Concise history of Delhi over ages

As the legend goes, Delhi’s existence dates back to the period of Mahabharata and this magnificent city today lies where Pandavas established their capital Indraprastha., the grandest of the five townships established by them, over a barren piece of land gifted to them by their estranged cousins Kauravas.

Delhi lay on the great northern highway of the Mauryas (Mauryan Empire – 321 to 185 BCE) linking their capital Pataliputra (near modern Patna in Bihar) with Takshashila (Taxila, near modern Rawalpindi in Pakistan), which was the route taken by the Buddhist monks on their way to Central Asia.

Delhi because of probably its prime location served as a capital of various kingdoms and empires. Delhi was not only the seat of royal power but also became the capital of Islam in India and a major centre of Sufism. Delhi’s magnificent architecture and opulence dazzled the eye of one and all and its enormous wealth attracted trouble as a result of which Delhi was captured, ransacked and rebuilt several times over centuries.

So much so that Mahmud of Ghazni, of Afghanistan, invaded India 17 times between 1000 and 1026 AD!

Later in 1191 AD, another Turkish invader, Mohammad Ghori, ruler of Ghor, a small kingdom in Afghanistan, attacked India but was defeated by the brave Rajput chiefs of India headed by Prithviraj Chauhan.

A year down, Mohammad Ghori came again even stronger to avenge his defeat and in the same battlefield the Rajputs were defeated and Prithviraj Chauhan was captured and put to death.

Mohammad Ghori, who not only wanted to take treasures from India but also conquer North India, won the throne of Delhi in 1192 AD.

After his death in 1206 AD, Mohammad Ghori’s governor, Qutbuddin Aibak became the Sultan of Delhi. During the next three hundred years, Delhi was ruled by five dynasties – The Slave Dynasty, The Khilji Dynasty, The Tughlaq Dynasty, The Sayyad Dynasty and finally The Lodi Dynasty.

Qutbuddin Aibak was the first Muslim king to have ruled India. He was a great builder and it was under him that the majestic 238 ft high stone tower, Qutab Minar, was built.

Later on, towards the end of the rule of Tughlaq dynasty, Delhi was invaded by a fierce Mongolian ruler Timur in 1398 AD. In 1526 AD, Babur, King of Kabul and descendent of Timur and Genghis Khan was invited to challenge Ibrahim Lodi by the latter’s cousin Daulat Khan Lodi and Rana Sanga of Mewar. This led to the first battle of Panipat where Babur emerged victorious putting an end to the rule of Delhi Sultanate and becoming the first Mughal emperor in India.

Babur was succeeded by his son Humayun who ruled India for nearly a decade but was ousted by an Afghan ruler, Sher Shah Suri. Humayun and Sher shah Suri between them laid the foundation of an empire in India. Its capital was a citadel called ‘Dinpanah’, The refuge of the faithful’, on the banks of Yamuna, with an imposing mosque and gateways. The inner citadel of this city is today known as Purana Qila (Old Fort).

Few years after his death, Humayun’s widow, Bega Begum, laid out a magnificent mausoleum for him set in a square garden. Humayun’s Tomb today is one of the three World Heritage Sites in Delhi.

While the successive rulers, Akbar and Jahangir, established their capitals in Agra and Lahore, Humayun’s great-grandson Shah Jahan brought the capital back to Delhi. Expanding the heritage Shah Jahan built a walled city in Delhi and named it as Shahjahanabad. Shahjahanabad remained the capital of Mughal Empire from 1649 AD till the rebellion of 1857.

Shahjahanabad was what we know today as ‘Old Delhi’, the old walls and various gates of which like Kashmiri Gate, Delhi Gate, Turkman Gate and Ajmeri Gate still stand!

For power, Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his third son Aurangzeb who is known to be one of the cruellest kings in Indian history.

Aurangzeb ruled for good long 50 years and died in 1707 AD at the age of 90 years. With his death the forces of disintegration set in and the mighty Mughal Empire began collapsing.

Aurangzeb was succeeded by his son Bahadur Shah Zafar, who was already old when he took the throne and confronted one rebellion after another. Then followed, a couple of successors until, invasion of Nadir Shah proved to be a deathblow to the Mughal Empire.  

After many had come and gone from Indian shores, the last to arrive and stay were the British who ruled India for nearly 200 years. The British chose to set up their capital in Calcutta, only to move it back to Delhi in 1911 AD. The construction of the new administration centre was planned and the key architect Sir Edwin Lutyens was credited for shaping the city into what it is today.

Then long pursued India’s struggle for independence, in which numerous brave-hearts fought valiantly against the British and sacrificed their lives. Their sacrifice did not go waste at all and finally India won her independence on 15 Aug 1947 and a day prior to India’s independence, a separate country Pakistan was created for the Muslims.

Once India became independent, New Delhi became its national capital and soon re-emerged as a major political, cultural and commercial city.



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