This blog covers the timeline of Delhi from the earliest settlement, as mentioned in Mahabharata, to Delhi Sultanate to modern-day Delhi.
“Ye dilli hai dilwalon ki” is a much-referred term when we talk about Delhi. The city is known for having the most large-hearted people who welcome people from all walks of life, earning it this title.
Home to varied music, dance, literature, and lifestyle, Delhi flourishes with a rich culture in art, music, and festivals that it’s hard to point the finger at.
However, this is not the outcome of a single ruler or one dynasty but an amalgamation of Mughal and Hindu rulers, their beliefs, values, traditions, etc. The number of invasions by rulers shaped the culture of Delhi, whose glimpses we see today.
From the first Muslim contact with the subcontinent to battles between Sikhs and Mughals to pre and post-British rule, this blog discusses the saga of Delhi, a city that survived against all odds.
Earliest Reference in Mahabharata
The first reference to a settlement at Delhi is found in the Hindu epic Mahabharata around 1000 BC. Then Delhi was called “Indraprastha” and was the name of the kingdom set up by Pandavas on the order of Hastinapur’s King Dhritarashtra. The kingdom was a formidable city that made Kauravas jealous and eventually enemies of their Pandavas brothers.
That was the starting point of Delhi’s rise and fall chain of many empires and dynasties. Also, because of its strategic and commercial value, Delhi came on the radar of many rulers of India.
Historians say Delhi had seven cities between 1100 AD and 1947 AD, namely Siri, Tughlqabad, Jahanpanah, Firozobad, and the city around Purana Qila, Shahjahanabad, and New Delhi.
Each of these cities was the fortress of a particular dynasty that wished Delhi to be their headquarters. And after each successive reign, more and more architectural buildings were added to Delhi, like tombs, palaces, mosques, or victory towers.
Founder Of Delhi
Anangpal Tomar founded “Dhillika Puri” in 1051, eventually becoming Delhi. As per the A VS 1383 inscription in Delhi Museum, Tomars were the founders of Delhi. Anangpal ruled Delhi from 1051 to 1081 CE and made their capital at Haryana’s Anangpur Village.
The actual story of Delhi commenced with the invasion of Sultan Muhammad Ghur in Northern India at the end of the 12th century. And since then, Delhi has continually been the seat of every central political authority.
Saga Of Dynasties
Muslims first came to this subcontinent in the 7th century CE. Their invasion started after c.1000 with the establishment of the long-lived Slave Dynasty in 1206 AD, and the Delhi Sultanate ended with the Lodhi Dynasty in 1526 AD.
Let’s discuss this to understand the aspects that shaped Delhi today.
The Role of Prithviraj Chauhan
The last Hindu king who ruled ancient Delhi for a considerable period was Prithviraj Chauhan. He took the rule of Delhi from the Tomar Empire in 1155 AD. He changed the name Lal Kot, which Tomars built, to Quila Rai Pithora.
In the battle of Tarain in 1192 AD, Prithviraj was defeated by Emperor Mohammad Ghori and was given a death sentence. Nonetheless, Prithviraj Chauhan is still remembered as a great Hindu ruler in Delhi’s history.
Slave Dynasty – The First Muslim Dynasty in Delhi
During the Slave Dynasty, the Turkish slave of Sultan Muhammad Ghur – Qutb-ud-din Aibak was the main figure who invaded India in 1175 and started the Slave Dynasty in Delhi. After Muhammad Ghur, Qutb-ud-din Aibak took over in 1206 AD and became the sole ruler of the Delhi Sultanate.
Iltutmish came afterward who was the son-in-law of Qutb-ud-din Aibak. Before dying, he passed on his rights to his daughter Raziyya, the only women ruler of this dynasty who ruled Delhi. Balban was the ruler, after which the Slave Dynasty ended in 1290.
You all must have heard about the Khilji in the iconic movie Padmavat. They ruled Delhi from 1290 AD to 1320 AD, with Jalaluddin Khilji as the first ruler.
He was assassinated in a conspiracy planned by one of his nephews Alauddin Khilji, who then dominated the Delhi Sultanate and went over to win Gujarat and assassinated Rajput Hamir in 1301 AD.
After Khilji’s, Tughlaqs came into power in Delhi, and established “Tughlaqabad”. Khusrau Khan was the last ruler of the Khilji Dynasty who was raised by Aaudddin’s son Mubarak Shah’s minister.
Did you know that Khusrau was a Hindu before Alauddin Khilji captured and converted him into a Muslim?
He insulted the Turkish nobles of the city, who favored Hindu nobles. Ain-ul-Mulk and the other Muslim nobility opposed him. The nobles invited the then Punjab governor under Khiljis, Ghazi Malik, who formed an army to kill Khusrau near Delhi. Khusrau Shah was beheaded in the war, and Ghazi Malik soon renamed himself as Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq and started the Tughlaq dynasty that lasted from 1230 to 1414.
Khizar Khan of the Sayyid Dynasty took over from Tughlaq and ruled India for 37 years. Other rulers of this dynasty were Mubarak Shah, Muhammad Shah, and the last ruler named, Alauddin Alam Shah.
He aided Timur, who restored the Mongol Empire to invade India. In his reward, Timur was made the governor of many Indian territories. However, Khizar Khan’s aspirations were high, and he was keen to rule Delhi under Timur’s supremacy. Thus, in 1414, Khizar defeated Daulat Khan Lodi (who was occupying Delhi’s throne after the death of Muhammad Tughluq) and expanded his kingdom.
In 1451 AD, Bahlul Lodi founded the Lodhi Dynasty, which originated in Afghanistan. Sikander Lodi came after Bahlul and was the greatest ruler of his dynasty.
Did you know that Sikander Lodi lived at the same time as saint Kabirdas and tortured him?
In 1504, Sikander made Agra his capital and moved there. Many Hindu temples of Delhi were destroyed under his reign, and he imposed many restrictions on Hindus.
Ibrahim Lodi succeeded his father, Sikander. Ibrahim’s close relatives and the ruler of Mewar invited Babar to invade India. In the Battle of Panipat, Babur killed Ibrahim Lodi, which ended the Sultanate in Delhi, and the Mughal ruler began.
Lastly arrived the descendants of Ghenghis Khan of Afghanistan. The Mughal Dynasty came under the medieval period, founded by Babur in 1526. Humayun succeeded Babur, after which Akbar became one of the greatest Mughal Emperors in Delhi and India. His reign lasted from 1556 to 1605.
Mughals shaped Delhi’s political, architectural, cultural, and social aspects, which are still quite evident.
The Fight between Sikhs and Mughals in Delhi
The Sikh community has played a major role after the Mughals in the changing landscape of Delhi.
In 1783, Sikh leader Baba Baghel Singh Ji conquered Delhi from Mughal Emperor Shah Alam. The Sikh army marched to Delhi on horses and elephants, with Nishan Sahib at Red Fort on 11th March 1783, marked as one of the most important events in Delhi’s history. A massive number of Sikhs gathered to celebrate this day as Fateh Diwas, but the date in the Gregorian calendar differs every year.
This battle took place in present-day New Delhi. The Sikhs entered the Red Fort and occupied Emperor Shah Alam II. He reconciled with Sikhs, who offered him a treaty for establishing Gurudwaras on Sikh historical sites.
Thus, Gurudwara Sis Ganj Sahib was constructed, where Guru Tegh Bahadur was martyred on the orders of Aurangzeb. Gurudwara Rakab Ganj Sahib, where the Guru’s ashes were cremated.
Emperor Shah Alam II is also known for constructing Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, Gurudwara Bala Sahib, Gurudwara Moti Bagh, Gurudwara Mata Sundri, Gurudwara Majnu Ka Tilla, and Gurudwara Baba Banda Singh Bahadur.
In present-day Delhi, the site where Baba Baghel Singh stopped with his 30,000 men is now Tis Hazari. After winning the Red Fort, the Sikhs distributed sweets, and that place is now known as Mithai Pul.
Delhi During British Rule
In 1803 AD, Britishers stepped foot in Delhi, and in 1911, they shifted the capital from Calcutta to Delhi. The city once again became the center of all governing activities. But as we know, Delhi is known for throwing its occupants off its throne, and the Britishers were no different. India gained independence in 1947, and New Delhi officially became the capital of India.
Post-independence, India was still recovering from coming out of the shadow of Britishers, including Delhi. Many architectural development contributions were made, including Jantar Mantar from Maharaja of Jaipur and Lotus Temple by Fariborz Sahba in 1986.
Temples, malls, high buildings, etc., are constructed that are a testament to Delhi’s modern architecture. New Delhi is also called Lutyens Delhi, which contrasts Old Delhi in terms of layout and architecture.
And while India Gate, Rashtrapati Bhavan, and Parliament House are prime examples of British architecture, the Red Fort, Gurudwara Sis Ganj, and other buildings are the highlights of Old Delhi.
Despite the difference, the large-hearted people of Delhi are the core that makes Delhi Dilwalon Ki.
With the contributions made by Delhi Sultanates, Mughals, Sikhs, and Britishers, Delhi still stands extravagant as ever, welcoming all with open arms. Mughals’ contribution to the city’s architectural beauty to Britishers’ Indo-Saracenic style buildings, Delhi remains the focal point of tourism and other significant events that make it a symbol of imperial power in Indian Heritage.
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