History of Delhi

Desho:sti Hariyanakhyo prithvyaan swargsanibhh | Dhillikaakhya puri tatr Tomarairasti nirmitaa ||
History of Delhi has been written differently by every historian. On one hand, the debate on when Delhi originally started and on other hand, historians & archaeologists debate on the number of historic cities, that comprise Delhi. While government agencies talk about 7 cities of Delhi, some historians are able to count 11 and few more have included small villages around these cities as well to make it 15. The Cities section of this website details out the Major walled cities and smaller townships, which were as important as the major ones. This page will give a quick spanshot of Delhi's History.

Pandavas and the Harappan Culture (before 300 BC)

It is said that this land was a forest filled with Snakes and commonly known as the Khandva Forest. Old books refer to it as Khandavprastha. Then came the Pandavas, who converted this Khadavpatta or Khandavprastha into a beautiful city, comparable to the pearly heaven of Lord Indra of Hindu Mythology. They called their new city Indraprastha. It was earlier estimated that the great war of Mahabharta took place around 3000 BC. However, recent studies have forced historians to recalculate the date and bring it to circa 800 BC. While experts debate on this date, one thing everyone accept anonymously that beautiful heaven-like palace was situated where today stands the Shergarh (Old Fort) of Delhi. B.B. Lal, a renowned archaeologist spent his life doing research on Pandavas and their cities. He was able to find Painted Grey Ware (PGW) from under and around Old Fort. Similar PGW was found in other cities associated with Pandavas (Sonipat, Panipat, Baghpat, Tilpat). Some pieces of this PGW are kept in Old Fort Museum and the PGW found during the restoration of Isa Khan's Tomb in Humayun's Complex is kept inside a small temporary museum in the gateway of Humayun's Tomb. Dr. B.R.Mani, who directed the excavations at many important sites found Harappan pottery and Painted Grey Ware (PGW) at Mandoli, Bhorgarh, Salimgarh, Dhansa and Kharkhari Nahar (near Najafgarh) including late and degenerate Siswal Ware Culture and PGW at Khera-Kalan and Badli ki Sarai. More details can be found in Dr. Mani's book "Delhi: the threshold of Orient" published by Aryan Books International in 1997.
This period falls in Iron Age, when the Indus Valley civilization was shifted to Ganga-Yamuna Planes (Doab). It is also known as the Late Harappan Culture (Cemetery H) and most of the Vedic period falls within this period (except Rigveda).

Mauryan Empire (300 BCE to 1st Century AD)

Very few historians care to mention Delhi when writing about Ashoka, the great emperor of Maurya Dynasty, who gave India it's present national emblem and the world famous Chakra in it's national flag. Ashoka constructed many pillars and edicts, out of which 10 (with inscriptions) still survive. First pillar was discovered by Thomas Coryat in 16th century in Delhi itself. Originally, Delhi has an edict only (in a park between ISKCON Temple and Lotus Temple in Kalkaji). Feroz Shah Tughlaq uprooted Ashokan Pillars from Agra and Meerut and placed at Kotla Ferozshah and in Ridge (outside present Hindu Rao Hospital). The Ashokan Rock Edict in Srinivaspuri is a piece of stone with some text writtin in Kharoshti script. It is a protected monument, currently hiding inside a park near ISKCON Temple.
Chandra Gupta Maurya (324-300 BC), the founder of Maurya Dynasty made Delhi region as part of his kingdom. Bindusaar (300-272 BC) and Samrat Ashok (269-232 BC) followed. While their capital remained Patiliputra (now Patna) and Vaishali the commercial hub, Delhi was an important city. Excavations of Old Fort have brought out the Northern Black Polish Ware (NBPW) of 7th-6th century BC. to 1st century BC. The excavation also show that people lived in both mud brick and kiln fired brick type houses. Terra Cota figurines belonging to this period have also been recovered.

Tomars & Chauhans (736 - 1192 AD)

Delhi lost it's importance after the Indraprashta period. In 6th century, as Tomars came to Delhi, it seems to have gained momentum. Raja Anangpal Tomar made the existing city of Dhillika his capital and started ruling from here. There were 19 rulers from Tomar Dynasty, who ruled from 736 AD to 1180 AD. During this period, they established the fort of Lal Kot, which now falls in the Sanjay Van of Delhi (between Mehrauli and Jawaharlal Nehru University Campus). King Surajpal also established Surajkund (near Faridabad) and King Mahipal Tomar established Mahipalpur (near Delhi Airport). The 19th ruler of Tomars, Raja Anangpal IIIrd called his daughter's son, Rai Pithora (Raja Prithvi Raj Chauhan), the King of Ajmer to take care of Delhi while he was away. It is said that when Anangpal returned, Prithvi refused to give Delhi back to his grandfather and continued ruling. Prithvi ruled north India from Delhi for 12 years from 1180 AD to 1192 AD. During this period, he fought many battles, out of which, three most prominent were fought with Muhammad bin Sam (Mohd. Ghori). In the final battle with Ghori, Prithvi was defeated and the Kingdom of Delhi went into the hands of Ghorid dynasty, thus ending the Rajpoot rule for ever.

Sultanate Period (1192 - 1526 AD)

It is a common mistake to call Sultanate Period as "Mughal era". Fact is that the Sultanate Period started with Mohd. Ghori in 1192 AD and the Mughal era started with Babur in 1526 AD. The Sultanate period comprises of Mamluk (Slave), Khilji, Tughlaq, Lodi and Sayyid dynasties. This was the period when Delhi saw maximum development and when most of the cities of Delhi were established. Landmarks created in this era were wonders of their time. Monuments like Qutb Minar, Tughlaqabad Fort, Feroz Shah Kotla and many other were created during this period. Most mosques and muslim shrines also came up during this era only. The worst period was from 1398-1414, right after the attack of Tamerlane (Taimur Lung), which ended the Tughlaq Dynasty and pushed Delhi into a state of chaos. There was no administration for 16 years and the law-order was in hands of locals. Then, Daulat Khan Lodhi tried to restore law & order in Delhi. But before he could establish his administration properly, he was overthrown by Khizr Khan, who ruled under the name of Taimur and called himself a mere tax collector appointed by Taimur. The sayyid dynasty was again overthrown by Lodi dynasty in 1451, when Bahlul Lodhi took over. In 1526, Ibrahim Lodi was defeated by Zaheeruddin Muhammad Babur and the Sultanate Period was now turned into Mughal Era.

Mughal Era (1526 - 1857 AD)

The Mughal/Timurid Dynasty was introduced in India by Babur. His son ruled the throne for a decade before Babur's general Sher Shah Suri took over and forced Humayun into an exile. Sher Shah started the Suri dynasty and established the city of Dilli Sher Shahi. The citadel of this city was Shergarh, which is now known as Old Fort of Delhi. This dynasty saw seven rulers from Sher Shah Suri to Adil Shah Suri and ruled north India from 1540 to 1556 AD. In 1556, as Humayun's forces defeated Sur's forces, Adil Shah's general Hemu assumed the throne of Delhi and styled himself as Samrat Hemchandra Vikramaditya. He established the Hindu rule on lines of the Vijayanagra empire of south but his ambitous efforts lasted only for 30 days. Within 1 month of his crowning, Bairam Khan, the general leading Akbar's forces beheaded Hemu and proclaimed Akbar (then Jalaluddin) as 'Ghazi'. Humayun took back the crown but lost his life from the stairs of SherMandal in Shergarh (Fort) within 1 month. His son, Jalaluddin (Akbar) became emperor and started ruling from Agra. Asaf Khan was appointed the governor of Delhi and who continued to govern from Lahore. The mughal era was long and glorious. Shahjahan constructed the beautiful city of Shahjahanabad and its citadel Qila-i-Mubarak (now Red Fort). Mughal era saw some great warrior kings as Babur, Humayun and Aurangzeb. They also had art lovers like Akbar and Shahjahan and poet kings like Bahadur Shah Zafar. But at the same time, many of the Mughal kings were spoiled and busy with concubines and wine. Many dancing girls and concubines were given jagirs (land), havelis and mosques be emperors. As the Mughal empire was moving towards decline, the emperor's powers were reduced to that of a titular king and more power was in hands of provinces like Oudh, Hyderabad and Rajputana. During this period, the British penetrated the royal court and some time later, the mutiny of 1857 broke out, which became the first war of independence of India. This was the changing point of Indian history and Delhi was one of the most affected cities due to this war. Bahadur Shah Zafar was arrested and exiled to burma. Mughal Dynasty was dissolved for ever.

British Empire (1857 - 1947 AD)

The East India Company took over in 1858 and starting governing the State of India from Calcutta. In 1876, Queen Empress Victoria officially took over and India came under the British Rule. From Gov. Gen. Viscount Canning in 1858 to Lord Northbrook in 1876, India saw many political changes and Delhi sufferred the most. There were major landscape changes as the area around Red Fort was cleared and there were political and religious restrictions imposed on people. In 1876, as the country officially went under the crown, Lord Lytton took over. The British did major development work and in december 1912, shifted the capital from Calcutta to Delhi. The fight of Independence was getting intense and the crown was under huge pressure. Finally, on 15th August 1947, India was freed from the clutches of British crown, but it also had to see the painful event of partition, and Pakistan was created.

Indian Independence (1947 AD)

Delhi has been the seat of power of the largest democracy of world. Most of the government buildings used today were built by the British when they had setup "New Delhi". However, the names were changed. For example, the Viceroy House became Rashtrapati Bhawan. The Great India War Memorial became India Gate. Council House became Parliament House. Kingsway turned into Rajpath and Queen's way became Janpath.