Red Fort Delhi

Red Fort
Vital Information for Visitors

Red Fort (Lal Qila), Netaji Subhash Marg, Chandni Chowk, New Delhi - 110006

Open & Close:

Open on all days (Except Monday) From 09:30 am to 04:30 pm

Entry Fees:

Foreigner - INR 500 per person
Indian - INR 35 per person


Approx 1 hour

This great fort on the bank of River Yamuna, built by Shah Jahan, as the citadel of the seventh Delhi, founded by him, then known the as Shahjahanabad and now Old Delhi, is a significant link between the past and the present, for, it is from here the Prime Minister of India addresses the people on the Independence Day, August 15.

Shah Jahan selected the site of the Red Fort in his new city of Shahjahanabad in 1638; the foundation stone was laid the following year, and the fortress/palace ready by 1648 for the court to begin its transfer from Agra. The Red Fort then nestled against the west bank of the River Yamuna, and the royal pavilions were set in a straight line, north to south, to take advantage of the river breezes. Two gateways faced the main arteries of the new city, Chandni Chowk and Faiz Bazaar (now Netaji Subhash Marg).

The massive Lal Qila (Red Fort) today stands forlornly, a sandstone carcass. When emperor Shah Jahan paraded out of the Red Fort atop an elephant into the streets of Old Delhi, though, he and the fort he built were a magnificent display of pomp and power. Shah Jahan started building in 1638 and completed the fort in 1648, The moat, which has been bone-dry since 1857, was originally crossed on creaky wooden drawbridges, but these were replaced with stone bridges in 1811.

The Red Fort, so called because of the red stone with which it is built, is, according to an authority, "the most magnificent palace in the East or perhaps in the world" (Fergusson). The red sandstone castellated wall, which inspired the name of the fort, extends for 1.5 miles (2.5 km) and reaches a height of 60ft (18m). It is said that half the construction cost of the entire project was incurred by this wall.

No doubt, once the interiors of the Red Fort were packed with wealth of untold value. It treasured the Peacock Throne, the Kohinoor diamond and some of the world's costliest jewels. From the Red Fort reined a regal power that was unique in its majesty and sway. But in balance, the tides of fortune seem to have outnumbered the tides of misfortune. Assassinations (of Emperor Farrukhsiyar in I 719), betrayals and plunders age (carried on by Nadir Shah in 1739) that have taken place in the Fort will make a fat volume of history. In 1788 Ghulam Qadir, the Rohilla brigand, besieged the fort and perpetrated the most beastly cruelty imaginable on the family of Emperor Shah Alam II. The Mughal Dynasty had fallen into lean days and there was no hidden treasure in the fort, but Qadir would not believe that. He tied up the ladies of the palace and whipped them. He lashed the emperor's infant children to death and gouged the emperor's eyes.

The main gate of the fort is called the Lahori Gate , for it faces the city of Lahore, now in Pakistan. The Lahori Gate is a potent symbol of modern India. During the fight for Independence from British rule, there was a nationalist aspiration to see the Indian flag flying over the gate - that dream became reality. Since independence many landmark political speeches have taken place at the fort, and every year on Independence Day (15 August) it hosts the prime minister's address to the nation.

The area immediately after the gate was an exclusive fancy market for the aristocracy. Now-a-days, this market is called Chhatta Bazaar . During Mughal reign, it was known as “Meena Bazaar” where courtiers made their purchases. Writes Lt. Col. Newell: "Here sat the court jewelers, goldsmiths, picture-painters, workers in enamel, carpet-manufacturers, weavers of rich silk, kincobs, fine cloths for turbans, and makers of pyjama girdles ornamented with gold and silver flowers, together with a thousand other beautiful and costly luxuries adapted to the sumptuous taste of the most splendid court in the world.” Most shops now sell souvenirs or refreshments to tourists. The shops end at the west side of the outer courtyard, which is now much altered from its original appearance when arcades completely enclosed the area. A path from the courtyard led southward to the fort's Delhi Gate (not to be confused with the Delhi Gate in the city wall which lies further south).

A courtyard leads to the Naubat Khana or the Band House from which music used to be played at least five times a day. Once standing in the centre of the courtyard's east wall, but now isolated, the Naubat Khana,was the official entrance to the palace; at this point, all except the royal princes were required to dismount and proceed on foot, a tradition observed until 1857. Musicians played on the first floor gallery whenever an important guest arrived. A panel, delightfully carved with a floral design, should be noted immediately left. This gateway now accommodates the Indian War Memorial Museum , where weapons, uniforms and badges from ancient times are displayed. To the east of the Naubat Khana, trees have replaced the arcades of the inner courtyard, where guards were formerly mounted; the area is now grassed.

Next to be seen is Diwan-i-Aam , the Hall of Public Audience. The marble canopy on the balcony marks the royal seat. The vault of the hall rests on octagonal and fluted columns and must have highly impressed any visitor when the court was full. Important state functions used to be held here. From his throne in the central recess, the emperor sat in judgment over those accused of crimes, and considered grievances aired by his subjects; the marble bench beneath the throne was occupied by the emperor's wazir (chief minister). Sessions were held every day from 12 noon until approximately 2 pm in the afternoon, and punishments meted out on the spot, including whippings and executions. As may be imagined, great crowds gathered to witness the gruesome spectacles. The emperor was always accompanied by his sons and members of the nobility. On major occasions, the marble throne was replaced by the even more splendid Peacock Throne, which normally stood in the Diwan-i-Khas. The panels of petra-dura work lining the recess were commissioned from Austin of Bordeaux. It is said that the artist depicted himself as Orpheus in the small panel above the throne. All were removed by British soldiers following the Mutiny of 1857, eventually becoming exhibits in London's South Kensington (now the Victoria and Albert Museum). Lord Curzon when viceroy, returned them, and ordered the restoration of the Diwan-i-Am. This was executed by the Florentine Menegatti in 1909. Unfortunately, the precious stones that had originally studded the panels, have been, presumably looted.Columns supporting the hall are twelve-sided and set in pairs on the outer perimeters. The Hindu- style cusped arches, which link them, are a feature of the Shah Jahan period. Originally, the columns and arches were decorated to resemble white marble and sumptuous material was draped between them.

The Diwan-i-Aam projects into what was primarily the military zone of the Red Fort. Behind it, skirting the straight section of the east wall, are the five surviving royal pavilions of the palace. The Asad Burj is the most southerly of the three watchtowers that punctuate the east side of the wall. It was in this corner that zenana (women's quarters) was sited. Two of its three pavilions remain; the first, the Mumtaz Mahal, has been converted to a Museum of Archaeology . Manuscripts and Mughal miniatures are on view, but the rooms are very dark. A pavilion, which once stood immediately to the north, has completely disappeared.

The other hall isDiwan-i-Khas , the Hall of Private Audience. After his public appearance, the emperor retired into this hall and talked to dignitaries and favorites. Though simple, it is artistically exquisite. The French traveler, Bernier, a jewel merchant, had valued its ceiling alone at 75 million francs. It is generally regarded as the most splendid of the Red Fort's pavilions. It was here that the emperor conferred with his ministers and nobles. Comprising a single hall with flanking aisles, the Diwan-i-Khas is entirely faced with marble and has a five-arched facade. Over the arches showing the carving of delicate flowers and foliage is a couplet in Persian: Agar Firdos ber ru-in-zamin ast, Hamin ast O hamin ast O hamin ast! (If there is a paradise anywhere upon the earth, it is here, it is here, it is here!). Petra dura work, incorporating semi-precious stones (some missing), forms a dado to the columns, the tops of which, together with the arches, are painted and gilded. Calligraphic panels above the inner side arches at the north and south ends, facing inward, repeat the phrase, in Persian, if there be a Paradise on the face of the earth, it is here, it is here, it is here'. The marble pavement reflects the cusped design of the arches. Originally, the ceiling was of silver with gold inlay, but this was removed by the then rulers in 1760. Lord Curzon commissioned the present timber ceiling, supported by iron girders, in 1911.

Diwan-i-Khas was adorned by the Peacock Throne (Takht-e-Taus) , made at a cost of 11 crore rupees (when the rupee had more value than it has today). The fabulous Peacock Throne was brought here from Agra Fort when Shah Jahan transferred the court to Delhi. On state occasions, however, the Peacock Throne was moved to the Diwan-i-Am. Nadir Shah looted the throne in 1739, taking it with him on his return to Persia where it was broken up following his murder 8 years later. Contemporary descriptions and miniature paintings are all that exist to convey an impression of its glories. Made of solid gold inlaid with precious stones, the throne was approximately 6 ft (2m) long by 4 ft(1m) wide, and stood beneath a gold canopy fringed with pearls. Behind the throne, more precious stones represented the tails of two peacocks, closely matching the birds' natural colouring. Between the tails stood a parrot, carved from a single huge emerald. The Peacock Throne eventually became synonymous with the ruling Persian dynasty.

Then there are the Hammams or the Royal Baths, consisting of three beautiful chambers each fitted with perfumed fountains. There were separate channels for hot and cold water. An early description refers to the splendid Diwan-i-Khas, surprisingly, as the ghusalkhana (washing room); it is assumed that this was because the next pavilion to it was the hammam(bath house). This consists of three rooms, one of which is a Turkish style sauna. Fine marble and petra-dura work survive, but the baths have been restored later.

Other aspects of the fort are the Moti Masjid , a mosque built by Aurangzeb, Hayat Baksha Garden or the Garden of Rejuvenation, and two pavilions called Sawan and Bhadon named after the two Hindu calendar months of the monsoon. The history of the fort is now presented through a sound and light show, Son et Lumiere, every evening. Immediately west of the baths is the Moti Masjid (Pearl Mosque), the only mosque ever built within the Red Fort. The devout Aurangzeb commissioned this tiny mosque in 1659 in the manner of a royal chapel, thus saving himself regular journeys to the Jama Masjid, outside the Red Fort. The Moti Masjid of Red Fort Delhi is regarded as defining the stage when Mughal architecture began to decline from its zenith, which had been reached in the reign of Shah Jahan. The courtyard is not large enough. The three domes are cramped and the decoration is too heavy and excessive. The present name of the building comes from its smoky, white marble, resembling a pearl, but the mosque's domes were originally of gilded copper and not replaced by marble until 1857. The finials to the domes bare unusually dominant structure recalling a Buddhist stupa. In spite of these criticisms, however, the craftsmanship exhibited throughout, particularly the petra-dura work of the cornice, and the prayer hall's pavement remains superb. The fine bronze door to the courtyard should be note .Token donations on entry (except Fridays) are expected.

The name of the next pavilion, Rang Mahal (Palace of colour), derived from its brightly painted interior, which has been lost. This appears to have been the most important of the women's pavilion and was possibly occupied by the chief sultana or queen. The ceiling was originally of gilded silver studded with gold flowers but most was stripped by the invaders, only traces remaining in the end pavilion. Paving and the walls carved with reliefs are of marble. Arches divide the area into rooms, through each of which passes a marble water channel, known as the Nahr-i-Bihist (Stream of Paradise), leading into a lotus- shaped pool in the central hall. Apparently, the floral shaping of the pool agitated the water in a picturesque manner. This water channel passed through all the private pavilions, its cooling effect being of great importance during Delhi's blisteringly hot summer months. The Rang Mahal lies immediately behind the Diwan-i-Am, stressing its importance; much more accommodation was originally provided for the royal ladies but to the south, all was demolished by the British in 1857.

Facing the north side of the Rang Mahal is the verandah of the Khas Mahal where, it is believed, the emperor spent much of his recreational time including, possibly, his four-hour lunch period, during which he would be offered at least fifty separate dishes. The verandah (baithak) appears to have been used as a lounge. Its outstanding decorated ceiling, in floral geometric patterns, is well preserved. The three central rooms of the building are believed to have formed the emperor's bedroom suite.

Protruding eastward from Khas Mahal is the Mussaman Burj , an octagonal tower surmounted by an open gazebo, from where held below on a narrow strip of land between the fort's walls and the river. The River Yamuna's course has since moved further east. A riverside location was essential for these so that the animals could be cooled down after their exertions. On this gazebo each day, at sunrise, the emperor made a public appearance, in order to prove to his subjects that he was alive, a ritual known as Jharoka-I - Darshan, intended to prevent subversion. It must be presumed that the emperor retired early, as it is recorded that the royal musicians played in the gazebo when the morning star appeared, heralding the first calls of the muezzins from the city mosques (hence the name Mussaman Burj). On the north side the Khas Mahal, three rooms were set aside for private prayer. Above an intricate screen, a carved alabaster panel depicts the scales of justice, proclaiming that Mughal rule was fair.

A Persian-style formal garden (charbagh) divided into four parts by water channels, occupies the north-east sector of the fort. It is known as the Hayat Baksh Bagh (Life-Giving Garden). On its west side this was formerly linked with another garden, now lost the Mahtab Bagh (Moon Garden).

Two small garden pavilions survive: the Bhadon Mahal (August Pavilion) to the north and the Sawan Mahal (July Pavilion) to the south. Their names refer to the months of Delhi's monsoon, when it was considered pleasant to sit within enjoying the cooling rain and breezes, which brought relief from the heat. In the central tank, the small island pavilion was added by the last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar II, in 1842.

The Shah Burj watch tower, at the north- east corner of the fort, served as a further viewing point for the entertainments below. Water was drawn up to this tower from the river Yamuna via an aqueduct, and channeled directly southward through the royal pavilions.

When Aurangzeb deposed his ailing father, in 1658, Shah Jahan had not completed transferring his seat of power from Agra and Aurangzeb became the first and last great Mughal to rule entirely from Delhi's Red Fort. Precious material was looted from the Red Fort's pavilions by its various eighteenth century invaders. It was the British, however, who must accept most blame for the altered layout of the Red Fort, in particular the demolition of the arcades surrounding the two main courtyards, the western section of the women's quarters, and the formal gardens to the north. This iconoclasm took place following the Indian Mutiny and was explained away as being essential for defence purposes. However, retribution seems to have been an equally important factor.

Tickets are purchased at the kiosk facing the Lahore Gate, from where the Red Fort is entered. The Barbican, wrongly inscribed Lahore Gate, through which visitors pass, was erected by Aurangzeb in 1666 to strengthen the defences. Its heavy appearance certainly spoils the architecture, concealing, as it does, the Lahore Gate itself. From the Barbican, the road bends sharply towards the gate, thus depriving any aggressor of a direct approach. It was on the Lahore Gate that the flag of independent India was first hoisted, in 1947. A tradition has been established that the Prime Minister addresses the nation from the ramparts of Red Fort here on Independence Day (15 August).

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