In Photos: Guts, Glory and the Historical Eclipse of Raziya Sultan
For several months, her face was veiled her sword’s ray flashed, lightning-like, from behind the screen.Since the sword remained in the sheath,many rebellions were left unchecked. With a royal blow, she tore away the veil;she showed her face’s sun from behind the screen.The [lioness] showed so much force that brave men bent low before her.
These lines by Amir Khusrao were written in praise of the first woman ruler of Delhi Sultanate, Raziya Sultan.
Through the narrow lanes of Bulbul-i-Khana, where old, rustic heritage buildings are clamped onto each other, is a green signboard that reads ‘Raziya Sultan Tomb’. As you proceed further into the lane, a mix of smoke, smog and dirt makes it difficult to breathe.
This is definitely not how I imagined the tomb of the first and last woman ruler of Delhi Sultanate.
The first thing that strikes you about this place is how dirty it is – heaps of garbage, trash, plastics, rags, wrappers, and stale food, mixed with a muck of urine and spit.
Harbans Mukhia, an eminent historian of medieval history in India, says the tomb has been reduced to a “urinal.”
As I reached the tomb – having asked directions from several people – I was greeted by a big blue board put up by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). Ironically, it read ‘Protected Monument’.
The inside of the tomb is in stark contrast to the outside. It is cleaner and devoid of any foul smell.
Who was Sultan Raziya?
In his last days, Sultan Iltutmish saw a bleak future in his sons and decided to do the unthinkable. He made his daughter, Raziya, the Sultan of Delhi. She went on to become a great warrior and administrator. She ruled from 1236-1240 AD, and acquired the title of Jalâlat-ud-Dîn Raziya.
Renowned historian Rana Safvi said Turkish noblemen couldn’t digest that Raziya was not a puppet in their hands and acted on her own accord, and hence tried to dethrone her.
Her death is debatable, as some say she died fighting with her brother Muiz-uddin Bahram for the throne in 1240 AD, while some believe she was robbed and killed on her way to Delhi for the battle.
One woman driven by sheer fortitude and courage was able to strike fear in the hearts of her opponents and leave behind a rich legacy for millions to emulate.
Inside is a mosque, the imam – a person who leads the prayers – keeps it clean. The people who are interested in history will somehow find their way here, Tauhid, the imam, said.
He mentioned that there is a designated guard by the ASI who ought to maintain and clean the tomb. However, he was nowhere to be seen. Frequent visitors are mostly foreigners and college students who are researching the legacy of Raziya.
Asif, a local sitting beside the imam, said that the only reason why the tomb is in such neglect is because Raziya was a Muslim. “The government has always discriminated against us,” he said.
Safvi said the government can’t do anything now, as people started living in the tomb after independence. “The only thing perhaps they could do was put proper signboards as it is difficult to reach here. These little steps help,” the historian said.
Richard Barz, who teaches Indian history at a university in Australia, was visiting the grave of Raziya. “I am really fascinated and also a little despondent about the persona Raziya was. She rose to power in a patriarchal society, which suppressed woman. The least the government can do is put proper signboards,” he said.
Raziya Sultan’s never-say-never attitude could be an example for girls to follow. If you have the talent, gender and time can never hold you back.
On my way back, I recalled the lines by Amir Khusrao and wondered if I could find another Raziya in these gullies, who would be ready to fight and not bow down to the pressures of a patriarchal society.
(This story was first published on 21 November 2017 and has been reposted from The Quint’s archives on the occasion of World Heritage Day)