Withering Sites

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delhi-tombs

Certainly Delhi is unimaginably antique, and age is a metaphysic, I suppose. Illustrations of mortality are inescapable there, and do give the place a sort of nagging symbolism. Tombs of emperors stand beside traffic junctions, forgotten fortresses command suburbs, the titles of lost dynasties are woven into the vernacular, if only as street names.”

– Jan Morris (Welsh historian, author and travel writer)


Delhi throughout its magnificent kaleidoscope of history has seen the rise and fall of various mighty empires and kingdoms. The political and cultural epicenter stands still, steeped in centuries of history.

Having being annexed and rebuilt by various invaders and rulers, Delhi came to be divided into a number of cities and clusters. Once known as the ‘ Islamic Capital of the World’, Delhi is dotted with monuments that keep alive the glory of Islamic architecture. But most of it is withering away due to a systematic negligence and callousness.

The primary reasons of the decay being ignorance and historic insensitivity, it is also imperative to notice the political motive behind the fading Islamic culture, that was the pride of the national capital. The renaming of Aurangzeb Road recently sparked a debate about the ‘real’ reason. Professor Rizwan Quaiser, head of the department of History at Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi says, “The renaming of Aurangzeb Road is a complete travesty of history. If they were so committed to APJ Abdul Kalam, they should have gone ahead and made a memorial in his name. Why replace existing roads?”

While scholars have engaged in a debate regarding the supposedly tyrannical rule of emperor Aurangzeb, some argue that the renaming of the roads has been happening for long. However, giving credit where it’s due, colonial rulers did remain true to the historical significance of Delhi. Sandipan Sharma, in an article in the news site Firstpost writes, “The British named the roads and parks of the new city after rulers from the Mughal dynasty. What was the reason? It is clear from the names the British chose for roads, lanes, squares and gardens, they wanted the new city to reflect the history of Delhi. The names were an ode to the various rulers who contributed to Delhi’s history, geography, art and culture.”

Zafarul Islam Khan, President of the All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat (AIMMM), an umbrella body of Indian Muslim organisations, says, “Renaming of roads is just the tip of the iceberg and in fact doesn’t concern us as much. The worrying factor is the neglect of various monuments and mosques that are just rotting away and have become a den of vice and immoral activities.”

Though the renaming was a widely discussed issue, the deterioration of the Islamic monuments which are an integral part of Indian tradition fails to get the attention it deserves.

The conquest of Delhi by various rulers and dynasties gave birth to establish nine bordering cities within its region, namely Indraprastha, Lal Kot & Qila Rai Pithora, Dar-ul-Khilafat (aka Siri), Tughlaqabad, Jahanpanah, Ferozabad, Shahjahanabad and Lutyen’s Delhi.

While the core of Delhi’s tangible legacy remained Hindu (during its advent as the mythical city of Indraprastha, serving as the capital of the Pandavas), Islamic (with the advent of the Delhi Sultanate period) and colonial (during the British era), the impact of centuries of Islamic rule was perhaps architecturally most significant.

Consisting of three world heritage sites and 174 national protected monuments, hundreds of state protected monuments and several unprotected ones and lesser known monuments, Delhi lies in the midst of an eroding legacy. Numerous ancient mosques, baolis, havelis, walls, gateways, forts and gardens are now deteriorating.

The Modi government, in the month of June, withdrew Delhi’s bid for the UNESCO World Heritage City status citing “concerns over possible curbs on infrastructure building”. While this came as a shocker for the people of the capital, it also showed a glimpse of the government’s approach to preserving the cultural importance of the national capital.

Delhi is home to hundreds of cultural monuments, mostly under the care of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), independent bodies like the Indian National trust For Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) and some NGOs. The condition of most of the monuments exposes the lackadaisical approach of the authorities meant to protect them. Officials from ASI, despite repeated attempts, refused to comment on the issue.

Of the 174 nationally protected monuments in Delhi that are maintained by the ASI, several are mosques or tombs. As per the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958, those mosques which have been traditionally used to offer namaz or prayers, are allowed to continue. These include the Jama Masjid, Ferozeshah Kotla and Neeli Masjid in Hauz Khas. However, those which have no recent history of namaz being held are treated as ‘secular structures of national heritage’ and prayers are prohibited there. In total, nearly 182 mosques under the protection of the ASI are prohibited from offering namaz in the capital.

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