The weather was tailor made for a cool and sweat free afternoon when I went to Red Fort. It’s more appropriate to call Lal Qila when you talk to Autowallas or ask direction from common men. Chances are they wouldn’t have heard of Red Fort.
The wall on the front gate runs parallel to the Chandni Chowk-Daryaganj road. On India’s Independence every year the Prime Minister of India addresses the nation from the pavilion on top of the Front gate entrance. Though the stand is empty, a proud Indian flag flutters ceaselessly on top of the Fort.
The Fort is flanked by Chandni Chowk on one side and Yamuna River on the other side. The Fort covers an area of 254.67 acres. Construction work began in 1638 and was completed in 1648. The Fort was earlier called, ‘Qila-i-Mubarak’ (the blessed Fort) because it was the residence of the Royals. The Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan shifted his Capital from Agra and built the Fort and it served as the Capital of the Mughals till they were overthrown by the British in 1857. The last Mughal Emperor to occupy the palace was Bahadur Shah II “Zafar”. So it has been 155 years since the Mughals used this place as the capital of their kingdom.
The tall, main entrance is known as the Lahore gate. It also marks the beginning of the covered bazaar known as the Chatta Chowk. The idea of covered Bazaar was unusual during those days. Shah Jahan was inspired by the one he saw at Peshawar in 1646. Flanked by 32 arcade apartments or shops on each side, the bazaar still exists today modeled on the Mughal era shops. It is one of the most exciting places to visit inside the Fort.
There’s another important gate known as Naubat Khana that opens to the Diwan-i-Am and the palatial complex. It served as the place to welcome and announce the arrivals of the Royals. Now it serves as a museum along with the Mumtaj Mahal. Musicians at Naubat Khana also played music at appointed times during the day. Diwan-i-Am or the hall of Public Audience was the place where Shah Jahan met common people and listened to their grievances.
Diwan-i-Khas or the hall of private audience is the most important building inside the fort. The lower pier and pillars of the building is inlaid with flowers and the ceilings finely gilded and painted with silver and gold. But, only a pale shadow of the glory remains today. It was also the building where the famous peacock throne was kept. The spacious courtyard was the place where animal fights (between elephants and Lion) were organized for the entertainment of the royals. The beautiful pavilion of the Diwan-i-Khas along with Nahr-i-Bihisht or the "stream of paradise" and the spacious courtyard was so beautiful in those days that the famous Sufi Poet Amir Khusrow wrote, “If there be a paradise on the earth, it is this, it is this, it is this.” This Palace was designed as an imitation of paradise.
Some important places include the Hammam and the Moti Masjid which are located side by side. Hammam or the public bath house is an important culture of the Mughals. The history of Hammam can be traced back in the 16th century, at Purana Qila. On the North, the large spacious park stands guard. It is also called the life bestowing garden. A red sand stone pavilion known as Zafar Mahal stood in the centre. It is also a large water tank to store rain water to water the garden.
Red Fort has changed hands many times. After 1857 the British destroyed the residential places and built houses. It was used as the Headquarter for the British India Army. Later, after India’s Independence it fell into the hands of Indian Army until it was handed to Indian Tourist Authorities in 2003. Instead of ruing of the glorious past, I’m quite amazed at how this palace have survived so many such phases and still stand with much pride.