The earliest known urban settlement in Delhi, aside from the mythological Indraprasth, called Inderpat by Sayed Ahmad Khan in his Asaar-us-Sanaadeed (1865) and by Bashir-ud-Din Ahmad in his Waqiyat-e-Daar-ul-Hukumat Dehli (1920) (probably to go well with Maripat, Sonipat, Panipat and Baghpat), is believed to have been at or near the present day Mehrauli.
The large number of exiting structures and ruins, both religious and secular, testify to rigorous building activity in this area going back to almost a thousand years or more and continuing during the colonial period. The Quila Rai Pithora, The Shrine of Qutub-ud-Din Bakhtiyar Kaaki, (disciple and successor of Moin-ud-din Chishti and the Peer of Baba Fareed Ganj-e-Shakar), whose presence in this area gave it the honorific Qutub Saheb, the Tomb of Altamash and of Balban, the Hauz-e-Shamsi, the Gandhak ki Baoli and the Rajon-ki-Baoli, Jamali-Kamali or the tomb and mosque of Jamal-ud-Din and Kamal-ud-Din, Adham Khan and Quli Khan’s Tombs, the Rang Mahal, the adjacent mosque and the large number of colonial structures, including several tehsil buildings, a municipal dispensary, the so called Tamarind Court and the Qutub Colonnade are evidence of a thriving Urban settlement.
This then was the Original Purani Dehli. Others like Siri Fort, Tughlaqabad, the Capital of Qaikbad at Kilokhri, Mohammad bin tughlaq’s Bijay Mandal, Firoze Tughlaq’s capital – the Firozeshah Kotla, Mubarak Shah’s Kotla Mubarak Pur, Sher Shah Suri and Humayun’s Purana Quila, the Shahjahanabad and Lutyen’s New Delhi were to come up as later Dehlis as the centuries rolled by.
Out side the then Mehrauli were open spaces, mostly rocky or uncultivable tracts and agricultural lands. Scattered among all this were numerous villages, many of them as old or probably older than the urban settlement of Mehrauli. The surviving textual references and stone tablets placed upon structures and ruins in these villages testify to their antiquity. For example a trader from Gujarat called Udhara had commissioned a baoli in Palam Gaon during the reign of Balban. The inscription from the baoli was reproduced along with a translation by Syed Ahmad Khan in his monumental work Asar-us-Sanaadeed. Records of the life of Bakhtyar Kaaki talk of his having lived at Kilokhri before moving to Mehrauli at the request of Altamash. Writings about Nizam-ud-Din mention the fact that his parents first took a house on rent at Hauz Raani, before shifting to Adhchini. Nizam-ud-Din’s mother, held in high esteem and referred to as Mai Saheba, is buried at Adhchini, where an annual Urs is organised to commemorate her. The area now known as Nizam-ud-Din was at the time of the Sufi saint known as Ghyas Pura. A settlement where Nizam-ud-Din’s successor Naseer-ud-Din Chiragh Dehli lived and died and where his shrine is located is now known by the name of the Sufi, as is Nizam-ud-din today.
Yusuf Sarai, Sheikh Sarai, Lado Sarai, Jiya Sarai, Katwaria Sarai, Ber Sarai, Neb Sarai, Mohammad Pur, Pilanji, Mahipal Pur, Rangpur Pahari, Masood Pur, Sulatngarhi, a colloquialism for Sultan-e-Ghari (so called because the mausoleum of the elder son of Iltutmish – Nasir-ud-Din Mahmood, was erected by Altamash inside a cave (ghaar) like structure) Kishan Garh, Munirka (according to Bashir- ud-Din Ahmad a colloquialism for Munir Khan ka Teela), Hauzrani, Khirki, Zamarrud Pur (now known as Jamrood Pur) Yahya Nagar know changed to Aya Nagar, Ghitorni, Sayed-ul-Ajayab (now corrupted into Saidulajab) and Begum Pur etc were some of the villages that lay scattered in what is now the posh South Delhi and its surroundings.
When contending armies fought for the control of Delhi, the hapless residents of these villages had to suffer loot, arson, rape and pillage. It is said that Mohammad bin Tughlaq realized how defenseless these people were and decided to erect a huge wall around his new capital city of Bijay Mandal (located at present between Begum Pur, Sarvodya enclave and Sarvapriya Vihar). It would be a wall that would enclose within its folds his fort and all the surrounding villages and their lands. He named it Jahan Panah – The refuge for the entire world. One part of this wall was demolished a few years ago to widen the Aurobindo Marg near the road that runs between Geetanjali Enclave and the DDA Golf Course near Saket. Another part of this wall ran along the present day Jahan Panah Forest near the present day Pushp Vihar and Dakshin Puri. The Sat Pula on the Saket-Sheikh Sarai road on the Chragh Dilli Nala was a part of this wall, but now no trace of the wall remains near the Satpula. Like most of Mohammad Bin Tughlaq’s plans this wall was never completed, he died before this could be done, with Tughlaq’s death the capital shifted to a new location and the Jahan Panah was forgotten and soon lay in ruins.
The villages enclosed within the walls and those outside the wall continued to exist for centuries producing all that they needed to survive or buying what they did not, from the weekly haats, held on fixed days of the week near each village. These weekly markets were run by small travelling salesmen who set up shop at a new location each day of the week, coming back to each location once a week. If on every Friday they were at Mohammadpur, on Saturday you could find them perhaps at Munirka, on Sunday at Masoodpur and on Monday at Rangpur Pahaari and so on.
Each travelling merchant catered to a fixed set of six or seven villages with in a specific part of what were then the environs of Delhi. The Capital continued to shift, kingdoms rose and fell. Battles were lost and won. Families of the Ashraaf (Nobles) prospered or perished with each changing regime but these markets of the Ajlaaf (the Lower Orders ) survived all this and continue to survive to this day.
Much has changed in the wares that the hafta bazaar merchants sell today; the customers have also changed and yet much remains in these markets that needs to be preserved. The villages have mostly disappeared, their lands taken away at a pittance earlier by ‘developers’, later by DDA and now the measly strips that survive are being lined-up to be rapidly expropriated through the so called public private partnerships. What remains of the village are haphazardly thrown up ‘urban’ structures without any urban facilities and now even these structures are being taken over and given a makeover by the MNCs or by well heeled born again Hindustanis, and lovers of kitschy ethnic chic like the Bina Ramanis and others of this ilk.
And yet there is much to these bazaars that still serves a purpose. A much larger purpose perhaps than they served when they started. In those days the market had to go to the buyer, because the buyer could only walk or travel on a bullock cart. Today each of these markets caters to a much larger and a much more diverse population. Coming together once a week, as they have done for centuries, these markets sell all that one needs, well almost.
Hand Printed Bed Spreads, Export Surplus Towels, Tee Shirts, “Nikes” and “Adibas” and “Wudland” Shoes and Track Suits, Jeans, Trousers and Shirts, much in demand Nylon, Undies, Bras and Panties and also those in Cotton for the ‘discerning’. Plastic goods of daily use, cheap racks and stools, Ludhiana Woollens at whole sale rates, House Coats with Matching Chunnis for ladies, Cheap Lipsticks, Talcum Powders, Bindis, Sindoor and Bangles, Mirrors, Safety Razors, Mechanical and Battery Operated Toys that are cheaper than their Chinese counterparts and what have you.
Except perhaps for the Bindi, Sindoor, Mirrors and Bangles there is nothing in the above list that these markets sold 50 or 40 years ago. There is, however, a whole lot that is common between these bazaars and their precursors of a thousand years and more. Each one of these markets sells most or all the items from the list that follows:
Kitchen implements like Knives, Rolling Pins, Cooking Vessels, Thalis, Lotas, Buckets, Tubs, Graters, Choppers, Grinding Stones, Pestles and Mortars, Spoons, Ladles and Kadhais, Pulses and Lentils, Ground Grains and Rice, Sattoo, Whole and Ground Spices, Whole Turmeric, Whole Chillies, Rock Salt, , Herbs like Pipli, Ajwain and Guchchi, traditional medicinal ingredients like Gum Arabic, Heeng, Nausadar, Phitkari (alum) Harad, Baheda, Dried Amla, Sonth, and Tamarind and a host of others, along with ready made good quality Pickles, Jaggery, Bura or Brown Sugar, (now sold in places like Khan Market in neat little plastic packs as Breakfast Sugar) and Shakkar.
Aside from all this these markets also stock fresh vegetables, Garlic, ginger, Potatoes and other food items that have a long shelf life like Badis, Papads, Namkeens, Puffed Rice, Roasted Grams and the like.
What does this list tell us? These are things that the villagers bought and those villagers who have yet to be modernised by this urban jungle still do. The herbs, the local medicines, the sonth and ajwain helped them survive before the arrival of the magic of allopathy. The onions, the garlic, the badi, the guchchi, the papad, the puffed rice the roasted gram, the Sattoo and such like would keep for a week or longer and sustain them.
The presence of all these is also evidence of a continuity of this tradition. Go around the city and you will notice that wherever you find a weekly market you will find an old Delhi village, hidden away and almost forgotten. Behind Mother Dairy there are the villages of Mandawali and Fazalpur with their weekly markets, between Sectors 9 and 13 of Rohini there is Razapur with its weekly market, Behind Sector 15 and 16 there is Samaipur Badli, opposite Saket there is Khirki and Hauzrani with their own weekly bazaar, Near Saint Thomas’s Church opposite Safdarjang Enclave there is Mohammadpur and its Friday bazaar, Near Sector C Vasant Kunj, there are the old villages of Masud Pur, Mahipalpur and Rangpur Pahari. The list is long and encompasses all of Delhi. I have yet to find a weekly market in Delhi that is not held in the vicinity of an old village.
These markets today attract not only the villagers, they also cater to a very large population of migrant workers, daily wagers and the likes of rickshaw pullers, construction labourers, the liveried but poorly paid guards of co-operative group housing societies that have come up on land that was cultivated till a couple of decades ago. Those that benefit from these markets are not only these marginalised sections, there are many people like us, and their numbers run into tens of thousands, who patronise these markets not only because you can derive a bargain here, but also because they are convenient, economical and by and large trustworthy.
These markets represent a history, a tradition and a cultural continuity. They meet the household needs of tens of thousands and provide work to scores of Tent House Wallas who supply them with Tables and Patromaxes, to rickshaw and thelewalas who ferry their wares and many others who indirectly benefit from these markets. Despite all this an order has been passed that they should be made to pack up and leave. The city must look squeaky clean, come the commonwealth games.
The necessity of preserving these markets should be obvious to all those who have any love for the living traditions and practices of the people. For those who seek inspiration only from occidental practices, one would like to point out that all over the world cities with a history, (excluding the USA of course, because the poor fellows only have a present) have preserved such traditional markets and turned them into major tourist attractions, while we, are bent upon destroying a living tradition.
The order to dispense with these Weekly Bazaars is part of a series of such orders. There is an order to stop roadside eateries and there is a recently implemented decision to remove rickshaws from Chandni Chowk. The ban on these markets is one more effort not only to ‘Make Delhi Clean’ but also perhaps to make it more Mall Friendly.