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The Red Fort, known locally as Lal Qila (Hindi: लाल क़िला) is a 17th-century fort complex constructed by the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan in the walled city of Old Delhi (in present day Delhi, India) that served as the residence of the Mughal Emperors. The design is commonly credited to Mughal architect Ustad Ahmad. The fort was the palace for Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan's new capital, Shahjahanabad, the seventh city in the Delhi site. He moved his capital here from Agra in a move designed to bring prestige to his reign, and to provide ample opportunity to apply his ambitious building schemes and interests. It served as the capital of the Mughals until 1857, when Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar was exiled by the British Indian government.
The fort lies along the Yamuna River, which fed the moats that surround most of the walls. The wall at its north-eastern corner is adjacent to an older fort, the Salimgarh Fort, a defence built by Islam Shah Suri in 1546. The construction of the Red Fort began in 1638 and was completed by 1648. The Red Fort has had many developments added on after its construction by Emperor Shah Jahan. The significant phases of development were under Aurangzeb and later under later Mughal rulers. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007. The earlier Red Fort was built by Tomara king Anangpala, now known as the Qulb Mosque.
The Red Fort derives its name from the extensive use of red sandstone on the massive walls that surround the fort. Shah Jahan commissioned the construction of the Red Fort in 1638 when he decided to shift his capital from Agra to Delhi. Ustad Ahmad was chosen as the architect for construction of the royal palace. Construction began in the auspicious month of Muharram on 13 May 1638.:01 Construction of the fort was supervised by Shah Jahan himself and was completed in 1648. The Red Fort was originally referred to as "Qila-i-Mubarak" (the blessed fort), because it was the residence of the royal family. Unlike the other Mughal forts, layout of the boundary walls of the Red Fort is not symmetrical so as to retain and integrate the older Salimgarh Fort.:04 The fortress palace was an important focal point of the medieval city of Shahjahanabad (present day Old Delhi). The planning and aesthetics of the Red Fort represent the zenith of Mughal creativity which prevailed during the reign of emperor Shah Jahan. Aurangzeb, Shah Jahan's successor, added the Moti Masjid to the emperor's private quarters and constructed barbicans in front of the two main gates, which made the entrance route to the palace more circuitous.:08
The administrative and fiscal structure of the Mughals declined after Aurangzeb. The 18th century thus saw a degeneration of the palace and inhabitants of the Red Fort. When Jahandar Shah took over the Red Fort in 1712, the palace had been without an emperor for 30 years. Within a year of his rule, Jahandar Shah was murdered and replaced by Farukhsiyar. To combat the declining finances, the silver ceiling of the palace Rang Mahal was replaced by copper during this period. Muhammad Shah, who was also known as Rangila (the colourful) for his deep interest in arts, took over the Red Fort in 1719. In 1739, Nadir Shah, the Persian emperor, attacked the Mughals. The Mughal army was easily defeated and Nadir Shah plundered the Red Fort of its riches including the Peacock Throne. Nadir Shah returned to Persia after three months leaving a destroyed city and a weakening Mughal empire to Muhammad Shah.:09 The internal weaknesses of the Mughal empire turned Mughals into titular heads of Delhi. A treaty signed in 1752 made Marathas the protector of the throne at Delhi. The Maratha conquest of Lahore and Peshawar in 1758, put them in direct confrontation with Ahmad Shah Durrani. In 1760, the Marathas removed and melted the Silver ceiling of the Diwan-i-Khas to generate 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. In 1771, Shah Alam ascended to the throne in Delhi with the support of the Marathas.:10 In 1783, the Sikh Misl Karorisinghia, led by Baghel Singh Dhaliwal, conquered Delhi and the Red Fort. Sikhs agreed to restore Shah Alam as the emperor and retreat from the fort on the condition that Mughals would construct and protect seven historical Gurudwaras in Delhi associated with the Sikh gurus.
In 1803, during the Second Anglo-Maratha War, the forces of British East India Company defeated the Maratha forces in the Battle of Delhi, ending the Maratha rule over the city and their control over the fort. After the battle, British took over the administration of Mughal territories and installed a Resident at the Mughal courts in Red Fort.:11 The last Mughal emperor to occupy the fort, Bahadur Shah II "Zafar", emerged as a symbol of the 1857 rebellion against the British in which the residents of Shahjahanbad participated.:15
Despite being the seat of Mughal power and its defensive capabilities, the Red Fort was not defended during the 1857 uprising against the British. After the failure of the rebellion, 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 and was tried in 1858. He was exiled to Rangoon on 7 October of the same year. With the end of the Mughal reign, the British gave official sanctions to remove and sell valuables from the palace at the Red Fort.They put down the harem apartments and instead of them erected a line of barracks. After Indian Independence, the site experienced few changes in terms of addition or alteration to the structures. The Red Fort continued to be used as a cantonment even after Independence. A significant part of the fort remained under the control of the Indian Army until 22 December 2003, when it was handed over to the Archaeological Survey of India for restoration.
The Red Fort covers a total area of about 254.67 acres enclosed within 2.4 kilometres of defence walls. The walls are punctuated by turrets and bastions. They vary in height from 18 m on the river side to 33 m on the city side. The fort is shaped like an octagon with the north-south axis longer than the east-west axis. The use of marble, floral decorations, double domes in the buildings inside the fort exemplifies the later phase of Mughal architecture.
It showcases a very high level of art form and ornamental work. It is believed that the Kohinoor diamond was a part of the furniture. The art work in the Fort is a synthesis of Persian, European and Indian art which resulted in the development of unique Shahjahani style which is very rich in form, expression and colour. Red Fort is one of the important building complexes of India which encapsulates a long period of Indian history and its arts. Even before its notification as a monument of national importance in the year 1913, efforts were made to preserve and conserve the Red Fort, for posterity.
The walls of Lahore and Delhi gates were for the general public and Khizrabad Gate was for emperor's personal use.:04 The Lahore Gate is the main entrance leading to the domed arcade containing shops called the Chatta Chowk (covered bazaar). Silk, jewellery and other items which catered to the royal household were sold in Chatta Chowk in the Mughal period. Chatta Chowk leads to a large open space where it crosses the large north-south street that was originally the division between the fort's military functions, to its west, and the palaces, to its east. The southern end of this street is the Delhi Gate.
The Lahore gate is the main gate to the Red Fort named after its orientation towards Lahore, Pakistan. It is said that during Aurangzeb's reign the beauty of both the gates was spoiled by adding bastions: "The vista like a veil drawn across the face of a beautiful woman". Every year since Indian Independence Day 1947, the national flag has been raised and the Prime Minister has made a speech from the ramparts at the Lahore Gate. In the 1980s, the security of the area was increased by blocking the tower windows as a security measure against sniper attacks. A lift was also added to the gate.
The southern public gate.
In the Diwan-i-Aam (or the Hall of Public Audiences) the Emperor, seated in a canopied alcove, would hear complaints and pleas of the commoners through a jharokha (balcony). The hall was ornamented with stuccowork and featured a series of gold columns. It also included a large railing that separated the commoners from the emperor. The Diwan-i-Aam was also used for state functions. The spacious mardana or courtyard behind the Diwan-i-Aam is surrounded by several interesting structures.
In the Diwan-i-Khas( or the Hall of Private Audiences) the Emperor held private meetings with courtiers and state guests. The hall comprises a rectangular chamber with engraved arched openings supported on piers, on all of its sides. Each of the piers is gilded, painted and decorated with floral designs. Pillared chatris (umbrellas) cover the corners of the roof. At the centre of the chamber, the famous Peacock Throne throne was placed over a marble pedestal. The throne was looted in 1739 by Nadir Shah. Two of the marble pedestals were taken away by Captain Tytler from the fort after the 1857 uprising and one of these is located at the New York Metropolitan Museum. In 1760, the Marathas removed and melted the Silver ceiling of the Diwan-i-Khas to generate funds for the defence of Delhi from the Afghan invader Ahmed Shah Durrani. Nahr-i-Bihisht or the "stream of paradise" flowed through the centre of the hall. The arches at the corner of the walls contain the inscription of the famous verse of the 9th century Persian poet Ferdowsi, which reads– "Agar Firdaus Bar Rooe Zaminast Haminasto Haminasto Haminast" ("If there be a paradise on the earth, it is this, it is this, it is this").
The imperial private apartments lie behind the throne. The apartments consist of a row of pavilions that sits on a raised platform along the eastern edge of the fort, looking out onto the river Yamuna. The pavilions are connected by a continuous water channel, known as the Nahr-i-Behisht, or the "Stream of Paradise", that runs through the centre of each pavilion. The water is drawn from the river Yamuna, from a tower, the Shahi Burj, at the north-eastern corner of the fort. The palace is designed as an imitation of paradise as it is described in the Quran; a couplet repeatedly inscribed in the palace reads, "If there be a paradise on earth, it is here, it is here". The planning of the palace is based on Islamic prototypes, but each pavilion reveals in its architectural elements the Hindu influences typical of Mughal building. The palace complex of the Red Fort is counted among the best examples of the Mughal style.
The two southernmost pavilions of the palace are zenanas, or women's quarters: the Mumtaz Mahal (now a museum), and the larger, lavish Rang Mahal, which has been famous for its gilded, decorated ceiling and marble pool, fed by the Nahr-i-Behisht.
To the west of the hammam is the Moti Masjid, the Pearl Mosque. This was a later addition, built in 1659 as a private mosque for Aurangzeb, Shah Jahan's successor. It is a small, three-domed mosque carved in white marble, with a three-arched screen which steps down to the courtyard.
The Moti Masjid measures approximately 12 × 9 metres, with a height of nearly 8 metres.
Hayat Bakhsh Bagh
Mughals brought with them the West Asian tradition of developing gardens to symbolically represent paradise on earth. Planning and design of the Hayat Bakhsh Bagh or "Life-Bestowing Garden" was integrated into the design of the Red Fort. The garden comprised many aesthetically designed structures such as, tanks, pavilions, water channels and fountains which complimented flowers of varying colours and trees of various kinds. The pavilions were decorated with stonework and lit by lamps at night. A few other smaller gardens like the Mehtab Bagh (moonlight garden) were also constructed in the Red Fort.:07 Two pavilions called Savon and Bhadon stand at either end of the north-south channel. Two smaller pavilions were added in 1842 by the last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, one of which still stands along the eastern wall.
Other attractions within Red Fort include:
- The Hammams (Royal Baths)
- The Muthamman-Burj was the octagonal tower where the emperor appeared before the commoners.
- The Rang Mahal (Palace of Colours) housed the Emperor's wives and mistresses. This palace was crowned with gilded turrets. It was painted and decorated with an intricate mosaic of mirrors. It also had a ceiling overlaid with gold and silver that was reflected in a central pool, which was located in the marble floor of the palace.
- Naqqar Khana (Drum House) was located at the entrance point of the Rang Mahal. Music was played at specific times in the day alongside a large gate. People who visited the fort and would come on elephants, would get off of at this gate.
Red Fort today
Every year on 15 August, the day India achieved independence from the British, Prime Minister hoists the national flag at the Red Fort, followed by a nationally broadcast speech from its ramparts. The Red Fort is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Old Delhi, attracting thousands of visitors every year. It also happens to be the largest monument in Old Delhi.
Today, a sound and light show describing Mughal history is a tourist attraction in the evenings. The general condition of the major architectural features is mixed. None of the water features, which are extensive, contain water. Some of the buildings are in fairly good condition and have their decorative elements undisturbed. In others, the marble inlay flowers have been removed by looters and vandals. The tea house, though not in its historical state, is a functioning restaurant. The mosque and hamam are closed to the public, though one can catch peeks through the glass windows or marble lattice work. Walkways are left mostly in a crumbling state. Public toilets are available at the entrance and inside the park.
The entrance through the Lahore Gate leads to a retail mall with jewellery and crafts stores. There is a museum of "blood paintings" depicting young Indian martyrs of the 20th century along with the story of their martyrdom. There is also an archaeological museum and an Indian war memorial museum.
To prevent terrorist attacks, security is especially tightened around the Red Fort on the eve of Indian Independence Day. Delhi Police and paramilitary personnel keep a vigil on the neighbourhoods around the fort. Sharpshooters of the National Security Guard are deployed on high rises near the Red Fort. The aerial space around the fort is declared a no-fly zone during the celebration to prevent aerial attacks, Safe houses are picked in nearby areas where the Prime Minister and other Indian leaders can be rushed to in case of an attack.
The fort was the site of a terrorist attack on 22 December 2000 carried out by six terrorists of the Lashkar-e-Toiba. Two soldiers and a civilian were killed, in what was described by the media as an attempt to derail the India-Pakistan peace talks and relations.
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