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Kilokhri: The lost city of Delhi

Updated: Mar 22, 2023

In the list of 7 cities of Delhi, this city does find its place, as its ruins have not survived the ravages of time, unlike the others. While we have extensive works available on the first city of Delhi, Mehrauli (Qutub Delhi), we have to depend on textual sources and traditions to reconstruct the past of this city. There is a lack of research about this city, and scholars believe that the history of Kilokhri is yet to be written.  Kilokhri was the residence of the last of the Turkish slave ruler, Mu’izuddin Kaiqubad, who was Ghiyasuddin Balban’s grandson and the son of the independent Sultan of Bengal, Bughra Khan. Kaiqubad was a woman and wine-loving man who was given the charge of Delhi at the tender age of 17. From 13th-century literature, it is quite evident that Kilokhri was referred to as Shehr-e-Nau (new town), as it was built after Dehli-e-Buzurg (Old Delhi) which was Mehrauli. Kilokhri was located on the bank of river Yamuna, a few kilometers away from Mehrauli in the northeast direction. Today, it is located in a part of Delhi, between Sarai Kale Khan and Jangpura, with the Yamuna towards its east, as it changed its course over time.

Before Kaiqubad decided to build the city, it was not an entirely unknown area, as it was the resort of the Sufi mystic of the Chishtiya Silsila, Qutubuddin Bhaktiar Kaki also known as Qutub Saheb, whose Dargah lies in proximity to Adham Khan’s tomb in Mehrauli. Kaki was the spiritual disciple of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti of Ajmer. During one of their travels, Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti advised Qutub Saheb to go and stay in Kilokhri and handle religious affairs from there. Leading religious scholars and theologists such as Qazi Hamiduddin Nagori visited Kaki during the reign of Sultan Iltutmish. Kaki’s devoted followers also made their way toward Kilokhri to seek the blessings of their master. One common problem of all visitors to Kaki was the distance, as traveling from Mehrauli to Kilokhri was not feasible; but Kaki was unwilling to move due to the availability of water in Kilokhri due to river Yamuna. With the help of Sultan Iltutmish, Kaki was persuaded to move to Mehrauli and that left Kilokhri as a site for military activity. Kilokhri went on to become a garrison town post the departure of the Sufi mystic, as under the short reign of Iltutmish’s son, Ruknuddin Firuz, there was a rebellion against his rule by his own officers. This rebellion took place at Kilokhri, and Razia was raised to the throne of the Mamluks (Slave Dynasty).

Kaiqubad, who was a pleasure-loving man, left his residence in Mehrauli, settled on the bank of river Yamuna, and laid the foundation of a grand palace which was called “Kaushik-i-be-nazir”. Along with a court, he also got a garden built which he named “bagh i be-Badal”. Kaiqubad shifted to this new city along with his officers, nobles, servants, courtiers, and his entire staff who built makeshift residences, thinking that their stay would be temporary. When they realized that Kaiqubad had plans to make Kilokhri his permanent residence, they built permanent palaces and houses in their occupied spaces. Gradually, a city culture developed in Kilokhri, with people from different backgrounds and occupations moving to the new city in search of new opportunities. However, this influx of people in the new city did not mean that the relevance of Mehrauli decreased; as Mehrauli was still the capital and Kilokhri was just a city. Ziauddin Barani in the Tarikh-e-Firoz-Shahi notes that when Kaiqubad returned back from Awadh after meeting with his father, he first went to Mehrauli and stayed in the royal palace that Balban had built, and after spending some time there, he returned to Kilokhri to his residence. Archeologists have also noted that the coins minted under Kaiqubad have only been recovered from Mehrauli, which further proves that the core functioning was still in Mehrauli.

As more and more people got to know about Kilokhri; artists, performers, and prostitutes also made their way to the city. Kilokhri soon became a place of recreation, filled with perfumes, wines, and prostitutes. The price of wine increased by 10 times due to excessive demand in the city. Kilokhri became a pleasure city with each evening graced by musicians and beautiful dancers with wine flowing and the city blooming with the fragrance of exquisite perfumes. Although there is no stark comparison, one could draw some lines of comparison between Kaikubad’s Kilokhri and 19th-century Shahjahanabad. Although Kilokhri is far behind culturally and intellectually, one can see how every night being celebrated as a Mehfil was common between the two cities during two very different time periods. We also have a description of the celebration of Nau Roz (Persian New Year), which talks about the court being decorated and scented with Chinese Musk; and the main venue decorated with large canopies, with the central canopy being black in color, laced with white pearls as if raindrops were falling from a dark cloud.

After the murder of Kaiqubad in 1289, the Sultanate went into the hands of Jalaluddin Khalji, who belonged to a different ethnic group. Due to his ethnicity, he faced massive resentment from the people, and hence he had to hold court from Kilokhri instead of Mehrauli. Those who accepted the kingship of Jalaluddin had to move from Mehrauli to Kilokhri to offer allegiance to the Sultan. With the rule of Jalaluddin, the second round of building activities was initiated in Kilokhri; with the Sultan ordering the completion of Kaiqubad’s palace along with a garden to be built in front of the court, by the bank of river Yamuna. Jalaluddin also built a fort in the city with stone walls and watchtowers. Soon, the population of the city increased and markets developed. A special mosque was built in the city for congregational prayers. Kilokhri was favored by a lot of people due to its closeness to the river Yamuna, which made for easy access to water. Even Shaikh Nizamuddin Auliya, built his hospice in a suburb of Kilokhri, called Ghiyaspura. According to the Fawa’id al-Fu`ad, Nizamuddin Auliya also at one point in his life, got a house in Kilokhri in front of the congregational mosque, where he would meet his devotees who could not make it to Ghiyaspura.

After Jallaludin’s death, there are no such records that speak of Kilokhri, as Allaudin ruled from Siri, and all the Tughlaqs got new cities built for them. Ibn Battuta, who lived in Jahapanah, also has not mentioned Kilokhri anywhere in his texts. There are several couplets we have that was written by Khusrow that speak of Kilokhri, but they are from the time of Jalaluddin. Timur’s invasion of Delhi was also recorded by court chroniclers of Timur, who only mention 4 cities: Mehrauli, Siri, Jahapanah, and Firozabad. We also do not have any material remains from Kilokhri, and today no medieval-era building stands there. A probable reason for that might be that during Mongol invasions, Allaudin got Siri and Mehrauli fortified but left behind Kilokhri. Another major reason for no remains being recovered from Kilokhri is that when new Sultans came and built new cities, they would take bricks and stones from the previous cities and use the remains to build new cities. Building material was often sourced from one city to build another, and as a result that we only have textual traditions that tell us the tale of Kilokhri.

*The cover photo is the map of Delhi, designed by Artist Olivia Fraser; published in Historian William Dalrymple’s book “City of Djinns”

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