Arriving in Chawri Bazaar, none of the experienced rickshaw pullers seemed to know the address of Razia Sultan’s tomb. Perhaps because seldom does anyone go there. After great strife through Purani Delhi's multiple lanes, we finally arrive at something like an ordinary mosque. Not much of a historical monument, and certainly underwhelming to the name of Razia Sultan- Delhi’s first and last woman ruler.
A board of Archaeological Survey of India declares Razia Sultan’s tomb as a protected monument. The irony is that even the board can use repairs.
In the morning at 10 hours, 30minutes, a caretaker opens his eyes lazily in the accompanying mosque. Two tombs lie in the middle of a mosque. The gates are locked as we request entry. The high walls around the compartment have darkened with the ravages of time. The floor around the tombstones is rough. There is no celebratory structure. Nothing that betokens the power and strength of Sultan Razia.
Much before the Seneca Falls convention(the beginning of the World Women’s Movement), a king’s daughter went against public opinion to assume the role of a ruler. Her accession to the throne of Delhi Sultanate was not a day’s awakening, Razia Sultan was a trained administrator and warrior.
“Razia Sultan was probably one of the feminists. The title she took was ‘Sultan’. In a way declaring that I am not the wife of a king but the king,” says Delhi-based heritage activist Sohail Hashmi.
While leaving for his Gwalior campaign in 1231, Iltutmish left his daughter Razia in charge of Delhi's administration. Razia performed her duties so well that after returning to Delhi, Iltutmish decided to name her as his successor. Iltutmish ordered his officers to prepare a decree naming Razia as the heir apparent. When his nobles questioned this decision on the basis that he had surviving sons, Iltutmish replied that Razia was more capable than his sons.
Despite Iltutmish’s resolve and Razia’a abilities, the nobility was reluctant to accept a woman as Sultan. As a result, her half brother Rakhnuddin Firoz was made the successor after Iltutmish’s death. Firoz was wasted to pleasure living. This invited turbulence and discontent from many quarters. Razia slowly gained the trust of nobles. It is said that she walked to the Friday prayers in Qubbat-ul-Islam mosque(in Qutub complex, Mehrauli), dressed in red clothes to seek justice. It was her that she named the Sultan.
Razia's ascension to the throne of Delhi was unique not only because she was a woman, but also because the support from the general public was the driving force behind her appointment. According to the 14th-century text Futuh-us-Salatin, she had asked the people to depose her if she failed to meet their expectations.
In her short yet powerful rule, Razia let go of the purdah to adopt a gender-neutral attire. She issued many coins under the title of Sultan Jalalat al-Duniya wal-Din.
Razia’s decision to appoint non-Turks to important positions created resentment among the Turkic nobles. This and the disdain to be ruled by a female ruler became the reason for her downfall. She was overthrown by Muizuddin Bahram, whom the nobles appointed as king in her absence.
Razia married Malik Altunia who had rebelled against her(probably in a will to win back the throne). The two fought against Bahram yet did not succeed and were later killed.
A century later, the condition of the tomb of Sultan Razia is like her grave- uncelebrated. The mausoleum is now taken over and used as a mosque. This development is fairly recent (20 years) according to Sohail Hashmi.
According to Sohail Hashmi, Sultan Razia is buried near Bulbuli Khana, close to Bazar Sitaram. She died in 1240 which was the same year as Shah Turkman Bayabani (the Sufi saint after whom Turkman Gate was named by Shahjahan). After her death, she was buried here, perhaps to ensure that she was in the vicinity of the shrine which is considered auspicious.
Among the two graves in the tomb. While one is believed to be of Sultan Razia, the other remains unidentified. While many believe it to be her sister or of Yaqut a loyal ally), Heritage Activist Sohail Hashmi believes it could be the Grave of Malik Altunia - her husband. There is no mention of a sister in contemporary records and She could not have been buried next to non relative.
Popular dramas on Sultan Razia have conjured stories of her romance with Yaqut, a loyal slave of her father, Iltutmish, later freed.
Sohail Hashmi says that from what he has read, Sultan Razia was gifted an Arab stallion and Yaqut helped her climb it because it was a very tall horse, this episode has been blown out of all proportions to create this tall tale by writers of Historical Fiction and used by Bombay cinema to create a fictional love story.
Talking about the decrepit state of the tomb of Sultan Razia, Sohail Hashmi says, “The condition of the tomb is partly because of the settlement that grew around the area in 1947. At that time, no one had the time or resources to protect Heritage Structures."
As per Sohail Hashmi, the Archaeological Survey of India act excludes such structures from preservation and protection that are being used for worship. As a result, many temples and mosques around India are not protected, despite their Historical, Architectural or archaeological importance.
Just like her reign, her mausoleum is covered in a small area. Had we a had different history, and more people in the 13th century who supported her, we could have many stories from the long reign of an able Muslim woman ruler.
We slowly retrace our steps from the tomb of Sultan Razia, the humdrum of Chawri Bazaar is ordinary where her memory(like her tomb) become inconspicuous.