Delhi Shikargah, have seized to provide the pleasure, as built for. Once hunting places, they have now become a part of dilapidated residential zones. These hunting lodges have lost their significance from architectural game preserves to confused shadows of bygone period.
Delhi, as we all know, has been the seat of power from thousands of years. This is evident through so many tangible and intangible proofs available hitherto. Some of these prevalent architectural attestations of different periods have even been marked as Seven Cities of Delhi. But few lesser known structures now, played a vital role in the societal bearings of those times. One such form of structural manifestation that served an important usage was Shikargah.
Shikargah is a Persian word meaning Hunting place (Shikar-hunting + gah-place). Hunting was one of the few games that kings liked to indulge in as that symbolised their valour. Hence, these hunting lodges or Shikargah were built in the special places /forest called as (shikargah –i-muqarrar). The area considered for this was typically in the outskirts, a forest area covered with wild flora and fauna. These lodges were built with a purpose of temporary shelter or a resting place during the hunt. Hence they were built with locally available material and usually without the expertise of a professional architect. However, in Mughal period there is a reference of the king taking clear interest in getting these buildings built.
These shikargah were constructed not only as hunting lodges but also as a part of regulated forest reserve. It is believed that there was a special hunting department looking after the documentation of the animals killed. Like Jehangir (Mughal ruler) would always check this list before entering and exiting the city. On a hunting expedition, only his personal servants were allowed to stay so that the steps of the horses could not crush the grains in the field. In fact, his period for hunting was very specific and in other months no hunting was allowed. They were always accompanied with a water body wherein rain water was used as a filling material.
Talking about the history of the hunting lodges that are being considered for study, they belong to two main medieval periods, Tughlaq(1320-1413) and Mughal(1526-1857). Though serving the same purpose as hunting lodge, these shikargahs show different architectural features specifying diverse culture of two periods.
Most of the shikargahs from this period belong to one of the most prolific builder amongst the Delhi rulers, Firoz shah tughlaq (late 14th century). Few of the hunting lodges that he built are:-
- KUSHAK MAHAL Kaushak-i-Ferozi/ kushk –i-jahan-numa(palace where you could see the world)
- BHULI BHATIYARRI KA MAHAL (Bu Ali Bakhtiyari Ka Mahal)
- MALCHA MAHAL
All these buildings have been made with locally available material, the grey buff Quartzite stone quarried from the Aravalis. The construction is in the form of rubble masonry, at some places even plastered. The entrance has one slab pedestal of the stone with two stones as piers and one slab on top as a capital. The tughlaq buildings usually have battered walls in which they make a wall little tapered at the top to give strength with a bigger base.
The Mughal (16-17th century) buildings are slightly advanced in the architectural get up. The material used is lakhori brick masonry. The lodge has wide courtyard openings that are spanned with multi-foliated arches. The roof is covered with a vault. Some of the buildings belonging to this period are Hastsal (minaret form) and Jaunti village.
The present scenario of these buildings is not as great as should have been. Though few structures like Kushak Mahal and Bhuli Bhatiyari ka Mahal are enjoying the status of Protected Monument, yet their maintenance seems to be due from a long time. Rest of the old buildings are still thriving to regain their confidence as being even a Shikargah.
A recent visit to the Kaushak Mahal helped in understanding the real position of the building. Since, the location is very well marked (Teen Murti Bhawan), its awareness among the visitors is quite high. People do enter to see this building but end up taking a selfie with the pillar or a picture on the high stairs.
Some with small visitors (kids) do even play hide and seek to give a slight sound show in the silent monument. Few even go to the extent of creating modern art on the not so clean surface.
After such a long existence, the monument itself starts wearing out.
This is the condition of the buildings that have a privilege of being supervised by the authority. What about the condition of the structures that are still waiting to be adopted by any expert.
Let’s take an example of a shikargah in Jauntia village. This bears a hunting lodge of Mughal period.
Shikargahs have seen their heydays in olden times and now they are standing as silent spectator of their own destruction. We might not be able to alter the fate of these buildings but through these writings one can surely make people aware of their sufferings.