A City with a Rich History
Situated in the North of India, Delhi, the capital of India, is one of the oldest existing cities in the world. This city is said to have been built and destroyed 11 times and has played a pivotal role in the history of India.
Medieval Delhi: A City of Many Cities
According to old Hindu legends, Delhi is estimated to be over 5,000 years old. The earliest reference to the city (around 2500 BC) is in the Indian mythological epic Mahabharata where it is called Indraprastha or Hastinapur (the city of elephants). In fact, a village called Indraprastha existed in Delhi until the beginning of the 19th century when it was demolished by the British to make way for New Delhi.
The name Delhi is believed to be derived either from Raja Dillu’s Dilli (100BC), a city situated just east of Lalkot or from Dhilba, a city founded by the Tomar Rajputs in 736AD. In the years that followed, about seven ancient empires of medieval India founded their capital cites around New Delhi.
Qila Rai Pithora, established around 1170 AD by the Rajput king Prithviraj Chauhan, is probably the first of Delhi’s seven cites. Chauhan made Delhi the most important Hindu centre in northern India.
The ruins of Siri, the second captial city built around 1290 AD by Alauddin Khilji of the Delhi Sultanate, can still be seen near the Siri fort and the neighbouring village of Shahpur Jat. Ala-ud-Din-Khilji proclaimed himself the King of Delhi and built Hauz Khas, a magnificent tank that provided water to meet the needs of the city.
During his four year reign Ghiyasuddin Tughluq (1320 AD) built the fort city of Tughlakabad, Delhi’s third city, and a massive fort on the foothills of Aravallis, which subsequently had to be abandoned due to severe shortage of water. His son, Muhammad bin Tughluq moved north of Tughlakabad and established Delhi’s fourth city in 1334 AD. Called Jahanpanah (asylum of the world), it was a walled enclosure that linked Qila Rai Pithora and Siri. In the tradition of his forefathers, Feroze Shah Tughluq (son of Muhammad bin Tughluq) created a city called Ferozabad (Kotla Firoz Shah), stretching north from Hauz Khaz to the banks of Yamuna in 1351.
In 1530 AD, Delhi’s sixth city called Dinpanah was established by the Mughal king Humayun. In 1542, the Afghan king Sher Shah Suri captured this city and called it Dilli. Finally, in 1648 AD the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan built a fort, the Lal Qila (known also as Red Fort) and established Shahjahanabad, a huge well-laid out city that took 10 years to build. This city survives as the old Delhi of today.
New Delhi and the British
In 1803 AD, the city came under the British rule. It was only after 1911 when the British decided to shift their capital from Calcutta to Delhi, however, that the city once again came under the spotlight. The British decided to create a new city called New Delhi, situated south of Shahjahanabad and the architect Edwin Lutyens was invited to design it. New Delhi had been conceived as an expression of British imperial power, thus the architectural development of New Delhi under the British rule was astounding.
Edwin Lutyens designed Delhi over 20 years. He laid out the central administrative area of the city at the heart of which was the impressive Viceroy’s House (now called Rashtrapati Bhawan). King’s Way (The Rajpath) connected India Gate to Viceroy’s House. The Secretariats (which now house various ministries of the Government of India) and the Parliament House were designed by another British artist, Herbert Baker.
The British formally inaugurated New Delhi as the seat of the British Indian government in 1931. However, they too were victims to the old prophecy that ‘anyone who builds a new city at Delhi will surely lose it’. Within two decades of New Delhi’s formal inauguration as the British capital, India won its independence. On August 15, 1947 New Delhi was officially declared the seat of the Government of India and the capital of the republic. The new government moved into the buildings vacated by the British.
The Capital of the Indian Republic
In the six decades since it achieved independence, New Delhi has undergone a sea of change. The city has exploded beyond the confines of Lutyen’s wide, tree-lined avenues. Villages that grew around medieval Delhi’s shifting capital cities, have now been engulfed by the urban sprawl. The line of distinction between Old and New Delhi has begun to blur—North, South, East and West Delhi are more prevalent terms of demarcation.
The facilities and opportunities available in Delhi have attracted Indians from far-flung corners of the country, making it a melting pot of sorts. The presence of diplomatic and trade missions, a large number of multi-national companies and foreign investors and an influx of visiting professionals have given the city a cosmopolitan air.
The city is currently gearing up to transform itself into a world-class city in time for the Commonwealth Games to be held in October 2010. Recent developments have resulted in a much-improved infrastructure with new roads, flyovers, bridges, healthcare facilities, sanitation, High Capacity Buses, hotels and townships.
New Delhi is the second largest city and the second largest-metropolitan area in India. Bordered by Haryana State in the East and by Uttar Pradesh State across the river Yamuna, New Delhi is located approximately 213 to 305 m above the sea level.
The National Capital Territory (NCT) of Delhi stretches over an area of 1483 sq km. The NCT comprises of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD); the New Delhi Municipal Committee (NDMC); and the Delhi Cantonment Board (DCB), which are in charge of the civic administration of the city. The MCD is one of the largest municipal corporations in the world providing civic amenities.
Delhi is as flat as a pancake. The Yamuna River on the east and the Aravalli Hills that form a wide but low arc across the West are the only geographical features of significance. On the west bank is the crowded and congested Old Delhi and, to the south, the broad, tree-lined avenues of New Delhi, built by the British. The rest is an endless sprawl of suburbia and slums.
Delhi has one of the highest road densities in India and is connected to other parts of India by five National Highways 1, 2, 8, 10 and 24.