Exploring Hisar, Firoz Shah's Masterpiece of Urban Planning

The city of Hisar in Haryana owes its existence to Sultan Firoz Shah Tughlaq (r: 1351-1388). Originally known as Hisar Firoza, the name itself carried a sense of enchantment and splendor. However, as time passed, the word 'Firoza' gradually faded from the city's name, leaving behind a simpler yet equally captivating title - Hisar.

Let us take a step back in time and witness the rise of Hisar, as described by Shams-i Siraj Afif, the author of Tarikh-i Firoz Shahi.

After his return from Bengal in 1354-55, Firoz Shah stayed near the present-day Hisar for nearly two and a half years, dedicating himself to the welfare of the country and its people. It was during this period that the foundation of the new city was laid. Although Firoz Shah occasionally visited Delhi for brief periods, he consistently returned after a few days.


It took two and a half years to build the city of Hisar Firoza. At that time, there were two big villages at the site where Hisar Firoza was to be built. One was called big Laras, and the other was called small Laras, each having fifty and forty cattle sheds respectively. The Sultan, upon witnessing the grandeur of big Laras, was captivated and exclaimed, "How nice would it be to found a city here!"

However, the land in that area was very deficient in water. Travelers from Iraq and Khurasan who arrived during the summer season had to pay four jitals for a glass of water.

Firoz Shah remarked, "I am hopeful of God's kindness and mercy as I am laying the foundation of a new city on this spot for the benefit of people. God would surely provide enough water for this land through His kindness and mercy."

Stone were brought from the hills of Narsai (Narnaul) and combined with hard lime, a massive and towering fort was erected. Upon its completion, Firoz Shah named the place Hisar Firoza. A ditch was dug all around the fort, and a battlement was built along its banks. Inside the fort, a large tank was constructed to supply water to the ditch, ensuring a year-round water source.

A magnificent palace was also constructed within the fort. The palace boasted numerous halls adorned with exquisite ornamentation and lavish decorations. Among the intriguing features of the palace was its peculiar arrangement, where anyone entering would navigate through a series of halls, ultimately arriving at the center. The lower portion of the palace was very dark, making it impossible for anyone to find their way out without the guidance of a watchman.


Canal System:

Due to the scarcity of water, Firoz Shah took measures to address the issue. He excavated two canals to bring water from the Sutlej and Yamuna rivers to the city. The canal from Yamuna was named Rajabwah, while the one from Sutlej was called Ulughkhani, possibly in honor of Firoz Shah's father Rajab and cousin Ulugh Khan (Sultan Muhammad Bin Tughlaq.) Both canals originated at the junction of Karnal and extended all the way to Hisar Firoza, covering a distance of eighty kos (kurohs).

Although Afif only mentions the Rajab-wah and Ulugh-khani canals, a more detailed account of Firoz Shah's canal system is provided by Yahya-bin-Sirhindi, the author of Tarikh-i-Mubarak Shahi.

The construction of these canals began in 1355 during the Sultan's stay in Dipalpur. Initially, a canal was built stretching from the Sutlej to Jhajjar. In 1356, a second canal was excavated from the Yamuna, between the hills of Mandal (or Mandoli) and Sirmour. This canal was connected to seven others, leading it to Hansi and eventually to Arasin, where the foundation of Hisar Firoza was laid. Near the royal palace, the Sultan built a large reservoir and filled it with water from this canal.

The third canal was dug from the Ghaggar which passed alongside the fort of Sarsuti to Harni Khera. As for the fourth canal, it was dug from Budhi, deriving its waters from the Yamuna and transporting it to Hisar Firoza and beyond the fort's vicinity.

Firoz Shah populated the city and laid out many gardens and planted many trees that produced a variety of dry fruits, oranges, sugarcane, Indian cane, and flowers. On account of these canals, both the Kharif (autumn harvest) crops and the Rabi (spring harvest) crops began to flourish.


Prior to Firoz Shah's reign, this area was under the Shiq (district) Hansi. However, after the establishment of Hisar Firoza, it began to be officially recorded as the Shiq of Hisar Firoza. Hisar Firoza encompassed several districts, including Hansi, Agroha, Fatehabad, Sarsuti, Salaura, Khizrabad, and many others.

Hisar thus transformed into a majestic city with thriving agriculture and a growing population. Malik Dilan was appointed as its Shiqdar (Collector). The presence of canals ensured a sufficient water supply for irrigation, making it possible to access water within a mere four yards of digging a well. Consequently, the towns and villages situated between these canals greatly benefitted from the water provided by them.

Firoz Shah summoned a meeting of Ulema and Shaikhs to discuss whether individuals who constructed canals to supply water to the villages and towns should be compensated for their labor, effort, and expenses. The Ulema concluded that the initiator of the canals should receive a water tax (Haq-i-Sharab), amounting to 1/10th of the profit generated by the villages.

Following this decree, Firoz Shah imposed Haq-i-Sharab on the inhabitants of these regions. Moreover, he brought vast areas of barren land under cultivation. The revenue generated from Haq-i-Sharab and the newly cultivated lands reached an impressive sum of approximately two lakh tankas, which was kept separate from the state treasury and formed part of the Sultan's personal income. Afif mentions that no other ruler enjoyed such substantial personal income as Firoz Shah. The Sultan's financial affairs flourished to such an extent that dedicated officials were appointed to oversee the management of his personal wealth.

During the period of heavy rainfall, Firoz Shah would assign reliable officers to oversee and evaluate the canal entrances, furnishing him with reports regarding the extent of flooding. Firoz Shah was pleased to learn that the floodwater was flowing over large tracts. However, he held the officials stationed in any town or village accountable if damage occurred due to excessive flooding.