to Kinari Bazaar, until you see a turn with an arch marked Kucha Seth to the right. Down this gali, you’ll find yourself surrounded by marble. The Shri Digambar Jain Chhota Mandir (1541 Kucha-i-Seth, Dariba Kalan) built by the Digambar Jain Panchayat in 1840 is on your right and the double-storeyed Shri Digambar Jain Bada Mandir (1513 Kucha-i-Seth, Dariba Kalan), built in 1828-1834 by one Indraraj Ji is just ahead on the left. Both of these have rich, gold-embellished paintings of the Jain Tirthankaras; the former is open in the morning and has a Jain Dharamshala next to it, and the latter, which is on the first floor and has a larger hall, is open in the evening.
At the end of the road, turn left and continue walking towards Chel Puri. You’ll come to the large Shri Digambar Jain Naya Mandir complex (opposite 2318 Dharampura), built in 1807 by Raja Harsukh Rai, a treasurer in Shah Alam II’s court. There are several buildings clustered around the temple, including a school. This temple is open in the morning.
Continue straight to reach the Shri Agarwal Digambar Jain Panchayati Mandir (2175 Gali Hanuman Prasad, Masjid Khajoor, Dharampura), which dates from 1705 and is open in the evenings. This large temple was rebuilt about a hundred years ago and is in very good condition, with colourful frescoes, a collection of antique manuscripts and a unique brown idol of Adinatha, which is made from something that looks like sandstone.
Turn back and left, walking north. On your right is the Shri Digambar Jain Mehru Mandir (3018 Gali Hanuman Prashad, Masjid Khajoor, Dharampura), which has a very intricately carved gateway between its distinctive marble walls. According to Delhi: A Built Heritage (INTACH, 1999), the temple dates from 1745. However, it may have been rebuilt, as the Archaeological Survey of India board outside states that it was built in 1845 by Lala Mehar Chand Jain. The inside is unusual and beautiful, with rows of small, chhattri-topped pillars. Across the street is the Shri Padmavati Puraval Digambar Jain Panchayati Masjid.
From here, walk north towards Chandni Chowk and you’ll emerge at Kinari Bazaar. Turn left and then right – just before Parathewali Gali is the little enclosed street called Naugharana, a favourite on tourist walks because of its well-preserved and painted havelis. This entire walk will take you past some beautiful carved doorways, but this street, and the Jauhri Temple in it, is the most accessible. The two-level temple, which was built in the late eighteenth century and renovated later, has very interesting paintings that seem to be influenced by a synthesis of various traditions, including Mughal miniature painting.
The Shivalaya trail in Katra Nil
Katra Nil, the area to the left of the Town Hall, is the traditional area for scores of Shiv temples and little Shivalayas, many of them originally courtyard shrines within havelis. The havelis are gone, but there are still several of these Mughal-era shrines in use today. They consist mainly of a raised marble or sandstone pedestal with the lingam in the centre, surmounted by a sandstone chattri. A walk down Katra Nil starting at Chandni Chowk will reveal glimpses of these shrines through doorways, in alleys and on raised courtyards. Several Shivalayas that have not been enclosed by temples are still in open courtyards, which are inhabited by families who perform puja everyday. Needless to say, there’s a heavy scent of ghee and attar in the air.
515 Krishna Gali to the left of Katra Nil. A lime-green enclosed Shivalaya.
793 Katra Nil Shivalaya Kunniji Maharaj. In a pleasant raised courtyard with a bright purple wall and deities.
556 Katra Nil Babu Lal temple. Through a red gate on the left.
598 Ghanteshwar Mahadev A large white temple in a gali to the left of Katra Nil. Said to be the oldest in the area, with a metal-clad Shivalaya with colourful paintings inside its dome, and mirrors on its walls.
602 Ghanteshwar Mahadev Dhumimal Shivalaya. In a courtyard with a large peepul tree; locally known as “Peepul Mahadev”.
701 Katra Nil Bada Shivalaya. Right side on Katra Nil, through a red archway. In an almost-closed courtyard.
689 Katra Nil Pandit Hari Ranji Ka Shivalaya, apparently named for a pandit of the same name.
Part of a few stories for a Time Out Delhi‘s “Ten spiritual trails” cover. Read more here.