Centenary of the Capital: Delhi - A Palimpsest of 100 Glorious Years

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By Sameer Pushp
PIB Features

New Delhi, Dec 12, 2011 (Washington Bangla Radio /  PIB India) Delhi a magnum opus was build and destroyed seven times, tells the saga of the bygone era. Endowed with the power and charisma of creating myth; transcending moments of history- Delhi completes 100 glorious years. As a narrative of extraordinary time, Delhi has recorded amazing kaleidoscopic breadth of events – sometimes tragic, often triumphant as the stupendous talent of people.

A city brimming with life has many stories wrapped, frozen in time, yet eloquent in their immediacy. There is much more to Delhi than her legendary history, rich cultural heritage, cultural diversity and religious unity. Delhi is a palimpsest, bearing the complexities, the contradictions, the beauty and the dynamism of the city where past coexist with present, many dynasties ruled from here and the cultural elements, absorbed into daily life. One side is monuments, icons of testimony to the grandeur of the past and, to other side is a long suffering Yamuna depicting the follies of the present. Delhi has a multilayer existence and is among the fastest growing cities. Stretching beyond seven cities created around 13th and 17th centuries; Delhi urban sprawl is extensive and still growing. There are skyscrapers, residential colonies and busting commercial malls all testimony to the changing time. Delhi soul is its energy, effervescence, ebullience manifested in the spirit of people. In a quest to build home and hope millions work here with zest, liveliness and fervor. Delhi embodies the subtle fusion of diverse ideas, of variety, of novelty of tradition through many decades. The uniqueness of Delhi is its strength to rejuvenate and withstand the test of time, which can be seen in its life style.

India is a great Nation; Delhi being the capital is a symbol of old and new shares this greatness. Delhi today is multidimensional multicultural and multi-progressive. It is in a constant state of cohesive flux. Delhi without question is home and hopes of millions. After independence Delhi has undergone radical transformation, and poses with a luminous gesture along the developed nation’s capitals. For a surprisingly long time Delhi was not the seat of power. However, every stone and brick here whispers to our ears a long and glorious history.

Between the fading ranges of Aravallis and long flowing Yamuna, Delhi has a labyrinth of history buried under its era. Delhi draws its name from Raja Dhilu. The earliest historical reference to Delhi dates back to first century BC. All through its history, the present capital of India has been an important player. Reasons for this might be found in its geographical location. Delhi has always been a convenient link between Central Asia, the northwest frontiers and the rest of the country. An inscription dating from the time of Asoka, the famous Mauryan king, tells us that Delhi was on the great northern highway of the Mauryas and linked their capital Patliputta (near modern Patna, Bihar) with Taxila (Takshashila), now in Pakistan. This was apparently the route that Buddhist monks took on their way to Taxila, the intellectual hotbed in those days, and Central Asia. What one can read between the lines is that it was also the route that the Mauryan armies took enroute to quelling the frequent rebellions and foreign insurgencies in Taxila and other such border trouble spots. So, this gave Delhi considerable strategic importance. The story of Delhi unfolds into the multi city existence, which is depicted below:

Indraprastha 1450 BC

Site: In Purana Qila

Remains: Archeological finds now support the view that this was indeed Delhi's earliest city. This has not surprised anyone in Delhi, for popular opinion had never doubted the existence of Indraprashtha. Reasons for its decline are not known.

Lal Kot or Qila Rai Pithora 1060 AD

Site: Qutub Minar-Mehrauli complex.

Remains: Very little remains of the original Lal Kot. Of the 13 gates of Rai Pithora fort, now only three remain.

Built by: Rajput Tomaras. 12th century; captured and enlarged by the Rajput king Prithviraj Chauhan.

Siri 1304 AD

Site: Near Hauz Khas and Gulmohar Park.

Remains: Some portions and walls remain. Alauddin Khilji also built other things around Siri. Like, the beautiful Alai Darwaza, the south gate of the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque and reservoir in present-day Hauz Khas.

Built by: Alauddin Khilji of the Delhi Sultanate. Alauddin Khilji was well-known for his trade reforms, so it's not surprising that Siri was a major trading centre.

Tughlaqabad 1321-23 AD

Site: 8km from the Qutub complex.

Remains: Walls and some ruined buildings.

Built by: Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq.

Jahanpanah Mid-14th century

Site: Between Siri and Qutub Minar

Remains: A few remnants of defensive ramparts.

Built by: Mohammad-bin-Tughlaq

Ferozabad 1354 AD

Site: Kotla Feroze Shah.

Remains: Only the Asoka Pillar rising from the ruins remains. There is stadium for cricket which is called Feroze Shah Kotla grounds.

Built by: Feroze Shah Tughlaq. It remained the capital until Sikander Lodi moved to Agra.

Dilli Sher Shahi (Shergarh) 1534

Site: Opposite the zoo. Around Purana Qila.

Remains: High gates,walls,mosque and a great baoli (well). Kabuli and Lal Darwaza gates and the Sher Mandal.

Built by: This Delhi was actually started by Humayun, the second Mughal Emperor and was completed by, Sher Shah Suri.

Shajahanabad Mid - 17th century

Site:  The existing Old Delhi.

Remains: The Red Fort, Jama Masjid, main streets of Old Delhi (like Chandini Chowk), long sections of walls and several city gates. Old Delhi might be congested, but it still retains its medieval charm. The people are very warm and welcoming. Shah Jahan, the fifth Mughal Emperor moved his capital from Agra to here.

The capital of India is not only known for its rich historical background but also for some exquisite arts and crafts. In fact, the arts and crafts of Delhi have been patronized since the times of the royals. As a cultural center of its time, Delhi attracted the best of painters, musicians and dancers. This is so because there is no specific identity of the city. With time, people from different areas of India came and settled, making Delhi an assortment of sorts. Slowly and gradually, Delhi assumed some of the aspects of the identity of all the types of people living in it, making multiple identities for it.

The biggest advantage Delhi has is of diversity, that richness of people coming from different backgrounds characterized by the plurality of people divided in terms of religion, region, language, cast and class; individual with unequal status but, with a shared access to resource and opportunity to seek one’s goal and vision.

Delhi- always a flashpoint, hub of multi-activities capturing the ebb and flow, high and low of footprints of time. The air of Delhi is full of follies of the present and fragrance of the past, as also the fresh pricing winds, refreshing, paving way for new India.

- PIB Features

Disclaimer: The writer is a freelance journalist and the views expressed by the author in this feature are entirely his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of PIB or WBRi

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