January 03, 2012

Red Fort, New Delhi

I felt this post needs to be worked up again. I now have better photos as well as details. Shall soon upload individual articles about the structures within the complex as well re-do this post. Kindly bear with me till then. Thanks!!

This was one place I wanted to see for an excruciatingly long time. Last I visited the Red Fort was with a school trip 10 years back. So I lapped up the chance when my college buddy Nikhil suggested visiting Chandni Chowk, which includes the Red Fort along with the surrounding labyrinths of bazaars & gullys & tombs of kings long gone by.

The Fort looks incredibly large, a walk around the outside from the Lahore Gate to the Delhi Gate took us an hour to complete, mostly because we had to stop so many times to photograph the beautiful walls of this octagonal fort. Not surprisingly, we enjoyed this going around more than being inside the fort complex itself. This was what many people missed, since they wanted to go inside the fort first.

Built during the reign of Shah Jahan in the walled city of Old Delhi , the Red Fort has been a mute witness to innumerable conspiracies, scandals, battles... It served as the residence of the Mughal Emperors & the capital of the Mughals until 1857.

The Red Fort was the palace for Shah Jahan's new capital, Shahjahanabad, the seventh city in the Delhi site. Of the city's fourteen gates, the important ones are the Mori, Lahori, Ajmeri, Turkman, Kashmiri and Delhi gates, some of which have already been demolished.

The Red Fort

Shahjahan started construction of the massive fort in 1638 and work was completed in 1648. The fort contains many features including halls of public and private audience, marble palaces, a mosque and elaborately designed gardens. Even today, the fort remains an impressive testimony to Mughal grandeur, despite being attacked by the Persian Emperor Nadir Shah in 1739 and by the British soldiers during the war of independence in 1857.

It represented the pinnacle of Mughal palace-fort building, and symbolized political and economic power. It was also perhaps the most extravagant and sophisticated theatre ever built for daily performances of one of the world's most dazzlingly grand courts. But its glory was short-lived; as the Mughal Empire waned, so did the Fort. Later Emperors abused the fine buildings, raiders snatched its treasures, marauders wrecked its buildings and finally the British, pulled down the greater part. Even this century, what remains has been largely ignored, unappreciated and uncared for.

The fort walls are intercepted by many bastions & gates

The Red Fort was originally referred to as "Qila-i-Mubarak" (the blessed fort), because it was the residence of the royal family. The layout of the Red Fort was organised to retain and integrate this site with the Salimgarh Fort.

View of the entrance to Salimgarh Fort

Salimgarh Fort - Close up of wall motif

Many important elements were added on after the fort's construction by Emperor Shahjahan. Important physical changes were carried out in the overall settings of the site after the Indian Mutiny in 1857. During the British period the Fort was mainly used as a cantonment and even after Independence, a significant part of the Fort remained under the control of the Indian Army until the year 2003.

The fort lies along the Yamuna River, which fed the moats that surround most of the wall. The wall at its north-eastern corner is adjacent to the Salimgarh Fort, a defence built by Islam Shah Suri in 1546.

The last Mughal emperor to occupy the fort was Bahadur Shah II "Zafar". Despite being the seat of Mughal power and its defensive capabilities, the Red Fort was not defended during the 1857 uprising against the British. After the failure of the 1857 rebellion, Zafar left the fort on 17 September. He returned to Red Fort as a prisoner of the British & was exiled on 7 October.

The walls of the Red Fort stretch over 2.5 km in length with a height that varies between 16 metres and 33 meters cascading along the banks of the Yamuna River and surrounded by a canal or trench that was once fed by the River. These aspects act as a formidable structure against unwarranted attacks from the enemies.  On the outside, you can still see the moat that was originally connected with the Yamuna River.

The Red Fort showcases the very high level of art form and ornamental work. The art work in the Fort is a synthesis of Persian, European and Indian. The walls of the fort are smoothly dressed, articulated by heavy string-courses along the upper section. They open at two major gates, the Delhi and the Lahore gates. There are 15 distinct structures within the fort with the first being the Lahore Gate and the last one the Moti Masjid.

View at the Delhi Gate

Entrance to the fort is through the imposing Lahore Gate, which takes its name from the fact that it faces Lahore, now in Pakistan.

The main entrance opens on to the Chatta Chowk, a covered street flanked with arched cells that used to house Delhi's most talented jewellers, carpet makers, weavers and goldsmiths. This arcade was also known as the Meena Bazaar, the shopping centre for the ladies of the court. Today, the Chowk lies only on the lower arcades selling only artificial souvenirs. This Chowk leads to a space within the Red Fort where the western side was used for military functions and the eastern side houses beautiful Palaces.

Arches of the Chhatta Chowk

Just beyond the Chhata Chowk is the heart of the fort called Naubat Khana or the Drum House, which earlier formed part of a square enclosure with apartments for the umrah (Nobles) on duty.

Naubat Khana - Front view

The musicians used to play for the emperor from the Naubat Khana and the arrival of princes and royalty was heralded from here. This place was also known as the 'Hathi Pol' or 'Elephant Pole' as all commoners except the Royalties had to use only this place to dismount from the elephants. The first floor of this building has been converted into a 'War Memorial Museum' that houses a huge collection of armouries used by the Mughal Emperors.

Naubat Khana - Back view

Floral engravings on the Naubat Khana

The Fort also houses the Diwan-i-Am or the Hall of Public Audiences where the Emperor would sit and hear complaints of the common folks. His alcove in the wall was marble-paneled and was set with precious stones, many of which were looted after the mutiny of 1857. The columns were painted in gold and there was a gold and silver railing separating the throne from the public.

The Diwan-i-Am

The Diwan-i-Khas is the hall of private audiences where the Emperor held private meetings. This hall is made of marble and its centre-piece used to be the Peacock Throne, which was carried away to Iran by Nadir Shah in 1739. Today, the Diwan-i-Khas is only a pale shadow of its original glory. The hall, with openings of engrailed arches on its sides consists of a rectangular central chamber surrounded by aisles of arches rising from piers. The lower parts of the piers are inlaid with floral designs, while the upper portions are gilded and painted. The four corners of its roof are surrounded by pillared chhatris.

The pavilions of the fort are connected by a continuous water channel, known as the Nahr-i-Behisht, or the "Stream of Paradise", that runs through the centre of each pavilion. The water is drawn from the river Yamuna, from a tower, the Shah Burj, at the north-eastern corner of the fort. The palace is designed as an imitation of paradise as it is described in the Koran. The planning of the palace is based on Islamic prototypes, but each pavilion reveals in its architectural elements the Hindu influences typical of Mughal building.

The other attractions within this monument are the Royal Baths or hammams, the Shah Burj, which used to be Shahjahan's private working area and the Moti Masjid or the Pearl Mosque, built by Aurangzeb for his personal use. It is a small, three-domed mosque carved in white marble, with a three-arched screen which steps down to the courtyard. The Rang Mahal or the "Palace of Colours" housed the Emperor's wives and mistresses. It holds a spectacular Lotus shaped fountain, made out of a single piece of marble

The Tasbih-Khana ('chamber for counting beads for private prayers') consists of three rooms, behind which is the Khwabgah ('sleeping-chamber'). On the northern screen of the former is a representation of the Scales of Justice, which are suspended over a crescent amidst stars and clouds. Adjoining the eastern wall of the Khwabgah is the octagonal Muthamman-Burj, from where the emperor appeared before his subjects every morning. A small balcony, which projects from the Burj, was added here in 1808 by Akbar Shah II, and it was from this balcony that King George V and Queen Mary appeared before the people of Delhi in December 1911.

Red Fort - a UNESCO World Heritage Monument

Each building in the Red Fort displays the hallmark of perfect taste and elegance. Built at the height of one of the most cultured courts the world has known, this is Mughal palace architecture at its most ambitious and sophisticated. Imagined in its original completeness, it would have easily outshone its contemporary European rival, Louis XIV's palace at Versailles, and it covered twice the area of the largest European palace, the Escorial.

The Red Fort is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Old Delhi, attracting thousands of visitors every year. The fort is also the site from which the Prime Minister of India addresses the nation on 15 August, the day India achieved independence from the British. It also happens to be the largest monument in Old Delhi.

View outside the Lahore Gate

Today none of the water features, which are extensive, contain water. Some of the buildings are in fairly good condition and have their decorative elements undisturbed. In others, the marble inlay flowers have been removed by looters and vandals. The mosque and hamam are closed to the public, though one can catch peeks through the glass windows or marble lattice work. There is also an archaeological museum and an Indian war memorial museum.

The fort complex is better viewed from the outside, the inside was boring & crowded, the palaces had nothing much to offer except the wall carvings & the ornamental motifs, & the Chhatta Chowk is highly overrated for souvenir shopping. Its too expensive & lacking in choice of traditional Indian wares available. A much more better option would be to buy detail-books from the Red Fort Souvenir Shop. All in all, the Red Fort is an amazing place to be for history-seekers & photography enthusiasts like me. More than anything else this fort has played an integral role in the history of my beloved Delhi & it is the place to be for every Delhiwallah.

Nearest Metro Station: Chandni Chowk
Open: Tuesday to Sunday, Monday closed
Timing: 10:00am - 4:00pm
Entry Fee: Rs. 10 (Indian), Rs. 250 (Foreigners)
Photography Charges: Nil (Rs. 25 for video filming)
Sound & Light Show: 6 pm onwards in Hindi and English, Ticket: Rs. 80 (adults), Rs. 30 (children)

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