This complex borders the tank known originally as the Hauz-e -Alai, which was constructed during the reign of the emperor Alauddin Khalji (reigned 1296-1316) in the early 1300s. It lay somewhat to the west of Alauddin’s newly fortified capital of Siri. The rainwater that would collect in it mainly during the monsoon would then be used year round by the people in the neighbourhood. In the years after Alauddin, lack of maintenance led to a silting up of the channels that fed the tank and it dried up.
In the 1350s the emperor Firoz Shah Tughlaq (reigned 1351-88) had the water supply to the tank restored. The tank now came to be known as the Hauz Khas or royal tank. At the same time Firoz Shah also built around the south-western edge of the tank the Madrasa-e-Firuz Shahi or ‘college of Firoz Shah’ - an institution of higher education endowed by the emperor himself. It employed teachers who were scholars of note and attracted students from far and wide, giving them generous stipends during their period of study.
The importance of this site is also evident from the fact that Firoz Shah chose to have his own tomb built at a focal point in the complex. The college buildings were arranged in an L-shape around the south-eastern corner of the Hauz Khas, giving the rooms a good view over the expanse of water. The connection between the buildings and the tank was strengthened by the several sets of steps leading down from the college to the tank. On the other side the buildings were edged by a beautiful garden. 14th century visitors invariably described the buildings and their setting in glowing terms.
Three Domed Building
This unusual T-shaped building is a bit of a puzzle because its functionality is not known. While some say it was a tomb with many graves inside, there are no traces of graves now in it.
From its size and shape it seems not unlikely that it was a meeting place or assembly room, designed to hold a bigger group than would normally gather for classes.After the madrasa fell into disuse following the decline of the Tughlaq dynasty, this building came to be used as a residence by the villagers of the surrounding area.
Firoz Shah's Tomb
Though Firoz Shah died in 1388, he built his tomb at the same time as the madrasa, in the 1350s. The tomb forms the junction of the two wings of the college, and the top of its dome is the highest point of the entire complex. The inscription on the southern entrance tells us that repairs to the building were carried out under the orders of the emperor Sikandar Lodi in the year 1508.
The pavilions that stand in the garden of the madrasa are mostly tombs, maybe containing the remains of teachers of the madrasa. They are of a similar ornamentation though their plans are different – eight sided, six sided or square.
Some of them have a shallowly marked grave in the centre. It is possible that though tombs, they were designed so that pupils could sit there and study – in the shade. The two smallest pavilions have very heavy projecting stone beams just under the dome. It is possible that they were part of a larger building or buildings.
This mosque would have functioned as a place for prayer for those who lived and worked in the madrasa. Though quite ruined, its structure and very unusual style can still be made out.
In most mosques the western wall has no openings and is usually marked by arched niches, called mihrabs. In this mosque however, the western wall has decorative windows that overlook the tank, and steps that lead down to the water.
Madrasa West Wing
This wing of the madrasa has open pillared rooms at the top storey and arcaded rooms in the lower storey. Also in the lower storey one can see small dark cells which were probably accommodation for students. Inside there are narrow openings for light and air, and small storage niches.
In front of these cells there were arcaded rooms which have now fallen down. At the western-most end of this wing there is a large domed building with two storeys. The area in front of this building was originally a courtyard with two buildings that face each other and flank the large domed building.
Madrasa North Wing
This wing of the college buildings has pillared rooms on the top storey and arcaded rooms below. The rooms overlook the tank and would have provided a beautiful view. The top storey rooms overlooked the garden.
The buildings of the college are built of rubble masonry combined with blocks of neatly cut quartzite. Much of the exterior was originally covered in white plaster and painted in bright colours, with golden domes. The ornamentation consists primarily of some incised plasterwork and simple carving.
Originally called Hauz e Alai, this tank was excavated under the orders of the emperor Alauddin Khalji (1296-1316) for the use of the inhabitants of Siri, the city founded by him. After the end of the Khalji dynasty however, the channels leading into it got silted up and the tank dried up. Firoz Shah then in the mid-fourteenth century restored the water supply to the tank and built a madrasa or college around it. Originally the tank was much larger than it is today, and the ruined pavilion (called Munda gumbad) on a mound in the north-west corner of the tank was in the middle of the water.
— All material for this exhibit has been taken from INTACH Delhi Chapter's publications.
CONVENOR — A G Krishna Menon
CO-CONVENOR — Swapna Liddle
PROJECT CONSULTANT — Annabel Lopez
PROJECT TEAM — Abhiram Sharma, Arpita Ghatak, Niharika Singh, Tanya Singh, Aditya Mehta, Deb Banerji, Pulkit Taneja