Tughlaqabad Fort
Delhi, India

The massive Tughlaqabad Fort, though in an advanced state of ruin, is not only symbolic of the might of the Tughlaq dynasty, but it is a piece of architectural marvel. The fort was a part of the dream project of Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq (the founder of the Tughlaq dynasty) when he built the capital at Tughlaqabad (the third city of Delhi). However, this powerful edifice did not last long and fell to the curse of a saint...(more below).


The crumbling ruins of the Tughlaqabad Fort convey a sense of lost grandeur. The massive ramparts, battlements, and the mammoth stonework of this fort speak highly of the engineering skills of the workers who constructed it. The fort served the dual purpose of a defensive structure as well as the imperial capital of Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq, the founder of the Tughlaq dynasty. There are a number of monuments within the precincts of this massive fort.


The origin of the historic city of Tughlaqabad and the Tughlaqabad Fort goes to the period of the Delhi Sultanate (AD 1191–1526). The Tughlaqs (AD 1321–1414) who followed the Khiljis (AD 1290–1321) were great builders and the city of Tughlaqabad and Tughlaqabad Fort were their first major architectural achievement.

The story behind the foundation of Tughlaqabad is an interesting one. Ghazi Malik, the founder of the Tughlaq dynasty, was once a slave of Mubarak Khilji, the last Khilji sultan. One day, while walking by the area where the Tughlaqabad Fort is now located, Ghazi Malik suggested to his master that the rocky prominence would be an ideal site for building a fort. The Khilji sultan laughed at his slave and suggested that the slave build a fort there when he became a sultan. When Ghazi Malik, as Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq, founded the Tughlaq Dynasty in 1321, he did just that—Tughlaqabad is Delhi’s most colossal and awesome fort, even in its ruined state.

The fort of Tughlaqabad was completed rapidly in a short span of four years (1321–25). The fort’s massive battlements and bastions (some as high as 15–30 m, built of enormous blocks of stone and walls 10 m thick in places) do not look as if they are the handiwork of mortals. Within its sky-touching walls, double-storied bastions, and gigantic towers were housed grand palaces, splendid mosques, and audience halls. The city lay on the eastern outskirts of the massive fort.

Tughlaqabad is a formidable reminder of Delhi’s embattled past and the terror and valor associated with that period. It was a period of political unrest and the Delhi Sultanate had to face a number of attacks from hoards of marauding Mongols, who descended on it in waves from the north. Ghiyas-ud-din, in order to counter the Mongol threat, repeatedly routed them and raised pyramids of enemy’s heads and used elephants to crush the captives to death. The massive fortifications of Tughlaqabad, with immense circular bastions, were raised by Ghiyas-ud-din to protect his subjects.


On the southern side of the fort is a causeway that takes one across the (now) dry bed of a lake to the tomb of Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq. The tomb was built by the ruler himself and is enclosed in a private courtyard with fortified walls. The structure of this simple but elegant building reminds one of the Alai Darwaza—an elegant gateway built by the erstwhile Khilji ruler Ala-ud-din Khilji, near Qutab Minar, in his endeavor to beautify the Qutab complex. The style of the tomb conforms to the Indo-Islamic style of architecture, which was in vogue at that time and was the hallmark of the buildings belonging to the period of the Delhi Sultanate.


There are a number of legends associated with Tughlaqabad. It is often said that the skulls of the killed Mongol marauders were used in the construction material of this awesome fort.

The demise of Tughlaqabad was not brought about by any foreign invasion, but to the curse of a Sufi Saint Nizam-ud-din. The legendary quarrel between the two started when Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq did not allow his people to work for the saint on the construction of a baoli (step well). This angered the saint. A protracted tiff followed, which offended the saint and led to his famous prophecy “Hunuz Dilli dur ast” (Delhi is yet far away), for the sultan was then out in Bengal. He made another ominous reference to the sultan’s fort when he remarked “Ya rahe usar, ya basé Gujjar” (Either it remains deserted or be peopled by men of the Gujjar tribe). Both these prophecies proved true. Ghiyas-ud-din was killed at a place near Delhi when a shamiana (canopy, marquee) collapsed over him during a reception arranged by his son. The sultan could not reach Delhi alive. His successor chose to build his own fort and deserted Tughlaqabad. It soon became a haunt for the Gujjars tending their cattle within the abandoned fort of Ghiyas-ud-din.

It is generally believed that the death of Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq was engineered and plotted by his son. One story describes that Muhammad bin Tughlaq (Ghiyas-ud-din’s son and successor) killed his father by building a false wooden balcony, which collapsed and killed Ghiyas-ud-din. The son murdered and ascended the throne of Delhi, thus making the prophecies of Saint Nizam-ud-din come true.