Hauz-i-Shamsi: A Dreamy Reservoir Of Delhi’s Past

Delhi is a city that is steeped in history, with countless hidden gems that offer a glimpse into the past. One such place is the Hauz-i-Shamsi, a Mughal-era water tank located in the heart of the city

Delhi has witnessed the rise and fall of many dynasties, each leaving behind its architectural and cultural legacy. One such legacy is the Hauz-i-Shamsi, now a tumbled-down water tank built by Sultan Iltutmish of the Slave Dynasty in 1230 CE. The tank is located in Mehrauli, one of the oldest neighbourhoods of Delhi, and has a fascinating story behind its origin.

A Divine Dream

According to legend, Sultan Iltutmish (r. 1211-1236 CE) had a dream in which he saw the Islamic prophet Muhammad mounted on a majestic horse, standing at a particular spot in Mehrauli. The prophet asked the Sultan what he wished for, and the Sultan expressed his desire to build a reservoir for the benefit of the people. The prophet then commanded him to dig the reservoir at that very spot and struck his horse’s hoof on the ground, causing water to gush forth.

The Sultan woke up from his dream and rushed to the spot with his spiritual guide, Khwaja Qutbuddin Bakhtiar Kaki. There, they found a spring that had emerged overnight and marked it as a sacred site. Construction of a large tank around the spring then ensued, and the Sultan named it Hauz-i-Shamsi, meaning "the sunny water tank".

Architecture And Design Of Hauz-i-Shamsi

Jharna pavilion near Hauz-i-Shamsi
Jharna pavilion near Hauz-i-ShamsiWikimediaCommons

The tank is rectangular in shape, with a length of 225 feet and a width of 97 feet. The walls of the tank are made of rubble masonry and are over 15 feet high. There are 36 arches on each side of the tank, which divide it into 37 bays. The water tank was designed to collect rainwater from the surrounding area. The water flows into the tank through a series of channels and then is filtered through layers of sand and charcoal before being stored in the tank. The tank is surrounded by a verandah supported by a series of pillars.

A Royal Retreat

The Hauz-i-Shamsi was not only a source of water supply for the city but also a place of recreation and relaxation for the royals and nobles. The Sultan built a pavilion in the middle of the tank, which could be accessed only by boat. The pavilion had a stone slab with the imprint of Muhammad’s horse’s hoof, considered a holy relic. The pavilion also served as a mosque, where fakirs and devotees around the kingdom would come to pray and meditate.

Repairs And Renovations

The tank was later repaired and renovated by several rulers, such as Ala-ud-din Khilji (r. 1296-1316 CE), Firoz Shah Tughlaq (r. 1351-1388 CE), and Akbar Shah II (r. 1806-1837 CE). They added more structures and gardens around the tank, making it more beautiful. One of the most prominent buildings near the tank is the Jahaz Mahal, a palace built by an unknown Lodi ruler in the 16th century CE. The palace was named so because it looked like a ship floating on the water when the tank was full. The palace was also used as a retreat for pilgrims visiting the nearby dargah of Khwaja Qutbuddin Bakhtiar Kaki.

A Neglected Heritage

Unfortunately, over time, the Hauz-i-Shamsi lost its glory and grandeur due to neglect and encroachment. The tank shrunk in size and became polluted with sewage and garbage. The pavilion in the middle of the tank collapsed and was replaced by a new one in 1984 CE. The stone slab with the hoof print was also removed and replaced by another one. The buildings around the tank have also been deteriorated.

Jahaz Mahal on the bank of Hauz-i-Shamsi
Jahaz Mahal on the bank of Hauz-i-ShamsiWikimediaCommons

However, in recent years, some efforts have been made to restore and conserve this historic water tank and its surroundings. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has taken up the task of repairing and maintaining the monuments near the tank, such as the Jahaz Mahal, Zafar Mahal, Hauz-i-Shamsi Pavilion, Jharna Pavilion, etc. The Delhi Jal Board (DJB) has also initiated a project to clean and revive the water body by installing aerators, fountains, bio-filters, etc.

Getting There

The tank is located in the Siri Fort area of Delhi and is easily accessible by public transport. The best time to visit the tank is during the monsoon season when it is full of water, but it is also a beautiful sight during the dry months.

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