Delhi - A never ending story : Looking through its past ,present and future
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A City of contrasts

Delhi presents a vast panorama of fascinating yet conflicting images. It is a city where forts, tombs and ruins share the skyline with high-rise buildings and stately homes. The wide tree-lined avenues of New Delhi give way to the crowded narrow lanes of Old Delhi--and along with this change comes a diametrically different culture and lifestyle. The presence of contrasts is a historical legacy of the city and the differences go far beyond the apparent.

Delhi is a metropolitan city in the true sense of the word. It has for centuries attracted rulers, invaders, businessmen, builders, poets, painters and intellectuals from many parts of the world. Today's Delhi encloses many older cities--it's stone walls have seen many empires rise and fall. Delhi's poets have described its unrivalled glory and mourned the number of times it has been razed to the ground by merciless invaders. Due to its strategic position in the north, Delhi has been the site of a capital for eight (or perhaps more) different empires dating back to the fabled town of Indraprastha.


Indraprastha was founded by the Pandavas on the banks of the Yamuna. Archaeological excavations near the Purana Quila in Delhi have revealed several objects dating back to 1000 B.C., which are similar to the objects found in other places in India associated with the Kauravas and Pandavas. Urban Delhi, however, dates back to the second century B.C. when it was a part of the vast Mauryan Empire of Emperor Ashoka. It did not acquire the status of a capital until the establishment of Rajput Kingdoms by the Tomars and the Chauhans in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. The Tomars ruled from Haryana and had first settled at Surajkund where they built a large amphitheatre reservoir. Surajkund today is a popular spot and the site for an annual crafts fair in the beginning of February. Artisans and craftspersons from all over the country find a market for their traditional embroidery, weaves, pottery and items of rare craftsmanship and beauty.


King Anangpal of the Tomars built the citadel of Lalkot and ruled from the place where the Qutab Minar stands today. The ruins of Lalkot lie over an extensive area with the ramparts of the fort winding into the distance. The citadel was extended by Prithviraj Chauhan who also built several palaces and temples and called the area Quila Rai Pithora. Prithviraj Chauhan was a great conqueror and was looked upon as one of the greatest rulers of northern India. Because of his heroic exploits he even won the heart of an enemy's daughter Sanyogita who married him against her father's dictates.


The Rajputs under Prithviraj Chauhan, were defeatedby Mohammad Ghori, the Turkish invader in A.D. 1192 (It is said that Prithviraj Chauhan had defeated Mohammad Ghori sixteen times in his earlier attempts). For the first time in history a Muslim Kingdom was established in Delhi under his slaves. Qutub-ud-din Aibak declared himself a Sultan in A.D. 1206 and the kingdom came to be known as the Delhi Sultanate. The Slave Dynasty also gave India its first woman ruler--Razia Begum. Though her father Iltutmish found her to be wise and capable and as a ruler she was a great administrator, the Muslim nobility could not reconcile to being ruled by a woman. Moreover, the masses could not accept her public appearences without a veil and she was soon deposed.


For the next 600 years, Delhi was under Muslim rule and the this brought about drastic changes in the original art, architecture, literature and lifestyle of the people of Delhi. There evolved a new ethos--a blend of the Hindu and the Muslim which can still be seen today.


The Qutab Minar, the tower of victory, and Delhi's best known landmark stands seventy-two metres above the ruins of the early kingdoms of Delhi and 27 Hindu and Jain temples which were destroyed to build this structure. Now it looks like an amalgam of the Hindu and Muslim styles of architecture--the Hindu past evident in the carvings on the stones used for the buildings and surrounding walls and pillars.


The surrounding areas of Mehrauli are dotted with some samples of early Muslim architecture as well as with some modern masterpieces of architecture. Just behind the Qutab is the Mahavir park with an exquisite statue of the Jain Saint. You can walk through the Qudsia park and the narrow lanes of a bustling bazaar of Mehrauli to feel the romance of a bygone era.


With the end of the Slave dynasty in A.D. 1290, the focus shifted to a new city. Ala-ud-din Khilji, A.D. 1296-1316, was the most famous ruler of the Khilji dynasty and he left a definitive stamp on the history of Delhi. For the first time, Muslim rule spread beyond the boundaries of Delhi as he conquered most of Northern India as far as Gujarat, Ranthambhor, Chanderi, Malwa, Dhar and Ujjain. He even tried to conquer Mewar, the most powerful state of Rajputana. His need to invade Mewar was prompted by the fact that he was passionately in love with Padmini, the Queen of Rana Ratan Singh, renowned for her exceptional beauty. When the Rana died fighting, his beautiful queen immolated herself (performed Johar) along with the other Rajput women of the court.

Ala-ud-din Khilji was also endowed with an aesthetic sense and a zeal to build. He built himself a new capital at Siri fortifying the area to from what is now called Siri Fort. Though little remains of his city today--the area is famous for the large, state-of-the-art auditorium, built in 1982 when the Asian Games were held in Delhi for the second time. The Siri Fort Aditorium is used for all major performances, and film festivals. The complex also has four restaurents serving Chinese, Indian and Continental cuisine.


To supply running water to the inhabitants of Siri, Ala-ud-din Khilji had built a reservoir--Hauz Khas. Adjoining the reservoir, Feroze Shah Tughlaq, the founder of the fifth city of Delhi built a university and a library. The village that grew around the ruins has been converted into a tourist complex. A tourist can wind his way through narrow mud-plastered lanes, avoiding the cows and buffaloes roaming free, and then enter through the door into the perfumed interior of the boutiques selling designer clothes, antiques, jewellery, leather goods, and furniture. One can eat at any of the several restaurants and visit the ruins at dusk when the medieval structures are lit up and are used as a backdrop for folk dance performances.


The Khilji kingdom was overthrown in A.D. 1320 by the Tughlaqs and the activity shifted to the third medieval city of India--Tughlaqabad which was built in the short span of five years. One can explore the ramparts of the majestic fort which today serve as the shooting range for target practice by the army and the sportsmen. Muhammed bin Tughlaq described alternately as 'madman' and 'genius' by historians was one of the most extraordinary rulers of Delhi. In 1326 he decided to move his capital to Daulatabad in South India, more centrally situated in his empire. But instead of shifting his government, he ordered all the inhabitants of Delhi to move to Daulatabad. And when his experiment failed, he marched them all back again, causing immense misery to his subjects. He then built himself a capital near Siri and called it Jahanpanah.


But it was Feroze Shah Tughlaq who left a mark on the architecture of present day Delhi. A scholar, architect and philanthropist, he built schools, mosques, palaces, bridges, monumental pillars and hospitals. And he built what has come to be known as Feroze Shah Kotla--the fifth city of Delhi, a thriving cultural and intellectual centre. The grounds around the fort are the scene of all cricket matches in Delhi. And every year in October, the Shri Ram Bhartiya Kala Kendra stages a ballet called the Ramlila or the story of Maryaadaa Purushottam Lord Rama. Just a stone's throw away is the present day intellectual hub of the capital--Delhi's very own Fleet Street where every major newspaper in the country has and office.


Feroze Shah's city was plundered and ravaged by Timur Lane from Central Asia in 1398. It took the city many months to recover from the invasion (and there is always something, which can not be recovered). In fact the Lodhis even moved the capital to Agra, though not without contributing to the architectural magnificence of Delhi. Inside the sprawling lawns of the Lodhi Gardens in the heart of the present city of Delhi are several tombs of the Lodhi rulers.


The Lodhis were defeated by Babur, a descendant of Chengiz Khan and Timur at the historic battle of Panipat in 1526. His reign however was the beginning of a dynasty that was to rule India for the next 300 years, bringing about dramatic changes in art, culture as well as in the administration of the country. Of course, the establishment of their rule was not without its vicissitudes. Babur, the perfect soldier, was greatly devoted to his son Humayun. It is said that Humayun had fallen very ill and Babur prayed for him to get well, even circumambulating his bed seven times to take upon himself the illness. As Humayun got well, Babur began to fall ill and died a few days later.


Humayun, the second Mughal ruler planned to build a capital to rival Samarkand and name it Dinpanah, in the vicinity of the ancient city of the Pandavas--Indraprastha. His plans, however, were foiled by the wily Sher Shah Suri and he had to flee India. Though Sher Shah ruled only for a few years before Humayun returned to rule, he built the Purana Quila (on the site of Dinpanah and Indraprastha), the ramparts of which spread over two kilometres. The massive sandstone gateis topped by cupolas and inside the fort is the two storeyed octagonal tower, the Sher Mandal. The Quila-e-Kuhna Masjid with the arched bays marks an evolution in the construction of a mosque--a transition from pre-Mughal styles to a distinctive new architectural style later adopted by the Mughals.


Inside the Purana Quila is the Museum of the Archeological Survey of India which houses artefacts from ancient as well as medieval India. Today the Purana Quila stands surrounded by lovely parks, a lake where you can paddle-boat and acres of wooded area housing the Delhi Zoological gardens. Across the road is Pragati Maidan or the Trade Fair Ground. Built in 1972, its sprawling acres house several permanent exhibitions and are the venue for thematic exhibitions through the year. Within the complex is the Crafts Museum--a repository of traditional crafts and objects used in everyday life.


Humayun came back to rule from his dream city--by then Purana Quila, though he was not destined to live long. He enjoyed his throne for only six months when he slipped and fell down the library steps (Sher Mandal) and died. Down the road from the Purana Quila is the tomb of Humayun, the second Mughal King of Delhi--built by his Queen Haji Begum. The massive octagonal structure with geometrical marble patterns, given it the name of Delhi's Taj. It was the forerunner of all the garden tombs of the Mughals with their Char Bagh pattern consisting of a grid of squares with channels and fountains.


On the outskirts of the historic Indraprastha, opposite Humayun's tomb is the dargah (shrine) of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliyaa. This Sufi saint was made famous by his illustrious disciple, the poet Amir Khusrau. The Dargah and the Marble Mosque are surrounded by a basti (settlement) and hundreds of restaurants. While here you must eat at Karim's (Non-vagetarian only)--for traditional Mughal fare. During the days of Urs, a festival dedicated to the memory of a saint, well known qawwals (qawwali is a form of semi-classical singing) sing in praise of the divine graces of the saint. Nizamuddin also has the Ghalib Academy--named after the famous poet of te nineteenth century--the venue of seminars and poetry readings.


After Humayun died, his son Akbar, the greatest of the Mughals shifted his capital to Agra. Imperial glory returned to Delhi in the reign of Akbar's grandson, Shah Jahan, who built the most magnificent Delhi of all--Shahjahanabad--the seventh city of Delhi. The city had fourteen gates, the majestic Lal Quila on the banks of the Yamuna, palaces, bazaars, gardens and the marble mosque, the largest in India, the Jama Masjid.


Shahjahanabad flourished until 1739 when Nadir Shah, the Persian invader plundered Delhi. Thousands of people were massacred in one day. He stayed in Delhi for two months and looted the bazaars, the markets, the treasury, and seized the Peacock Throne and the famous Kohinoor diamond.


Three and a half centuries ago the city of Shahjahanabad was a spacious one where princes and princesses rode in palanquins in gracious style. Today, the roads are full of cycles, bullocks, rickshaws, pedestrians, autorickshaws, four wheelers and even you might see sometimes camels and elephants, and the shops stock large quantities of cloth, oil, grain, paper, trinkets, jewellery, sweetmeats--all ingredients for the magic and mystery on an oriental market.


Chandni Chowk today is for those who do not fear crowds, colour, smells and noise. The best way to explore the area is on foot--keeping clear of gutters, weaving in and out of narrow lanes. You can walk through Dariba Kalan--the street of silversmiths and goldsmiths, descended from those who served the Mughal courtiers; Kinari Bazaar off Dariba Kalan selles all the glitter required for a wedding; Paranthewali Gali sells all the most appetizing eatables; and you can visit Ghantewala, the famous sweetshop established in 1790.


Jama Masjid was Shah Jahan's final achievement. It is an awesome monument and the area around it is vibrant and fascinating. As you approach the mosque, you encounter the many smells of the bazaars--fish, goats, foodstalls, perfume stalls, wedding saris, masks and Mashaq (Leather bag to carry water) ka pani--water distributed from goatskin bags. The pavement hawkers, small shopkeepers, zari workers, booksellers, ivory carvers and travelling valets are all inhabitants of the walled city who belong to another era.


The Red Fort which took nine years to build and cost one crore rupees is open to the public everyday. Apart from the marble palaces and the halls of Public and Private Audience, the riverside fort houses a museum which has all the Mughal artefacts. Today, in the evenings, a sound and light show brings to life the splendour and magnificence of the Mughal empire. You can top off the day by eating at Karim's Nemat Kada, who claim to have been the chefs of the Mughal emperors.


Delhi soon spread beyond the walls of Shahjahanabad towards the ridge in the north where the British camped before taking over the city in 1857. And into Darya Ganj towards Feroze Shah's deserted city. Today the whole area thrives with commercial activity. The pavements of Darya Ganj host a book bazaar every Sunday. And behind the Red Fort along the Ring Road facing the Yamuna is the Sunday Bazaar or the Chor Bazaar which is a flea market. Close to it are the memorials to modern Indian leaders (from Gandhi-Nehru family) --Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi--havens of peace and greenery in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the city.


In 1857, following the first war of Indian Independence when the Indian rulers united to fight the British, the last Mughal King Bahadurshah Zafar was deposed and deported to Burma. The British ruled from the Red Fort until the new capital was built.


Edwin Lutyens, a renowned architect of stately homes in England was assigned the distinctive task of designing and building the new capital--Delhi's eighth and present city. He built a fortress like palace atop Raisina Hill with a panoramic view of the new city--The Viceroy's House, the splendid Rashtrapati Bhawan, surrounded by office blocks and official residences.


Around the Rashtrapati Bhawan, the secretariat Buildings, the Parliament House, India Gate and Connaught Place there has grown a large city, the largest in India which is the political, bureaucratic, cultural and business capital of the country.


The centre of all activity in New Delhi is Connaught Place which is a mix of shops, office blocks, restaurents and hotels. Over the years the shops have changed hands, new restaurents have appeared, interiors have been modernized and the tall pillared corridors have been dwarfed by the highrise buildings that now form the commercial complex in Connaught Place.


While the shops in the inner circle are upmarket, the bazaars on Janpath and the underground market--Palika Bazaar offer bargain shopping. Janpath, earlier known as Queensway has small shops selling the latest European and American fashions, silk, brassware, leatherware, books and Tibetan trinkets.


Down Parliament Street, one of the roads off Connaught Place you come across a collection of strange looking large stone structures called Jantar Mantar. Built by Raja Sawai Jai Singh II, a ruler of Jaipur and a scholar of astronomy, these instruments were used to study the movements of the planets.


A kilometre away from Connaught Place is Mandi House, the cultural heartland of Delhi, teeming with aspiring actors, musicians, dancers, artists, sculptors and puppeteers. You can have a snack at the famous Tea Terrace of Triveni--the home of three streams of art--music, dance and painting. You must also sample the snack foods available at Bengali Market.


India Gate is the Arc de Triomphe of Delhi and Rajpath its Champs-Elysees leading upto the Rashtrapati Bhawan. Up Rajpath is what is called the Boat Club. Located in the heart of Lutyens' Delhi, the several hundred acres of lawn are used for all political rallies in the capital. Around India Gate are two of Delhi's most prestigious museums. The National Museum has over 150,000 works of art, several galleries exhibiting pre-historical, and archeological sculptures, paintings, coins, musical instruments, arms, armour, textiles and the latest addition--an exclusive gallery of jewellery. In addition to these permanent exhibitions are the short term thematic exhibitions and daily film shows and talks on subjects of historical and artistic interest. The National Gallery of Modern Art is next to the India Gate lawns situated in Jaipur House. The gallery has an extensive collection of contemporary paintings, sculptures and graphic art.


Adding to the wealth of the ancient and medieval cities of Delhi are present day architectural wonders like the Baha'i temple. Set amidst sprawling landscaped gardens, the lotus shaped marble structure has a large hall for meditation offering peace and quiet--very close to the hectic activity at the near by commercial complex of Nehru Place.

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