Cities in India have been named after various things. From gods and goddesses to animals, the etymology behind the naming of each city is engrossing. Shrouded in myth and mystery, the story behind Chirag Delhi’s naming is strangely fascinating. It is a compelling tale that speaks of the stunning powers of ancient prophecies, the triumphs of the indomitable human spirit and the dark consequences of greed.
It all began with a man - a slave by the name of Ghazi Malik.
One day, while accompanying the Turkish ruler Qutb-ud-din Mubarak Shah Khilji on a site survey, Ghazi Malik, fraught with ideas, offered a suggestion to his master. Ghazi felt that the site being surveyed would serve as an ideal location for building a fort.
The Khilji sultan, however, was unimpressed and considered Ghazi’s ideas ahead of his time. Mocking at his audacity, Khilji told Ghazi to build the fort himself when he had become a king. Little did he know that his words had given Ghazi free reign to pursue his dream that would later become his destiny.
As irony would have it, Ghazi Malik overpowered the Khiljis and under the alias of Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq, found the Tughlaq dynasty of the Sultanate of Delhi. He thereupon started the construction of the colossal Tughlaqabad fort, thus taking another step in the direction of his dream of building an impenetrable citadel.
Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq was a man fiercely driven by motive and a hunger to succeed. So intense was his passion for his dreams that he left no stone unturned. He was determined that his fort undisputedly is the finest specimen in its category, surpassing every other architectural marvel ever built before. Consumed by this desire, Ghiyas-ud-din issued a mandate that forbade the labourers to work on any project other than his city during the day, sowing discord in his already strained relationship with the celebrated Sufi mystic, Nizamuddin Auliya.
The news of confrontations between Nizamuddin Auliya and Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq spread like wildfire. It is believed that the haughty sultan harboured envy and contemptuous sentiments for the Sufi saint because of his popularity with the masses. A patron of the destitute, the benevolent Sufi master maintained his distance from the royal families throughout his lifetime.
Even during the reign of Mubarak Khilji, the Sufi saint refused to appear in court for a prayer ceremony for the king, where he was summoned along with other dervishes and noblemen and sent one of his disciples instead. A furious Mubarak Khilji warned Nizamuddin of his dire prospects if he failed to pay his respects in person.
In a fateful turn of events, Mubarak Khilji was killed by one of his own, soon after.
Khusro Khan, who briefly occupied the throne of Delhi after having assassinated Mubarak Khilji, did everything to appease the Sufi saint.
He donated large sums of money which were disbursed to the poor. Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq, after seizing power, ordered the money back but Nizamuddin Auliya firmly maintained that the money had been distributed amongst the poor.
A quarrel between the two ensued when Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq, disposed to his spiteful tendencies, prohibited the labourers to take part in the construction of a baoli, (step well) for Nizamuddin Auliya. Enraged, the Sufi saint uttered the imprecation, ‘Ya Rahe Ujar, Ya Basey Gujar’, meaning that the city of Tughlaqabad would either remain deserted or be inhabited by the cattle rearing Gujjars.
Needless to say, Tughlaqabad as a city, never flourished and was abandoned soon after it was built. The present day village of Tughlaqabad is inhabited mostly by the Gujjar tribe. The word Gujjar has been derived from gaucharana, (grazing cows).
Such was the devotion in the masses that many labourers worked in the darkness of the night, by the light of earthen lamps towards the completion of Nizamuddin’s Baoli. On hearing about this, Ghiyas-ud-din banned the sale of oil to impede further developments. The Sufi saint, however, remained unperturbed and asked his disciples to collect water from the baoli.
He then commanded his murid (disciple) Naseeruddin Mahmud, to light all the lamps with water. Naseeruddin, with undeterred faith, followed his master’s instructions and as the lamps illuminated the dark night, the workers were able to resume the construction.
Even today, the baoli of Hazrat Nizamuddin from its murky depths reflects the supreme faith of thousands of devotees in the erudite Saint.Chirag Delhi since has become eponymous with Nasiruddin Mahmud Chiragh Dehli, who was given the title of Roshan Chirag-e-Dehli by the revered saint.
Thus, the urban village in South Delhi got its name from the successor of the Chisti mystic Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya.The story doesn’t end there. Following the political adage ‘conquer and consolidate’ Ghiyas-ud-din turned his attentions to Bengal.
On his journey back, after defeating Shamsuddin Firoz Shah and having annexed a portion of Bengal, Ghiyas-ud-din learnt that his successor and heir, Muhammad bin Tughlaq had been promoted to the throne of Delhi as part of a conspiracy hatched by Nizammudin Auliya. Ghiyas-ud-din sent a message to the Sufi saint conveying that he should remove his presence from Delhi before the Sultan returned. It is speculated that Ghiyas-ud-din had been planning to remove the Sufi saint from Delhi upon his return from Bengal.
Nizammudin Auliya responded to this threat by saying, ‘Hanooz Dilli door ast’ that is: Delhi is far away.
In one of those vagaries of fate, Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq died inside a collapsed wooden palace built on the orders of Muhammad bin Tughlaq.
According to Ibn Battutah, the palace was designed in a manner that warranted its collapse when an elephant passed through the pavilion. Conjectures about this part of the story are varied and although largely inconclusive, point in the direction of the fact that Muhammad Tughlaq plotted his father’s death.
And so, the prophecies made by the Sufi saint Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya were fulfilled, condemning the city of Tughlaqabad and the Tughlaq dynasty to a cruel fate they could not escape.