Located in the South part of the modern-day New Delhi. Hauz Khas is an affluent area with a lot of eateries and a hub of recreational activities. The Hauz Khas complex is located on the road turning right on Sri Aurobindo Marg. It is 20 minutes’ walk from Deer Park. The monuments and lake of the Hauz Khas can be found at the end of Hauz Khas village.
Hauz Khas and its History
Originally known as Hauz-e-Alai. The tank was originally dug up by the second Khalji ruler Alauddin Khalji in the early 14th century and it was much larger than it appears today. Munda Gumbad, a ruined pavilion which stands on the boundary of the water body now, is said to have been a pavilion in the middle of the lake. There are few textual references to the tank from the Sultanate period, which might indicate towards the possible negligence from the side of the writers and historians of the court. With special reference to the lake, we do not have much history. It has been said that after Alauddin the tank was silted due to negligence. During the period of rule of Feroz Shah (1351-58), the water supply system was restored. From then it has been known as Hauz Khas or Royal Tank. Yazidi in his book ‘Zafarnama’ mentioned Hauz-e-alai as the small sea. He further argues that the tank of this Hauz used to overflow in the rainy season. The main purpose of this tank was to provide water to residents of Siri, the second city of Delhi.
HAUZ – THE LAKE
If we talk about the dimensions, the tank was originally of about 50 ha (123.6 acres) area with dimensions of 600 m (1,968.5 ft) width and 700 m (2,296.6 ft) length with 4 m (13.1 ft) depth of water. However, the present day context maybe the different. The area has been reduced and it may have silted so there is a possibility of less depth than mentioned earlier.
There is a small island like area in the eastern part of the lake which is full of thick vegetation. In the scorching heat, we covered the entire embankment of the lake. The banks of the lake are completely sealed by concrete by the authorities. Earlier in the period of Sultanate, the lake must have open banks. We tried to understand and trace the drainage system of this lake but we were unable to find any canals or drainage channel emerging or submerging in the lake.
This tank was filled by rain-water which drained off the ridge about a mile away. In the old days, the tank was filled during the rains and it must then have a very fine sheet of water. We have nothing like it in Delhi today. In the hot weather, Ferishta says that it dried up around the banks and then it was sown with sugarcane, cucumbers, green melons and pumpkins. When Timur had defeated Mohammed Tughlaq and Mallu Khan he encamped on the banks of the Hauz Khas before entering the city of Delhi. He says that it was so large ‘that a man cannot shoot an arrow across it’. Probably the Hauz Khas was neglected in the troubles after Timur’s invasion. It has never been used since.
The importance of rivers in the making of civilizations is a fact, of axiomatic significance. River Yamuna was historically very important for Delhi, its changing courses always made the population to shift their settlement. There is the geographical context in this case; the city is surrounded by ridges that are an extension of Aravali. This feature makes nearly impossible to transport the water of Yamuna to the city of Siri and nearby settlement.
There was extensive use of water in this period, the contemporary sources describe the Mehrauli as the lush green area with lots of garden and orchards. Various sources about the hydraulic past of the medieval history of Delhi discuss the complex structure of water management built by successive rulers of Delhi. One of these included the building of huge tanks or water reservoirs commonly named then as Hauz.
The typical Hauz used to derive its water from two sources; in areas nearing the river Yamuna, from underground subsoil water movement and the ones at a distance from the river, from the harvesting of rainwater or storm-water runoff during the monsoons and gradually used later during drier periods. Prominent among these were Iltutmish’s Hauz-i-Sultani or Hauz-e-Iltutmish, which served as a remarkable water tank meant for public use.
This tank was further repaired by Emperors Allaudin Khiljee and Feroz Shah Tughlaq during their times, suggesting the continued importance of this huge water reservoir. Remnants of this are still present but have been put to complete disuse due to the encroachments by DDA and private builders. It is located in the Mehrauli area of Delhi near the Dargah of Kaki Saheb.
The rulers of the Sultanate period had built many such tanks for the purpose of water management; remarkable was the period of Feroz Shah Tughlaq by when 18 such tanks were functioning. Most significant was the Hauz Khas or Hauz-i-Sultani (literal meaning Royal Tank) located in the present-day region of Hauz Khas in south Delhi which has derived its name from the same.
This tank is of particular importance in the study of Delhi’s hydraulic past, not only for its size and continued relevance but also because it has found place in INTACH’s renewal programme of ancient water bodies to help overcome present water crisis, and also because it finds mention in some of the most important medieval history sources like that of Ibn Batuta, and in the history by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan etc.
Built by Allaudin Khiljee, Hauz Khas which fell into disuse after the death of Allaudin, this tank was rebuilt by Feroz Shah Tughlaq and was considered very important from the point of view of a major water provider to the population of Feroz’s capital city of Siri, premised at the modem day Hauz Khas and Siri Fort area of Delhi. Spear, Gupta, and Sykes mention that though this Hauz Khas was built by Allaudin and repaired by Firoz Tughlaq, it was one of the most important as well as dear constructions to Firoz as he built a Madarsa and his own tomb right adjacent to it.
Some historical accounts, Ashraf (2004) says try to present Firoz’s act of rebuilding the Hauz Khas as an effort directed towards alleviating the water scarcity of his times. Ashraf strongly objects to such a portrayal and opines that this lacks a serious thought and basis in records available and in fact is a fabricated account of a water-scarce past which’ is an excuse to cover up the present situation under the alibi that such has always been the case’ i.e. a water-scarce Delhi.
Ashraf writes that the shifting of capitals within Delhi region by successive rulers, first from Mehrauli to Siri and then Kilokhari (contemporary Bhogal), Khizrabad and ultimately Kotla Firoz Shah was primarily due to military requirements, abandoning of the policy of rebuilding capital city fortresses at the old terrains. Moreover, most importantly, all such new fort and capital constructions were made to be in sync with the eastward drifting banks of Yamuna and its underground riverine movement.
Structures that survive tell us about the way spaces were organized and used, how they were built and with what techniques. The water bodies tell us about how efficient was the drainage system and reflect on the welfare policies of the King. These we can understand when we combine information from other sources like literature, inscriptions, and popular traditions. Investigations of these water bodies do not tell us about what ordinary men and women thought about these impressive Lakes. Was the lake was accessible to the common people or it was only exclusive to the members of Royalty. How did the common man manage to get water for their daily use? Was there any protest from the side of commoners?
While rulers took all important decisions about the construction, the material used and the style to be followed, who possessed the specialized knowledge required for such construction? Where did the workers come from? Were they captured during the war? What kind of wages did they get? Who supervised construction activity? These are the same questions that we cannot answer by merely looking at the Lake or their remains. Continuing research using other sources might provide some clue.
Blog written by Abhinav Chandra