The Darwaazas of Shahjahanabad

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.

Kashmiri Darwaaza.

Kashmiri Darwaaza.

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.

Part of the city wall, near Kashmiri Darwaaza.

Part of the city wall, near Kashmiri Darwaaza.

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.

Dilli Darwaaza, seen up close.

Dilli Darwaaza, seen up close.

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.

A view of Dilli Darwaaza.

A view of Dilli Darwaaza.

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);

Kashmiri Darwaaza, showing the marks of cannonfire from 1857.

Kashmiri Darwaaza, showing the marks of cannonfire from 1857.

… and the three darwaazas along Asaf Ali Road: Ajmeri, Turkman, and Dilli.

Dilli Darwaaza, seen from Daryaganj.

Dilli Darwaaza, seen from Daryaganj.

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4 thoughts on “The Darwaazas of Shahjahanabad

  1. Nice work on darwaazas of Shahjahanbad. Very close to Dilli Darwaaza is the Khooni Darwaaza, where three princes of Moghul Dynasty were killed by British Captain. Excerpt from Wikipedia, “The Khooni Darwaza (Bloody Gate) earned its name after the three princes of the Mughal dynasty – Bahadur Shah Zafar’s sons Mirza Mughal and Khizr Sultan and grandson Mirza Abu Bakr, were shot by a British Soldier, Captain William Hodson on September 22, 1857 during the Indian Rebellion (also known as the Indian Mutiny or the First War of Indian Independence). Hodson obtained the surrender of the Emperor, and the next day asked for an unconditional surrender from the three princes at Humayun’s Tomb. Hudson arrested about 16 members of the Emperor’s family and was transporting them from the fort in horse driven carriage accompanied by a platoon of 100 “Savars” or mounted soldiers. On reaching this gate, he was stopped and surrounded by thousands of Muslims, with white cloth tied on their foreheads (a symbol for the shroud) Jehais or Gazis. Hudson latter recalled, “I was surrounded on all side by Ghazis as far as my eyes could see.”[citation needed]. According to Archaeological Survey of India’s, board on the site/gate[citation needed], it says Hudson, made them remove their “upper” garments) and using his service “sword” he “hacked”/cut the heads of all three sons, and entered the carriage and “slaughtered all men, women and children.” Others[citation needed] assert that Hodson ordered the three to get down at the spot, stripped them naked and shot them dead at point blank range. The bodies were then taken away and put up for public display in front of a Kotwali.”

  2. Thank you for the appreciation, Bhaskar. Yes, Khooni Darwaaza is of course an important gateway in Delhi, because of its interesting place in history. However, I couldn’t include it in this article, because it wasn’t one of the gates piercing the city walls of Shahjahanabad.

    Incidentally, HK Kaul’s ‘Historic Delhi: An Anthology’ includes a very good excerpt from Hodson’s own account of his killing of the Mughal princes. It’s quite chilling.

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