Delhi under eight emperors, a historical drama

An account of the rule of eight successive kings of Delhi during the time of famous sufi saint Nizamuddin Auliya is presented through a new historical drama "Eight Kings".

Delhi under eight emperors, a historical drama
Pic Courtesy: Thinkstock Images (Image used for representational purpose only)

New Delhi: An account of the rule of eight successive kings of Delhi during the time of famous sufi saint Nizamuddin Auliya is presented through a new historical drama "Eight Kings".

The play is a solo act by Farhad Colabavala who enacts all the eight rulers of the Slave, Khilji and Tughlaq dynasties -- Ghyasuddin Balban, Qaikobad, Jalaludhin Khilji and Allaudin Khilji along with Malik Kafoor, Mubarak Shah, Khushrau Khan and Ghyasuddin Tuglaq.

Through a Sufi narrative, the drama is a blend of history and myths retold by a dervish to the legendary traveller Ibn Battuta who visited Delhi during the reign of Muhammed bin Tughlaq, whose initial months witnessed the death of Auliya.

Director Vikramjit Singh says it is an attempt to epitomise the volatile atmosphere of the capital city, which was then as is now, the centre of political developments, power tussles and intriguing machinations.

The enactment begins when famous traveler and writer from Morocco, Ibn Battuta, accidentally meets a wandering Kalandar (a saint who is at a very high level of spirituality) here during Mohammad Bin Tughlak's time and who tells him the story of the previous eight Sultans.

The Kalandar speaks about the fickleness of fate that is connected to external power and how the only eternal thing is love.

Inspired by an upcoming book, "Nine Nights and A Million Stars" by Dhritabrata Bhattacharjya Tato, the drama attempts to explore the historical capital, which has seen sufi saints and emperors and witnessed massacres and new cities being built and abandoned.

The stage has been depicted in a medieval sufi style, with props comprising a lit lamp and a green shawl seen in darghas. The kings are represented through eight different crowns and as the story progresses and each ruler dies, his crown gets thrown into a bin and a new one brought out. 

Colabavala, a product of the conservatory of actors at Yale and who has done over a 100 shows of plays in India and the UK mostly in leads, intermittently keeps changing roles between the emperors and the Kalandar with the latter's conversation evoking much laughter from the audience.

"I wanted to look at the political turmoil and the simultaneous spiritual quest. I also looked at the notion of love in the middle of the political turmoil. It's very relevant to our time also. The city of Delhi has been the host of arrogance of political power and constant power shifting." says Sinha who marks his debut as a writer with the play.

A masters in social anthropology from the Delhi School of Economics, Sinha says he came up with the idea while doing work on his dissertation on Indian medieval history. "Most of the palaces built during this period or even after such as the Lal Qila etc are all turning into wilderness. There was this poor Sufi saint who could not make ends meet and now on his grave hundreds and thousands of people come to light incense sticks," he says.

From repeated Mongol attacks to violent events that decided the fate of the throne, the play attempts to capture the futility of political might as opposed to eternal spiritual fervor that survives even today. Debuting here last evening the performance is set to be reprised here next month.

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