Unravelling The Legends Of Delhi's Cursed Tughlaqabad Fort

Tughlaqabad Fort
Tughlaqabad FortTughlaqabad Fort

If you venture along the Badarpur-Mehrauli road in the southern part of Delhi, you will come across the gigantic bastions of the ruined Tughlaqabad Fort. Ghiyasuddin Tughluq, the emperor of the Delhi Sultanate and the founder of the Tughlaq dynasty built this fort in 1321. The ambitious emperor spared no expense and innovation when it came to the construction of this fort. It was supposed to be a marvel of architecture with an entire royal city built around this impregnable fort. However, unlike many medieval forts and castles that we see in Delhi today, which have been maintained and preserved, all that’s left of the Tughlaqabad Fort is its decrepit walls, tumbledown arches, and some massive palisades. The fort did not withstand the trials and tribulations of time and there are some interesting stories behind its untimely fate.

Before Ghiyasuddin came to power, he was known as Ghazi Malik and was a vassal of the Khalji dynasty. A popular legend goes that once on a walk with his Khalji master, Ghazi proposed to the emperor to build a fortified city. The Khalji master laughed off his idea and humorously told him to build one when he came to power. Little did anyone know then that it would be a foreboding. When Ghazi Malik came to power in 1320 AD, he assumed the mantle of Ghiyasuddin Tughluq. Some say he was responsible for the death and overthrow of the former Khaji master. Soon, he began the construction of his dream fort and the idea was to repel Mongol invaders, who were running riot during that period of time.

Although Ghiyasuddin has been generally portrayed by history as an open-minded ruler, the legend goes that he was so fuelled by the ambition to complete his dream project, he issued an edict that all laborers of the Sultanate of Delhi had to work on the construction. At the same time, Saint Nizamuddin Auliya, a Sufi saint of the 13th century, got enraged as the work on his baoli (well) was halted because of Ghiyasuddin’s edict. The tussle between the saint and the emperor has become legendary in Indian history.

Tughlaqabad Fort
Tughlaqabad FortAnish Kumar
An underground pathway in Tughlaqabad fort
An underground pathway in Tughlaqabad fortDonyanedomam

Since there were no available laborers for the saint’s well, the laborers started working on the fort during the day and spent the night constructing the stepwell. When the royal emperor found out that the saint was using his laborers for work, he was enraged. In a fit of anger, he banned the supply of oil to the site of the stepwell, so that no lamps could be lit, making working at night impossible. The legend goes that enraged by the emperor’s move, Nizamuddin turned the water in his well into oil. He then went on to curse the city of Tughlaqabad, uttering “Ya rahe ujjar ya base gujjar”, which translates to “it will either remain desolate or be occupied by herdsmen”.

There is another famous legend that says Ghiyasuddin was in Bengal when he got to know about the laborers working for Nizamuddin. He took a vow to exact revenge on the saint upon his return. As a response to that, the mystical saint said “Hunuz Dilli dur ast” which translates to "Delhi is still far off". On his way back to the Sultanate of Delhi, Ghiyasuddin died all of a sudden when a gazebo built in his honor came crashing down on him and his younger son. Ghiyasuddin was buried in Tughluqabad.

Today, for a ticket worth twenty rupees, you can visit the Tughluqabad Fort and the Mausoleum of Ghiyasuddin Tughluq. If you are a history buff or an admirer of old architecture, it's definitely worth a visit.

Tomb of Ghiyasuddin Tughluq
Tomb of Ghiyasuddin TughluqWikimedia Commons

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