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The Red Fort

The Red Fort was the residence of the Mughal emperors of India for nearly 200 years, until 1857. Open to the public, it is located in the centre of Delhi and houses a number of museums. In addition to accommodating the emperors and their households, it was the ceremonial and political centre of Mughal government and the setting for events critically impacting the region.

The Red Fort was built as the fortified palace of Shahjahanabad, capital of the fifth Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, in 1648. Named for its massive enclosing walls of red sandstone, it is adjacent to the older Salimgarh Fort, built by Islam Shah Suri in 1546.

 

The imperial apartments consist of a row of pavilions, connected by a water channel known as the Stream of Paradise (Nahr-i-Behisht). The Red Fort is considered to represent the zenith of Mughal creativity under Shah Jahan. Although the palace was planned according to Islamic prototypes, each pavilion contains architectural elements typical of Mughal building, reflecting a fusion of Timurid, Persian and Hindu traditions. The Red Fort’s innovative architectural style (including its garden design) influenced later buildings and gardens in Delhi, Rajasthan, Punjab, Kashmir, Braj, Rohilkhand and elsewhere. With the Salimgarh Fort, it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007 as part of the Red Fort Complex.

Name

Its English name, "Red Fort", is a translation of the Hindustani Lal Quila deriving from its red-sandstone walls. As the residence of the imperial family, the fort was originally known as the "Blessed Fort" (Quila-i-Mubarak). Agra Fort is also called Lal Quila.

History

Shah Jahan commissioned the construction of the Red Fort in 1638, when he decided to shift his capital from Agra to Delhi. Its design is credited to architect Ustad Ahmad Lahauri. The fort lies along the Yamuna River, which fed the moats surrounding most of the walls. Construction began in the sacred month of Muharram, on 13 May 1638. Supervised by Shah Jahan, it was completed in 1648. Unlike other Mughal forts, the Red Fort's boundary walls are assymmetrical to contain the older Salimgarh Fort. The fortress-palace was a focal point of the medieval city of Shahjahanabad (present-day Old Delhi). Its planning and aesthetics represent the zenith of Mughal creativity prevailing during Shah Jahan's reign. His successor Aurangzeb added the Pearl Mosque to the emperor's private quarters, constructing barbicans in front of the two main gates to make the entrance to the palace more circuitous.

The administrative and fiscal structure of the Mughals declined after Aurangzeb, and the 18th century saw a degeneration of the palace. When Jahandar Shah took over the Red Fort in 1712, it had been without an emperor for 30 years. Within a year of beginning his rule, Shah was murdered and replaced by Farukhsiyar. To raise money, the silver ceiling of the Rang Mahal was replaced by copper during this period. Muhammad Shah, known as Rangila (the Colourful) for his interest in art, took over the Red Fort in 1719. In 1739, Persian emperor Nadir Shah easily defeated the Mughal army, plundering the Red Fort (including the Peacock Throne). Nadir Shah returned to Persia after three months, leaving a destroyed city and a weakened Mughal empire to Muhammad Shah. The internal weakness of the Mughal empire made the Mughals titular heads of Delhi, and a 1752 treaty made the Marathas protectors of the throne at Delhi.

The 1758 Maratha conquest of Lahore and Peshawar placed them in conflict with Ahmad Shah Durrani. In 1760, the Marathas removed and melted the silver ceiling of the Diwan-i-Khas to raise funds for the defence of Delhi from the armies of Ahmed Shah Durrani. In 1761, after the Marathas lost the third battle of Panipat, Delhi was raided by Ahmed Shah Durrani.

Ten years later, Shah Alam ascended the throne in Delhi with Maratha support. In 1783 the Sikh Misl Karorisinghia, led by Baghel Singh Dhaliwal, conquered Delhi and the Red Fort. The Sikhs agreed to restore Shah Alam as emperor and retreat from the fort if the Mughals would build (and protect) seven Gurudwaras in Delhi for the Sikh gurus.

The Red Fort

During the Second Anglo-Maratha War in 1803, forces of British East India Company defeated Maratha forces in the Battle of Delhi; this ended Maratha rule of the city and their control of the Red Fort. After the battle, the British took over the administration of Mughal territories and installed a Resident at the Red Fort. The last Mughal emperor to occupy the fort, Bahadur Shah II ("Zafar"), became a symbol of the 1857 rebellion against the British (in which the residents of Shahjahanbad participated).

Despite its position as the seat of Mughal power and its defensive capabilities, the Red Fort was not defended during the 1857 uprising against the British. After the rebellion failed, Bahadur Shah II left the fort on 17 September and was apprehended by British forces. He returned to Red Fort as a prisoner of the British, was tried in 1858 and exiled to Rangoon on 7 October of that year. With the end of Mughal reign, the British sanctioned the systematic plunder of valuables from the fort's palaces. All furniture was removed or destroyed; the harem apartments, servants' quarters and gardens were destroyed, and a line of stone barracks built. Only the marble buildings on the east side at the imperial enclosure escaped complete destruction, but were looted and damaged. While the defensive walls and towers were relatively unharmed, more than two-thirds of the inner structures were destroyed by the British; steps were later taken by Lord Curzon to repair some damage.

After Indian Independence the site experienced few changes, and the Red Fort continued to be used as a cantonment. A significant part of the fort remained under Indian Army control until 22 December 2003, when it was given to the Archaeological Survey of India for restoration. In 2009 the Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP), prepared by the Archaeological Survey of India under Supreme Court directions to revitalise the fort, was announced.

The Fort Today

Every year on 15 August (the day India achieved independence from the British), the Prime Minister hoists the national flag at the Red Fort and delivers a nationally-broadcast speech from its ramparts. The Red Fort, the largest monument in Old Delhi, is one of its most popular tourist destinations and attracts thousands of visitors every year.

Red Fort Night View

A sound and light show describing Mughal history is a tourist attraction in the evenings. The major architectural features are in mixed condition; the extensive water features are dry. Some buildings are in fairly-good condition, with their decorative elements undisturbed; in others, the marble inlaid flowers have been removed by looters.

The tea house, although not in its historical state, is a working restaurant. The mosque and hamam are closed to the public, although visitors can peer through their glass windows or marble latticework. Walkways are crumbling, and public toilets are available at the entrance and inside the park. The Lahore Gate entrance leads to a mall with jewellery and craft stores.

There are a museum of "blood paintings", depicting young 20th-century Indian martyrs and their stories, an archaeological museum and an Indian war-memorial museum.

Security

To prevent terrorist attacks, security is especially tight around the Red Fort on the eve of Indian Independence Day. Delhi Police and paramilitary personnel keep watch on neighbourhoods around the fort, and National Security Guard sharpshooters are deployed on high-rises near the fort. The airspace around the fort is a designated no-fly zone during the celebration to prevent air attacks, and safe houses exist in nearby areas to which the Prime Minister and other Indian leaders may retreat in the event of an attack.

The fort was the site of a terrorist attack on 22 December 2000, carried out by six Lashkar-e-Toiba members. Two soldiers and a civilian were killed in what the news media described as an attempt to derail India-Pakistan peace talks.

Architecture

The Red Fort has an area of 254.67 acres (103.06 ha) enclosed by 2.41 kilometres (1.50 mi) of defensive walls, punctuated by turrets and bastions and varying in height from 18 metres (59 ft) on the river side to 33 metres (108 ft) on the city side. The fort is octagonal, with the north-south axis longer than the east-west axis. The marble, floral decorations and double domes in the fort's buildings exemplify later Mughal architecture.

It showcases a high level of ornamentation, and the Kohinoor diamond was reportedly part of the furnishings. The fort's artwork synthesises Persian, European and Indian art, resulting in a unique Shahjahani style rich in form, expression and colour. Red Fort is one of the building complexes of India encapsulating a long period of history and its arts. Even before its 1913 commemoration as a monument of national importance, efforts were made to preserve it for posterity.

The Lahori and Delhi Gates were used by the public, and the Khizrabad Gate was for the emperor. The Lahore Gate is the main entrance, leading to a domed shopping area known as the Chatta Chowk (covered bazaar).

Major Structures

The most-important surviving structures are the walls and ramparts, the main gates, the audience halls and the imperial apartments on the eastern riverbank.

Lahori Gate

The Lahori Gate is the main gate to the Red Fort, named for its orientation towards the city of Lahore. During Aurangzeb's reign, the beauty of the gate was spoiled by the addition of bastions (Like a veil drawn across the face of a beautiful woman). Every Indian Independence Day since 1947, the national flag has flown and the Prime Minister has made a speech from its ramparts.

Delhi Gate

The Delhi Gate is the southern public gate, in layout and appearance similar to the Lahori Gate. Two life-size stone elephants, on either side of the gate, face each other.

Water Gate

A minor gate, the Water Gate is at the southeastern end of the walls. It was formerly on the riverbank; although the river has changed course since the fort's construction, the name has remained.

Chhatta Chowk

Adjacent to the Lahori Gate is the Chhatta Chowk, where silk, jewellery and other items for the imperial household were sold during the Mughal period. The bazaar leads to an open outer court, where it crosses the large north-south street which originally divided the fort's military functions (to the west) from the palaces (to the east). The southern end of the street is the Delhi Gate.

Naubat Khana

The vaulted arcade of the Chhatta Chowk ends in the centre of the outer court, which measured 540 by 360 feet (160 m × 110 m). The side arcades and central tank were destroyed after the 1857 rebellion.

In the east wall of the court stands the now-isolated Naubat Khana (also known as Nakkar Khana), the drum house. Music was played at scheduled times daily next to a large gate, where everyone except royalty was required to dismount.

Diwan-i-Aam

The inner main court to which the Nakkar Khana led was 540 feet (160 m) wide and 420 feet (130 m) deep, surrounded by guarded galleries. On the far side is the Diwan-i-Aam, the Public Audience Hall.

The hall's columns and engrailed arches exhibit fine craftsmanship, and the hall was originally decorated with white chunam stucco. In the back in the raised recess the emperor gave his audience in the marble balcony (jharokha).

The Diwan-i-Aam was also used for state functions. The courtyard (mardana) behind it leads to the imperial apartments.

Diwan-i-Khas

A gate on the north side of the Diwan-i-Aam leads to the innermost court of the palace (Jalau Khana) and the Diwan-i-Khas (Hall of Private Audience). It is constructed of white marble, inlaid with precious stones. The once-silver ceiling has been restored in wood. François Bernier described seeing the jewelled Peacock Throne here during the 17th century.

At either end of the hall, over the two outer arches, is an inscription by Persian poet Amir Khusrow:

If heaven can be on the face of the earth, it is this, it is this, it is this.

Nahr-i-Behisht

The imperial apartments consist of a row of pavilions on a raised platform along the eastern edge of the fort, overlooking the Yamuna. The pavilions are connected by a canal, known as the Nahr-i-Behisht ("Stream of Paradise"), running through the centre of each pavilion. Water is drawn from the Yamuna via a tower, the Shahi Burj, at the northeast corner of the fort. The palace is designed to emulate paradise as described in the Quran. In the riverbed below the imperial apartments and connected buildings was a space known as zer-jharokha ("beneath the latticework").

Mumtaz Mahal

The two southernmost pavilions of the palace are zenanas (women's quarters), consisting of the Mumtaz Mahal and the larger Rang Mahal. The Mumtaz Mahal houses the archaeological museum.

Rang Mahal

The Rang Mahal housed the emperor's wives and mistresses. Its name means "Palace of Colours", since it was brightly painted and decorated with a mosaic of mirrors. The central marble pool is fed by the Nahr-i-Behisht.

Khas Mahal

The Khas Mahal was the emperor's apartment. Connected to it is the Muthamman Burj, an octagonal tower where he appeared before the people waiting on the riverbank.

Hammam

The hammam were the imperial baths, consisting of three domed rooms floored with white marble.

Moti Masjid

West of the hammam is the Moti Masjid, the Pearl Mosque. A later addition, it was built in 1659 as a private mosque for Aurangzeb. It is a small, three-domed mosque carved in white marble, with a three-arched screen leading down to the courtyard.

Hira Mahal

The Hira Mahal is a pavilion on the southern edge of the fort, built under Bahadur Shah II and at the end of the Hayat Baksh garden. The Moti Mahal on the northern edge, a twin building, was destroyed during (or after) the 1857 rebellion.

Shahi Burj

The Shahi Burj was the emperor's main study of the; its name means "Emperor's Tower", and it originally had a chhatri on top. Heavily damaged, the tower is undergoing reconstruction. In front of it is a marble pavilion added by Aurangzeb.

Hayat Bakhsh Bagh

The Hayat Bakhsh Bagh is the "Life-Bestowing Garden" in the northeast part of the complex. It features a reservoir (now dry) and channels, and at each end is a white marble pavilion (Savon and Bhadon). In the centre of the reservoir is the red-sandstone Zafar Mahal, added about 1842 under Bahadur Shah II.

Smaller gardens (such as the Mehtab Bagh or Moonlight Garden) existed west of it, but were destroyed when the British barracks were built. There are plans to restore the gardens. Beyond these, the road to the north leads to an arched bridge and the Salimgarh Fort.

 

Sources: Wikipedia

 


 

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