Delhi’s Feroz Shah Kotla stadium is set to be renamed Arun Jaitley Stadium after the former Finance Minister, who passed away last month. The stadium takes its name from a 14th century fortress. What is the legacy of Firoz Shah, who built the fortress?
In his autobiography Futuhat-i-Firozshahi, Firoz Shah Tughlaq described himself: “Among the many gifts which God bestowed upon me, his humble servant, was a desire to erect public buildings. So, I built many mosques and colleges and monasteries… I was led to repair and rebuild the edifices and structures of former kings and ancient nobles which had fallen into decay with the passage of time.”
And so, he built Feroz Shah Kotla (kotla means fortress), peppered Delhi with gardens, constructed canals, hunting lodges, and repaired Qutub Minar, Hauz Khas (royal tank) and Surajkund (lake of the Sun). In the 21st century, however, Surajkund is mostly known for its annual crafts mela, Hauz Khas for its bars and restaurants, and an auto ride to Feroz Shah Kotla on Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg usually ends at the stadium next to it.
Shama Mitra Chenoy, associate professor at Delhi University’s Shivaji College, said, “Firoz Shah was the first ruler to build a fortress next to river Yamuna. It was quite an urban sprawl.” In Percival Spear’s 1943 book Delhi: Its Monuments and History, which has been updated and annotated by historian Narayani Gupta and author Laura Sykes, the latter calls Firoz Shah “a medieval version of a management guru”.
Born to a Hindu princess, Firoz Shah came to power in 1351, and died in 1388. He built Feroz Shah Kotla, the fortress, on the banks of the Yamuna and called it Firozabad. Sykes writes, “According to an old proverb, three things were necessary: daria, badal, badshah (river, rainclouds and ruler). The ruler stood ready, the rainclouds could be hoped for, and of course the river was waiting in the shape of the Yamuna: he built the first of the river-based Delhis.”
In fact, Emperor Ashoka’s pillar, erected near Ambala in 250 BC, was transported to Delhi and placed in Firozabad. Spear writes, “He found it when hunting and as he liked old monuments, he transported it to Delhi on a great carriage with 42 wheels.”
At the Ridge in north Delhi stands another Ashokan pillar, smaller in size, near Hindu Rao Hospital. It was moved from Meerut to Delhi by Firoz Shah.
Professor Farhat Hasan of Delhi University said that during his reign, Firoz Shah did public construction activity on a massive scale. “Welfare projects — gardens, serai (inn), water supply — were his priority. By improving sources of water supply and irrigation facilities in Delhi and surrounding areas, he helped bring down the price of food grains too. It’s a known fact that Haryana’s irrigation systems go back to his era,” said Hasan.
Professor Chenoy said that Firoz Shah also built Dargah Qadam Sharif, which is located in Delhi’s Sadar Bazar. She said, “Story is that during his reign there was a saint who went to Medina. People there loved him so much that they gave him a stone with the footprint of the Prophet. That stone is on the grave of the ruler’s grandson. His other great contribution is a number of beautiful shikargah (hunting lodges) and hydraulic structures.”
In Spear’s book, Sykes writes that Firoz Shah is regarded as the honorary founding president of The Conservation Society of Delhi and that the British called him the ‘father of the irrigation department’ because of the many gardens and canals that he built.
Professor Gupta said that during Firoz Shah’s reign at least 1,200 gardens existed between Mehrauli and Firozabad. “He built hunting lodges in north Delhi’s Ridge area, one in Palam, and a third which came to be called Kushak Mahal, located within the Teen Murti Complex.”
Apart from indulging in building his own structures, Firoz Shah “felt a sense of responsibility” towards old structures that needed repair, among which Qutub Minar, Huaz Khas and Surajkund stand out. Spear writes, “In his reign, an earthquake damaged the two top storeys of Qutub Minar. He repaired the Minar and added a little pavilion at the top.” In the late 18th century, however, during another round of repair, an engineer called Major Smith replaced it with his own pavilion. Spear writes, “You can see the two storeys which [Firoz Shah] Tughlaq built because they are built of white marble and are quite smooth. The lower three storeys are the ones which Qutbuddin and Iltutmish built. of red sandstone.”
Firoz Shah also repaired Hauz Khas, the royal tank built during Alauddin Khalji’s reign in the late 13th century. Spear notes that Firoz Shah built a madrasa on its banks, and his own tomb is located at the corner of where the college stood. “The college was ruined by Timur’s invasion,” writes Spear. Similar repair work was done at Surajkund.
Professor Hasan said that apart from building new structures and restoring old ones, Firoz Shah was also able to create a “multi-lingual, multi-cultural space by providing patronage to poets, musicians, and various linguistic communities”. He said, “Under his patronage, premakhyan which is Sufi poetry written in Awadhi grew. It was a new genre of literature. He built many institutes for musicians and poets too.”