DILLI JO EK SHEHER THA

‘Bhai kya poochte ho. Kya likhoon. Dilli ki hasti munassar kai hangamon per thi. Qila, Chandni chawk, her roz majma Jama Masjid ka, her hafte sair jamna ke pul ki, her saal mela phool waalon ka. Ye paanchon baatein ab nahin, phir kaho Dehli kahan. Haan koi shehr is naam ka Hindustan mein kabhi tha.’ – Mirza Ghalib

These words of Ghalib describe the gems of Delhi that has perhaps lost their shine to the changing times. This article is a journey into the city that was. The loss of which is so keenly lamented by Mirza Ghalib.

Qila- The palace-fortress of Shahjahan, called the Qila-i Mubarak (auspicious fort, popularly known as laal qila) was an overpowering structure which took nine years to complete. According to the French traveler Bernier it was ‘the most magnificent palace in the east – perhaps in the world’. It is built on a larger and much comprehensive scale than any other of its kind. It was the residence of the emperor, and also the seat of the governmental as well as cultural activities, and contained a variety of buildings, thus forming a city within city.

Thousands of stone-cutters, masons, stone carvers, carpenters, gardener- designers, and others craftsmen worked on it. The craftsmanship was of such an order that, as Muhammad Salih remarks, ‘a sharp nail could not be pushed between the stones of the buildings’.

A large moat, 23 meters wide and 9 meters deep surrounded the fort. It was faced with rough stone, and filled with water. It served to further isolate and protect the imperial household. The palace fortress was separated from the city proper by three gardens namely Buland Bagh, Gulabi Bagh, and Anguri Bagh. None of these can be seen any more.

The fortress had four massive gateways: Lahori Gate facing Chandini Chowk was the principal entrance. Behind it was a massive vaulted hall which opened into a courtyard. Shops were constructed here and expansive luxury items were available. This was known as Chatta Chowk. The chowk connected to another hall, which was the naubat-khana or the nakkar khana, (drum room) here ceremonial music was played and it also served as the entrance to the Diwan-i-‘Am. Its upper storey is now occupied by the Indian War Memorial Museum. The next structure within the palace is the Diwan-i-Am,it was the hall of public audiences. At the back of the Hall is an alcove that housed the Royal throne which stood under a marble canopy.

Behind the diwan-i-am along the eastern wall of the palace-fortress were 6 structures. The rang mahal being the largest, Mumtaz Mahal, Khas Mahal, Deewan I Khas, the Baths and the Shah Burj Mumtaz Mahal was formerly the women’s quarters but now is an archaeological museum. The Rang Mahal, derived its name from the beautiful interior paintwork (no longer in existence) fortunately, the lotus-shaped marble carving on the central floor still remains. The Rang Mahal was the home of the emperor’s principal wife. Khas Mahal, used to be the emperor’s personal palace. Diwan-i- Khas (Hall of Private Audiences), where the emperor would conduct private discussions or meetings. Made of milky white marble, it was here that the famous solid-gold and gem-encrusted Peacock Throne (now gone) took pride of place.

Royal Baths, comprised of three spacious hammams (Turkish-style baths) with a central fountain. These baths originally sported sublime pietra dura (marble inlay work) floors and pretty colored glass roof panels. , a rather simple octagonal tower, it served as Emperor Shah Jahan’s personal study and library.

On the eastern wall of the fort on the riverfront a delicately carved structure (jharokha) was devised where the emperor showed himself every day in the early morning to the people who gathered there in large numbers.

The Qila-i-Mubarak was a city within the city. it had bazaars, offices, living quarters, huge gardens etc. it was a grand sprawling structure.Tis walled world of marble buildings was the site of the decline and fall of the Mughals. The fort was looted by Nadir Shah, the king of Persia; and vandalized by the British, who ended the Mughal dynasty. After retaking Delhi following the 1857 rebellion, the British razed most structures in the Red Fort. Like the rest of Delhi, much of the palace’s glory was lost till it was regained by the construction carried out by the British who conquered it but could not destroy it.