Thursdays are unlike all other days at the Kotla. You’ve heard of Aladdin rubbing Genie’s lamp. But did you ever think it could be a real practice? Cut to the 21st century and people worship Djinns here, apparently an ‘age old’ practice. Another one of my assignments. Lol, i need to graduate from those.
The words ‘Feroz Shah Kotla’ bring into one’s mind the cricket ground in Delhi where Anil Kumble made a record by taking 10 wickets in a single inning. But what most don’t know is that the ruins of the city Ferozabad under the Sultan Feroz Shah Tughlaq stand next door. Built in 1354, Feroz Shah Kotla was once a fortress around Ferozabad.
Though not as well known as the stadium, the ruins are visited by many especially on Thursday, the day of the Djinn puja. The Kotla then becomes reminiscent of Dalrymple’s City of Djinns. Djinns, quite unlike the popular blue Disney character Genie, are formless sprits, both good and bad, believed to reside within the Kotla. They can grant wishes and also place curses. Some may even possess you.
The puja is usually carried out in small chambers inside the ruins; some people even do it right near the entrance. The cubicles are dim, lit by a few candles and agarbattis. There is soot on the walls and smoke in the air. Eyes stinging, you can, with extreme difficulty, see the numerous garlands that surround the candles, few even reduced to wax. Letters – some carrying wishes, others penitence (maufinamas) – adorn the black walls while devotees sit crossed-legged on the floor, deep in meditation, swaying front to back. Once the ritual is over, a devotee must step out of the cave backwards so as not to disrespect the Djinn. Outside in the corridor, devotees tie bits of plastic wrappers on the iron doors as wishes.
Most people who come here wish for protection, fertility, blessings and reassurance – some beg for their long lost sons to return home, some repent while a few others come merely to bask in the lawns and eat ‘free food’.
Though Djinns are figures in the Quran and the Arabic mythology, non-Muslims also flock to worship these Sufi beings, many even traveling to see the Djinns from other cities.
As you climb the stairs on top of the chambers, a praying area comes into sight. Men and women lie prostrated in prayer. On the right is an Ashokan Pillar, in the front a closed of baoli and at the back, the Ring Road. Kites rest on makbaras and children can be seeing playing hide and seek in the ruins. In the distance, you can see zarda and biryani (savoury Mughalai dishes) being distributed. Women, men and children line up to eat as those whose wishes have come true give out the food as a thanks to the spirits. Many distribute food as a thanks to the Djinns who have granted their wishes.
As twilight descends, the Kotla which was a hub of activity the whole day falls back into loneliness, waiting for next Thursday for the devotees to return.