As part of my on-and-off series of articles on little-known historical (and secular) structures in Delhi, I wanted to write about the gates of Shahjahanabad. Only, I found it difficult to pick one gate out of the existing ones. This post, therefore, is going to be about the gates in toto.
When Shahjahan shifted the imperial capital from Agra to Delhi, he established a new city: Shahjahanabad, north of Firoz Shah Kotla. Shahjahanabad wasn’t built on completely unbroken land; this area already had some existing structures, including an impressive Tughlaq mosque (the Kalan Masjid, built by Khan-e-Jahaan Junaan Shah Telangani) and the tombs of some illustrious personages, including Delhi’s only female Sultan, Razia.
What Shahjahan built was the massive Red Fort and the imperial mosque, the Jama Masjid. His family and other nobility built more mosques, sarais, hamaams, and havelis; and, over a few years in the mid-17th century, an entire new city arose. Surrounding this were thick walls, built of stone and rubble, pierced by gates—the ‘darwaazas’ of Delhi.
The gatehouses were in most cases built of brick or rubble, clad on the outside with sandstone. The gates themselves were of heavy wood, reinforced with iron bands. The gates, along with smaller wicket gates (known as khidkis, such as Khidki Faraashkhaana) formed an essential part of the city’s security. After nightfall, the gates would be shut and barred, and opened only the next morning.
At the time Shahjahanabad was built, the gates built into its walls included Kashmiri Darwaaza (named—like most of the other gates—for the direction it faced), Mori Darwaaza, Kabul Darwaaza, Lahore Darwaaza, Ajmeri Darwaaza, Turkman Darwaaza (named for the 13th century mystic, Shah Turkman Bayabani, whose dargah stands beside the gate), and Dilli Darwaaza, named for the fact that it faced the old city of Dilli.
Besides these gates, there were two less imposing and lower river-facing gates: Kela Ghat Darwaaza (in Daryaganj) and Nigambodh Ghat Darwaaza. Later, after the British took over in Delhi, another gate was added: the Kalkatta Darwaaza, facing the direction of faraway Calcutta.
Today, only four of the original gates remain: the Kashmiri Darwaaza (which was the site of a pitched battle between the British and the Indian revolutionaries during 1857, and still carries the marks of cannon fire);
… and the three darwaazas along Asaf Ali Road: Ajmeri, Turkman, and Dilli.