New Delhi: The National Monuments Authority (NMA), a government body set up for the protection and preservation of monuments under the Ministry of Culture, has set out to ‘de-colonise’ Delhi’s history.
NMA chairman Tarun Vijay told ThePrint that these efforts are aimed at shining a light on Hindu-Sikh history, which was overshadowed by “Islamic invasions and British prejudices”.
And it’s not just Delhi — the NMA is working on similar projects in other states aimed at reviving forgotten places of historical importance such as the samadhi (resting place) of Tarabai in Satara, Maharashtra. Tarabai, the widow of Chhatrapati Shivaji’s younger son Rajaram, played a central role in the Maratha Empire until her death in 1761.
Work is also underway to erect a monument in Rajasthan for the victims of the Mangarh massacre, where around 1,500 tribal people were gunned down by the British in 1913.
But at the centre of the NMA’s plans is Anangpal Tomar II, who many believe was the founder-king of Delhi. The government body has plans to erect a statue of him somewhere in central Delhi and develop it into a tourist spot.
Founder-king of Delhi?
Anangpal Tomar II, a member of the Tomar dynasty that administered parts of present-day Delhi and Haryana between the eighth and 12th centuries, ruled from Dhillikapuri around 1052 AD, according to an inscription found on the iron pillar of Delhi that mentions his name.
Mediaeval historian Professor K.A. Nizami’s Urdu book Ehd-e-Wusta ki Dilli also says that Delhi emerged as a city in the 11th century when the Tomar Rajputs took control of mountains in the Aravalli region.
“Today when you ask anyone who is the founder-king of Delhi, nobody knows. Even the intellectuals don’t know. Islamic invasions and British prejudices overshadowed this, and then Leftist historians and archaeologists with Leftist leanings never wanted the Hindu-Sikh history of Delhi to come out. The Mughal invaders were the destroyers of Delhi. They just installed their own marks of invasion wherever they went,” said NMA chairman Tarun Vijay, who is also a former BJP MP.
The NMA chief added that the government body is trying to spread more awareness about King Anangpal Tomar II by organising heritage walks at Anangtal — a stepwell in Mehrauli established by the mediaeval ruler.
“The Vishnu Garud Dhwaj (iron pillar) in the Qutub complex was also brought by King Anangpal Tomar II. It was surrounded by 27 Hindu temples and a pond behind the temples, which is now in a faded condition. The temples were raised down by Qutubuddin Aibak to build a mosque and the Minar. We have been organising heritage walks around the same pond — Anangtal — to rejuvenate and revive it,” Vijay told ThePrint.
The NMA has so far organised three heritage walks at Anangtal that were attended by Delhi’s chief secretary Vijay Kumar Dev, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh joint-general secretary Krishna Gopal, Union ministers Meenakshi Lekhi and Arjun Ram Meghwal, and Bibek Debroy, chairman of the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council.
B.R. Mani, former additional director-general of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), who oversaw a two-year excavation in Anangtal from 1993 onwards, also attended the heritage walks. Mani has been credited with finding the remains of a temple while excavating the Ram Janmabhoomi site in Uttar Pradesh’s Ayodhya.
Not enough evidence, say historians
Professor Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi, professor of history at Aligarh Muslim University, supports the claim that there was a ruler named Anangpal Tomar who built some structures where the oldest remains of the Delhi stand, but says that is not enough to declare him the ‘founder-king’.
“Historians tracing Delhi’s development believe that Lal Kot is the first city of Delhi. During this period, around 10th to 11th century, there did exist a settlement at the spot where the Quwwat-ul-Islam complex is today located. The fort, which is now known as Lal Kot and which was expanded by Prithviraj Chauhan and later by the Turks, was originally built during the era of Anangpal Tomar II. But it cannot be said for sure if he was the founder-king,” said Professor Rezavi.
“Since 2014, there is a trend that mythology is being pushed as history without much evidence. The blame is sometimes on the Left, or Nehru or Aurangzeb or Babur. Half-truth travels far more than a complete lie,” Professor Rezavi said when asked about accusations that “Left-leaning historians” whitewashed the history of Delhi.
Pratyay Nath, assistant professor of history at Ashoka University, also says it’s difficult to put a finger on the exact date marking the foundation of Delhi.
“There is evidence of human habitation in different parts of today’s Delhi since prehistoric times, going back to the Stone Age. The Tomar Rajputs integrated the southern parts of Delhi into their political realms around the 10th-11th century. They built a fort that we today know as Lal Kot. They were eventually defeated and displaced by the Chauhan Rajputs, who expanded the Lal Kot and called it Qila Rai Pithora, or the fort of Prithviraj.
“The Chauhans, in turn, were defeated and displaced by the Turks in 1192. The Tomars, Chauhans, and Turks all lived in today’s South Delhi, in and around the Mehrauli area. It is through these various incremental settlements that the city gradually emerged,” he told ThePrint.
Professor Nath says that the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque was popularised by British officials during the colonial period as it fit their imagination of the Indian past in terms of two distinct and oppositional communities of Hindus and Muslims.
“The original mosque was built by reusing and repurposing parts of the Hindu and Jain temples of the surrounding areas. This kind of reuse of material — both religious and otherwise — was common in medieval India and cut across religious boundaries. This original mosque was expanded through the thirteenth century using fresh material,” he told ThePrint.
Baba Banda Singh Bahadur
Part of the National Monuments Authority’s initiative is the revival of the Mehrauli-based shaheedi-sthal (martyrdom place) of Banda Singh Bahadur — a Hindu ascetic who converted to Sikhism under the tutelage of the 10th Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, and rose to become a Sikh icon.
“Delhi’s people have only been taught about Mughal history. Those who faced the atrocities of Mughals and other invaders were conveniently forgotten. The sacrifices of Banda Singh Bahadur and Guru Tegh Bahadur are now being talked about because PM Modi takes special interest in it,” said NMA chief Vijay.
“Delhi is not a Mughal city — it is not a part of Tehran. It has its own history, which was buried under the invasion and ignorance. These are Delhi’s icons,” he added, while revealing the NMA’s plans to set up a walking trail till Baba Banda Singh Bahadur’s martyrdom place in Mehrauli.
“The place where he was martyred does not even have a plaque… we want to develop the place and will organise a big programme in the future. His descendant, Jatinder Pal Singh Sodhi, is also happy with the revival efforts, and we have the support of M.S. Sirsa and Harmeet Singh Kalka, president of the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee. Renowned hstorian Harbans Kaur Sagoo is also with us,” Vijay told ThePrint.
Another idea the NMA has come up with is that of an “all-inclusive skyline”, which includes monuments other than those dating back to the Mughal era.
“We would earlier see the Mughal-built monuments dominating the skyline, Qutub Minar, Humayun’s Tomb etc. Now, we have included the left-out important monuments and places of worship too,” Tarun Vijay said. The Qutub Minar predates the establishment of the Mughal Empire by some three centuries.
But the new skyline does include the Taj Mahal and Red Fort, both built by Mughal rulers, apart from the Gurudwara Data Bandi Chhod in MP’s Gwalior, Martand Sun temple in Kashmir, Tawang monastery in Arunachal, Vallarpadam church in Kerala, the Jain temple in Rajasthan’s Ranakpur, the Bahrot caves in Maharashtra’s Dahanu, which are revered by Parsis, and the Ahom Maidams in Assam’s Charaideo.
(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)