Monday, July 15, 2024

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Red Fort (Lal Qila)

Place : Delhi
Significance : Prime Minister address on Independence day (15th August) every year.
Best Season : October to March
Timings : Daily sunrise to sunset
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The Red Fort or the Lal Quila, situated on the western bank of the river Yamuna  forms the majestic centerpiece of Mughal Emperor Shahajahan's medieval walled city 'Shah Jahanabad' (Old Delhi). This sandstone citadel encompasses grand audience halls, marble palaces ornamented with exquisite pietra dura once embedded with precious stones, a market place where the royalty used to shop, a mosque, gardens with marbled fountains, plazas, baths etc. The Red Fort is enclosed by nearly 2 1/2 km of battlement walls which vary in height from 18.5 m (60ft) at its highest watch towers on the river side to 33m on the city side and is surrounded by a 9m deep moat. It was here, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, unfurled the Indian flag on 15 August 1947 commemorating the end of the British colonial rule. Every year on Independence day, the Prime minister addresses a huge crowd assembled in the Maidan (ground) overlooking the fort, from its Lahore gate.

Shahjahan, started the construction of this massive fort in 1638, when he shifted the capital from Agra to Delhi. The fort was completed along with the huge city of Shajahanabad after nine years on 16th April 1648. The city was laid out with wide roads, residential quarters, bazars, mosques and enclosed in a rubble built wall with 14 gates, some of which still exists. The main street was Chandni Chouk with a tree lined canal flowing down its centre and the remarkable buildings which showed off the magnificence of Mughal style architecture were the Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India and the Red fort. Now Chandni Chowk is a crowded colourful market bustling with shops, craftsmen's workshops, hotels, mosques and temples. 

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.

At the end of the Chatta Chowk is the Naubat Khana (Drum house) where ceremonial music was played by the musicians to glorify the emperor and special tunes were played to announce the arrival of the royalty and important dignitaries. The drum house has four floors and it also served as a gate house 'Hathi Pol' where the visiting dignitaries had to leave their horses and elephants. The red sandstone walls are beautifully decorated with floral designs originally painted in gold with an inner courtyard surrounded by galleries. But the galleries were removed as the fort underwent a number of changes when it became the British Army Headquarters. Just above the Naubat Khana is the Indian War Memorial Museum which has a collection of armours, guns, swords and other items related to war. There is the Swatantra Sangrama Sangrahalaya  (Museum of the Independence movement) displaying letters, photos, newspaper cuttings located amongst the army buildings just before Naubat Khana.

Diwan-i-Am, Red fortFrom Naubhat Khana, a path runs east through wide lawns to the Diwan-i-Am (Public Audience hall). In this elegant hall, the Emperor sat daily on a royal marble throne with decorative marble panels behind, that sparkled with inlaid precious stones to hear complaints or disputes from his subjects and to deal with administrative matters. Some of these panels, removed by British soldiers during the Indian Mutiny of 1857, were discovered  in London and restored 50 years later by Lord Curzon. The floral patterns that are still there reflect the high degree of skill of the Mughal artisans. Beyond Diwan-i-Am, entrance was allowed only to the royalty. 

There is a large formal garden and a row of five small palaces along the east wall of the fort, behind the Diwan-i-Am. The palaces were beautifully decorated with silver ceilings ornamented with golden flowers and crowned with gilded turrets, delicately painted and decorated with intricate pieces of mirrors. Between the garden and the palaces there was a stream flowing Nahr-i-Bihisht (Stream of Paradise) with a network of lotus shaped marble fountains. The palace on the extreme south is the Mumtaz Mahal (Palace of Jewels), now the Red Fort Museum of Archaeology, (Open daily except Fri 9am-5pm) with six apartments displaying relics from the Mughal Period including numerous paintings, weapons, textiles, carpets, ornate chess sets, hookahs and metal work. 

Close to the Mumtaz Mahal is the Rang Mahal ('Palace of Colors') once elaborately painted, where the emperors main wife resided and where the emperor ate most of his meals. The stream ran through the palace and ended in the lotus shaped central pool in the marble floor originally with an ivory fountain in the center. Hundreds of small mirrors were set into the ceilings of apartments on either sides known as the Sheesh Mahal (Palace of Mirrors). 

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.

Diwan-E--KhasThe 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. 

Close to the Diwan-i-Khas is the Hammams or the Royal Baths with three apartments surmounted by domes, where royalty took hot saunas and perfumed baths. The apartments on either side had hot and cold baths and are separated by corridors with canals to carry water to each room. The room in the centre has three fountain basins which emitted rose water and it is reputed that four tonnes of wood were required to heat the water. The floors of these apartments are built with marble and were inlaid with floral patterns of multicoloured stones. The baths are closed to the public. 

Next to the Hammam lies the Moti Masjid (Pearl Mosque), built in 1662 by Aurangzeb (Shahjahan's son) for his personal use. The prayer-hall of the mosque stands on a raised platform and is inlaid with outlines of 'Musallas' (mats for prayers) in black marble. The small mosque is completely enclosed, made of polished marble with some exquisite decoration and has three domes. One peculiar thing is that the interior and exterior walls are not aligned with each other, while the exterior walls are in symmetry with the rest of the fort, the inner walls are positioned in such a way for the mosque to be correctly facing Mecca. 

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. 

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.