South Shahjahanabad is a fascinating area that is a striking blend of history and contemporaneity. Before Shahjahan built the walled city, the area was well known as a site for burials around the grave of Shah Turkman (a Sufi saint who lived here during the reign of Sultan Iltutmish) and later as part of Firoz Shah’s city Firozabad. In fact, some historians believe that the Kalan Masjid, built by Firoz Shah’s Prime Minister Khan Jahan Junan Shah in 1387, must have been the main mosque of the city of Firozabad.
There is also considerable proof that the grave of Razia Sultan, the only female ruler before the British period to rule from the throne of Delhi, is located here within a modest enclosure. While walking in the narrow alleys surrounding Razia’s grave enclosure, one can sense that the ground level here is generally higher than the surrounding parts of the walled city, perhaps owing to its continued habitation over a longer period as well as its use as a site for burials. Compared to the area north of Chandni Chowk, south Shahjahanabad was somehow spared the wholesale destruction of the city’s fabric after the Revolt of 1857. Although the city wall was demolished almost completely, the three principle gates—the Ajmeri Gate, the Turkman Gate, and Delhi Gate were retained. The rubble masonry wall connecting the three gates has now been replaced by the almost continuous row of Delhi’s early Art Deco buildings on Aruna Asaf Ali Marg. Walking along this street lined with modern buildings towards Ajmeri Gate brings one to the sprawling campus of the madrasa and mosque set up by Ghaziuddin, a powerful minister in the court of Aurangzeb and his successors.
The busy commercial nature of this part of the city becomes obvious as one walks along the streets here. More recently, the opening of the metro station at Hauz Qazi has made this commercial area, with wholesale hardware and paper markets, even busier. Behind this cluster of modern buildings, the internal street pattern has changed little over the years —the visitor must be prepared to stumble upon ‘jewels’ from different periods of Delhi’s history at every turn and corner!