Very few places are there which simultaneously carry layers of history in its womb. Purana Quila, located at the heart of Delhi near the India Gate, is one of them. Today it is better known as the spot where Yash Chopra’s blockbuster Veer Zaara was shot.
According to the Mahabharata, the Pandavas were given the rugged plains of Khandavaprastha, who, with the expertise of Krishna converted it into Indraprastha – a city which rivalled Indra’s heaven in beauty and grandeur. It is believed that the place where the fort stands today was once the capital of the invincible Pandavas. Later, the Guptas built many structures around this place. In the Medieval ages, Delhi fell into many hands, one after another, with the marks of the regimes left behind in the zillion nondescript structures that stand around Delhi, unknown, unattended.
The cool and embalming breeze of the gardens
The exteriors of the mosque display an amalgm of the Hindu, Afghan and Islamic architecture
The chunk of Purana Quila’s current structure was constructed by Sher Shah Suri, after he dethroned Humayun from the throne of Delhi. I walked in through the Bada Darwaza and entered the ramparts of the fort. The lush green gardens, with the cool breeze passing through the flowers lining the bushes, embalmed my heart. The fort is flanked by the Bada Darwaza, the Taliqi Darwaza and the Lal Darwaza.
Purana Quila was constructed at a unique crossroad of history. The structures stand as an amalgam of Hindu, Afghan and Mughal architecture. It was a time when the Mughals had arrived and the Lodhis had been forced out of Delhi. The carvings in the pillars of the mosque bear semblance to the forts of Chittorgarh.
When Veer met Zaara (The Quila-i-Kuhana)
Light at the end of the tunnel (The interiors of the Quila-i-kuhana)
“This is the spot where Veer bid farewell to Zaara in a dramatic scene” said one pointing at the Quila-e-Kuhna – the mosque built by Sher Shah. I found many Veers and Zaaras ensconced in each others’ arms in the chilling winter of Delhi. In front of the mosque are a dysfunctional fountain and a waste pit, which once used to be the mosque well. The view of Delhi one gets from the balustrades is simply remarkable. The entrance arch of the mosque is built in marble, with patches of red sandstone. It is believed that Sher Shah had to clip his dream of building the entire mosque in marble due to shortage of white marble and had to salt it away for special inscriptions and designs. The final effect is magical. The bright red sandstone provides the right contrast to the white marble and the inscriptions stand out in their sheen. The prayer hall is badly disfigured with umpteen ‘Bunty loves Bubli’ kind of marks. The entire stretch of the hall-way provides a perfect frame for a photograph.
The Sher Mandal – Humayun’s Library
Humayun’s Gate – a story in ruins
A few steps away from the Quila-i-Kuhna is the Sher Mandal. After recapturing the throne of Delhi, Humayun converted the Sher Mandal into his personal library. In 1556, he tripped down the stairs of the library and met his nemesis. Near the Sher Mandal is Humayun’s gate, which is today in complete ruins. The Purana Quila, unlike its more famous cousin in Old Delhi – the Lal Quila- seems to be cut off from the ultra modern exterior of New Delhi. Old Delhi, on the other hand, seems to be on a continuum, juggling history and the present in a rare chemistry to preserve a unique gift for posterity. It is not to say that the Purana Quila is all neglected. The fort seethes with life often, when the strains of the sitars, cymbals and anklets bring it back to life during Delhi’s revelling art festivals. Moreover, it takes hardly an hour to cover the whole fort, after which one can also go boating.
One of the Persian inscriptions in the Quila-e-Kuhana reads thus “As long as there are people on this earth, may this edifice be frequented and people be happy”. The words, like this edifice have stood the test of time.