Delhi’s Historic Villages

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Item Code: NAG879
Author: Charles Lewis and Karoki Lewis
Publisher: Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd.
Language: English
Edition: 2012
ISBN: 9780670084562
Pages: 184 (Throughout B/W and 29 Color Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8 inch X 11 inch
Weight 1.20 kg
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Book Description
About the Book

Delhi’s landscape forms a dense pattern of the old and the new-a maze of streets and dwellings where historic ruins rub shoulders with modern-day complexes and where the expanding city encroaches relentlessly on village settlements that date back centuries. Delhi’s Historic Villages brilliantly captures this uneasy embrace of tradition and modernity. Eight villages have been singled out for the historical interest of medieval monuments in their midst-from the ruins of Siri adjoining Shahpur Jat to the cluster of shrines in Mehrauli.

What emerges is a fascinating tapestry of word and image that illustrates the realities of everyday life in these urbanized villages-of communities living in a state of flux, forced to cope with the transition from a rural to an urban way of life. Karoki Lewis’s stunning photographs reveal the effects of modernization on the majestic ruins and their immediate environment. The supporting text by Charles Lewis provides an absorbing account of the history and present situation of these communities based on interviews with the villagers and extensive archival research.

Celebrating the unique character of each village, this lavishly produced new edition will resonate not only with discerning visitors to the city but with Delhi’s own residents as well.

About the Author

An award-winning photographer, Karoki Lewis’s work is a mixture of travel and reportage, and has featured in a number of photographic books on India, as well as in newspapers, magazines and websites internationally, such as Geo, the Guardian, the Independent, the Daily Telegraph, Sunday Times Travel, Harpers & Queen, Conde Nasi Traveler, Departures, Time and the BBC.

Charles Lewis read history at Cambridge and worked initially with Alien & Unwin, later joining Oxford University Press. He has been in publishing most of his life and Delhi is his second home. He has co-authored Delhi’s Historic Villages and Mehrauli: A View from the Qutb with his son Karoki.


For this reissue of Delhi’s Historic Villages: A Photographic Evocation, first published by the late Ravi Dayal in 1997, the opportunity has been taken to add two new chapters on Nizarnuddin and Mehrauli, both with significant histories of their own as well as famed for the dargahs there and the proximity of two World Heritage sites-Humayun’s Tomb and the Qutb Minar. The Introduction in the first edition has however been retained, and the text and photographs illustrating life in the original six selected villages remain largely unchanged, capturing their situation in the last decade of the twentieth century, though brief ‘postscripts’ have been added for any needed updating. Similarly, the background to the original project and acknowledgements of help received are retained in the Preface and Acknowledgements to the first edition, and both have now been updated for this new edition.

Looking back now and revisiting these villages over a decade later, little seems to have in fact changed. The overall environmental downward trend continues, though, with increasing pressure of population, especially from incoming migrant labour (not to mention IIT, FIITJEE and other students) seeking jobs and accommodation. So does the wearisome incapability of government agencies to keep pace with the increased demand for public services-whether health, housing, electricity, water, sewage disposal, roads, transport, pollution control and other environmental needs-plagued as ever by shortage or misuse of funds, corruption, interference from political and vested interests and, not least, bureaucratic indifference, inertia or ineptitude.

But there are some encouraging signs, from the heritage angle, of increasing public awareness now, as evidenced by the number of organized walks around the main sites since those pioneering days of the erstwhile Conservation Society Delhi, the involvement of some local residents associations, schools and corporates in helping to clean up some of Delhi’s historic monuments, even to ‘adopt’ them, with the encouragement of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), and highlighted by press coverage.

The media has also been active in drawing attention to the ‘monumental neglect’ of so many of Delhi’s listed monuments-whether ASI protected or not-highlighting especially their woeful upkeep and the failure of the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) and Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) in particular to regulate and maintain their immediate surroundings free of encroachments and rubbish at so many of these sites.

The ASI, whose press-cuttings files at their Delhi Circle office and library at Safdarjang’s Tomb are bursting with these exposures and complaints, I has its own problems-insufficient funding, shortage of qualified staff, endless and distracting litigation over encroachments, including much-needed conservation work which the then Superintending Archaeologist Muhammed K.K. had been actively pursuing within these constraints. The involvement and collaboration with INTACH’s Delhi Chapter and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) has helped the ASI with the deployment of skilled craftsmen and the availability of the necessary funding over major projects, as at Nizamuddin and the Mehrauli Archaeological Park. The 2010 Commonwealth Games were no doubt a spur to belated action, and the renewed ‘beautification’ of Delhi has, to the ASI’s credit, included the breathtaking illuminations that may be seen in the Lodi Gardens, or at Safdarjang’s and Humayuri’s tombs. Whether the present government’s campaign to achieve Heritage City status is successful or not, despite its shortcomings and the frustrations and deprivations affecting the living conditions of its long-suffering citizens, Delhi and its monuments can still boast of a remarkable history comparable to Athens, Cairo or Rome.

Nonetheless, this ‘father and son duo’ would like to hope we have contributed, along with others concerned about the future of Delhi’s historic past, to an increased awareness of the importance of preserving and, more than that, celebrating the richness and diversity of Delhi’s built heritage as manifested by the monuments still surviving in its urbanized villages. It goes without saying that their conservation can also contribute significantly, given the right direction, both to the local economy through tourism, trading, job creation and to overall environmental improvement, and not least as an essential element in urban planning.

Finally, we would like to acknowledge and warmly thank again the many who have encouraged and helped us over the first edition of this book and the book which followed it on Mehrauli and now this redesigned and handsomely produced edition (‘coffee-table book with a conscience’ though it may be, as its predecessor was described), and above all to Primila, to whose grandchildren this book is dedicated.


This book has grown from the germ of an idea, nourished by family, friends and others who felt that, despite the many books on Delhi, there was a need for one which dealt with the historic villages round which the modern city has developed. These villages are increasingly in danger of being swallowed up or disappearing altogether in the relentless expansion of New Delhi.

It has also been prompted by over four decades now of frequent visits to and periodic residence in parts of south Delhi where most of these villages and their monuments are still to be found. Their proximity, though not necessarily easy accessibility, has over the years excited in us a growing interest in their origins and their present situation as well as an appreciation of, and a protective concern for, the monuments in their midst. They may not enjoy the popularity of the more spectacular and lavishly maintained Qutb Minar, Humayun’s Tomb or Red Fort, but have their own significance in Delhi’s history and their own aesthetic value.

The book focuses on six representative historic villages in south Delhi-Begumpur, Khirki, Chiragh Delhi, Shahpur Jat, Masjid Moth and Hauz Khas. The photographs have been taken both to illustrate the visual appeal of the monuments and their immediate environment and to document the reality of everyday life in these now urbanized villages. The introductory chapter provides the historical and architectural background, and describes their present plight in the ongoing urbanization process. The remaining chapters deal with the individual villages and their monuments, and the scope in some cases for their creative redevelopment for the benefit of the villagers and for the improvement of the environment in the context of conservation as well as the perennial debate on the pros and cons of allotting scarce resources for the preservation of the national capital’s historic heritage.

A disclaimer, if not an advance apologia, to the general reader is necessary here lest it be assumed that the Introduction is anything other than an impressionistic sketch of the Delhi Sultanate. An authoritative history, however abridged, it is certainly not-as will be clear from the omission, for example, of any account of the innumerable campaigns and expeditions to extend or to defend the Sultanate’s dominions, or of any historical assessment of Sultanate rule and its impact in southern India, which can be found in other sources.

The inclusion of a certain amount of anecdotal material, however, is deliberate since the primary purpose is to capture and convey some of the flavour of the times and to stimulate further interest in Delhi’s pre-Mughal monumental heritage. Hence much of the source material on which the Introduction relies, together with many of the quotations in the text, is derived from the Elliot and Dowson translations of the contemporary accounts and later histories or court chronicles of the Delhi Sultanate- erratic, contradictory or exaggerated as some of them may have been, or flawed here and there in translation from the original Persian.

Similarly, the description of the historic villages as they are today is in no way a socio-economic survey, though it does rely to some extent on interviews with villagers, archival and ASI records and other published and unpublished sources, such as research material on aspects of Delhi’s urban villages by staff and students at the Delhi School of Planning and Architecture, the TVB School of Habitat Studies and members of the erstwhile Conservation Society Delhi. The intention, in addition to complementing the photographs, is rather to highlight the present predicament of the villagers and the need to tackle the problem of reconciling their needs and aspirations with the compulsions of urban development and conservation management.

The notes (numbered in the text) and references at the end of the book provide more specific information, and some further asides, on the sources for this work, and a glossary, mainly of architectural terms, is included-for convenience.

Thanks are particularly due to Narayani Gupta for generously giving time to read the original text in draft and to Nanu Mitchell whose idea it was for such a book in the first place; to the late Ravi Dayal for so readily agreeing to publish it, to Mala Dayal for encouraging it to be reissued now, and for this new edition with the Penguin Books India team, involving in particular Ambar Sahil Chatterjee as editor and the designer Anisha Heble of Ka Designs.

Others too have facilitated the writing of it by providing access to relevant material or advice and help: Nalini Thakur of the Delhi School of Planning and Architecture, A.G.K. Menon, formerly of the TVB School of Habitat Studies, now Convenor of INTACH’s Delhi Chapter, and his predecessor O.P. Jain, Ratish Nanda, now project director of the AKTC and Ashis Banerjee, formerly at INTACH; Yunus Jaffery and Azra Kidwai for their invaluable translation work acknowledged more specifically in the notes, as also Muzaffar Alam, Nayanjot Lahiri, Shah id Amin, M.C. [oshi, Sunil Kumar, Purnima Ray and the late Yogeshwar Dayal for their contributions and help in various ways; and not least those villagers and other residents who were our informants, guides, or subjects of photography.

The author’s thanks for all their help are also due to the librarians and staff at the India International Centre, the Nehru Memorial Library and the ASI Library (Safdarjang Branch) 111 New Delhi, the Indian Institute Library in Oxford and the former India Office Library and Records at the British Library in London for permission to reproduce the watercolour of Qutb Sahib’s Dargah (Add. 4308 © British Library Board) used in our book Mehrauli: A View from the Qutb; not to mention the staff at the National Archives, the Delhi Government Archives and the Kanungo’s Office at Tees Hazari, Delhi.

Acknowledgements are due to the ASI, New Delhi and their helpful Photo Section for permission to reproduce the archival photographs of Begumpur Mosque and Masjid Moth, the drawing of the Qutb complex, and the reproductions of the portraits of Ghiyasuddin Balban and Firoz Shah Tughlaq from the 1911 Delhi Durbar Loan Exhibition at the Delhi Museum. To the National Museum, New Delhi, for the miniature of Hazrat Nizamuddin. To the Indian Museum, Kolkata, for the illustration of Mohammed bin Tughlaq at a nautch party, reproduced in Agha Mehdi Husain’s The Rise and Fall of Mohammed bin Tughlaqj though probably fictitious, it is considered to be a remarkable likeness of the sultan. To the Indian Institute library, Oxford, for permission to reproduce a photocopy of the portrait of Timur, taken from an unusual source, Historical Researches on the Wars and Sports of the Mongols and Romans by John Ranking (1826), and where in the Sackler library the seventeenth- century Mughal miniature of the ‘Conversation of Learned Sheikhs’, or garhering of eminent Sufis, reproduced in a copy of the Album of Indian and Persian Miniatures of the XVI-XVIII Centuries portfolio (Eastern literatures Publishing House, Moscow 1962) can be viewed, the original being held at the Institute of Oriental Studies in St Petersburg. And thanks too to Uma Bhattacharya for preparing the map of south Delhi, to Hartej and Rekha Singh, and Sunita Paul at Paul’s Press for their care and personal attention over the typesetting and printing of the original book despite the exasperating power cuts which at the time were all too regular a feature of the Delhi Electric Supply Undertaking’s ‘service’ to the city.


Delhi’s claim to be one of the great historic cities of the world is hardly in dispute; it can boast three World Heritage sites to prove it. More debatably perhaps, it has been frequently compared to Rome-the ‘Rome of Asia’. Certainly with the ruins of at least seven earlier cities scattered about the plain between the Aravalli ridges to the north and west and the river Yamuna to the east the comparison may not be too fanciful, though most of the monuments and remains of palaces, forts, battlements, gateways, tombs, mosques, shrines, madrasas, reservoirs, baolis date from no earlier than the end of the twelfth century onwards and display, not surprisingly, a very different style from the ruins on the banks of the Tiber.

Yet the three World Heritage sites-the Qutb Minar, Humayun’s Tomb and the Red Fort-along with the numerous other reminders of Delhi’s imperial past are evidence of a history as intriguing and momentous as Rome’s. From the distant times of the Mahabharata and the legendary city of lndraprastha to the medieval Delhi’s of the Sultanate period with their ruined citadels and mosques and the desolate ramparts of T ughlaqabad and the still-surviving splendours of seventeenth-century Mughal Delhi, centred on the Red Fort and Jama Masjid-not to overlook the grandeur of Lutyens’ twentieth-century creation-a panorama unfolds which, to employ Edward Lear’s pun, can only in Delhibly leave its mark on the visitor’s imagination.

Some of Lear’s watercolours, the oils and aquatints of the Daniells and other prints and engravings of Delhi’s monuments and ruins from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries do evoke a romantic, indeed a Rome-like, feel for the wonders that were Delhi, even if the pleasure in ruins and their picturesqueness might appeal more to the visitor than to the majority of the city’s inhabitants who remain largely unmoved by the heritage lying around them or prefer to see it put to a more practical purpose.

Today, however, it is not possible, as it evidently was in the 1950s and 1960s, to drive or take a tonga or ride a bicycle to Safdarjang’s Tomb, Hauz Khas or the Qutb and find them in their almost pristine natural state-not a concrete block of flats, monstrous advertising hoarding or fuming Red or Blue Line bus in sight-let alone contemplated by the city planners. Most of the historical monuments, with far too few exceptions, are now lost in the coils of urban expansion, virtually throttled by high-rise buildings, residential colonies and indiscriminate, often illegal, constructions in the more congested areas, including what are variously termed Delhi’s urban or urbanized villages.

This book seeks to highlight and arouse, or rekindle, interest in some of Delhi’s less well-known or less accessible pre-Mughal monuments and historic sites, particularly those which are located in, or which provided the original focal point for, villages or small settlements such as those at Hauz Khas, Begumpur or Khirki. They are also threatened by, if they have not already succumbed to, urban development or transformation. The photographic record of these ‘villages’ in south Delhi and the monuments in their midst speaks for itself, while the narrative provides some historical background and commentary on their present situation.


Preface and Acknowledgementsx
3Chiragh Delhi63
4Shahpur Jat77
5Masjid Moth91
6Hauz Khas105
Select Bibliography169

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