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Remembering Delhi on Independence Day

It’s the eve of our 74th Independence Day.

As it does at this time of year, the traveling mind turns to the city of New Delhi.

What do we know about the city? Besides the fact that it’s the capital of the country and the seat of our government….

On this Independence Day weekend, when all eyes are on Delhi and the glorious spectacle at the Red Fort, let’s take a walk back in time and see how the city has grown and changed over the many centuries she has existed.

The Glory of Ancient Delhi

What we know of Delhi’s history begins from the 12th century, with the Delhi Sultanate; although we do also know that it is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world.

The story of ancient Delhi, however, does not appear to be written and is therefore considered lost to the mists of time – we can only imagine the tales of conquest, dominion, and defeat that must have played out.

Fueled by legends, the origins of Delhi are hotly debated; folklore suggests that it is the site of the ancient Mahabharata city of Indraprastha. On the other hand, archeological evidence points to Lalkot – a city from the Tomara dynasty’s time – being the origin of our capital city.

Another point of contention is the name itself, with several theories put forth on where “Delhi” was derived from – one being that it came from the word ‘Dhillika’, and another suggesting that it came from Raja Dhilu’s name, the founder of the ancient city of Delhi in 800 BC.

The roots notwithstanding, what isn’t debated is that from the Sultanate onwards, Delhi became the seat of power for successive kingdoms and empires, with each new conqueror razing the old capital and rebuilding it in a new image.

Several of their monuments – like the Qutub Minar – still stand today; a testament to the ruling powers that shaped this glorious city.

Get a birds-eye view of Delhi’s fascinating lineage here.

Approaching the Delhi we Know Today

Following many centuries of changing rule, the time of the Mughal Empire dawned. It is from their time that we have the Red Fort, Jama Masjid, and Humayun’s Tomb, among others.

For most of Mughal rule, Agra was the capital, but Delhi returned to prominence under Shah Jahan. Under him, the city acquired its seventh avatar, which is now commonly called “old Delhi”. It became a focal point of culture and poetry until the empire fell to the Maratha Empire.

Red Fort in Delhi
The Red Fort – the main residence of the Mughal emperors
Jama Masjid in Delhi
The Jama Masjid, inaugurated in 1656 – its courtyard can hold about 25,000 at a time
Humayun Tomb in Delhi
Emperor Humayun’s tomb, commissioned by his first wife, Empress Bega Begum

In 1803, the British East India Company arrived in India and ended Maratha rule (although it continued in name for a time yet). A little over 50 years later, after suppressing the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the city came fully under British government and all remaining Mughal territories were taken over.

The “New” Delhi

The British moved their capital from Calcutta back to Delhi in 1911. Formally inaugurated in 1931, the “new” Delhi was designed by leading English architects, Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker.

Today, New Delhi is a small part of Delhi’s metropolitan area and an ethnic and cultural hub. Economically speaking, it is the largest commercial capital in North India, home to multi-national companies and an international work force.

As the national capital, it hosts celebratory national events such as Republic Day, Gandhi Jayanti, and the upcoming Independence Day.

Are you in Delhi This Weekend?

If you’re in the capital in this auspicious period, perhaps you will get to witness the pomp and ceremony planned – hear the speeches, watch the parade, and sing the National Anthem with a pride that will resonate all the more for where you are singing it.

And when you’re done, perhaps you will step outside to visit the scenes of Delhi’s many triumphs and defeats; enjoy its markets and its people; and dip into its culinary delights!

If you’d like to plan a trip to Delhi, here’s a good place for you to start.

If you’ve visited recently (or are a resident), we’d love to know what your thoughts are on Delhi and what other travellers should do there when they visit! Leave your comments below.

Happy traveling and Happy Independence Day!

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