Khilokri- A lost city

“Oh, King! You’ve built such a wall around Sher-i-nau

That stone can reach the moon from the pinnacle (of its towers)”

Amir Khusraw

Delhi is known for its proverbial seven cities albeit it lacks precision. The ruins of the city of Khilokri, however, have not survived the wrath of time. However, the city has significantly helped in the socio-cultural development of the Sultanate capital of Delhi. The city came to the limelight when it was favoured for residence by Sultan Kaiqubad. 

The early settlements in Khilokri are, however, not insignificant. Qutubuddin Bhaktiyar Kaki was staying in Multan with his preceptor, Bahauddin Zakariya when the city was besieged by the Mongols. Consequently, he set off for Delhi and settled at Khilokri. Two leading theologians of Iltumish’s court visited him frequently but were troubled by the distance. With Iltumish’s help, they brought Kaki to Qutb Delhi (The present-day Old Delhi or Shahjahanabad) and got a house for him next to the Izzuddin’s mosque. Firishta writes that Kaki had settled in Khilokri due to ‘proximity to water’ and was unwilling to move to Old Delhi but he eventually gave in and settled there. 

Ruknuddin Firoz succeeded Iltumish as the Sultan of Delhi. A conspiracy against his rule was held in Khilokri by several officials of the old sect/dispensation. Khilokri was no longer a Sufi city and had shed all the vestiges of Kaki. Now, the city was a cantonment-like town. To suppress the rebellion, the Sultan marched with a multitude of armed men to Khilokri only to be executed. Razzia Sultana, the first and the only woman claimant of the Delhi Sultanate festooned the throne. However, she was sacked for showing signs of rebellion against the entrenched Iltumish’s military commanders or Shamsi sect and three more Shamsi puppets were placed in quick succession. 

When the emissaries of the Mongol conqueror of Iran and Iraq arrived at Delhi to meet Sultan Nasiruddin Mahmud, the entire route from Old Delhi to Khilokri was embellished with an array of soldiers and civilian militia. Juzzani twice mentioned the city as the ‘sher-i-nau’ or the ‘new city’. The riparian plains of Khilokri was indeed an excellent location far from the hustle-bustle of the overpopulated Qutb Delhi. 

The fresh founding of the city comes from the accounts of Ziyauddin Barani in his magnum opus, Tarikh-i-Firuz Shahi. He credits Sultan Kaiqubad as the founding father of Khilokri. He describes him as a ‘handsome young man of excellent qualities with a heart filled with the desire to enjoy the pleasures of life’. On the banks of river Yamuna, Kaiqubad laid foundations of a large palace and a splendid garden. He moved there and started living with his auxiliaries. The nobilities started building palaces in the quarters they occupied and the heads of each profession moved from Delhii-Kuhna or the Old Delhi to Khilokri, making it populous and flourishing. Eventually, singers, jesters and performers started migrating to the city. In the due course of time, wine houses became full and recreational places came up in the city. Sources suggest that the price of wine increased ten-fold. Everybody was busy seeking the sensual pleasure of the materialistic world supplemented by an enormous demand for wine and perfume. 

However, there’s no evidence suggesting that Qutb Delhi ceased to be the capital of the Sultanate. The imperial mint continued to be located in Qutb Delhi and the coins mentioning the name of Sultan Kaiqubad were found from Qutb Delhi. 

Nau Roz is celebrated to mark the beginning of the Iranian Solar year. A long poem by Amir Khusraw describes the celebration of the same in Khilokri

Eventually, Kaiqubad was murdered and the intra-dispensational conflict placed Jalaluddin Khalji on the throne of Delhi Sultanate. Barani mentions that fearing the hostilities of the city residents to the new ruler, Jalaluddin Khalji chose to reside in Khilokri. The nobles of Qutb Delhi travelled to Khilokri to offer allegiance to the newly enthroned emperor. The reign of Jalaluddin Khalji witnessed a new round of construction activities in Khilokri. Firstly, he ordered the completion of the palace commissioned by Kaiqubad. Secondly, he commissioned a splendid garden in front of the palace by the banks of the river Yamuna. Thirdly, a fort was built inlaid with stone walls and watchtowers each of which were placed under the control of a noble. In consequence of the imperial favour conferred to Khilokri, markets began to be built on all sides of the city. Another layer of houses was built by the nobles and officers of the new Khalji dispensation. Merchants started to migrate to Khilokri and started building markets. The population of Khilokri was increasing to an extent that a new mosque was built especially for the Friday congregational prayers. It is further evident that the term ‘sehr-i-nau’ for Khilokri reclined the Qutb Delhi to the status of Delhi-i-Kuhna or Old Delhi. 

Furthermore, Sheikh Nizammudin Auliya built his hospice in Ghiyaspur guided by a ‘divine voice’. After the founding of Khilokri by Sultan Kaiqubad, the population of Ghiyaspur started rising substantially. The distance from Ghiyaspur to Khilokri was close to half a kuroh or 1.458 kilometres. Sources suggest that Sheikh Nizammudin Auliya would walk from Ghiyaspur to Khilokri for the Friday prayers. It is also found that Sheikh Nizammudin Auliya got a house in front of the Friday Mosque at Khilokri. Finally, Ghiyaspur became a suburb of Khilokri on its northward extension. 

References 

  • Ali, Athar. (1985). “Capital of the Sultans: Delhi through the 13th and 14th Centuries”, in R.E. Frykenberg, ed., Delhi Through the Age: Essays in Urban History, Culture and Society, Delhi: Oxford University Press, pp. 34-44
  • Kumar, Sunil. (2011). “Courts, Capitals and Kingship: Delhi and its Sultans in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries CE” in Albrecht Fuess and Jan Peter Hartung. (eds.).Court Cultures in the Muslim World: Seventh to Nineteenth Centuries, London: Routledge, pp. 123-148
  • Kumar, Sunil. (2019) ”The Tyranny of Meta-Narratives; Re-reading a History of Sultanate Delhi”, in Kumkum Roy and NainaDayal.(Ed.).Questioning Paradigms, Constructing Histories: A Festschrift for Romila Thapar, Aleph Book Company, pp 222-235.
  • Haidar, Najaf. (2014). ‘Persian Histories and a Lost City of Delhi’, Studies in People’s History, vol. 1, pp. 163–171