The City of Daulatabad

Today, all that stands of it is Daulatabad Fort, a historical monument and tourist attraction outside of Aurangabad, India. But in the 14th century, the Islamic Sultan of Delhi had named it Dawlat Abad, meaning “place of power” in Arabic (‘Dawlat’ – ‘power, luck, fortune’)(‘Abad’ – ‘settled place’).

The city of Daulatabad, or Dawlat Abad (modern: Daulatabad Fortress, Aurangabad, Maharashtra, India), was the temporary capital of the Delhi Sultanate from 1327 to 1334 AD. The Sultan of Delhi moved there so that he could conquer the central-western area of India. And at that time, it was considered the second grandest city in Western India, nearly rivaling Delhi.

In the 9th Century AD, a mighty fortress had been constructed by the Yadava Kingdom atop a large natural stone formation. They named it Duwaygir (modern: Deogiri), meaning ‘Hill of God’ in honor of Lord Shiva of Hindu who was believed to dwell in the area.

Bazaars of Enchantment

Daulatabad, or Dawlat Abad, was a wealthy city. In its markets, one could find all sorts of colored surprises from gemstones and diamonds to palm dates and pomegranates. The resident merchants there traded in jewels, mostly. Otherwise, the city’s chief agricultural commodities were grapes and pomegranates.

It possessed a large bazaar with an especially renowned music district called Tarab Abad, meaning “house of enchanment” (‘Tarab’ – ‘enchantment by song’)(‘Abad’ – ‘place’). It was comprised of a row of shops housing singers and song-girls. One could walk through two sets of dark doors into a first room richly decorated with rugs and carpets and stop in to listen to a live song. If no girl was performing, one could find her behind the second set of doors lying in a large cushioned cradle hanging from the ceiling while being swayed and swung around by her female attendants. Some of these “music shops” offered more than live music. In Medieval Islamic culture, the line between “singing girls” and “prostitutes” was thinly drawn. Some were legitimate houses of repute that passed on great songs and musical traditions while others were dens of another certain kind of enchantment.

The Population

The population of Dawlat Abad was vast and mainly Hindu. Most men were jewel merchants and farmers. The female population predominantly belonged to the Marhathi people of Western India. They were renowned for their God given beauty, with their exquisite noses and fine, appealing eyebrows. These women were believed to possess a natural ability in the art of sensual erotica, able to perform intercourse better than any other women in the world.

When Sultan Tughluq of the Delhi Sultanate made the city his second capital, he brought with him all of his slaves, nobles, scholars, and mystics. The citizens of Delhi were all encouraged, or forced, to move with him. The new city would be divided up into organized districts for different professions such as poets, lawyers, clergy, soldiers, and merchants. There was a fair amount of civil discontent though, which was common under Sultan Tughluq’s reign for he was vehement about Islam and viciously violent towards everyone from petty criminals to Hindu rebels.

The Pit of Rats

The city’s significance was largely centered around its super-fortress, Duwaygir (modern: Deogiri), which was built like a castle atop a giant, sheer rock. The fortress was accessible only by a leather ladder that would be supervised by guards. The strategic importance of such a lofty, naturally defensible fortress is obvious. From its great height, one could oversee the wide expanse horizon surrounding the city and stay on guard, while also safely housing any treasures or important persons within its domain.

But, excavated down into the rock bed was a cavernous space used to hold prisoners. The name of this dark, dingy dungeon was “The Pit of Rats” because it was infested with rats the size of cats, some even larger. Cats had always been respected and legally protected throughout Indian history because of their ability to keep cities safe from rats, but cats were no match for these rats. There being no steady means to kill these rats, special professionals with uniquely designed traps suited only for these rats would be employed to catch them. Then, they would be transported them to the dungeon so that they could be utilized as a form of torture and punishment for its heinous prisoners. 

The famed Moroccan traveller, Ibn Battuta, once visited the city and met a man who said that he had been freed from prison there because the rats killed his cell-mate. This man was a local chief named Malik Kattab al-Afghani. He explained that while he was imprisoned there, he had to fight day and night to keep those giant rats from devouring him, for they were constantly trying to nibble and gnaw on his flesh with their giant teeth. One night, in a dream-state, a spirt told him to him to repeat the “Surah of al-Ikhlos a hundred thousand times and God will deliver you.” Repeated recitation of this part of the Quran apparently annoyed the rats and kept them at bay. As he was doing so, a cell mate of his happened to fall sick–as would oft happen in such a dark, damp, filthy underground cavern–and had his eyes and fingers all eaten by the rats. Right when Malik Kattab finished his hundred-thousandth recitation of that holy verse, guards came to release him because the Sultan needed to get information out of him and did not want him dead like his cell-mate.

And so, he told Ibn Battuta that if should he ever find himself in that prison and not want to be eaten alive by the rats, that he should repeat the “Surah of al-Ikhlos a hundred thousand times” and he will be saved. Fortunately, Ibn Battuta never had to experience such a horror, but was rather able to enjoy the rather unique and splendid delights of the city.

The Return to Delhi

Daulatabad, or Dawlat Abad, rose to eminence when Sultan Tughluq of Delhi temporarily relocated his capital from Delhi to there in 1327 AD. Over the following seven years, the Sultanate’s military conquests in the region would turn out to be a failure. Rebels would begin posing a serious threat to the Sultanate’s holdings in Northern India. And outbreaks of the plague started popping up. So by the year of 1335 AD, the capital was moved back to Delhi and much of the grandeur of the city went with it.

Source: Chandra, Satish (2004). Medieval India: From Sultanat to the Mughals-Delhi Sultanat (1206-1526) – Part One. Har-Anand Publications

Source: Source: Ibn, Batuta, and Tim Mackintosh-Smith. The Travels of Ibn Battutah. London: Picador, 2002. Print.

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