Happy Independence Day!
…and, since the Red Fort is the venue of the Prime Minister’s annual address to the nation on this occasion, how about some facts about this set of buildings?
First, the very basics, and then we’ll move on to five interesting but relatively little-known details about the Red Fort (commonly known as the Lal Qila now, but in Shahjahan’s period, also referred to as the Qila Mubarak and the Qila-e-Mualla).
Construction on this complex of buildings was begun in about 1638, when Shahjahan decided to shift the imperial capital from Agra to Delhi. Ustad Ahmed Lahori was the official architect. The construction, supervised by Ghairat Khan (the governor of Delhi), continued for the next 10 years, with the fort being completed in 1648.
Now for some of the more interesting titbits about the fort.
1. The Red Fort, like several of Delhi’s previous ‘cities’, drew a good deal of its construction material from pre-existing structures. To build the fort, a lot of stone was taken from another citadel just south of Shahjahanabad—the 14th century Firoz Shah Kotla, built by Firoz Shah Tughlaq. Shahjahan’s builders demolished several of the buildings of Firoz Shah Kotla, or stripped them of their stone cladding, to cart the material northwards to be included in the Red Fort.
2. The Lal Qila was designed as a vast palace complex for the use of the royal family, with separate areas for the mahal sara (the women’s quarters), the emperor himself (including his private apartments, hamaam, etc), and areas to provide for the needs of the royalty: kitchens, stables, and so on. Also, of course, since this was where the Emperor held court, there were the areas accessible to some of the nolibity: the Diwan-e-Aam (the Hall of Public Audience) and the Diwan-e-Khaas (the Hall of Private Audience).
However, among the approximately 57,000 people who lived inside the fortress, perhaps the largest group (after the many servants and slaves) was that of the salatin. The salatin (‘salatin’ is the plural of ‘sultan’) were those who were descended from emperors. And, since emperors typically had dozens of offspring from various wives and concubines, it was hardly surprising that an emperor, at any given time, would have thousands of aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews, nieces, some of them with very distant and tenuous connections to the emperor—but all entitled, by this connection, to live in the fort.
3. After 1857, when the British ousted Bahadur Shah Zafar, they also demolished most of the buildings in the Red Fort. Approximately 80% of the original buildings in the fort were destroyed. The British erected various administrative buildings of their own, all of which clash terribly in architectural style with the original.
4. The current-day ‘main entrance’ of the Red Fort, through which tourists are now admitted into the fort complex, is the Lahore Darwaza (not to be confused with the Lahori Darwaza of the walled city of Delhi). The Lahore Darwaza, so named because it faces towards faraway Lahore, was—during British times—known as Victoria Gate. Interestingly, the outer wall (the barbican) surrounding the gate, was not there in Shahjahan’s time. This was built later, by his son and successor Aurangzeb.
5. Although the Yamuna has shifted its course in the past 350 years, when Shahjahan built the Red Fort, it was on the west bank of the river. At the Shah Burj in the fort, a system using hydraulic pressure was in place to draw up water from the river. This was then fed into the main water channel of the fort, known as the Nahar-i-Bihisht (the ‘Stream of Paradise’). The Nahar-i-Bihisht made its way through the grounds of the fort, and eventually led out of the fort into the city of Shahjahanabad.