Built-in the 7th century, the Red Fort is credited as one of the most marvelous creations of the Mughals. Commissioned by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in 1638, when he decided to shift the capital from Agra to Delhi; the Red Fort was dismantled by the British, and today only 20% of it stands for us to perceive and percept. Before the British captured the Red fort, it was a densely populated with about 2000-3000 people living and working in it. It was dotted with workshops, nobles living with their armies, and also the Mughal Harem. As the British took over the fort, they systematically took down all the buildings that they believed interfered with their direct supervision of the fort, as to prevent another rebellion (ref: Revolt of 1857). The British would have destroyed the whole Red Fort, if Lord Canning would not have heard about it. Hence Lord Canning came in and saved the Diwan-e-Khas, Diwan-e-aam, and the Naubat Khana along with many other palaces that we can visit today.
Birds eye view of the Red Fort
Muhammad Shah Rangila in his Harem
What a lot of people don’t know, is that the Red Fort was never red, it was actually white and made up of white tiles and marbles; but as the plaster got off, it turned red. If we visit the fort today, we see the plaster done, that was done by archeologist KK Muhammad a few years ago. During the Mughal era, the fort was called Qila-e-Mubaraka and the Qila-e-Shah-Jahani mostly and by the end of the Mughal dynasty, the fort came to be called as Lal Haveli, as the plaster had completely fallen off by then and none of the later Mughals, such as Bahadur Shah or Akbar Shah had the money to put in the plaster.
The Diwan-e-aam that we see today is just a barebone that it was originally. The Diwan-e-aam originally had gold paintings all across it with gold carvings everywhere. The Diwan-e-aam was originally draped with carpets and velvets, as we can interpret from the hooks that we can still see outside the Diwan-e-aam. If the emperor wished to honor somebody, then the person would be invited to the throne of the Diwan-e-aam (called Takhte Nashe Male Zille Illahi) and the emperor would personally give them the “Sarpech” that were the ornaments that we can see on the turbans. Similar traditions can be seen during the era of the Delhi Sultanate, as both, the Mughals and the Sultanate followed Persian traditions similar to the Sassanid Empire.
Macro View of Diwan-e-aam
Pillars of Diwan-e-aam
Throne of Diwan-e-aam
The Rang Mahal was the women’s quarter of the Red Fort. It was built in a way that mirrored the opulence of heaven, as the entire Mahal was done up with carpets, cushions, and bolsters that portrayed the flamboyancy of the Mughals. The Nehr-e-Bihisht (cooling stream) used to flow under the marbles of the Rang Mahal that kept the surface of the palace cool, and it used to come out in the open spaces of the fort in the form of fountains and pools that beautified the surroundings and made it heavenly like.
A lot of celebrations also used to take place in the Fort. A very famous celebration that used to take place was the “Jashn Taj Poshi” or the ‘celebration of the coronation of the emperor’, where they would soak Urad Dal and then make Vada’s out of it, and the Chief of the court would soak the Dal and first Vada would be put in the oil by the emperor. We can see syncretic culture in the Mughal empire, as Bahadur Shah’s mother was a Rajput and many of the Mughals had Rajput backgrounds. Texts and traditions tell us about the celebration of Dussehra in the Mughal court, where a Neelkanth (Victory bird in Hindu Culture) is let loose. Women from many backgrounds used to live Harem together, and this led to the blending of cultures together creating an amalgamation of beautiful Indian customs.
The Diwan-e-Khas of the Red Fort was the place where the emperor hosted the special court. It was the only place in the fort that was built completely with marble. The place also had a lot of inlay work done with precious and semi-precious stone. The Diwan-e-aam was also the place where the peacock throne was kept.
Inlay work in the Diwan-e-Khas
A beautiful verse written by Bahadur Shah; “We have taken this crown from someone, and now someone is taking the crown from us and that is the way of the world, things come and things go, emperors come and go, and nothing is permanent in this life”. These words of Bahadur Shah still apply today, as the legacy of the Red Fort lives on in the fort itself and the streets of Shahjahanabad.