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Mr. Naresh Chandra

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Mr. D. P. Gautam

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Dr. Maleeha Lodhi

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Dr. W. Rasaputram

Delhi - the resilient city


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the-south-asian.com                         December  2000

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Delhi - the resilient city

Milestones of the last millennium - Part I
AD 1000 - AD 2000




Delhi remains one of the oldest surviving cities in the world today. It is in fact, an amalgam of eight cities, each built in a different era on a different site – each era leaving its mark, and adding character to it – and each ruler leaving a personal layer of architectural identity. It has evolved into a culturally secular city – absorbing different religions, diverse cultures, both foreign and indigenous, and yet functioning as one organic entity. It was known for its riches – both material and cultural – foreign travellers were hypnotised by it – books have been written on it since time immemorial, poets have loved it and Kings and Emperors have fought over it. 

Delhi has a history of resilience – plundered, looted and destroyed several times over by central Asian and Persian rulers – the city always returned to its cultural sophistication and intellectual sensitivity – a tribute to the undying spirit of the citizens of Delhi. An inscription on one of the walls at Diwan – I – Khas in the Red Fort describes Delhi as

"If on earth there be a place of bliss

It is this, it is this, it is this"

Mir Taqi Mir, a poet from Delhi, wrote:

"The streets of Delhi are not mere streets;

They are like the album of a painter"

The streets of Delhi have also flown red with blood – it has seen massacres of the innocent, yet the same streets have also seen the joy of freedom.

The first city of Delhi was Indraprastha founded by the Pandavas at the time of Mahabharata. Much later, the Tomar Rajputs, who ruled over Delhi, founded Dhillika; Alauddin Khilji built Siri; Tughlaqs added Tughlaqabad, Jahanpanah and Firozabad. Humayun constructed his capital city Din Panah. His grandson Shahjahan built Shahjahanabad and almost a century and a half later Lutyen designed New Delhi – the Imperial capital of the British Raj. New Delhi was inaugurated in 1931. Today Delhi spills into the adjoining states of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh – still thriving in different eras of its rich history – and in step also with the rest of the world. Following are the milestones in the city’s historic past – information contained therein is compiled from various sources, prominent among them ‘India – a Country Study’, ‘Delhi’ by Khushwant Singh, ‘The Great Mughals’ by Bamber Gascoigne, ‘The Mughals – Splendours of the Peacock Throne’, and ‘The City of Djinns’.  It is not within the scope of this issue to contain and publish all the happenings in Delhi since the time of its earliest recorded history. The article has therefore been divided into three sections. This is Part I of the series - up to the Sultanate period – and looks at the significant policies of its rulers, their wisdom, their architectural contribution, and the development of other schools of spiritual thought.

Brief history

Grey earthenware pottery, found at Tilpat, near Delhi, belongs to BC 1000 or earlier – suggesting a city more than 3000 years old. The Mauryas, Kushans and the Guptas held sway over the region for centuries and the Tomar Rajputs came to rule Delhi in the seventh and the eighth centuries. Surajpal Tomar was one of their foremost chieftains – Surajkund in Delhi, now the site of an annual arts and crafts fair, was named after him. Anangpal Tomar, a later ruler fortified the town of Anangpur and also built a dam to harness rainwater. He later built his own capital city of red sandstone and called it Lal Kot. Prithvi Raj Chauhan was the last Hindu ruler of Delhi. He renamed Anangpur and called it Qila Rai Pithora.

Prithviraj Chauhan was also the first ruler of Delhi to face the onslaught of a foreign army – that of Mohammad Ghor who was defeated and pardoned by Prithviraj. The following year Mohammad Ghor led another invasion in which Prithviraj was defeated and killed. Thereafter Delhi was controlled by foreigners – first from Turkey, then by Afghans, later from central Asia, and subsequently from Britain. The first few waves of foreign invasion were nothing more than plundering and looting expeditions, beginning in the eighth century. Islam came to India, and hence to Delhi, as the faith of these foreign armies.

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