Faridabad: Mahabharata, to Mughals, to NCR
For a long time, Faridabad was the industrial hub of Haryana, defined by factories, warehouses and industrial estates. In recent times, this town, in the National Capital Region (NCR) and which shares its border with Delhi, has grown to include residential enclaves, high-end schools, hospitals, malls, corporate offices and other benchmarks of a 21st century urban sprawl.
But don’t be fooled by these markers of modernity, for hiding in plain sight are ancient and medieval monuments across the length and breadth of the city. These include an 8th century kund, a 10th century dam, medieval mosques, temples, distance markers and a Mughal-era bridge. In fact, Faridabad is home to some of the oldest surviving man- made structures in the Delhi-NCR region. Let’s take a tour of the lesser-known Faridabad.
Origin of the Name
The city is named after the founder of the old city, Sheikh Farid, treasurer of Mughal Emperor Jahangir. Sheikh Farid, whose full name was Sheikh Fariduddin Ibne Syed Ahmed Bukhari, was a loyal servant of the emperor and was instrumental in suppressing the rebellion of Prince Khusrau, son of Jahangir, after Emperor Akbar’s death.
In lieu of this victory, Sheikh Farid was honoured with the title ‘Murtaza Khan’. He also served as Governor of Punjab and Gujarat during Jahangir’s reign, and died in 1615 AD. His tomb is in the village of Begumpur in Malviya Nagar, New Delhi, where he built a sarai, which survives to this day.
Sheikh Farid laid the foundation of the city of Faridabad (‘Old Faridabad’ today) to protect the imperial Delhi- Agra highway, which passed through this route. However, the region around Faridabad enjoys much greater antiquity, going back to the Mahabharata era. It was also intimately connected with shaping the Delhi of the 11th Century.
The Delhi-NCR region is rich with Mahabharata legends, with both Delhi (Indraprastha/Indrapat) and Gurugram (Guru Dronacharya) boasting their own stories associated with this epic period. In a similar vein, Talpat or Tiliprashta in Faridabad district is believed to be one of the five pats demanded by the Pandavas as a part of their share of the kingdom. The village stands atop a 30-metre high mound and archaeological evidence has suggested considerable antiquity.
– The region was under the influence of Sungas, Kushanas, Guptas, Harsha and eventually Gurjara Pratiharas till the 7th Century AD.
However, while ample archaeological evidence in the form of statues and art pieces have been discovered as proof of this, there is no built heritage from this era.
The Tomars were Rajputs who started as generals in the Pratihara dynasty, then became governors of the region and eventually rulers when the Pratihara era declined. They are regarded as the founders of Delhi (Dhillika), which was their capital when their territory encompassed Haryana.
Evidence of this is found in the works of Abul Fazl as well bardic traditions like the records of 17th Century Gwalior Bhat Kharag Rai (Bhats were traditional genealogists of India). The Tomars were defeated and displaced by the Chauhans, who were eventually defeated by the Turks, thus marking a new age in the history of India.
As for the Tomars and the Faridabad region, the village of Anangpur (or Anekpur or Arangpur) still preserves remnants of that age. Anangpur (named either after Anangpala Tomar I or Anangpala Tomar II) is an important prehistoric site, which is also associated with the Palaeolithic era. There exists an ancient kund or water tank 2 km south of this site and a medieval dam inside it.
This is a 10th Century stepped water tank built by Surajpal Tomar, which resembles a massive Roman amphitheatre. It is believed that Surajpal was a Sun God worshipper and he built this tank along with a sun temple nearby. The tank survives but a pile of massive stones is all that remains of the temple.
The tank was built in the shape of the rising sun, with an eastward arc. Firuz Shah Tughlaq got the steps and reservoir repaired during his reign.
This stone masonry dam, orphaned by neglect, was built in the 11th Century and still has its drainage channels preserved. These channels were used to drain excess water in order to maintain the water level. The purpose here was to block upstream rainwater for irrigation purposes.
The 50mt-wide and 7mt-high dam is now used by the youth to execute stunts on motorcycles and is surrounded on all sides by newly built wedding halls.
During the Delhi Sultanate period, this region witnessed disturbances due to the rebellious Mewatis, which resulted in many attempts by the Sultanate to put them down, especially by Ghiyas ud din Balban of the Mamluk Dynasty.
It was only with the advent of Babur and the Mughal age that the Mewati influence waned.
– The present district of Faridabad was distributed between the Delhi and Agra subahs (province) during the age of Akbar.
Interestingly, almost all the medieval monuments that have survived in Faridabad belong to the reign of Jahangir.
The Jahangir Era
Old Faridabad: When Sheikh Farid laid the foundation of Faridabad, he built a fort, a mosque, a tank, a baoli or well and an idgah . The mosque, tank and eidgah still stand today while the baoli was filled up to make way for government quarters. He invited Syeds from Bukhara (in modern-day Uzbekistan), Brahmins from Kannauj and Khatris from Punjab to populate his town. While the demographics of the town changed post-Partition, we still find localities in the old town with names like Sayad Wara, Khatri Wara and Sheikh Wara.
Shahi Jami Masjid: The foundation of the Jami Masjid was laid by Sheikh Farid in 1605 AD. This is a glorious, three-arch mosque with a pylon (high central arched gateway) in the centre, bulbous dome with inverted lotus finial, kanguras (merlons) at the parapet, and Quranic medallions in the spandrel of arches.
The kutba of the mosque still survives and mentions: ‘During the reign of Emperor Jahangir, who is pious, just and liberal; Murtaza Khan (Sheikh Farid), who is honoured, powerful, generous and liberal, laid the foundation of this mosque in Hijri 1014 (1605 AD).
The mosque was recently painted and had minarets added to it. There is also a domed tomb in the premises which dates back to 200 years after the foundation of the mosque. The cenotaph is of an unknown person but it is deeply revered by the locals.
Barahi Mata Mandir: Barahi (or Varahi) Mata is one of the Mother Goddesses of the Hindu religion and the feminine energy of Varaha – the boar avatar of Vishnu. The Barahi Mata Mandir of Old Faridabad is of considerable antiquity as is confirmed by its pyramidal domes.
An annual Barahi Mata ka mela is held here from April to May.
Barahi Talab: The Barahi Talab or tank is adjacent to the Barahi Mata Mandir and gets its name from it. The tank was built by Sheikh Farid for the benefit of the local people.
The tank is usually dry in the hot summers but filled with water during the rest of the year. There are remnants of Lahori brick structures and cusped arches near the steps of the tank but the rest of the complex is modern. The renovation at a later date is confirmed by the District Gazetteer of Faridabad.
Nawab Sahib Ki Masjid: This three-arch mosque with graceful, bulbous domes was built during the age of Nawab Mutalabi during the Later Mughal era in the locality of Sayed Wara. It is difficult to find any text mentioning the Nawab and his lineage. All we know is that the Nawab’s descendants migrated to Pakistan during Partition and the mosque was abandoned. Currently, a temple functions in the premises.
Shiv Mandir, Barahi Talab: This temple lies near the medieval tank and most of its structure is modern. Its antiquity is confirmed by the bulbous dome with lotus finial and cusped arches inside. There are also remnants of Lahori brick structures inside the temple, which was probably built during the later Mughal age.
Eidgah: The eidgah was built by Sheikh Farid for the annual offering of namaz on the occasion of Eid in the forested area nearby. This was a simple, wall mosque in semi-ruins not so long ago. However, today it is a full-fledged modern mosque with daily namaz being offered. The mosque is situated in Baba Nagar.
Faridabad Kos Minars
Kos Minars are medieval milestones placed at every kos (1 Kos = 3.22 km) all along the Grand Trunk Road, by Akbar and Jahangir. They were almost 20 feet tall and built of rubble masonry/bricks and covered with lime plaster. They had an octagonal base, which tapered at the top, finishing as a circle. There were inns and wells built around them as well as horses and riders placed for quick delivery of royal messages. Hence they were a hub of activity on travel routes.
Since Faridabad lay on the imperial route from Delhi to Agra, it has had three Kos Minars in the city area, two of which still exist. These Kos Minars were probably built during the Jahangir era.
Kos Minar 1: This one can be found near Sarai Metro Station and stands in a residential colony in a park. Unaware of the value of these heritage structures, the locals call it a ‘half broken Qutub Minar’.
Kos Minar 2: This one exists on the side of the road in Faridabad’s Sector 29, hidden by roadside trees and protected by an iron railing.
Kos Minar 3: This third marker existed in Mujesor area but, as confirmed by Subhash Parihar, author of the seminal book on monuments on the Agra-Lahore highway, Land Transport In Mughal India: Agra-Lahore Mughal Highway And Its Architecture, it disappeared due to rapid encroachment and industrialization in Faridabad.
There are other Kos Minars in Faridabad district in Palwal and Hodal towns as well.
Khwaja Sarai Bridge: Jahangir was not a prolific builder of tombs and mosques like his ancestors or descendants. However, his memoir mentions that he ordered the construction of bridges, big and small, across his empire so that travellers encountering rivers could cross them easily.
Three of the bridges of his time still exist in Delhi-NCR. While two of these bridges lie in Delhi – Barapulla and Salimgarh Fort, the third one is in Khwaja Sarai village in Faridabad.
This bridge stands over a naala called budhiya wala naala, and the locals call the bridge 'budhia wala pul'. The bridge is built of stone and has three piers with the arch in central pier strengthened by buttresses. There were four mini towers/pylons, where the buttresses are but only two survive. Thankfully, the bridge has been preserved by the Archaeological Survey of India and only pedestrians are allowed to use it.
With the death of Aurangzeb and decline of the Mughal age, the region witnessed conflicts between the Jats, the French, the Marathas and the British. In 1803, the British prevailed and, eventually, Gurgaon district was carved out, of which Faridabad was a part. In 1858, the region moved to Punjab, till the state of Haryana was carved out in 1966. Faridabad city is now a part of Haryana. No monuments from the colonial era exist in Faridabad city today.
It is important to be aware and visit these hidden spots so that they become a part of our mainstream conscience and efforts are made to preserve what’s left of our rich legacy.
– ABOUT AUTHOR
Rameen Khan is a heritage enthusiast who loves rediscovering and documenting historic monuments, folklore and traditional cuisines.