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Red Fort, Delhi
Originally known as Qila-e-Mualla, Red fort or Lal Qila was built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan after he transferred his capital to his newly planned city of Shahjahanabad (Delhi) from Agra in 1638. The foundation stone of this massive citadel was laid in 1639 and it was completed after nine years in 1648. Designed by the Mughal architects Ustad Hamid and Ahmad, Red Fort is an important symbolic monument in India even today. Every year on Independence Day (15th August) the Prime Minister of India hoists the national flag and addresses the nation, from the ramparts of Red fort.
The fort got its name from the ample use of red sandstone walls and is octagon in shape. The two main gateways are the Lahore Gate and the Delhi Gate. The entrance is through the Lahore Gate which forms a part of a massive stone fortification and is made up of dull pink sandstone. The path leads to the vaulted shopping arcade known as Chatta Chowk, lined with shops originally where the royal household used to shop for silks, brocades, velvets, gold and silver ware, jewellery, gems etc. The arcade was also known as Meena bazar which offered exclusive shopping, just for ladies of the court on Thursdays. Today the shops cater to tourists with souvenirs, antiques etc and the upper levels are the quarters of Indian Army families.
The Sound and Light Show
Every evening a sound and light show recreates the Red fort's history. There are shows in English and Hindi, and tickets are available from the Fort. The English sessions are held at 7.30pm from November through January, at 8.30pm from February to April and September-October, and at 9pm from May to August. The show is highly recommended.
The majestic Diwan-i-Khas (Hall of private audience), made of marble was where the Emperor held private meetings and received important guests seated on his priceless Peacock Throne. It is said that the throne which took 7 years to make, was built out of solid gold embedded with precious stones such as sapphires, rubies, emeralds, pearls and diamonds and had figures of peacocks standing behind. The throne was carried away to Iran by Nadir Shah when he sacked Delhi in 1739. Later it was broken up by Nadir Shah's assassins in 1747. Such was the splendor of those days that inscribed on the walls of the Diwan-i-Khas is the words of the famous Persian poet, Amir Khusrau - "If there is a paradise on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here". But today, the Diwan-i-Khas is only a pale shadow of its original glory.
The main entrance to the Red Fort is through this imposing gateway flanked by semi-octagonal towers. The gate is named thus because it faces West, towards Lahore in Pakistan. The North-facing gate from where one enters and the fortifications before the original Lahore gate were built later by Aurangzeb to make it more difficult for an attacking army to enter. It is here, at the top of the fortification that the Prime Minister of India hoists the national flag on Independence Day every year. Other senior Indian leaders are seated on either side of the flagpole along the length of the balcony. In 1986 for security reasons all the windows of Shah Jahan's gateway were blocked with red sandstone. There is also a lift just before the Lahore Gate, built in 1965, which is used on Independence Day. Lahore Gate has several apartments inside it and it is said that the huge bronze-covered wooden door of the gate was so heavy that elephants were used to close and open the door. Across the road from Lahore gate is Chandni Chowk, one of the fascinating markets of Old Delhi.
On the northern side of Rang Mahal, is the Khas Mahal, the exclusive three roomed palace of the emperor. The southern chamber is the Tosh Khana (robe room), has a beautiful marble filigree screen on its north wall, carved with the scales of justice. Viewing the screen from the north you'll see suns surrounding the scales, but from the south these look more like moons. In the center is the Khwabgah (Palace of dreams) with an octagonal tower projecting over the east wall of the Khas Mahal where the emperor used to appear daily before throngs gathered on the riverbanks below. In 1911, when Delhi was declared capital, King George V and Queen Mary sat in the balcony here as the Durbar celebrated their coronation. The north chamber is the Tasbih Khana where the emperor used to worship privately.
As you enter the Lahore Gate, arcaded apartments flank the passage, which is known as Chatta Chowk. Also known as Meena Bazaar, this was one of the first covered bazaars of the 17th century. The shops of that era sold pure silks, jewellery, gems, silver ware and other artistic objects and catered primarily to Mughal courtiers and noble families. It is said that there were also teashops here, where nobles used to meet and discuss the latest court gossip and news of the kingdom. Today the shops in the Chowk sell souvenirs and eatables and drinks. They are now located only in the lower arcade whereas in Mughal times the shops were located on the upper as well as lower arcades. These vaulted arcades are made up of natural sandstone. The shops in the lower arcade had cusped arches. In the middle of the Chatta Chowk, there is also an open section for the sunlight and fresh air to enter. From the end of the bazaar, the view of Drum House was picturesque as the large square courtyard and water tank, provided a clear view, unlike later when much was altered with the British occupation. They destroyed the elegance of the monument by building multi-storey barracks north of the courtyard.
Mumtaz Mahal is the southern end of all the palaces along the eastern wall of the Fort. Originally, along the riverfront, there were six main palaces and the Stream of Paradise or Nahr-i-Bihisht flowed through them. Mumtaz Mahal is one of them and it was the residence of Jahanara Begum, Shah Jahan's favorite daughter and the head of the royal harem. The Mahal had six apartments divided by arched piers and was the part of the imperial seraglio. The interesting feature of the Mahal is that only the lower half of its walls and pillars are built with marble. Today the Mahal houses a Museum of the Archaeological Survey of India. The museum contains souvenirs, weapons, paintings, scenes of courtly life and carpets, largely belonging to the Mughal period.
Rang Mahal, also known as the Palace of Color, is built on a basement, and consists of a large hall. The hall derives its name from its painted interior, which was wholly defaced after the War of Independence in 1857 when the British army occupied and used it as an officer's barrack. Rang Mahal was either the common room of the Royal ladies or the residence of the emperor's chief wife and is said to be the place where the emperor took most of his meals. The main hall is divided into six apartments by arches built on piers. The walls and ceilings of these apartments were embedded with tiny mirrors and the hall is also known as Shish Mahal or the Hall of mirrors. In the center of the main hall is a beautifully carved marble lotus, which was originally surrounded by fountains. The ceiling above this lotus pool was made with silver and decorated with golden flowers, which reflected in the pool making it a wonderful sight. The hall was part of the imperial seraglio and the Stream of Paradise flowed along its length. In the basement of the hall are rooms, which were used by the ladies during the summer. The rooms were also beautifully decorated and were designed in a such a manner that they stayed cool during the hot summer months.
Shahi Burj (Royal Pavilion) the three storied octagonal tower, situated on the northeastern edge of the fort was the emperor's private working place. It was from the pavilion next to the tower that the stream begins flowing south along the royal terrace to the royal baths and the palaces. The tower is closed to the public. The Yamuna river used to lap the walls of the tower but now has retreated some distance away.
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