The Red Fort was built by Emperor Shahjahan in the 17th century and is an example of the intrinsic Mughal architectural finesse. The fort served as a residence to the Imperial Family of India and as the capital of the Mughal Empire until 1857. Designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, the Red Fort or the Lal Qila at Old Delhi is an intriguing structure.
The foundation of the Red Fort was laid in 1638 and a decade later the massive fort stood proudly at service. It was called as the ‘Qila-e-Mubarak’ or the blessed fort as it housed the royal family. The reign of Shahjahan saw the peak of architectural creativity, which made him shift his capital from Agra to Delhi. He aspired to quench his thirst of building amazing structures to his credit and leave his mark behind. The fort, set in red sandstone was built aesthetically to represent the might of the Mughal Empire and to be an admirable palace of Shahjahan’s capital Shahjahanabad. The construction of the Red Fort added a feather to his cap.
The city of Shahajanabad was built from scratch to a comprehensive, lively city. It was a well planned and voluptuous settlement that was absorbed in the royal Mughal flavors. The Red Fort stood at the centre of this and its moats were fed by the River Yamuna. It was a city within a city with its own markets, gardens and exclusive mansions constructed for some favored courtiers. Considering the glittering palaces that it contains, it can be misunderstood as a mere luxurious residence, but it also served as a defensive power base.
The fort is embellished with exquisite and articulate work that is a fusion of European, Persian and Indian art. This style of art is called as the Shahjahani style and is regarded as a very imperial and rich form of art. The fort has two main gates, the Lahore gate and the Delhi gate. The Lahore gate is the main entrance that leads the way to the Chandani Chowk, a huge market place. The Delhi gate lies to the southern end of this street.
The fort holds beautiful pavilions inside itself. Diwan-i-Aam is a large pavilion for the common audiences and an ornate balcony for the King. The Diwan-i-Khas is made in marble and its pillars are carved with floral designs, it was made for public meetings.
“Stream of Paradise” or the Nahr-i-Behisht is a continuous water channel that connected the private apartments of the royals. It runs through the centre of each of the pavilions. The water that runs through the channel is drawn from the River Yamuna. The design of the palace has been inspired from the description of Heaven in the Koran, the holy book of the Muslims, and various inscriptions on inside the palace read ‘If there is Heaven on earth, it is here, it is here.’ The two pavilions towards the south of the palace are called as the Zenanas. These were the quarters of the women. One is the Mumtaz Mahal which is now a museum and the other is the Rang Mahal. The Rang Mahal is famous for its intricately decorated ceiling and a marble pool that is filled with the water from the Nahr-i-Behisht.
Some significant constructions were added to the fort under the rule of Aurangzeb. The Moti Masjid or the Pearl Mosque was built as a private mosque for Aurangzeb in 1659. It is carved in marble and has three domes. A large formal garden, Hayat Bakhsh Bagh (Life-bestowing garden) was built by Bahadur Shah Zafar in 1842. He was the last Mughal Emperor to inhabit the fort before it was annexed by the British in 1857. After independence, several changes were made to the fort’s appearance.
Today, the Red Fort is one of the most visited monuments in India. The Indian Independence Day is celebrated with zest in the premises of the fort and the Indian Prime Minister addresses the nation. The Fort was handed over to the Tourism Authorities of India in December 2003 by the Indian Army. A sound and light show is conducted inside the premises of the fort in the evenings. It guides a tourist through the history of the Mughal Empire. There is an Archeological Museum and an Indian War Museum that must be visited to know more about the fort.
A walk through the fort is visually pleasing as most of the buildings are intact even after loots and attacks that took place centuries ago. But, there is no water in the water channels that connect the pavilions. However, the beauty of the carvings and art work are enough to charm one and all. The aura helps a visitor imagine life inside the fort at the times of Emperor Shahjahan. What more to ask for than a time travel to a golden period in history?
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Emperor Shahjahan sat on a Peacock Throne (Takht-e-Tavus) which was specially designed. This throne had peacocks standing behind it. The plumes of the peacocks were encrusted with sapphires, rubies, pearls, emeralds and various other precious stones. The famous Kohinoor diamond was placed in this throne. The throne stood on 4 feet of gold. Twelve columns rose above them and were decorated with diamonds, rubies, pearls and emeralds. In all, the throne had 116 emeralds and 108 large rubies. Four historical diamonds (Akbar Shah, the Jehangir, the Shah) including the Kohinoor decorated it apart from world’s second largest spinel ruby the Timur Ruby. Poems praising Shahjahan were embedded in emeralds on the throne. However, the throne has no traces in history after it was stolen by Nader Shah, a Persian ruler.
Emperor Shahjahan also built the great mausoleum, the Taj Mahal, in the loving memory of his beautiful wife Mumtaz Mahal. It is one of the Seven Wonders of the World and is also known as the ‘jewel of the Muslim art in India.’ A World Heritage Site, it is regarded as the symbol of eternal love.
On the day of his death, Emperor Shahjahan was one of the most powerful men on the earth as his empire spanned an area of 3,000,000 square kilometers. It is also believed that he commissioned 777 gardens in Kashmir; few of these have survived the sands of time and attract tourists even today. He is known as the greatest patron of art.
A crater is named after Shahjahan on the asteroid 433 Eros.
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