Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Shahjahanabad (Old Delhi) (1648 A.D.) - The Legacy of Delhi Vol 8

(In this edition of Delhi-iteful Tuesdays I am bringing to you the eighth edition of this historical series The Legacy of Delhi.) 

In India whenever the words 'grand', 'historical' and 'marvelous' are mentioned about a city, the conversation is either about the city of Shahjahanabad or Hampi (capital of Vijayanagar Kingdom - 1500 A.D.) and their significant monuments. The citadel of Shahjahanabad, the Red Fort (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) is a monument which is a landmark in terms of architectural brilliance. But the city of Shahjahanabad was much more than just the Red Fort as you will get to know in this informative article. 

   1863 Map of Shah Jahanabad (Old Delhi)  

 The Red Fort (Citadel of Shahjahanabad)
History -
            The Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan (whose rule was the zenith of Mughal architectural brilliance) by 1637 A.D. began to realize the paucity of space in the Agra and Lahore courts to conduct royal ceremonies properly. By the year 1639 A.D. he decided to lay the foundation stone for a new capital of his kingdom which would be known as Shahjahanabad. The site of Shahjahanabad is north of earlier cities of Delhi, its southern part overlaps some of the area settled by the Tughluqs in 14th century. Delhi had always remained an important place for the Mughal kings (before Shah Jahan), who built palaces and forts here.

Physical Map of Delhi depicting the Location of Shahjahanabad (Old Delhi)

A snapshot of Chandni Chowk (taken in 1858)

Architecture -
                              The architecture of the city of Shahjahanabad is something which cannot be described in a paragraph or two. It was a detailed city (rectangular in shape) (built on the banks of River Yamuna, which has now changed course) with many architectural and visual marvels. The main palace (or citadel) in which the emperor Shah Jahan and the succesive rulers of the Mughal Dynasty lived until 1857 A.D. was known as the Lal Qila (Red Fort). It was called so because of its Red Sandstone walls (Initially the walls were being made of mud until Shah Jahan ordered them to be decorated with red sandstone). The fort covers approximately 125 acres of land.

The Diwan e Khas (Pavilion for Private Audience). The platform in the middle of the picture was where the peacock throne once stood before it was looted by Nadir Shah and taken to Iran in 1739.

 One of the pillars of the Diwan e Khas. Observe the engraved precious stones.

                              The Red Fort itself is a World Heritage Site which speaks volumes about the beauty of its buildings and pavilions. Some of the well known and most beautiful sections of the Red Fort and Shahjahanabad were the emperor's private area which housed various pavilions like the Diwan e Khas (Hall for Private Audience), Rang Mahal, Mumtaz Mahal (which has now been converted into a museum), Moti Masjid (Pearl Mosque) (it was the private mosque of Emperor Aurangzeb (Shah Jahan's successor) e.t.c.  The most enthralling part of the private quarters was the Nahr e Behisht (Stream of Paradise) which was a man made channel of water (drawn from the river Yamuna). This channel of water had flown through the middle of the main pavilions of Diwan e Khas , Rang Mahal and the emperor's private apartments. It was loaded with rose petals, incense e.t.c. so that it would not only cool the halls but also make the air rich with fragrance.
A street of Old Delhi (Shahjahanabad)

                                   The city of Shahjahanabad as such had eight gates which were locked during night time (in the 17th, 18th and the 19th century). The city had many bazaars, some of which exist even now, for example Khari Baoli (which is today Asia's largest wholesale spice market). The area of Chandni Chowk (Moonlit Square) (which was also the main street of Shahjahanabad) had many bazaars as well. Some shops in this area are several centuries old ! Other important monuments in Shahjahanabad are Ghalib ki Haveli (the house of famous poet Mirza Ghalib), Jama Masjid (Friday Mosque) (an imposing mosque made of Red Sandstone), St James Church (First Church of Delhi), Sunehri Masjid, Gurdwara Sis Ganj e.t.c.

The Red Fort in 1905

Decline -
                   After the fall of the Mughal Empire post 1857 revolt, the British Empire shifted the capital of India, to a more (security-wise) stable Calcutta (Kolkata), where it remained till 1911 (when they came back to Delhi). After quelling the 1857 revolt the Britishers built a military garrison inside the Red Fort and evicted the 3000 people (approximately) who were living there at that time and destroyed many of the residential palaces.
                  To be frank the city of Shahjahanabad (now better known as Old Delhi) never actually declined. The focus simply shifted from being an administrative capital city to being an area for trade and commerce (which it remains till date), with many large wholesale markets coming up in the mid 19th century. These markets like Chawri Bazar (hardware market est 1840), Phool Mandi (Flower Market est. 1869) e.t.c. exist till date.

The No-Nonsense Travel Advice
Name of the City
Shahjahanabad (Now known as Old Delhi)
Constructed By
Emperor Shah Jahan
Year of Completion
1648 A.D.
Chandni Chowk, Netaji Subhash Road, New Delhi
How to Reach
Get down at Chawri Bazaar Metro Station (on the Yellow Line) and take a Cycle Rickshaw for the Red Fort (Rs 40 for 2 people) OR else take an Auto Rickshaw from your Starting Point OR take a Hop-On-Hop-Off sightseeing bus which is run by Delhi Tourism. Fare is Rs 300 for Adults and Rs 150 for children. Checkout Delhi Tourism website for details.
Entrance Fee
. Citizens of India and visitors from Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Maldives, Afghanistan, Thailand and Myanmar - Rs. 10 per head
. Visitors from other countries -
Indian Rs. 250/- per head
. (Free entry to children up to 15 years)
. There is a separate counter for foreign nationals.

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Thanks. I like to know more about Mughals Empire.