NEW DELHI: Exploring the city of Delhi has always been on the bucket list for people coming in the capital from across Indian states. The rich history encapsulated by these heritage structures is closely associated with the identity of the nation. With the elaborate superfluities and wonderful architecture, these structures represent one of the most outstanding facets of the multi-faceted Indian society.

Mehrauli Archaeological Park is one such splendid resource of medieval India. More than 100 odd structures in this park are spread over nearly 200 acres. Apart from being a centre of numerous graves and tombs, mosques, gardens, hauz and other buildings, Mehrauli Archaeological Park is also known for and populated by miscellaneous characters including kings, saints, lovers, and eccentrics.

Everyone’s Halt

Naman P. Ahuja, a professor of Indian Art and Architecture at the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, describes its uniqueness in rather unfamiliar way. “Whenever people study, they come to see Taj Mahal, some Badshah’s monument. But there are a very few buildings in India that tell us what had been done for the society, for the people. What architecture was being made for people. Making a step well means that anyone can come and drink water, caravan can rest there, people have a place to relax there.”

“It’s a unique cluster of buildings. Because you have a variety of barracks, gateways, stepwell which is something so unique, sulphur well also. You have fantastic underground aquifers that control the underwater supply. For some reason the natural water table is exceptionally well. So, it’s a jewel in the heart of this dry Aravali range. Bahadur Shah Zafar’s Jahaaz Mahal. That’s Samsi Taalaab, a massive large beautiful water body. Then you’ll see water taalaab of sultanate period. That’s why the Mehrauli pumping station has been the main pumping station for the Delhi jal board. This is really an important water body because of the availability of the water. That’s what it makes it so valuable.

Abundant Resource for Research

Whether, it was Tomar Dynasty headquarters and the place to Balaban’s monuments to khilji monuments to Lodhi monuments to Mughal monuments to colonial monuments and now the modern encroachments. There is a history ranging from 9th century to till now. At least one thousand years of history is being captured in that park. This is all that has been left off in the park to study. This is an important place for the scientific water planning which was there in that era.

How the chambers are created in multiple levels underground. There are underground Taikhanas one after another. In many countries they have created skyscrapers. This is the only country where they have thought of making skyscrapers underground. The kind of architecture shows that not only atmospheric pressure but also the ground pressure is being exerted on the walls. For engineering purposes, whereas normally you start with ground floor with thickest walls and thinner on the top floors. But, here the method is reverse to balance the structure. So, the engineering is remarkable. And it is performing a civic function. It’s one of the rare places where you can see historic buildings being made for non-religious and non-royal purposes. That’s a very unusual thing about this place.”

Ahuja’s association with the park goes back to the time when he was a student. In his own words, “I used to use the park as a place to getaway, listen to music and to read. It was completely a deserted and quiet place. I remember, as a teenager and even when I was a college student, I used to frequent that park to quietly spend an afternoon for reading and I used to leave in the evening. It was just one of the lovely deserted places in the city.

Revival and preservation of the site

When I started to visit that place again after I had done my Ph.D, after a gap of six to seven years. So, I am talking about in late 80’s and then in mid-90’s, I found that some area of the park had become really stinky. There was a sewage problem. The water bodies in that park were being mixed with sewage water. The matter became really alarming by that stage. And that was when I noticed that Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) started paying attention to that park, then tried to restore and clean up some of the problem which they noticed. At that time, with the help of Sanskriti Foundation, O. P. Jain, they erected the signage in that area. That was just as a way to start even telling people of Delhi and tourists above where this park even exists and what is there. Because, people didn’t even know the existence of that area. Even now, most of the people don’t know that this place exists.

So, now people have started to visit the place, again. But as with all tourism what happens is that there is a danger. Sometimes, a site can get more vulnerable when people start visiting the place. Three years ago I noticed a beautiful fountain has now been stolen. There used to be a beautiful fountain in front of sultanate period of the first mosque, to the left when you went in.

Encroachment and need to take care

The other thing was that the Jamali-Kamali tomb would always lie open. Now, another ten years later if I want my students to go there it is filthy, full of dust. Because nobody goes there, nobody cleans it. It is not the best way to preserve such a heritage. So, sensitive upkeep of the area has been a problem. The other has been that who are the people who really use that space and really criss-cross that place and live there. You realise that Delhi is an urban village. It is made up of the series of urban village. So there was a big battle to stop areas of it being as a toilet. A vast area of the place, jungle area of the park was being used as toilet. It was the only facility for the labourer to use that place. But the encroachment is really large already.

I am very surprised that any derelict and old broken monuments have become active with people reading Namaz. It has been so in a span of one to two years. It has been so due to the insecurity that if this building are lying unused anytime, someone will encroach and build a highrise. The rate of growth of building apartments in Mehrauli area over the years has been rapid.

No one is listening

The problem that we have faced for the last few months is that we have our arguments for why it is important but nobody is listening. They are just not listening.

The public engagement with the space has to be important enough. Firstly, these monuments have been noticed by ASI as heritage structures. So, without an act of parliament or without a major civic illegality, technically they cannot further encroach. But, the problem of Mehrauli is that they have been encroaching the area and demolishing the monuments. There is a rule of not constructing anything inside the 100 metre radius of the heritage structures. But, these rules have been broken by Delhi Development Authority’s constructions in Lado Sarai and nearby area.

Need of public engagement

The public participation to these monuments is very poor. I think we need to take more efforts to increase public participation and make it a more realistic place. The residents of Mehrauli themselves are not using this place as their own.

Responsible tourism is one of the important ways that should be taken up to ensure public access. Festivals like Phool-Waalon ki Sair has to be broadly publicised and encouraged.

Architect B. V. Doshi once made a remark that the only public architectures that exist in our city are old monuments. Public parks in most of the indian cities are those places where there is historic monument. These are really democratic spaces. Because nobody needs to pay to access them. It becomes an important centre for multiple communities to interact with each other.”

(Image Source: Wikimedia Commons)"