William Dalrymple – City of Djinns: A year in Delhi


Delhi holds within it a “a bottomless seam of stories” writes Dalrymple in his travelogue and part memoir City of Djinns. The author spent nearly a year in Delhi, researching the people and history, delivering a fascinating portrait of this rich culture. Covering everything from 1984 to 1947, the British Raj to the Mughals, it also gives a personal experience of what it’s like to be immersed in the environment there at that time mixing observations, with spirituality, and history.

Wandering through the city it is possible to catch glimpses of the architecture from previous dynasties, even if later construction has tried to cover it up with modern architecture, it’s still visable, refusing to be forgotten. Dalrymple compares the cities constant state of change and flux through the centuries to the Hindu belief of reincarnation. Sufis (Muslim holy men or mystics) believe that the djinns (supernatural creatures likened to genies made of a smokeless and ‘scorching fire’) love Delhi so much they exist everywhere watching over and protecting the city.


Imam Ali Conquers Jinn, unknown artist, Ahsan-ol-Kobar (1568) Golestan Palace

“But it was not until months later, when I met Pir Sadr-ud-Din, that I learned the secret that kept the city returning to new life. Delhi, said Pir Sadr-ud-Din, was a city of djinns. Though it had been burned by invaders time and time again, millennium after millennium, still the city was rebuilt; each time it rose like a phoenix from the fire. Just as the Hindus believe that a body will be reincarnated over and over again until it becomes perfect, so it seemed Delhi was destined to appear in a new incarnation century after century. The reason for this, said Sadr-ud-Din, was that the djinns loved Delhi so much they could never bear to see it empty or deserted. To this day every house, every street corner was haunted by them; you could not see them, said Sadr-ud-Din, but if you concentrated you would be able to feel them: to hear their whisperings, or even, if you were lucky, to sense their warm breath on your face.” – William Dalrymple, City of Djinns: A year in Delhi. 


The black king of the djinns, Al-Malik al-Aswad, in the late 14th century Book of Wonders



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