Walking among the ruins of ancient forts, with elderly men sitting in circles, incense burning in the middle and walls cluttered with letters to the djinns. No, this isn't something out of One Thousand and One Nights. It is very real and in the heart of the city.
Feroz Shah Kotla in old Delhi is full of magic and folklore. With hordes of people thronging the place on Thursdays, the beliefs surrounding the ruined forts are potent. Wall after decrepit wall of the entire crumbling fort are adorned with innumerable letters.
"My sister was not getting a suitable match for her, and my parents were worried sick. After someone advised us, we brought her here and wrote a letter to the mighty djinns. Within a month, her wedding was fixed, and now she is very happy," said Seema Sahu, a regular visitor.
The Generous Djinns
An age-old ritual of the place is that all your grievances will be redressed if you write a letter to the djinns, believed to be inhabiting the deep recesses of the fort. They are considered the place's supreme rulers and all-powerful. A person wishing to find remedies to their problems need only write them down on a piece of paper addressed to the djinns of the place and paste it on the walls. Following that, every Thursday, for consecutively seven weeks, the person is supposed to visit the place and offer milk, sweets and fruits to the djinns so their wishes to be fulfilled.
Seekers and Servers
There are scores of staunch followers who blindly believe in this practice and come to seek solutions. However, there are many sceptics as well who only want to serve the poor.
"I do not believe in the practice of djinn worship. Yes, I visit this place regularly to distribute food to the people here. I have been doing that for the past 20 years and I am happy and content with my life," said Bhaskar Arora.
The fort built by Sultan Feroz Shah Tughlaq in the fourteenth century stands beside the Feroz Shah Kotla cricket stadium. The Jami Masjid mosque inside the fort is full of devotees who offer prayers and asks for their wish fulfilment. Near the mosque, there are several dark caves with small chambers inside where people sit and meditate to call upon the djinns who are believed to dwell inside.
"Once you step inside the premises of the fort, you should not speak ill of the djinns because they are everywhere, in every nook and corner of the place and they can hear you," said Sheeraz Sheik, who was sitting with old men circling burning incense in the middle. Asked about why they burn so much incense around the place, he replied, "the incense attracts the djinns and they come out of the caves."
Walking around the fort, which reminds you of autumn leaves, ready to crumble at a touch, you may also notice three or four people distributing food. A long queue usually waits patiently for the food to be distributed. "This place is full of people who come from very far away to have their wishes granted by the djinns. Those people whose wishes are fulfilled are generally distributing the food. The Hindus distribute sweet rice and other sweet dishes while the Muslims usually distribute biryani," said Manoj Kumar, who makes shoelaces and has been coming to the fort for a while.
People's belief about the apparent presence of djinns largely depends upon the social class they belong to. Those who belong to the uneducated or partially educated lower strata of the social chain are the ones who generally believe in the rituals of writing letters or maafinama that go on inside the chambers. The other category of visitors usually comes for the sheer adventure and dose of entertainment offered by the place. Most of these people come to the grounds for picnicking.
"I heard a lot about the place and the spooky factor attached to it, so I wanted to experience it first-hand. The caves are pretty scary, but I don't believe it's real, somehow," said Priyal, who came with her friends.
Timings The place opens early morning and shuts down after sunset every day, marking a close to another magical experience. Thursdays are when the fort gets most crowded.
Getting There Delhi Gate metro, on the violet line, is the nearest metro that will drop you some 500 metres away from the fort. It is also very close to the ITO metro station.