Iconic Tourist Destination: Delhi Edition (Humayun’s Tomb, Red Fort and Qutab Minar)
- 17 Aug 2022
India's capital city, Delhi, is an open museum of architecture. It represents a kaleidoscopic view of power and art through its monuments and buildings. From the Purana Qila constructed by the Pandavas to the Mughal establishments, the numerous edifices in Delhi tell a story of its evolution and strength against the test of time. Some of these structures have been declared world heritage sites by UNESCO. The Indian government has also listed Humayun's tomb, the Red Fort, and Qutab Minar as Iconic Tourist Destinations in India. Let's have a closer look at these ageless monuments.
Located in the eastern part of Dehli, near the crossing of Mathura Road and Lodhi Road, Humayun's tomb is one of the well-maintained and excellently preserved Mughal mausoleums. It is the final resting place of the Mughal emperor Humayun and gives the impression of being a luxurious palace rather than a tomb. This tomb was also the inspiration for the Taj Mahal.
The tomb was built in 1565 A.D. as a memorial by Humayun's senior widow Bega Begam, nine years after the death of Humayun. The great Emperor Akbar, Humayun's son, commissioned a Persian architect Mirak Mirza Ghiyas to design and build the mausoleum. Hence the construction can be seen flaunting a heavy Persian influence. The tomb was the first of its kind garden mausoleum in India. Many of Humayun's courtiers and successors are buried on the premises.
After the fall of the Mughal empire, people started living in the gardens of the tomb, camping, and cooking. Then during the British rule, the gardens underwent modifications. The water channels were shut off, and flower beds were added to suit British sensibilities.
After attaining independence, when the country was going through the chaos of partition, Humayun's tomb became a refugee camp for almost three years damaging the external structure of the tomb and the gardens.
Finally, in 1993 the final restoration program began, and UNESCO declared Humayun's tomb a World Heritage.
The enormous tomb, with a height of 154 feet and a width of 299 feet, is built mainly in red sandstone. White marble has been used for the dome. The building is designed to be a dynastic mausoleum, with 124 small vaulted chambers within its walls.
The lower tier of this rectangular construction is decorated with intricately carved arches which can be found around the entire structure. The tomb's architecture is a beautiful melange of both Persian and Indian architectural traditions. The Persian influence is reflected in the arched alcoves, corridors, and the high double dome, while an Indian touch can be seen in the creation of the kiosks, which give it a pyramidal outline from a distance.
Charbagh, the Persian-style garden around the tomb's structure, is constructed as a quadrilateral. The beautiful and serene garden boasts several paved walkways, water channels, a bath chamber, and a pavilion. The walled tomb complex has two grand entrance gateways. The entire structure is a sight to behold.
A politically important monument throughout Indian history, the Red Fort gets its name from the red sandstone used to build it, giving the entire fort a brick red hue. It is located in old Delhi and was originally designed to keep out invaders. It now takes centre stage in the country's Independence Day celebrations every year.
The fifth Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan, moved the capital of his empire from Agra to a newly constructed city in Delhi in 1638. He called this new capital city Shahjahanabad. He laid the foundations of his palace, the Red Fort or Lal Qila. It took eight years to build this fort, initially named Qila-i-Mubarak, which means 'the Blessed Fort'. Ironically, Shah Jahan never resided in this fort, as by the time the fort reached its completion, his son Aurangzeb had put him under house arrest at the Agra fort. The Red Fort was the seat of the Mughal empire for around 200 years. During this time, the fort had many occupants, including Aurangzeb, Jahandar Shah, Muhammad Shah, Bahadur Shah II, and many others. The last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, was crowned here in 1837, and the extent of his power lay only inside the fort's walls.
The Red Fort was almost completely demolished in 1739 with the invasion of Persian ruler Nadir Shah who plundered the fort of many valuable artefacts, including the infamous Peacock Throne. The marble structures of the fort were also destroyed during the 1857 revolt against the British. In 2007, this iconic structure was included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Delhi for its architectural grandeur and historical significance. The fort is now under the control of the Archaeological Survey of India.
Layout and Architecture
The fort, spread over 255 acres, features the intermingling of various architectural styles such as Islamic, Hindi, Timurid, and Persian. It is the mark of the Mughal style of architecture that began with the first emperor. Its intimidating, 2.5-km-long enclosing walls are made of red sandstone.
Horizontal raised bands evenly decorate the walls of the fort. The fort can be entered through the Delhi gate and Lahore gate. The Lahore Gate is the main entrance and gives way to a long bazaar street named the Chatta Chowk. The Chatta Chowk leads to an ample open space that passes the large north-south street. This street previously divided the fort's military functions west and the living quarters east. The southernmost tip of this street is the Delhi Gate.
Within the enclosure of the Red Fort are located many smaller buildings. The Diwan-i-Khas and the Rang Mahal are the two most well-known buildings inside the Red Fort. The Diwan-i-Aam is another famous building within the Red Fort. Every evening Son-et-Lumiere shows are held in the Red Fort, tracing the history of the Mughal Empire in India, outlining their glory and the eventful causes of their downfall.
The entrance to the Diwan-i-Am has the Naubat-Khana, from where musicians used to play during ceremonies. The Diwan-i-Am is a large hall with a nine-arch façade. This hall also has an ornamented alcove where Shah Jahan's famous peacock throne was placed. The Diwan-i-Khas is said to have hosted. Other notable places in the Red Fort are the Mumtaz Mahal, the Khas Mahal, a sleeping chamber or Khwabgah, a robing section or Tosh Khana, and the Hammam (the ornately decorated royal bathing area located to the north of the Diwan-i-Khas). Mughal architecture is famous for its beautiful gardens, the Hayat-Baksh-Bagh (life-giving garden) with its pavilions in the case of the Red Fort.
The Red Fort is an oasis of calm and peace amidst the chaotic streets of old Delhi. The poignant building is well preserved and a source of influence for many architectural wonders later built in India.
Qutab Minar is a gigantic, 73-meter-high tower built in 1193 by Qutab-ud-din Aibak, the founder of the Slave Dynasty. The term 'Qutab Minar' was derived from the Arabic word meaning 'pole' or 'axis'. The intentions for building this tower are shrouded in controversy. Some say that this is a victory tower built by Aibak immediately after the defeat of Delhi's last Hindu king, marking the beginning of Muslim dominion in India. Others say that the tower is a call to prayer. Whatever the reason, the tower is an architectural marvel. It is located in the Mehrauli area of South Delhi and is a part of the Qutab complex, which also houses a mosque.
Qutab-ud-din Aibak, the king who established Turkish rule in India and the Mamluk Dynasty in Delhi, commissioned the construction of this monument in 1192. Aibak dedicated the minaret to the Muslim Sufi mystic, saint, and scholar of the Chishti Order, Qutbuddin Bakhtiar Kaki.
Qutab-ad-din Aibak could only finish the tower's basement though he was the one who commissioned it. His successor and son-in-law, the founder of the Delhi Sultanate, Iltutmish, completed the construction of the tower.
Near the tower is the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque, the first mosque constructed in India. The mosque has a large rectangular courtyard enclosed by arcades having carved pillars on three sides and an imposing five-arched screen in the west. The historical monument faced a lot of natural disasters over the years and was rebuilt and restored continuously by successive regimes.
The Qutab complex comprises several historically significant monuments and buildings. Apart from the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque, the Iron Pillar of Delhi, the Tomb of Imam Zamin, the Tomb of Iltutmish, and Major Smith's Cupola are some other structures in the compound.
One of the notable attractions inside the Qutab complex is the 7-meter-high, Iron Pillar, a rust-resistant iron column from Gupta Empire with Brahmic inscriptions. It is commonly believed that if one can embrace the pillar with both hands while standing with one's back facing the pillar, then his/her wish will be fulfilled.
The exterior walls of Qutab Minar reveal its history of construction. The wall is carved with Parso-Arabic and Nagari characters. The inscriptions clearly describe the motive, way, time taken, and every minute detail of this monument.
Each of the five stories has a balcony projected circling the minaret. The first three stories are made of red sandstone, while the remaining were constructed using marble and sandstone. The cylindrical shaft has inscriptions from the Quran. The Minar is said to have been structured so as to reflect the shadow of God in the East and West.
Beyond Qutab Minar, the complex includes the spectacular Alai Darwaza, added to the complex in 1311. It is one of India's first known Mughal arches, built with hollow minarets and a unique dome housing a small cupola on top of the larger one. The Darwaza or gate is decorated with fine lattice work and built of red sandstone and white marble. Other architectural specimens in the complex include:
- Alauddin Khilji's madrasa (a tomb mostly in ruins).
- Iltutmish's calligraphy-decorated sandstone.
- A marble mausoleum with geometric patterns and inscriptions.
The resilience of Qutab Minar is symbolic of the bravery of the Indian culture, which bore the brunt of time and war and natural disasters still stand tall in all their magnificence. It also indicates the amalgamation of many different cultures and the beauty that results from such a fusion.
Delhi has been the seat of all the power struggles, wars, and the amalgamation of different arts and cultures. All the monuments in this city have a rousing story behind them. Humayun's tomb, Red Fort and Qutab Minar are just a few examples of the stories that the walls of Delhi can tell. Thus, it is a significant step taken by the government of India to work on the betterment of these iconic places and make them more tourist-friendly. This will also help preserve these age-old monuments and give the people more yet safer access to the country's great history.