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Fascinating monuments, timeless tales


TEMPLES, MOSQUES, gurdwaras, churches and graves generally have legends associated with them that make these places doubly venerated. Gurdwara Sis Ganj in Chandni Chowk marks the place where Guru Tegh Bahadur was imprisoned by Aurangzeb and later beheaded. Gurdwara Bangla Sahib was originally a Rajput palace, where Mirza Raja Jai Singh-I, father of the founder of Jaipur and builder of the Jantar Mantar used to live. The palace was given to the Sikh Panth, as the child Guru, Harkrishan, had briefly lived and died there in 1664.

Gurdwara Rakabganj is built on the site where the headless body of Guru Tegh Bahadur was cremated by Lakhi Singh and his sons. Skinner's Church was built in the 19th Century in perpetuation of a vow by Col. James Skinner, who survived death on the battlefield. Opposite the church in Kashmere Gate is Fakhrul Masjid, built by the wife of a Moghul military commander, Shujat Khan, as a memorial to her husband. Roshan-ud-Daulah's mosque, also in Chandni Chowk, was built by a noble man of that name to make amends for the huge bribes he used to take from those who sought his favour. The 245-year-old Gaurishankar Mandir in Chandni Chowk owes its origin to Apa Pant, a soldier, who had a dream in which the saw the Devi. She commanded him to build a temple, which was earlier known as Shivala Apa Pant.

The Hanuman Mandir in Connaught Place is said to date back to antiquity though historical evidence points to it having been built during the Moghul era by Sawai Raja Jai Singh-II. The Kalkaji temple (now renovated) is reputed to be over 3000 years old and is believed to have been built in response to a raja's dream. The main Jhandewalan mandir too is ancient and perhaps the most popular one during the Navratras. The sanctum sanctorum where the idol of the Goddess is installed resembles the interior of the Vashnodevi shrine. The tomb of Sheikh Chilli on the Delhi-Haryana G.T. Road is a shrine of a different type because the person venerated is far removed from the image of the storybook character who is the butt of many a joke. The monument of Chhugalchi in Etawah district of U.P., where people have to strike the grave with their shoes is a strange one. What would normally be considered a sacrilege has become the accepted mode of helping the reformed sinner, Bhola Sayyid, who rests there to complete his penance and gain redemption. He is believed to have helped Mohammed Ghori to conquer eastern U.P.

Rajasthan boasts of a Ganesha temple where live hundreds of thousands of rats which outnumber the ones in Delhi's Jhandewalan. At the Bhairon temple near Delhi's Purana Qila liquor is offered to the deity, reminiscent of the bacchanalian tradition in Greece.

Talking about shrines, Boccaccio in his Decameron relates the story of a beautiful woman who had converted her husband's grave into a shrine and vowed to spend her whole life there. A young man who had started visiting the shrine every day eventually stole the young widow's heart and married her. This naturally resulted in the woman breaking her vow. Something similar happened in 18th Century in Paharganj where a widow married the man who had built her husband's grave.

A shrine near the kotwali at Agra has a lot of pigeons that flock to it not only in the day but also roost there at night. In fact, many people release pigeons at the shrine in fulfilment of a vow. Both passers-by and policemen feed the feathered pets and they continue to multiply. Much the same thing is evident at the Jitgarh memorial town on the northern ridge in Delhi. The shrine on the road to Akbar's tomb at Sikandra is also unique because its main attraction is the redstone statue of a horse. There is a tomb in the same enclosure but nobody knows whose it is. Some say in it rests a dervish who had deserted his Khanqa in Delhi during the reign of Jahangir.

Delhi has many shrines, but the one after which the locality of Chitli Qabar is named is unusual in the sense that it honours a piebald goat. Nobody knows how the goat acquired a halo, or exactly whose it was. Perhaps it belonged to a saint or a nobleman of the Moghul era. Ironically, the shrine is in the vicinity of butchers' shops and it is not uncommon for someone carrying mutton for the evening meal to pause there and do obeisance.

There are fresh flowers at the grave every morning and when the shopkeepers pull down their shutters at night, one can see devotees lighting joss sticks and divas of pure ghee, for they insist that it is actually a memorial to a divine.

Be that as it may, the mohalla loves the shrine and the belief is that so long as it exists the locality of Chitli Qabar has nothing to fear, not even the demolition squad of the Delhi Development Authority that razed many old buildings not far away to make way for a modern housing colony. That the complex does not fit in with the character of the walled city, with its profusion of shrines, is another matter.

R.V. SMITH

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