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Indian Subcontinent >> India >> Delhi >> History of Delhi

History of Delhi

Delhi has chequered history which has evolved over the ruins of seven cities, moulded by rulers from the Hindu Rajputs to the Mughals and finally, the British. Even though there are references to the Delhi area in the Mahabharata, the real foundations were laid in 736 AD by the Tomar Rajput rulers, and later expanded and consolidated by the Chauhans in 1180 when they established Qila Rai Pithora, considered the capital's first city.

In 1290, Ala-ud-din Khilji, the most dynamic of the Delhi sultans came to power in Delhi and established the second city of Siri in 1303, in the southern area now known as Hauz Khas. With the ascendancy of the Tughlaq dynasty, the third city of Tughlaqabad was set up about 8 kms from Lal Kot. In 1327 the eccentric ruler Mohammad-bin-Tughlaq laid out the fourth city of Jahanpanah between Lal Kot and Siri. In 1354, his successor Feroz Shah Tughlaq established the fifth city Firozabad, next to the Yamuna river. Not much of this city remains, except the dilapidated Firoz Shah Kotla palace area. Humayun in 1534, set up his capital in Delhi calling the new city Din Panah till Sher Shah Suri drove him out in 1540. Sher Shah, the great administrator who expanded his kingdom across the plains of India and built the arterial Grand Trunk Road, re-built the city and named it Shergarh. The ramparts of this city, now known as Purana Qila, lie to the southwest of New Delhi.

While Humayun’s son Akbar shifted the capital once again to Agra, his grandson Shah Jahan moved back to set up Shahjahanabad in 1628. This elaborately laid out seventh city with the Red Fort, grand buildings and bustling markets of Chandni Chowk became the centre of power until his successor Aurangzeb moved down south. Over several decades, the prowess of the Mughals declined and Delhi was invaded by the Persian king Nadir Shah in 1739.

As the Mughal dynasty faded into a puppet regime, various local chieftains like the Jats and Marathas invaded Delhi. Finally, in 1803 the British moved in and removed the last Mughal, Bahadur Shah from his seat in the Red Fort. Though the capital of the British Empire was in Calcutta, the rulers continued to occupy Delhi for its strategic importance. The Mutiny against British rule in 1857 that was triggered by rebellious Indian soldiers in the barracks of Meerut, soon spread to Delhi. Bahadur Shah was declared the Emperor of Hindustan, and under his titular leadership, the mutineers fought pitched battles against colonial rule. The Mutiny was suppressed however, and the British regained control over the Red Fort and Delhi. During the coronation of King George V in 1911, a durbar (audience) was held in Delhi where it was declared that the capital of India would be shifted here from Calcutta.

Work began soon, with the famous British architect Edwin Lutyens being commissioned to build the new city. New Delhi, crowned by the classical Rashtrapati Bhavan that housed the Viceroy, the parliament, offices of government and spacious bungalows, was laid out as the new capital. In 1931, it was officially inaugurated and remained the seat of British governance till independence in 1947.

After the British left India, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru took over as the first Prime Minister and Delhi became the seat of government. The Indian tri-colour fluttering over all public buildings in the area is a mark of the new nation, with Delhi as its heart. The Red Fort, which now stands as a tourist spot, still symbolises national pride and authority. It is from the ramparts of this fort that the Prime Minister of India delivers his Independence Day speech to the nation on 15th August every year. Today, Delhi has grown several times over, with a magnetic character that attracts more and more people into its fold.


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