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Safarnama – Cultural walk through Purana Qila

Upon usual and aimless, perfunctory scrolls through my Facebook feed, I stumbled upon a page called Safarnama. They were planning a walk in the Purana Qila. Motive of this walk was to re-visit the history of Purana Qila and to discuss Mahabharata through the eyes of Draupadi.

Safarnama was started by History graduates, Anna Menon and Aakriti Suresh. The about me section of their Facebook page reads, “We aim to raise historical consciousness and bring to light the ‘history of the unknown’. After all, history is way more than just stories about the dead!”
The first walk they conducted was in collaboration with goUNESCO in Chandni Chowk and was an immense success, getting coverage from Hindustan Times, Deccan Herald, Live Mint and Scroll. This appreciation and their love for History encouraged them to start Safarnama, to initiate heritage walks on a professional level. So this was the first event which was completely organized and hosted by them.

As I am myself a History and Mythology buff, and frequently read blogs and texts of former Law Minister M Veerappa Moily and Dr Kavita Singh, this event caught my eye.

A lot of people were present at the event which was held on 16th October 2016. Most of the lot had arrived before me, and some were preoccupied with reading something related to Mahabharata. The walk started at 0900 hours, which was the ideal time lest we had to brave the intense Delhi heat.

The walk can be categorized into 3 parts:-

  • The History of Purana Qila.
  • How Purana Qila was connected to the Mahabharata.
  • The whole epic from the perspective of Draupadi.

The hosts had prepared each segment of the walk meticulously and were able to capture the crowd’s interest quite well. Everyone listened carefully to them whenever they expounded on some historical event or architecture.

Our first stop was the ‘Bara Darwaza’ (or the west gate) which is the entrance to the Old Fort, adorned by two bastions, having a high ceiling room. We were then explained how the star that is seen right above the arch is mistaken by many as the Star of David but is believed to have represented Humayun’s interest in Astrology. The gate’s outer part was well maintained, however the inner part had suffered over the ages and under the rule of various dynasties. From there we moved on to the museum inside the premises of the fort, containing artefacts that were obtained during excavation and photographs from the time of restoration and excavation work that was carried out in the fort.

The next stop was the Humayun’s gate or Humayun Darwaza. It is called so as either Humayun built it or because the gate overlooks Humayun’s Tomb. The host explained something on why it was constructed with thick walls and had 3 levels—basement, first floor and second floor – along with what might have been a pool with crocodiles in it.

What they explained was that when it was built there was not much stability in their regime, so therefore it was constructed the way it was to withstand attacks if they faced any. They further explained that such type of thick walls were not seen in other structures as the regime grew confident in their power and relaxed in terms of their security.

From there we moved to ‘Sher Mandal’ named after Sher Shah after he tried to complete the construction of the building that was ordered by Babur but halted due to Sher Shah’s death. The completion of the construction of the building could only happen after Humayun regained control of the fort. Humayun used it as his personal observatory and library and continued using it till his death when he slipped on the stairs while rushing to attend the evening prayers.

Our focus was then shifted towards the area where according to myths, Mayaasur constructed the Palace Of Illusions for Draupadi and Pandava’s. Any excavation of this site, is believed would produce a lot of artefacts from that timeline.

From there we moved towards Qila-i-Kuhna Mosque, one of the best preserved buildings in the Old Fort which was constructed by Sher Shah. It was designed as a Friday mosque and had red and white marble slabs used for the calligraphic inscriptions with the courtyard having a shallow tank, along with a fountain. The mosque featured extensive use of the pointed archs.

This mosque was constructed in a way that men would pray on the ground floor and the female royals being provided a space on the roof.

The final discussion about Mahabharata from the eyes of Draupadi took place under shade of trees in the sprawling green lawn in front of the Kunti Devi temple. The parts that brought out major points about regressive attitude towards women during that period were discussed. In that time even the daughter of a King had no other place in the society apart from serving her husband and bearing their children. The hosts quoted R.K Narayan here, who had written about this in his version of Mahabharata. One of the points they raised was that of Draupadi’s “swayamvara.

Even though people now claim that women back then had the right to select their own husband they coolly ignore the fact that men called for marriage were selected by her father, who would even decide the rules. So, in a way it might look like she had the option of selecting her husband but in reality she did not. Such talks from feminist point of views( and/or nationalist, cultural, intellectual etc concepts imbibed in their talks) are, what I believe, separate Safarnama from the pool of other heritage walk groups as their first walk too pertained to feminist perspectives, in Old Delhi. They want to showcase History of all who were part of it, and not just the Emperors and their battles, to provide a holistic picture of the past. “Safarnama aims to look into the past through an unconventional lens, to unearth the ‘history of the unknown’. There are many aspects of history that tend to get ignored in mainstream praxis of history. It is this history that we plan to bring to light”, as Anna told us.

There were many more such examples given by the host as they faced a barrage of questions including a time when someone from the audience tried to challenge the hosts, claiming chronological inaccuracies in the tour. The host explained that they were following general timeline as given by the Ved Vyas and using various other interpretations given by other authors for their analysis of the story. The matter was maturely handled and conflicts were calmly resolved.

The discussion in the end was enriching as it was an all-round engaging talk and everyone who had a point, spoke. Anna and Aakriti made sure that people who had attended actually got involved in the discussion and carried with themselves a good memory.
Overall, it was a very informative walk and I’ll recommend people to try and attend their walks as things like these really open your mind and teach about the History of our country.


You can find Safarnama here :
Picture Credits : Safarnama

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