Thursday 8 February 2018

Who was Dilli’s Khilji?

Ranveer Singh's portrayal of Alauddin Khilji has made the Delhi Sultanate ruler one of the most talked-about villains. It has also sparked off conflicting opinions about the ruler. ToI took a group of historians and explorers to Khilji's Tomb for a conversation on the Delhi-Khilji connect. Read on: 

"Who was Alauddin Khilji?" a child, who had come to visit the Qutub Complex recently, asked his parents. They quickly replied, "He was a ruler and someone you will watch in Padmaavat." This brief conversation made historian Archana Ojha smile.

The professor at Kamala Nehru College gave us a tour of the Khilji Tomb and talked about the ruler's influence on Delhi, his contribution to the city's architecture, as well as some interesting facts about the places in Delhi with a Khilji connection.

Joining her on the tour were Ajeet Kumar, a history professor at Kirori Mal College, and explorers Shrawan Chinchwadkar and Soumi Roy from the Delhi-based tour agency India City Walks. Soumi curates walks at various monuments and told us that the buzz around Sanjay Leela Bhansali's latest release has led to an increase in the number of tourists visiting his tomb, which was earlier neglected by tourists visiting the Qutub Minar.

"Only a few know about Khilji and the history of this place. So earlier, most tourists would just ignore it as it wasn't the most 'beautiful' monument around," Soumi said.
(L-R) Ajeet Kumar, history professor, Kirori Mal College, Archana Ojha, history professor, Kamala Nehru College, Soumi Roy, explorers, India City Walks and Shrawan Chinchwadkar, explorers, India City Walks (BCCL/ Ranjit Kumar)
'Khilji wasn't a barbarian, stubborn ruler. He was a strategic administrator'
While Bhansali's Khilji might remind you of Khal Drogo from Game Of Thrones - a barbaric ruler who wears furry overcoats and gets an ostrich when asked for just a feather - historians insist that's how the ruler is described by popular culture, but that isn't who Khilji was. He was a ruler who used to spend 16-18 hours discussing ways to expand his kingdom to bring economic stability and devise strategies to strengthen his army.

Ajeet said, "If true history is shown in any movie, it will turn out to be a flop. I think we need to keep movies separate from history, so if Ranveer Singh looks like a Khilji who was a barbaric ruler, then that's not surprising."

Archana added, "In movies, they show that the lives of the rulers were grand, but the reality is that most of their time was spent in fighting wars and working long hours."
Qutub Minar
'Khilji is also called a medieval economist'
Delhi is known for its street markets, but what Delhiites do not know is that it was Khilji who introduced segregated markets.

"People go to Chandni Chowk when they want to buy clothes and a different market when they want to buy electronics. This is exactly how markets were segregated in the medieval times," said Soumi.
Hauz-i- Khas
'Bhansali's Khilji wears furs, Allauddin used to wear cottons'
While Bhansali's Khilji wears furs, the real Khilji used to wear cotton clothes.

Ojha told us, "At the beginning of the Turkish invasion, particularly from the period of Qutub-ud-din Aibak, at the beginning of the Delhi Sultanate, new dressing styles were introduced. Rulers would wear long coats and pyajamas with leather boots. But after some time, they realised that wearing those kinds of clothes wasn't conducive to the Delhi weather or anywhere in the northern part of India. Then they started wearing cottons rather than woollens. Ranveer's look in movie is not what Khilji was. The film looks too exotic and grand."
Alai Minar
'If it wouldn't have been for Khilji, Delhi would have been a different city'
No matter how much people denounce Khilji in popular culture, Archana says that Khilji's contribution to medieval history is immense.

"What Delhi's architecture is today is because of him. South Delhi, which is a prime location where everyone wants to own a house, is where the Sultanate also decided to establish their empire," she said.

Ajeet added, "Delhi would have been very different without Khilji."
Khalji's Tomb
'Khilji built the extended area of the qutub complex. The Alai Darwaza is an example of his architectural brilliance'
Can you imagine exploring Delhi without going to Siri Fort or Hauz Khas? Well, hadn't it been for Khilji, Delhi would not have had any of these sites.

Soumi said, "Delhi's architecture wouldn't have been what it is if it wouldn't have been for Khilji. The tourists and the locals love these places and the footfall at all these places, especially the Khilji Tomb, has increased significantly, thanks to the Padmaavat buzz."

"The Qutub complex was the first complex of Delhi - built by Qutub-ud-din Aibak, sultan of Delhi - and the complex that we see today is an extended area built by Khilji. One of the examples of Khilji's architectural brilliance is the Alai Darwaza. There were four darwazas initially, but all of them are broken now," said Ajeet.

"We need to understand that the site where Khilji's Tomb is, was not discovered by Sultanate rulers. It was the provincial city of the Chauhan dynasty. There was Lal Kot in Mehruali, which is very close to this place, with a six-feet-high fortification wall. So, this site was considered to be geologically, geographically and strategically important, because from here, one could also control Rajasthan," added Archana.

Siri Fort remains
'Padmaavat has created curiosity about Alauddin Khilji among people'
Apart from those who conduct history walks, nobody, not even guides talk in detail about Khilji's Tomb, but after Padmaavat, the curiosity about Khilji has led to a jump in the number of tourists visiting the Qutub complex.

"Whenever a Bollywood or a Hollywood movie is made on a specific topic, it generates an interest among people. For example, PK brought Agrasen Ki Baoli into the limelight," said Soumi, while Shrawan gave the example of Jodhaa Akbar making the Agra Fort popular.

"When Jodhaa Akbar released, there was an increased interest in Agra Fort and Akbar's personality. Movies - Hollywood or Bollywood - have acted as a tool in piquing the curiosity of the locals about the landmarks of the place where the movie is based. The Harry Potter series made a village in Edinburgh a major tourist spot. So, at present, we have Padmaavat which has made people curious about Alauddin Khilji's dynasty and how he was as a person. Delhi also has its own connection with Khilji," said Shrawan.

Talking about the connection, Archana said that Khilji will always be of interest to Delhiites because of "his association with Delhi, what he did for it, and the kind of architectural features that he added to the city."

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