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The Red Fort of Delhi: The Definitive Story of the Fort that Defined India

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The Red Fort of Delhi

If I ask you to imagine a fort synonymous with India, maybe the first name that will come to your mind is the Red Fort.

It was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007.

Such is the significance and cultural importance of this Fort, that it seems to be integrated into the fabric of Indian History.

“If not the most beautiful, certainly the most highly ornamented of Shahjahan’s buildings,” said James Fergusson on the Red Fort.

It was here that Jawahar Lal Nehru gave his famous speech “Tryst with Destiny” and hoisted the National Flag for the first time to signify a free India.

It was also the symbol and battleground of the Anti-British rebellion of 1857. Propping a reluctant Bahadur Shah II, the Fort became the last stand for the crumbling Mughal Empire against the British Empire.

Built-in 1639 by Shah Jahan, the Red Fort took 10 years to build and was built by Ustad Ahmad Lahauri the same architect who built the Taj Mahal.

Not to be confused with Lal Kot, built by Anangpal Tomar in the eleventh century, the ruins of which stand near Qutub Minar.

A 1780 painting of Red Fort
A 1780 painting of Red Fort
Credit: The British Library

It was surrounded on 3 sides by a moat and the river Yamuna on the fourth side. Water from the Yamuna was pumped through the indigenous Shahi Burj Tower and was distributed throughout the Fort via Nahr I Behisht. The water was also supplied to the moat surrounding the Fort thus surrounding it with water from all sides.

Shah Jahaan also incorporated Salimgarh Fort which was established in 1546 by Islam Shah Suri, son of Sher Shah Suri into the environs of the Red Fort.

Shah Jahan ruled as the King of Kings from this fort for 10 years before being imprisoned by his own son Aurangzeb.

The infamous merciless Aurangzeb further used Salimgarh Fort to jail his brothers and sisters. Bahadur Shah Zafar was sadly dealt the same fate by the British Empire who jailed him in his own Fort before shifting him to Rangoon. The Indian National Army members were imprisoned here in 1945 leading it to be named Swatantra Senani Smarak in their honor.

A 1844 painting showing Red Fort and Salimgarh Fort
A 1844 painting from “Reminiscences of Imperial Delhi” by Sir Thomas Metcalfe
Credit: The British Library



History

The Red Fort of Delhi
The Red Fort of Delhi

This 372-year-old historic monument was the last seat of power of the Mughal Rule before falling to the British Empire.

It was the residence of Shah Jahaan , Aurangzeb and the last Mughal Bahadur Shah II.

In fact, the last coronation of a Mughal Emperor took place in this Fort in 1837.

Its grandeur was significantly tarnished in 1739 when it was plundered and ravaged ruthlessly by Nadir Shah of Persia. India lost the Peacock Throne that day and also the most famous diamond of all “The Kohinoor”.

The Peacock throne was best described by French Gem Merchant Tavernier as being as big as a bed with 108 large rubies, 116 emeralds, diamonds, and gemstones studded in a throne made of solid gold.

A 1800 recreation of Peacock Throne
An 1800 recreation of the Peacock Throne depicting Shah Alam II
Credit: V & A’s Collections

The Peacock throne later was dismantled and sold.

According to legends Muhammad Shah trying to save the Kohinoor hid the diamond in his turban. Nadir Shah when tipped regarding the same invited Muhammad Shah to Turban Exchange Ceremony and on exchanging the Turbans discovered the hidden diamond. He exclaimed in praise “Kohinoor” or The Mountain of Light which has been its name ever since.

The plunder was so great that Nadir Shah stopped taxation of Persia for 3 years after his return.

The final blow to the Red Fort came when the British Empire assumed control of the fort in 1857. It is said that more than 2/3rd of the inner palaces were destroyed and the remaining converted into Military Barracks.




Architecture

This Red Sandstone Marvel on the banks of Yamuna River has two gates:

Lahori Gate (Main Entrance)

Lahori Gate, Red Fort

The 3-storied red sandstone gate was named Lahori as it was oriented towards Lahore. This Glorious Gate was covered with the addition of barbican during Aurangzeb’s rule greatly saddening Shah Jahaan who remarked “You have made a fort a bride, and set a veil on it”




Delhi Gate

This gate named after the city is very similar in construction to the Lahori Gate. It is famous for the Two stone elephants flanking the entrance.




Watergate/Khizrabad Gate

Watergate/ Khizrabad Gate
A picture taken by Dr John Murray following the Revolts of 1857 showing the Water Gate
Credit: British Library

This oft-forgotten gate to gain entry from the River Yamuna was from where Emperor Shah Jahan entered the Fort for the first time. And as it is with history, the Last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar escaped this fort through the same gate in 1857. As the course of River Yamuna changed through the years, this historical gate fell into ruins.




The Rampart surrounding the Red Fort

The rampart surrounding the Red Fort of Delhi is around 34m high. The moat surrounds the rampart.



Chatta Chowk (Covered Bazaar)

Chatta Chowk, Red Fort

This two-storied market with an arched passage was inspired by a marketplace Shah Jahan saw in Peshawar. During the royal days, it specialised in gold, precious gemstones, and expensive silk exclusively catering to the tastes of the royal family who were staying in the Red Fort. The market is divided in to two parts to allow fresh air and ventilation.

We can only imagine the grandeur, this place must have exuded around 300 years ago. Imagine Austin de Bordeaux venturing inside the Lahori gate and experiencing the Bazaar in all its colors and pomp for the first time. What a sight it would have been.




Naubat Khana

Naubat Khana, Red Fort

Naubat Khana Or the Drum house is situated near the entrance and was used for playing music to announce the arrival of the King or used on other Royal occasions. The Mughal emperors Jahandar Shah and Farrukhsiyar were said to be assassinated here. It now houses the War Memorial Museum.



Diwan I Aam

Diwan i Aam, Red Fort

The Hall of Public Audience from where Shah Jahaan conducted his daily stately affairs. This red sandstone pavilion has a recessed corner where the Emperor’s throne or jharokha is situated. It is behind an enclosure now but can be appreciated nonetheless. Of particular note is the Bengali style roof of the Jharokha.

Emperor Throne, Diwan i Aam






Diwan I Khas

Or the King’s private audience hall was where he conducted his meetings with the favoured audience such as royal ambassadors, ministers, and other high ranking courtiers.

Probably the most spectacular of the pavilions of the Red Fort of Delhi, Diwan I Khas was built to impress. Constructed fully in white marble and carved with intricate precision, it was indeed made for the King. This Pavillion was also home to the legendary Peacock Throne which was tragically plundered by Nadir Shah in March 1739. The silver ceiling was said to be melted in the later years to raise funds.




Nahr I Behisht

Inspired by the Idea of Heaven, the Nahr I Behist or the River of Paradise is a series of waterways or channels laid out beautifully and running through all the 6 palaces of the Fort. The water flowing through these canals was drawn by a tower called Shahi Burj.




Moti Masjid

Also called the Pearl Mosque, it is made entirely out of White Marble. Covered by high walls on all sides this 3 domed mosque was built by Aurangzeb and was used as a private mosque by the royal household.




The 6 Mahal’s:

Mumtaz Mahal

Mumtaz mahal which was the Mughal Harem has recently in 2019 been restored to its former glory. Since 1911 it housed one of the Archeological Survey of India’s oldest museums which displayed Bahadur Shah Zafar’s farmans, clothes, and poetry. This museum has now shifted to British Barracks.




Rang Mahal

Originally a part of Mughal Harems, it also served as a mess hall for the British Army after the 1857 revolts. Parts of the Mahal intricately decorated with glasswork are also known as the Shish Mahal. It had a basement to provide relief from the unrelenting summer heat.

Rang mahal, Red Fort






Khas Mahal

Khas Mahal, Red Fort

Khas Mahal was the imperial residence of Shah Jahaan. Divided into 3 parts:

-Tasbih Khana or the Chamber of Telling Beads

-Khwabgah or Sleeping chamber along with Tosha Khana or Wardrobe

-Baithak or sitting room

Notable for Magnificent Marble Screen over the water channel depicting the “Scale of Justice”

It also had an octagonal tower or Muthammam Burj from where the Emperor conducted his speeches to the citizens.




Hira Mahal

A small sparsely decorated mahal located on the eastern wall of the fort.




Zafar Mahal

Zafar Mahal, Red Fort

A red sandstone monument constructed in 1842 by Bahadur Shah II. It stands between two white marble pavilions Sawan and Bhadon and was constructed in the middle of a water tank.




Shahi Mahal or Shahi Burj

Shahi Burj, Red Fort

Shahi Burj or the Emperor’s Tower originally was a three-storied octagonal tower located at the northeastern corner of the Fort. It was used to pump water from the Yamuna to Nahr I Behisht. Heavily damaged during the revolts of 1857, it lies next to a white marble pavillion built by Aurangzeb.




Hayat Bakhsh Bagh

The Hayat Baksh Bagh or also called “The Life Bestowing Garden” is the largest garden in Red Fort of Delhi. It consists of a beautifully landscaped garden with waterways and channels. The garden was nearly destroyed in the Revolts of 1857 and subsequently, almost half the garden was converted into British Barracks which are still visible today. The remaining garden has two white marble pavilions namely Sawan and Bhadon with a red sandstone pavilion Zafar Mahal in the center.




British Barracks

William Dalrymple commented on the British Barracks that they were “Some of the most crushingly ugly buildings ever thrown up by the British Empire”. This harsh critique may be attributed to the stark contrast between the Royal Mughal Architecture and the Functional Barracks. The failed amalgamation built on the remains of the dilapidated Fort may have further worsened its cause. The critique is that the remains of the fort could have been restored instead of converting them into the Army’s living quarters. Since 2019 they have been converted into an ASI museum.




Hidden Baoli

Predating the Red Fort of Delhi by around 300 years, it is very intriguing to note that the baoli has almost been forgotten despite being situated inside one of the most famous forts of India. Having no definitive records, it may have been constructed either during the Tughlaq or Lodhi period. Boasting a unique L shape architecture with two sets of stairs leading to the water pool, it is probably one of the most artistically designed baolis of Delhi.



Red Fort Timings and Ticket Prices

9:30 am to 4:30 pm

Closed on Monday

Rs 500 for Foreigners

Rs 35 for Indians

Post 6 pm there is a light and sound show

(Ticket Prices: Rs 60 for adults and Rs 20 for children)



Best time to visit

Best to avoid the summers because of the sweltering heat, the ideal time to visit the red fort of Delhi would be from November to March when the average temperature is around 12 degrees celsius.




The grandeur and the layers of History hold you in awe of the times gone by.
And as you see the Tricolour Flag being unfurled from its ramparts on Independence day, you understand.
The Red Fort becomes a part of your memory, wanting you to explore more of the Rich Heritage of the Great Land of India.

pinit fg en rect red 28


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