Delhi … the political epicentre of this region.. The city has seen many rulers being throned and dethroned … and the cycle continues even in the modern democratic era. If you have the time and patience, the city has a lot to say. It is said that Delhi has the heritage of eight cities… If one includes Surajkund and Indraprastha it would be ten cities. The seat of power has remained on the banks of Yamuna for several centuries but each ruler, each dynasty created their own cityscapes … writing new chapters … preserving memories of each era.
Each of those city is a chapter of history in itself … History is not all about kings, generals, armies and politics … it is also a memory of the life people lived in every slice of time. In that sense our heritage buildings are witnesses to lives … several centuries ago. They are time machines … they are remnants of the past … referents to what happened then … Not mere buildings but cultural residues … telling us how people lived … what did they build .. why they designed living spaces in a certain manner … what was the material used … how did it all evolve … what kind of aesthetic ethos shaped peoples’ designs and so much more. We can see a lot if we observe carefully … Shahjahan is known for Tajmahal … but Shahjahanabad … 17th century city built by him in Delhi has a lot to explore too. Red fort is the key heritage site in the city of Shahjahanabad, it was declared a world heritage monument in 2007 … This is my photo walk inside the Red Fort.
Indian tricolour fluttering on the ramparts of the red fort and the independence day speech by the PM is an iconic image for us. Today CISF constables are deployed in place of Mughal sentries. The Lahori gate and the Delhi gate are similar in design. Fort walls are constructed with red sandstone; which is available abundantly in the region. A large protective mot makes direct assault difficult.
Just beyond the Lahori gate, there is a bustling market in Chatta chowk. If you have brought along people who fancy shopping more than heritage walks, leave them here and you would have a couple of hours to peacefully explore the fort. If you feel they are shopping maniacs, it is better to leave them at Chandni chowk or Chawri Bazaar before you enter the fort.
Naubat Khana or Naggar-Khana is the first big building one encounters inside. This structure has a beautifully designed arched entrance with embellished ceiling. Overall forms are similar to Timurid structures in Samarkand (Uzhbekistan); especially Ulugh Beg’s Madarasa. However, both structures have their own unique aesthetics influenced by local styles and materials.
The building now houses a well curated museum on arms and warfare. The museum is small but houses an interesting collection of arms and armours from various era; including a Safavi sword of the Sultan of Persia who sheltered Humayun during his exile.
There are several palaces and pavilions inside the fort and each is worth observing in detail. Colonnade inside Diwan-I-Aam is marked by geometric balance. Diwan-I-Khas has intricate carvings on various surfaces. Rang Mahal and Mumtaz Mahal have typical mughal opulence … especially stone grills and arches. Stone latticework screens create interesting interactions with light and shadow every hour … it is nice to sit for a couple of hours and observe new ambiance being created.
I was amazed to see some doors with very delicate decorations and attachments … polished and intact … Mumtaz Mahal houses a museum with some interesting paintings and specimens of Islamic calligraphy.
In complete contrast to this Shahjahani grandeur … There is a simple minimalist private masjid of Alamgir Aurangzeb. For some he was a great emperor, for some he was a fanatic tyrant. He was burried in the Dakkhan without Kafan in 1707. Someone who stitched caps to manage his personal expenses. Well! Every historic hero or villain has several interesting aspects to his persona. The moti masjid perhaps tells us something about him.
The red fort complex was designed by Ustad Ahmed Lahori in 1639 … but it did not have a very pleasant centurion moment! It was attacked by Nadir Shah of Iran in 1739 who destroyed, killed, plundered … While crushing India’s first war of independence, the British subjected the fort to another wave of destruction in 1857. Even today if you observe the Sawan or Bhado pavilions or the red Zafar Mahal …you can see several British colonial buildings in the backdrop. An anonymous painting made in Lakhnavi style around 1780-90 gives us some idea of how the fort complex was towards the end of the 18th century.
I enjoyed my kind of shopping at the Archaeological Survey of India bookshop. Many interesting titles, great postcards and wow I got discount and special gifts too. If you go to the northern corner there is a baoli or stepwell but unfortunately it was closed when I reached there. Beyond the baoli, if you cross the bridge you can enter Salimgadh (built by Islam Shah Sur in 1546) which houses barracks; where prisoners from the Indian National Army were kept.
Another interesting building to check out in Shahjahanabad is the Jama-Masjid! Keep watching this space for more … Do follow the blog!