Here is an interesting topic worth debating.
Deduction and evidence point to existence of human habitation in Delhi before Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan founded Shahjahanabad....
Shahjahanabad was the new city founded by Shah Jahan. There is no doubt about it but the presence of Delhi Sultanate monuments in it raises a question mark: Was the area known as Old Delhi already inhabited, with a sizable population, in which the pre-Mughal rulers decided to build some of their edifices? They couldn’t have done so in a wilderness, with vast spaces in which wild animals roamed, leopards and a wide variety of antelopes, besides hyenas, jackals, porcupines, monkeys and langurs. During the reign of Iltutmish, successor of the first Slave king Qutubuddin Aibak, Hazrat Turkman Bayabani had already set up his khanqah or hospice where Shah Jahan’s Turkman Gate was to come up in the 17th Century. It was near the saint’s shrine that Iltutmish’s daughters Razia Sultana and Sazia Sultana were buried in Bulbulikhana. Moreover, every Basant Panchmi Day a big mela amid kite-flying was held at the shrine.
In the Tughlak period, Feroz Shah Tughlak’s 14th Century hunting lodge came up where Bhuli Bhatyari’s (or Bu Ali Bhatti’s) palace was built on the Ridge near present-day Karol Bagh. Feroz Shah also built his Kotla opposite the latter-day Khooni Darwaza (actually a Lal Darwaza of Sher Shah).
Paharganj, one of the main bazaars of Shah Jahan’s time, was, it seems, already an inhabited locality during Tughlak and Lodhi times. The Tughlak Baradari and a Lodi mosque on Qutub Road, through which lies one of the approaches to New Delhi station also proves that there were people living there in those times. Otherwise for whose benefit were they built? Surely not for the denizens of the wilderness.
Similarly, in the Jama Masjid area, Bhojla Pahari, part of which was cut down to build the grand mosque, was not the preserve of dacoits and gypsies only. Some claim there was a Vishnu temple nearabouts. In Chandni Chowk the Apa Gangadhar shivala might have come up during the time of the Marathas but legend associates it with an already existing ancient shivala, a small one, which devotees visited and which was presumably looked after by a pujari.
Not far from it was the Afghan fort on whose ruins the Red Fort was built, like the Agra Fort, which too was constructed on the ruins of a Pathan citadel called Badalgarh, originally a Rajput fort. Sher Shah’s son built Salimgarh before Shah Jahan was born and Jahangir, whenever he passed by Delhi on his way to Lahore and Kashmir, camped there as also on the Yamuna bank. The Jhandewalan temple beyond Paharganj had temples predating the Sultanate era, and one of them was built by Prithviraj Chauhan’s daughter Bela which exists in Jhandewalan Extension. Incidentally, Bela’s husband was killed in a battle with Sultanate forces near the site occupied by Pusa Institute. The battle raged daylong and when word was brought to Bela of her spouse’s death she and her maids committed sati on the Jhandewalan mound below which is the Panchkuian Road cremation ground. This would mean that the Chauhans, after the second Battle of Tarain, where Prithviraj lost to Mohammed Ghori, had retreated from Mehrauli to the Ridge area that made way for Karol Bagh centuries later.
Interestingly enough, Firoz Tughlak’s eldest son Fath Khan was buried in a mausoleum around which Qutub Road came up. Known as Qadam Sharif because of the stone bearing the footprint of the Prophet placed above Fath Khan’s grave, it used to have an annual urs even during Firoz’s time. Why did the Sultan build it so far from the Kotla and his other architectural creations in Mehrauli (where he himself is buried)? Probably because his domain spread that far and beyond to North Delhi, where his observatory was located. And naturally his subjects were living round about. Kali or Kalan Masjid near Turkman Gate was also built in his reign.
It is heartening to note that the Delhi Archaeological Department, in collaboration with Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), has begun repairs to the Paharganj Baradari and the Lodi era mosque to make amends for years of neglect that saw the two buildings vandalized and encroached upon in a heavily congested neighbourhood. According to a news report, the monuments are graded “A” and “B” and found structurally sound though godowns that had been built in the Baradari are now being demolished. The Baradari has five domes, overgrown with foliage because of which there has been water seepage, resulting in cracks and serious damage to the façade. “The Paharganj Baradari and the Lodi mosque are part of the conservation of 50 unprotected monuments, some in Mehrauli as also the ruins of Bhuli Bhatiyari-ka-Mahal.” So, didn’t Shah Jahan build his new capital on an already existing habitation?
I would like to read your interesting takes on this topic.
I have already debated this topic at an event.