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Introduction to Lal Qila
The capital city has enjoyed fame of being home to innumerable dynasties. Interestingly, Delhi also finds a mention in the epic Mahabharata, as Indraprasta, the capital city of the Pandavas. However, it wasn’t until 1639 that under the rule of Shah Jahan, the fifth Mughal emperor that the foundation for the fortified city of Shahjahanabad, or Old Delhi was laid. It is believed that Shah Jahan moved his capital from Agra to Delhi owing to Delhi’s geographic location that made ruling his empire, easier. It took 9 years to construct the impregnable Lal Qila.
Built from red sandstones the Red Fort houses palaces, various halls, geometrical gardens, baths, indoor-canals and an ornate mosque. Also known as the Qila-i-Mubarak or the Fortunate Citadel in the time of Shah Jahan, the Red Fort was an architectural marvel of its time. So inspiring were the gardens and buildings within the fort’s complex that they are known to have influenced the construction of many others across Delhi, Agra, Rajasthan, Kashmir etc.
The Red Fort continued to be home to the Mughals for around 200 years till 1856, with Bahadur Shah II being its last emperor. The fort then went into the hands of the British and continued to be their stronghold till India’s independence in 1947.
From then, every year, the fort’s rampart has been used to hoist the Indian flag on every independence day celebration by the Prime Minister of the country. The Red Fort is also a recognized UNESCO site.
More about the Red Fort:
The red and white themed fort, built to suit the taste of Shah Jahan, has many interesting places to look out for. When built, the complex boasted a total of 14 gates. When completed, the red fort had 14 gates. The Lahori Gate to the west,and the Delhi Gate to the south, were the most important. Interestingly, these gates were named after the cities they faced.
The imposing Lal Qila is built in an octagonal shape and has walls rising to different heights, varying from 33.5 to 18m. The wall facing the Yamuna river is the one lower in height. A large moat, 24m x 9.5m, runs along the boundary on three sides. The only side missing this is the eastern side, which has no moat because of the Yamuna river which was a natural barrier against invading forces.
Nonetheless, over the long span of Mughal rule, this fort was plundered on more than one occasion. The 1739 invasion by Nadir Shah stands out in particular. He looted the Peacock throne and the koh-i-noor diamond from the Lal Qila. Later, under the British rule, the fort suffered immense damage as the forces plundered the fort’s complex and used it as their garrison.
Built by Hamid and Ahmad, under the supervision by the emperor himself, the architectural style seen across the fort is a fine blend of Islamic, Persian, Hindu and Timurid styles.
The Lahori gate was named such after the city of Lahore that it faces. Back in the day, this gate was used primarily as a formal entrance for the dignitaries and other important personnel. Even today the gate enjoys great prominence. It was on the ramparts of this gate that the first flag of independent India was unfurled in 1947. A tradition, that’s continued through the years on every 14th August.
During the reign of Aurangzeb, Barbican was built to further fortify each of the gates. It is believed that Shah Jahan, Aurangzeb’s father wrote to him about these barbicans, saying, ‘you’ve made the fort a bride, and set a veil before her face’.
Inscriptions on the arch of the gateway bear the names those who oversaw its construction, under the reign of the emperor. The gate hosts small marble domes at the top, a typical feature of Shah Jahan’s architectural style.
Like Lahori gate, the southern gate’s too named after the city it faces i.e. Old Delhi. Back in the day, the Delhi gate was used by the emperor to when he went to the famous Jami-Masjid to offer prayers. The masjid was built two years after the construction of the Lal Qila. The structure of this gate’s similar to the Lahori gate but for the two elephant statues, which flank it on either sides.
Interestingly, these statues were removed during the reign of Aurangzeb, who didn’t approve the presence of any figures. The statues were later found buried in 1863. Later, in 1903 two of these 5 m high elephants were placed here, upon insistence from Lord Curzon.
Chhatta-Chowk, literally, the roofed-market, is also known as Meena Bazaar. The covered roof was a brainchild of Shah Jahan and was also known as Bazaar-i-musaqqaf. He introduced this innovation to India back then to protect the people from the scorching Delhi sun. The market that was built to cater to the needs of the women of the court, was a place where you could buy precious stones, exotic silks, spices, utensils etc. Back in the day, the Chatta-Chowk could be approached from Lahori gate and had 32 cells on either side across two levels. Years later, under the British raj, these cells were used as homes for the British army.
At the center of the arcade is the chattar manzil that divides the market into two sections, east and west. Today, contemporary handicrafts are sold here.
Crossing the Chhatta-Chowk leads you to the Naubat-Khana or the Naqqar-Khana. This was the place where drums were played five times during the day at auspicious hours. Back in the day, many royal houses had drums played at their entrance, to announce the arrival of the emperor. The Naubat-Khana also went by the name of Hathian Pol or the Elephant gate. This, as all visitors, besides the royalty, dignitaries, ambassadors etc. had to dismount from their elephants and walk up to the Diwan-e-aam. It is here in Naubat Khana where the Mughal kings Jahandar Shah and Farrukhsiyar also known to have been murdered.
Today, the Naubat Khana hosts the war memorial museum on the first floor, dedicated to the soldiers who lost their life while fighting for the British Army in the World Wars.
In many of Islamic kingdoms across India, the Diwan-i-Aam was the place where the king or emperor would address the general public and hear their grievances. Aam, in Urdu translates to common. Like all things Mughal, the Diwan-i-Aam in the Lal Qila is one of the most aesthetic and stylized in the country. Walking through the numerous arches takes you to the elaborate canopy that stood over Shah Jahan’s throne. Known as the Nashiman-i-Zill-i-lahi, or the seat of the shadow of God, the canopy’s decorated in exquisite detail. The credit for its detailed multi-coloured stone workmanship goes to the Italian jeweller, Austin de Bourdeaux.
Today this canopy is enclosed in glass to help preserve this masterpiece.
A well-planned water channel ran through the entire fort’s complex. The Nahr-i-Bihisht or the stream of paradise was one of those. Water for this channel was drawn from the river Yamuna through a tower Shahi Burj.
Two palaces built adjoining each other, the Mumtaz Mahal and the Rang Mahal were built exclusively for women. The Mumtaz Mahal served as the apartment for the royal princesses, though not much of it remains today. This because it was used as a military prison during the time of the British rule.
As the name suggests, this one’s the Palace of Colours – named after its colourful interiors that existed in the time of the Mughals. As per records, the ceiling of this palace was originally of silver but was later replaced by copper to meet the pressing financial needs. This was later replaced by wood during Akbar II’s reign.
A fountain in ivory once stood here in the intricately carved marble basin. This would throw up water from the Nahr-i-Bihisht. The Rang Mahal also has two chambers, which were adorned with pieces of mirror in their ceiling. It was why the chambers were called the Shish-Mahal or the Palace of Mirrors.
This palace was the official residence of the emperor. It comprised of three main chambers – the chamber of telling beads or his private worship room, the sleeping chamber and finally the Baithak or sitting room. octagonal tower adjacent to is the Muthamman Burj, from where the emperor addressed his people every evening.
While Diwan-i-aam was for the ordinary, this one was meant for the affluent. Khaas meaning special in Urdu. This is the hall where Shah Jahan sat on the legendary peacock throne, overlooking the river Yamuna. The symmetry from the engrailed marble arches i.e. arches containing curves, makes for a sight that’s at once exquisite, yet understated.
The ceiling once had decoration that were made of gold and silver and built at a cost of around Rs. 40 lakhs. None of this exists today, as it was melted down by the Marathas and the Jats. The arched pillars and walls display intricate inlay work of floral motifs with precious stones. The Diwan-i-Khaas also had the Nahar-i-Bihisht or the stream of paradise running through the center.
An inscription on one of the outer arches is a Persian phrase by Amir Khusrow, which reads as “If there is heaven on earth, it is this, it is this, it is this”.
The Hamams are the royal baths. Comprising of three separate chambers, the Hamam had a dressing room, a bathing area and a steam room. Beautiful intricate stone inlay work covers the floor. The two rooms adjoining the main bath are known to have been used by the royal children for bathing. Water from the Nahar-i-Bihisht would come through in the basin in the main bathing chamber. A rose-water perfumed spray too is known to have existed in one of these chambers.
When water flowed over the surface of these inlaid stones, it is known to have left an impression of an indoor garden.
Set amidst arches is this stepped well, called the Baoli. Two staircases lead to this unique stepwell, believed to be built in the 1500s. It is also believed that the baoli was originally a part of the adjoining Salimgarh Fort. In later years, the Baoli’s chambers was used for keeping prisoners. The baoli hasn’t been used since Aurangzeb’s time.
This was Aurangzeb’s private place of worship and was named so, after the pearl like white structure. Made from marble, the mosque is known to glisten like pearls in the sun. The three-domed mosque’s domes were originally known to have been plated in copper. The interiors of the mosque are intricately decorated with motifs of flowers. Interestingly, the area within the Red Fort doesn’t house a mosque. The Jami Masjid was constructed only later and that too outside the fort’s premise. The Moti Mosque was open for men and women alike for prayers.
Hira Mahal, literally, a diamond palace, along with a Moti mahal or pearl palace were built by Bahadur Shah II. While Hira Mahal still stands, Moti Mahal was destroyed by the British.
Hayat Baksh Bagh:
The Hayat Bakhsh Bagh, or ‘Life Bestowing Garden’ was laid out by Shah Jahan as the royal garden of the fort. After its destruction by the British, the garden was later restored to its former glory. Like most Mughal char-baghs, this one too is divided into squares.
As the name suggests, this structure was intended to house the Mughal princes. During the occupancy of the British forces, this building was used for social gatherings and was known as ‘Tea House’.