The tale of Shah Turkman Bayabani

Conventionally, all the gates on the peripheral wall of Shahjahanabad (emperor Shah Jahan’s city) were named after their destination points. So one naturally supposes that Turkman Gate would lead to Middle-east and Turkey. However, that’s not the case here.

Turkman Gate, which is today the focal point of a busy crossroad at Daryaganj,
was named after a Sufi saint Shams-ul-Arifeen Shah Turkman Bayabani. Shah Turkman lived centuries before Shahjahanabad was even established in 1639. He was a contemporary of Qutub-ud-Din Bakhtyaar Kaaki and Iltutmish and died in 1240, the same year Razia Sultan, the first woman ruler of Delhi was killed.

Shah Turkman is believed to be one of the earliest Sufis to have settled in Delhi. He belonged to a sect of Sufis who believing in living and praying alone in secluded places (bayaban means wilderness), hence the surname Bayabani. In his book The Delhi That No-One Knows, author RV Smith writes: “The Baba came to Delhi perhaps in the wake of the invasion of Muhammad Ghori after the second battle of Tarain (1193).”

“But he did not live in Mehrauli where the new rulers had taken up abode. In those days, this area (Daryaganj) was a jungle where roamed many wild beasts, but this man of God did not have anything to fear. His needs were simple and he ate wild fruits and drank water from the pond that occupied the place where the Ramlila Ground is now situated.”

After his death, Bayabani was laid to rest at the same place. In view of the shrine and the respect in which locals held him, this southern gate of Shahjahanabad was named Turkman. Typical of that era, the gate was built upon a rectilinear platform in a square form with high-arch-ed openings. Red sandstone was the chief building material with little decoration.

Notably, Shah Turkman’s shrine is the oldest known Sufi shrine in Delhi. Even
today, locals visit it regularly and offer incense and flowers. Inspite of the traffic and chaos around, the shrine still has an assuaging calm about it, probably because of the large tree that overlooks it. Probably it’s the only remaining piece of green which Bayabani loved about Old Delhi.

When around Turkman Gate and Bayabani’s shrine, do make it a point to also visit the beautiful Holy Trinity Church, tomb of Raziya Sultan and Kalan Masjid nearby. You will experience the aura of an era, long past.

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