Feroz Shah Tughlaq (r. 1351–1388) took special interest in strengthening the infrastructure of his empire. Not only did he build new structures, but also invested time and money in repairing buildings built by his predecessors. One of the best examples would be the Qutub Minar, which was extended by Tughlaq to its present state consisting of five storeys. Feroz Shah is more famous for commissioning buildings of architectural shapes that were seen as unconventional during his era. He is also considered the father of the irrigation system in India for channelizing rivers to provide water through canals to a large part of the country.
Feroz Shah Tughlaq came to power after the death of his cousin, Sultan Muhammad Bin Tughlaq. Muhammad Bin Tughlaq was known to be a lunatic king. His decision left the treasury dry and the economy collapsing. Feroz Shah avoided the throne for a long time, but due to pressure from the nobles, he eventually agreed to be the third sultan of the Tughlaq dynasty.
Instead of wars, he decided to spend more time and money on city planning, construction of public buildings, roads, water channels, and utilities. One of his commissioned structures is the baoli inside the citadel of Ferozabad. The citadel is known as Kotla-i-Feroz Shahi (the fortress of Feroz Shah), but more commonly referred to as Feroz Shah Kotla.
Today, this fort is the favourite destination for those who believe in djinns and want to have their wishes granted or their problems solved. You can see devotees sitting in almost every corner, lighting earthen lamps or incense sticks and praying to djinns. But what may amuse some first-time visitors is that many devotees also write their prayers on a piece of paper and stick them on the walls. Of late, people have also started lighting a lamp in a small window on the outer wall of the baoli.
This baoli is situated right before the pyramidal structure, containing the Ashokan Pillar, which Tughlaq brought from Topra near Jagadhri, Haryana. It is the only circular baoli/tank in Delhi. Other nearby circular ones are Surajkund in Faridabad and Pir Ghaus Ali Shah’s baoli in Farrukhnagar, Gurgaon—both in Haryana. The baoli of Feroz Shah Kotla measures 33 metres in diameter on the outside, and the water tank is around 9 metres. Area wise, this makes it the largest baoli in Delhi.
What adds to the uniqueness of this baoli is the fact that it is not like most other baolis of Delhi, where the well is separated from the tank by a wall. In this case, it is just the well dug up to form a tank. Other such examples in Delhi are the Nizam-ud-Din Baoli and the baolis of Tughlaqabad Fort. We are not comparing Feroz Shah Kotla Baoli with a kund, as this one has subterranean apartments and was once covered with a roof. These two elements are, however, missing in Nizam-ud-Din and Tughlaqabad baolis. It also has an underground drainpipe leading to the Yamuna.
There is a possibility that the roof had a small opening in the centre. We cannot be sure of this, as the entire roof has collapsed now with no written description of the actual architecture. Originally, it had entry from the east and the west, but only the west side is open now for public. As you enter, the flight of steps takes you to the lower level where you can access apartments and the water tank. Towards the east and the west, above the entrances, it once had two domed chhatris with stairs on either side.
This excerpt from Delhi Heritage – Top 10 Baolis by Vikramjit Singh Rooprai has been published with permission from Niyogi Books.