“Qasr-i-Hazar Sutoon” – the palace of a thousand pillars built by Ala-ud-din Khilji in Jahanpanah-fourth medieval city of Delhi, no longer exists, but its memories and traces reverberate through time.
The exquisitely carved wooden pillars of the palace could not with stand the vagaries of time, but their traces are embedded in the sands of time. Lying scattered on the ground, near Bijaya Mandal, the palace of Muhamamd bin Tughlaq, there is a series of rectangular stone blocks. These are pillar bases present in significant numbers all around the existing halls. These pillar bases have led to the identification of the mystical ‘Hazar Sutoon’, the hall of thousand pillars.
Bijay Mandal is a building with a proportioned square dome. It cannot be categorized as a tower or a palace. It is a typical Tughlaqi structure with an octagonal plan built in rubble masonry (with massive battered sloping walls on east, west and southern directions) on a raised platform with doorways in North, South, East and West direction.
The purpose of this unusual structure and the ruins of the Sar Dara Palace was described by Ibn Battuta as the palace with multiple chambers and the large public audience hall as the famed Hazar Sutoon Palace. It was also interpreted as serving as an observation tower to monitor the activities of his troops.
Nothward from the terrace, down below is the dargah of Sufi saint Shaikh Hasan Tahir, who lived during the reign of Sikandar Lodi, in the 1500s. So this is a much later structure, and the grave of the saint is shaded by an enormous tree. Looking to the west, is a raised platform, or chabutra, which was probably the Diwan-i-Khas of the palace, where the Sultan would meet his close advisors.
Dargah of Shaikh Hasan Tahir in Bijay Mandal
To the east is the Diwan-i-Am which may have been called the Hazaar Sutoon, or Hall of a Thousand Pillars, which probably extended over two floors. The pillars were wooden, and all that remains are the holes in the ground where the pillars were pegged.
The Entrance to the pillared hall described by Ibn-Batuta
Bijai Mandal or Badf Mandal, which Sir Sayyid rightly calls Badf Manzil (wonderful mansion). He maintains that it was a tower of the Hazar Sutoon palace of Jahanpanah. It was extremely beautiful and elegant. In it was built a room with four doors. The room led up to a summer pavilion which no longer exists. Sir Sayyid holds the view that the tower was used by the emperor for inspecting the army below. But it has now been identified as the Hall of Special Audience. It is probably the same Mashvar (hall of audience) which Ibn Battuta frequently mentions. In it have been discovered two pits, which served perhaps as treasure houses. Sir Sayyid is right in regarding the ‘Badf Manzil’ as a part of the Hazar Sutoon Palace. It is evident from the Rihla and is confirmed by the excavations. It is supposed that walking from the Badf Manzil the emperor used to descend by a broad terrace to his thousand-pillared hall, where he gave public audience to such of his subjects as might have petitions to present to him.
Hazar Sutoon Palace was located within the fortified area of the Jahnapanah in Bijaya Mandal (literal meaning in Hindi: ‘victory platform’). The grand palace with its audience hall (Hazar Sutoon) of beautifully painted wooden canopy and columns is vividly described but it does no longer exist. The Fort acted as a safe haven for the people living between Qila Rai Pithora and Siri. Tughalqabad continued to act as Tughlaq’s centre of government until, for strange and inexplicable reasons, he shifted his capital to Daulatabad, however he returned after a short period.
Past excavations of a part of Muhammad bin Tughluq’s Hazar Sutan palace have roused general interest in the buildings of the Tughlaq. Bases of the wooden pillars, which supported the one-thousand-pillared palace (Hazar Sutoon), have been uncovered by the Archaeological Department of the Government of India.
Excavations conducted in 1934 have revealed wooden pillar bases attributed to the ‘Hazar Sutoon’ Palace.
Pillar bases-holes in rectangular stone blocks
Debate is still on, that whether the ‘Hazar Sutoon’ Palace cited as existing during Allauddin Khilji’s reign and also during Tughlaq’s time are one and the same palace. As of yet there is no conclusive answer. A plausible hypothesis is that the stone hall of the palace was built by Allauddin Khilji while the tower adjoining the stone buildings was surely built by Mohammed bin Tughlaq.
Ibn Battutah’ Account of Hazaar Sutoon
Some of the most extensive descriptions of this hall and rest of Mohamed Tughluq’s palace appear in the travelogue of Ibn Battutah-the Moroccan explorer of Berber descent. He is known for his extensive travels, accounts of which were published in the Rihla. As quoted:
“At the time, Muhammad Shah ibn Tughluq was ruling the greatest empire India had known in 800 years (the eponymous “hall” is the Hazar Sutoon, Muhammad Shah’s audience chamber in Delhi)”.
Ibn Battuta spent a few years at Mohammed bin Tughluq’s court and gives a vivid description of everything he sees. Many a stories in his account are set in the public audience hall of Jahanpanah, the Hazar Sutoon.
Each pillar of Hazar Sutoon was a mute witness to a trail of blood, treachery, ecstasy, pain, grandeur, happiness, pride, jealousy, anxiety….. entire human emotions.
Ibn Batuta has reasoned that Muhammad Shah ibn Tughluq wished to see a unified city comprising Old Delhi, Siri, Jahanpanah and Tughlaqabad with one contiguous fortification encompassing them but cost considerations forced him to abandon the plan halfway. In his chronicle, Batuta also stated that the Hazar Sutan Palace (1000 pillared palace), built outside the Siri fort limits but within the Jahanpanah city area, was the residence of the Tughlaq.
Hazar Sutoon as a testimony of treachery
Malik Kafur the ‘Hazaar Dinari’ eunuch of Alauddin Khilji had placed Mubarak Shah Khilji, who was the third son of Ala-ud-din-Khilji, in prison in the Hazar Sutun (the palace of a thousand pillars) and tried to blind him.
In 1317 Ala-ud-Din died, his death having been hastened (poisoned), it is said, by Malik Kafur, who at once seized the throne. Warangal treasure tempted Ala-ud-Din to murder his uncle Jelal-ud-Din, so now the same temptation brought upon him the same fate from the hands of Malik Kafur. He put out the eyes of two of Ala-ud-Din’s sons, “by cutting them from their sockets with a razor, like slices of melon, and confined Mubarak Khan, intending him for the same fate.
Before, however, he could do this, retribution overtook Malik Kafur himself. A conspiracy was formed amongst some of the nobles, who entered the palace ‘Hazar Sutoon’ at night and killed him when he was asleep. This being done, Mubarak Khan was placed upon the throne and assumed the title of Sultan Kutb-ud-Din (1317).
Anxiety to see the novel Hazaar Sutoon
In 1398, Timur’s ladies had visited ‘Hazar Sutoon’. As chronicled: “…the ladies of our harem were anxious to see Qasr-i-Hazaar Sutoon. We allowed them to be escorted thither while we proceeded to Ghiyaspur to fulfil our vow to pray besides the tomb of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya…”.
The memory of Tughlaq audience hall (Hazaar Sutoon) still lingered in the Mughal period. As exemplified by Abul Fazl who in his description of Sultanate Delhi, upgrades it to a” lofty hall (buland iwani) with a thousand collumns of white marble (Hazar Sutoon az sangiye rukham)”. (Ain-i- Akbari Volume 1. Persian text)
Abul Fazal’s vivid portrayal of Tughlaq hall may have influences Emperor Shahjahan’s decision to have his hall redone in stone ”made marble with white plaster”. (Muqarnas: An Annual on Islamic Art and Architecture).
Such anecdotes about the enchanting Hazar Sutoon are many, some chronicled, some as folklore.
Time may have obliterated Hazar Sutoon…………………
but its memories and stories will go on forever………………………… !