A ‘City of Djinns’: Feroz Shah Kotla

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Built by Sultan Feroz Shah Tughlaq in 1354, the fortress ‘Feroz Shah Kotla’ remains one of the most sacred medieval-Islamic ruins today. It is located right between Old Delhi and New Delhi. The Sultan also founded the city called Ferozabad, which is located along the banks of the river Yamuna, where the fort is situated too.

The fort was built as the Sultan’s previous capital, Tughlaqabad, faced a major water supply crisis. The structure houses multiple mosques, gardens, and madrasas within its premises. A grand architectural marvel, the ground is made up of multiple chambers, which also form a platform for the mosque right on top.

Reminiscent of the ‘City of Djinns’ (William Dalrymple), a site filled with the spirituality of wandering saints and fakirs, the fortress is one of the few unexplored, non-conventional places of ritual worship. A curious paradox of believers and non-believers flood this site on a regular basis, perhaps due to a reason that goes beyond the boundaries of logic or maybe it’s just for the uncertainty and thrill of a mystic place belonging to a more fantastical universe.

The believers write letters to the resident djinns with the hope of appeasing their wants and gaining miraculous wishes in return. Offerings of milk, sweets, fruits, and meats are made on a regular basis as you walk along, dark old walls stuck with coins, which reflect the desires of their devout hearts. It stands witness to the countless deepest, darkest secrets that believers divulge in their pursuit of faith. Some even stand by their stories of being miraculously cured from physical ailments and recovering from cases written off by most of the well-reputed doctors the city has to offer. Hence, it’s no surprise that the place is also a house to regular exorcist practices. It is a space where rationality and science find themselves bowing their heads in defeat.

In Islam, humans are believed to have been created from clay, while angels were composed of light. The djinns, on the other hand, are believed to have been created from smokeless fires. They were ordained by Allah to look after his devotees and followers.

The djinns are believed to be drawn towards beautiful, young maidens with long luscious hair. They seemingly have the power to control and manipulate human minds, and the weak of heart fall prey to their powers of possession. Myths and legends state that they can potentially live for thousands of years and eventually start a family of their own.

While the djinns are said to have resided there for over 5 centuries, people only began flocking to the place a few months after the Emergency in 1977. During the Emergency, a saint named Laddu Shah took up asylum within the fortress and word spread that he sensed some powerful spiritual energy within the fort. This took up the form of wish-granting djinns. The chieftain, ‘Laat Wale Baba’, resides in the Minar-e-Zareen, a 13.1 metre polished sandstone pillar, which is surrounded by a railing that believers push against in the hopes of conveying their wishes.

The 14th century structure has clearly stood the test of time as society flourishes and evolves. It is a symbol of faith that exists outside the four walls of a temple or a mosque, within ruins that fill the strongest of hearts with despair. As they waver, the light from the devotee’s candle holds steady as do their wishes rising up with the smoke of littered incense sticks.

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