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Coordinates: 28°36′36″N 77°14′42″E / 28.610°N 77.245°E / 28.610; 77.245

Purana Qila or Old Fort Ramparts, and Lake, Delhi

Purana Qila or Old Fort, as seen from National Zoo, Delhi

Purana Qila (Hindi language: पुराना क़िला, Urdu language: پُرانا قلعہ‎ , translation: Old Fort), is the oldest fort among all forts in Delhi and, the oldest known structure of any type in Delhi. It was re built by the Afghan king Sher Shah Suri, on the same site, which was perhaps the site of Indraprastha, believed to be the capital of the Pandavas, Sher Shah raised the citadel of Purana-Qal'a with an extensive city-area sprawling around it. It seems that the Purana-Qal'a was still incomplete at Sher Shah's death in 1545, and was perhaps completed by his son Islam Shah or Humayun, although it is not certain which parts were built by whom. It's located at the site of the legendary city of Indraprastha, that was founded by Pandavas on the banks of perennial river Yamuna, which is revered by Hindus since ages, points to the possibility of this site's history dating back to nearly more than 5000 years old. Consequently the fort is considered by some, to be 'the first city of Delhi'.[1] Researchers now confirm[2] that uptill 1913, a village called Indrapat existed with in the fort walls. Excavations carried out by Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) at Purana Quila in 1954-55 (trial trenches)[3] and again 1969 to 1973 by its Director, B B Lal have unearthed Painted Grey Ware dating 1000 B.C., and with a continuous cultural sequence from Mauryan to Mughal through Sunga, Kushana, Gupta, Rajput and Sultanate periods, confirming the antiquity of the fort.

Fort in Medieval Period

Fort was called as the inner citadel of the city of Dina-panah during Humayun's rule who renovated it in 1533 and completed five years later.[4] Purana Qila and its environs flourished as the "sixth city of Delhi".

The founder of the Suri Dynasty, Sher Shah Suri, defeated Humayun in 1540, naming the fort Shergarh;[5] he added several more structures in the complex during his five-year reign until his death in 1545.

Subsequently Islam Shah took over the reins of North India from this fort, but shifted his capital to Gwalior, as it was supposed to be a safer capital in that period, leaving the charge of Delhi and Punjab to his Hindu Governor and military General Hemu. After Islam Shah's death in 1553, Adil Shah Suri took charge of North India and appointed Hemu as the Prime Minister-cum-Chief of Army and himself retired in Chunar fort in eastern UP. According to Abul Fazal, Hemu became virtual king and had all authority of appointments and other decisions making. Hemu was busy in quelling rebellion in east India and this fort remained neglected. Humayun, who was based in Kabul at this time, seized the opportunity to re-capture the citadel and the seat of Delhi in 1555, fifteen years after abandoning it following his defeats at the hands of the Suri Dynasty in the Battles of Chausa and Kannauj. Humayun's reign proved brief thereafter; he died following an accidental fall within the fort complex at Sher Mandal only a year later, in Jan. 1556.[6]

Hearing about re-capture of Delhi by Humayun, Hemu, the Hindu Prime Minister – cum – Chief of Army of Adil Shah, rushed towards Delhi from Bengal, where he had just quelled a rebellion, defeating and killing Muhhamad Shah, the ruler of Bengal. After capturing Agra, Itawah, and Kanpur with relative ease, Hemu, who had won 22 battles spanning entire north India,[7] met and defeated the forces of Akbar, which were led by Tardi Beg Khan, in the Battle for Delhi, which took place in the Tuglaqabad area on 5–6 October 1556. Hemu had his Rajyabhishek or Coronation at Purana Quila on 7 October 1556, declared 'Hindu Raj' in North India, and was bestowed the title of Samrat Hem Chandra Vikramaditya. Hemu, who later lost his life at the Second battle of Panipat in Nov. 1556, subsequently had his torso hung outside this fort to create terror among Hindus.


The walls of the Fort rise to a height of 18 metres, traverse about 1.5 km, and have three arched gateways: the Bara Darwaza (Big Gate) facing west, which is still in use today; the south gate, also popularly known as the 'Humayun Gate' (probably so known because it was constructed by Humayun, or perhaps because Humayun's Tomb is visible from there); and lastly, the 'Talaqi Gate', often known as the "forbidden gate". All the gates are double-storeyed sandstone structures flanked by two huge semi-circular bastion towers, decorated with white and coloured-marble inlays and blue tiles. They are replete with detailing, including ornate overhanging balconies, or jharokhas, and are topped by pillared pavilions (chhatris), all features that are reminiscent of Rajasthani architecture as seen in the North and South Gates, and which were amply repeated in future Mughal architecture. Despite the grandeurs of the exterior, few of interior structures have survived except the Qila-i Kuhna Mosque and the Shermandal, both credited to Sher Shah.[8]


Humayun Gate (Southern Ramparts) from inside, Purana Qila, Delhi

Delhi is thought to be located at the site of the legendary city of Indraprastha founded by the Pandavas from Mahabharata period, which is consequently considered the 'First City of Delhi',[9] In support of this, until 1913, a village called Indrapat existed within the fort walls.[10]

Unfortunately the dates in support of Indraprastha and said five thousand year old city clash directly with proof found in other sites in India, namely the Indus Valley Civilization

Cultural cross reference of the larger Indian sphere at the time, negates many modern commonly accepted theories.


Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) carried out excavations at Purana Qila in 1954–55 and again from 1969 to 1973 by B. B. Lal, and its findings and artefacts are exhibited at the Archaeological Museum, Purana Qila. This includes Painted Grey Ware, dating 1000 BC, and various objects and pottery signifying continuous habitation from Mauryan to Sunga, Kushana, Gupta, Rajput, Delhi Sultanate and Mughal periods.[11][12]


Lal Darwaza or Sher Shah Suri Gate, now stands opposite Purana Qila.

Samrat Hem Chandra Vikramaditya,the Hindu King who was crowned at Purana Qila, Delhi on 7 October 1556

Purana Qila, situated on the banks of Yamuna, was constructed by the Pandavas as Indraprastha 5,000 years ago, during the period of the Indus Valley civilization. It is where Humayun's capital Din Panah was located. Later it was renovated and named Shergarh by the first Afghan emperor of India, Sher Shah Suri. The Hindu king Hemu (Samrat Hem Chandra Vikramaditya), often referred to as the last Hindu emperor of India, was crowned there after defeating Akbar's forces in the Battle of Delhi (1556) on 7 October 1556. The Fort was supposed to be unlucky for rulers who occupied the site; Humayun, Sher Shah Suri, and Hemu all had but relatively brief tenures ensconced there - Humayun on two separate occasions, having lost the fort to Sher Shah only five years after erecting it, and dying within a year of recapturing it 15 years later. Akbar did not rule from here and Shahjahan built a new fort in Delhi known as Lal Qila ("Red Fort").

When Edwin Lutyens designed the new capital of British India, New Delhi in 1920s, he aligned the central vista, now Rajpath, with Purana Qila.[13] During the Partition of India, in August 1947 the Purana Qila along with the neighbouring Humayun's Tomb, became the site for refuge camps for Muslims migrating to newly founded Pakistan. This included over 12,000 government employees who had opted for service in Pakistan, and between 150,000–200,000 Muslim refugees,[14] who swarmed inside Purana Qila by September 1947, when Indian government took over the management of the two camps. The Purana Qila camp remained functional till early 1948, as the trains to Pakistan waited till October 1947 to start.[15]

In the 1970s, the ramparts of Purana Qila were first used as a backdrop for theatre, when three productions of the National School of Drama were staged here: Tughlaq, Andha Yug and Sultan Razia, directed by Ebrahim Alkazi. In later decades it has been the venue of various important theatre productions, cultural events, and concerts.[16] Today, it is the venue of a daily sound and light presentation after sunset, on the history of the "Seven Cities of Delhi", from Indraprastha through New Delhi.[17]

Qila-i-Kuhna Mosque

Qila Kuhna Masjid inside Purana Qila, Delhi.

The single-domed Qila-i-Kuna Mosque, built by Sher Shah in 1541 is an excellent example of a pre-Mughal design, and an early example of the extensive use of the pointed arch in the region as seen in its five doorways with the 'true' horseshoe-shaped arches. It was designed as a Jami Mosque, or Friday mosque for the Sultan and his courtiers. The prayer hall inside, the single-aisled mosque, measures 51.20m by 14.90m and has five elegant arched prayer niches or mihrabs set in its western wall. Marble in shades of red, white and slate is used for the calligraphic inscriptions on the central iwan, marks a transition from Lodhi to Mughal architecture. At one time, the courtyard had a shallow tank, with a fountain.

A second storey, accessed through staircases from the prayer hall, with a narrow passage running along the rectangular hall, provided space for female courtiers to pray, while the arched doorway on the left wall, framed by ornate jharokas, was reserved for members of the royal family.[18] On a marble slab within mosque an inscription thus read, "As long as there are people on the earth, may this edifice be frequented and people be happy and cheerful in it".[10] Today it is the best preserved building the Purana Qila.[19][20]

Sher Mandal

Humayuns private library Purana Qila.

The Sher Mandal named so after Farid (sher shah) who had tried to finish what was orderd by Babur but had died during the initial phase and so construction was halted until the arrival of Humayun. This double-storeyed octagonal tower of red sandstone with steep stairs leading up to the roof was intended to be higher than its existing height. Its original builder was Babur who orderd the construction and was used as a personal observatory and library for his son Humayun, finished only after he recaptured the fort. It is also one of the first observatories of Delhi, the first being in Pir Gharib at Hindu Rao at Ridge built in 14th century by Firoz shah Tughlaq. The tower is topped by an octagonal chhatri supported by eight pillars and decorated with white marble in typical Mughal style. Inside there are remnants of the decorative plaster-work and traces of stone-shelving where, presumably, the emperor's books were placed. This was also the spot where, on 24 January 1556 Humayun fell from the second floor to his death. He slipped while hastening to the evening prayers, following his hobby of astronomical star gazing at the top of this private observatory. He fell headlong down the stairs and died of his injuries two days later. Entry inside the library is now prohibited.

Outlying monuments

Several other monument also lie around the complex, like Kairul Manzil, mosque built by Maham Anga, Akbar's foster-mother, and which was later used as a madarsa. Sher Shah Suri Gate or Lal Darwaza, which was the South Gate to Shergarh, the city he founded, also lies opposite the Purana Qila complex, across Mathura Road, south-east of the Kairul Manzil.


Further reading

  • The Seven Cities of Delhi, by Hearn, Gordon Risley. 2005. ISBN 81-7305-300-6.
  • Invisible City—The Hidden Monuments of Delhi, by Rakhshanda Jalil, photographs by Prabhas Roy, Niyogi Books. 2008. ISBN 81-89738-14-3.


  1. Delhi City The Imperial Gazetteer of India,1909,Vol 11,Page 236
  2. Delhi City Guide, by Eicher Goodearth Limited, Delhi Tourism, Published by : Eicher Goodearth Limited, 1998. ISBN 81 - 900601 - 2 - 0 page 62
  3. Archaeological Survey of India. "Error: no |title= specified when using {{Cite web}}". 
  4. Muqarnas: An Annual on Islamic Art and Architecture, by Oleg Grabar. Published by BRILL, 1988. ISBN 90-04-08155-0. Page 133.
  5. "Shergarh (The Citadel of Sher Suri)". 
  6. Delhi Forts: Old Fort Delhi
  7. Bhardwaj, Kanwal Kishore; foreword by P.N. Chopra (2000). Hemu : Napoleon of Medieval India. New Delhi: Mittal Publications. pp. 59–60. ISBN 81-7099-663-5. Retrieved 29 May 2012. 
  8. Petersen, Andrew (1996). Dictionary of Islamic architecture. Routledge. p. 201. ISBN 0-415-06084-2.,+Delhi#v=onepage&q=Purana%20Qila%2C%20Delhi&f=false. Retrieved 11 August 2009. 
  9. Delhi City The Imperial Gazetteer of India, 1909, v. 11, p. 236..
  10. 10.0 10.1 Delhi city guide, by Eicher Goodearth Limited, Delhi Tourism. Published by Eicher Goodearth Limited, 1998. ISBN 81-900601-2-0. Page 162.
  11. Archaeological Museum, Purana Qila (New Delhi) Archaeological Survey of India website.
  12. Singh, Upinder (2006). Delhi: Ancient History. Berghahn Books. p. 53. ISBN 81-87358-29-7.,+Delhi#v=onepage&q=Purana%20Qila%2C%20Delhi&f=false. Retrieved 11 August 2009. 
  13. Polk, Emily (1963). Delhi, old & new. Rand McNally. p. 76. 
  14. Kamra, Sukeshi (2002). Bearing Witness: Partition, Independence, End of the Raj. University of Calgary Press. p. 174. ISBN 1-55238-041-6. 
  15. Zamindar, Vazira Fazila-Yacoobali (2007). The long partition and the making of modern South Asia: refugees, boundaries, histories. Columbia University Press. p. 34. ISBN 023113846. 
  16. "A little peek into history". The Hindu. 2 May 2008. 
  17. Sound and Light Show at Purana Quila by DTDC
  18. Qila-i Kuhna Mosque
  19. Islamic architecture of the Indian Subcontinent, by Bianca Maria Alfieri. Laurence King Pub., 2000. ISBN 3-8238-5443-7. Page 193.
  20. "Delhi’s Belly: Unknown city, Glimpses of Delhi’s past through monuments that dot almost every neighbourhood". Live Mint. 1 April 2011. 

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