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Saturday, 6 August 2011

The Delhi Series: An Introduction

Delhi Through Ages
Delhi, the capital of India, is a bustling town with over 16 million inhabitants. Delhi hence is the power center of India - scams, corruption and what not - follows

The current extended Delhi, also known as NCR region (mainly comprising of Delhi, Noida, Gurgaon, Faridabad), is a land where ‘might is right’, where road rage is the talk of the day, where safety in general, and especially for the fairer gender, is a joke. But today's nouveau-riche Delhi hasn't always been like this, here’s a brief history:

Even though Delhi hasn’t always been a capital town – it has been continuously inhabited since ages. Several bloody battles have been fought on its grounds, several times the entire city has been burned down – entire population massacred or enslaved – but Delhi has always been resurrected.

The oldest memories of Delhi goes back by around 3000-4000 years ago, to the town of Indraprastha of the mythical Mahabharata. Whether Mahabharata happened or not is a point of contention – however, the existence of Indraprastha has far been established.

Only a little is known of Delhi before the Rajput occupation of it in the 1100 AD by Prithviraj Chauhan. Post Chauhan Delhi was ruled by several dynasties including the Slave dynasty, Khilji, Tuglaq, Lodhi etc. Monuments from each of these eras can be found in abundance scattered all throughout Delhi.

The dynasty rule was followed by the great Moghul/Mughal rule which lasted for roughly 3 centuries (1500-1800 AD) except for a brief interjection by Sher Shah Suri. Almost every Indian as heard the names of Babur, Humayun, Akbar, Jahangir, Shah Jahan & Aurangzeb - such was this age. It is said that during the period of Shah Jahan (1600 AD) is when Delhi reached its prime - both in terms of governance and art & cultural growth. It is Shah Jahan who is credited with building of the Shahjahanabad or the 'Old Delhi'.

Weakening Mughal power during and after Aurangzeb and growing British East-India Company's power saw some years of confusion. Finally, British Crown rule was established in Delhi post 1857 mutiny. However, it was not until 1911 when Delhi was made the capital of British India. It is then the construction of New Delhi began. Just as Old Delhi is ascribed to emperor Shah Jahan, New Delhi is ascribed to the British architect ‘Edwin Lutyens’: the Viceroy House (now Rashtrapati Bhawan), India Gate, wide tree lined roads, posh white bungalows - all was Lutyen.

As British left India in 1947, mass massacres in the name of independence followed : the entire Muslim dominated population of Delhi was thrown over and a new Punjabi population (chiefly coming from Sind in Pakistan) settled in. That was when yet another new age of Delhi began...and still continues


In the history of Delhi, I find the following events very interesting:
  1. Evidence of Indraprastha and sites around Delhi suggests Mahabharata might have been a stone war only to be glorified by a poet (poetic license after all is by all means legitimate). I am not saying this is true, I am just saying it is funny to imagine! For e.g. picture the entire crew of Mahabharata reduced to no clothes and stones and twigs in their hands instead of 'gadas' and 'bhramastras'.

  2. How Prithviraj Chauhan, being a proud Rajput, released Muhammad Ghori in his Ist face-off, only to be captured and executed by the same man in their IInd face off

  3. The (darkly) funny times of Muhammad Tuqlaq - especially his shifting of capital from Delhi to Daulatabad; and his grand and wise policies grinding to utter failure: He should have taken Governance 101 in some Master of Empire Administration school (rude joke, fact: he was quite learned and tolerant).

  4. Ibn Battuta - Even in those days, there were travel junkies

  5. How Humayun, the great emperor fell from his library staircase and died. I mean aren't emperors suppose to die a glorified death, or at least a tragic one (forlorn, sick, ostracized etc.)

  6. The bloody battle that followed during the end of Shah Jahan realm, and how Aurangzeb used all possible measures in treachery and trickery and bribery to acquire the empire, kill his brothers and sisters, and imprison his father. No wonder his empire achieved no glory.

  7. The entire independence struggle, particularly role of Gandhi; and the largest human migration that the world has seen during the Independence of India

  8. Post independence - Kiran Bedi's influence on Delhi Police, CWG and Delhi Metro (this is too shallow a list, but well, I have been born only recently)
The current state of affairs at Delhi is both sad and exciting. Sad because entire trace of pre-independence history, art & language has vanished, sad because Delhi is a bulging city with growing pollution and reducing tempers, sad because of the utter neglect of the architectures of the past, sad because of corruption. Exciting, yes, Delhi is exciting - Exciting because of the example that Delhi Metro (subway/tube) has set, exciting because of building consciousness in the community against what is wrong, Exciting because of hope of progressive governance, Exciting because of its increasing role in World.

Hard to write it down, but Delhi is a city which cannot be ignored. Its vibe too strong to not be felt.

I have now completed 5 years in Delhi - and yet I have read about, seen and explored so less of the city. Going forward I plan to write about Delhi Metro, and pen down a recommendation on 17 best places to visit in Delhi!

Further, what I have expressed here should not be taken as a rigorous exercise in decrypting the history of Delhi, and even though I have cross checked the facts, they might be slightly off at some places. This introduction is just to give a flavor. I welcome your comments, corrections, and views on what Delhi is to you?

Lastly An excellent book on Delhi: City of Djinns: A year in Delhi by William Darlymple

One of my Favorite Blogs on Delhi: The Delhi Wallah

I have not come across any other awesome movie / documentary / reading on Delhi other than this book - Anyone with
any recommendations?


  1. Beautiful and explicit piece. Looking forward to more. I love Delhi and its simply amazing how you chose to write so much about the city. It is an education in itself. Cheers!

  2. great to know so many things happened here, and a great post. Waiting for new things to hear abt the place we inhabited for the last 5 years and know so little abt it.

  3. Can you please repeat the exercise-17 best places to visit- for Mumbai too and help me plan my weekends? ;) And why 17?

    To- What Delhi is to me?- Lets discuss it offine. :)

  4. BEAUTIFUL!! Have known all this, but still was a pleasure going through... especially the historical facts - Ibn Batuta and Aurangzeb's battle. Loving your posts!

    And I too have been following Delhiwalla's blog; even the pictures there seem to express a million emotions of our city.

  5. Thanks doston :)

    I hope to read more about, and from Ibn Batuta :)