1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Delhi

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DELHI, Dehli or Dilli, the ancient capital of the Mogul empire in India, and a modern city which gives its name to a district and division of British India. The city of Delhi is situated in 28° 38′ N., 77° 13′ E., very nearly due north of Cape Comorin, and practically in a latitudinal line with the more ancient cities of Cairo and Canton. It lies in the south-east corner of the province of the Punjab, to which it was added in 1858, and abuts on the right bank of the river Jumna. Though Lahore, the more ancient city, remains the official capital of the Punjab, Delhi is historically more famous, and is now more important as a commercial and railway centre.

Though the remains of earlier cities are scattered round Delhi over an area estimated to cover some 45 sq. m., modern Delhi dates only from the middle of the 17th century, when Shah Jahan rebuilt the city on its present site, adding the title Shah-jahanabad from his own name. It extends for nearly 21/4 m. along the right bank of the Jumna from the Water bastion to the Wellesley bastion in the south-east corner, nearly one-third of the frontage being occupied by the river wall of the palace. The northern wall, famous in the siege of Delhi in 1857, extends three-quarters of a mile from the Water bastion to the Shah, commonly known as the Mori, bastion; the length of the west wall from this bastion to the Ajmere gate is 11/4 m. and of the south wall to the Wellesley bastion again almost exactly the same distance, the whole land circuit being thus 31/4 m. The complete circuit of Delhi is 51/2 m. In the north wall is situated the famous Kashmir gate, while the Mori or Drain gate, which was built by a Mahratta governor, has now been removed. In the west wall are the Farash Khana and Ajmere gates, while the Kabul and Lahore gates have been removed. In the south wall are the Turkman and Delhi gates. The gates on the river side of the city included the Khairati and Rajghat, the Calcutta and Nigambod—both removed; the Kela gate, and the Badar Rao gate, now closed. The great wall of Delhi, which was constructed by Shah Jahan, was strengthened by the English by the addition of a ditch and glacis, after Delhi was captured by Lord Lake in 1803; and its strength was turned against the British at the time of the Mutiny. The imperial palace (1638–1648), now known as the “Fort,” is situated on the east of the city, and abuts directly on the river. It consists at present of bare and ugly British barracks, among which are scattered exquisite gems of oriental architecture. The two most famous among its buildings are the Diwan-i-Am or Hall of Public Audience, and the Diwan-i-Khas or Hall of Private Audience. The Diwan-i-Am is a splendid building measuring 100 ft. by 60 ft., and was formerly plastered with chunam and overlaid with gold. The most striking effect now lies in its engrailed arches. It was in the recess in the back wall of this hall that the famous Peacock Throne used to stand, “so called from its having the figures of two peacocks standing behind it, their tails being expanded and the whole so inlaid with sapphires, rubies, emeralds, pearls and other precious stones of appropriate colours as to represent life.” Tavernier, the French jeweller, who saw Delhi in 1665, describes the throne as of the shape of a bed, 6 ft. by 4 ft., supported by four golden feet, 20 to 25 in. high, from the bars above which rose twelve columns to support the canopy; the bars were decorated with crosses of rubies and emeralds, and also with diamonds and pearls. In all there were 108 large rubies on the throne, and 116 emeralds, but many of the latter had flaws. The twelve columns supporting the canopy were decorated with rows of splendid pearls, and Tavernier considered these to be the most valuable part of the throne. The whole was valued at £6,000,000. This throne was carried off by the Persian invader Nadir Shah in 1739, and has been rumoured to exist still in the Treasure House of the Shah of Persia; but Lord Curzon, who examined the thrones there, says that nothing now exists of it, except perhaps some portions worked up in a modern Persian throne. The Diwan-i-Khas is smaller than the Diwan-i-Am, and consists of a pavilion of white marble, in the interior of which the art of the Moguls reached the perfection of its jewel-like decoration. On a marble platform rises a marble pavilion, the flat-coned roof of which is supported on a double row of marble pillars. The inner face of the arches, with the spandrils and the pilasters which support them, are covered with flowers and foliage of delicate design and dainty execution, crusted in green serpentine, blue lapis lazuli and red and purple porphyry. During the lapse of years many of these stones were picked from their setting, and the silver ceiling of flowered patterns was pillaged by the Mahrattas; but the inlaid work was restored as far as possible by Lord Curzon. It is in this hall that the famous inscription “If a paradise be on the face of the earth, it is this, it is this, it is this,” still exists. It is given in Persian characters twice in the panels over the narrow arches at the ends of the middle hall, beginning from the east on the north side, and from the west at the south side. At the time of the Delhi Durbar held in January 1903 to celebrate the proclamation of Edward VII. as emperor of India these two halls were used as a dancing-room and supper-room, and their full beauty was brought out by the electric light shining through their marble grille-work.

The native city of Delhi is like most other cities in India, a huddle of mean houses in mean streets, diversified with splendid mosques. The Chandni Chauk (“silver street”), the principal street of Delhi, which was once supposed to be the richest street in the world, has fallen from its high estate, though it is still a broad and imposing avenue with a double row of trees running down the centre. During the course of its history it was four times sacked, by Nadir Shah, Timur, Ahmad Shah and the Mahrattas, and its roadway has many times run with blood. Now it is the abode of the jewellers and ivory-workers of Delhi, but the jewels are seldom valuable and the carving has lost much of its old delicacy. A short distance south of the Chandni Chauk the Jama Masjid, or Great Mosque, rises boldly from a small rocky eminence. It was erected in 1648–1650, two years after the royal palace, by Shah Jahan. Its front court, 450 ft. square, and surrounded by a cloister open on both sides, is paved with granite inlaid with marble, and commands a fine view of the city. The mosque itself, a splendid structure forming an oblong 261 ft. in length, is approached by a magnificent flight of stone steps. Three domes of white marble rise from its roof, with two tall minarets at the front corners. The interior of the mosque is paved throughout, and the walls and roof are lined, with white marble. Two other mosques in Delhi itself deserve passing notice, the Kala Masjid or Black Mosque, which was built about 1380 in the reign of Feroz Shah, and the Moti Masjid or Pearl Mosque, a tiny building added to the palace by Aurangzeb, as the emperor’s private place of prayer. It is only 60 ft. square, and the domes alone are seen above the red sandstone walls until the opening of two small fine brass gates.

To the west and north-west of Delhi considerable suburbs cluster beyond the walls. Here are the tombs of the imperial family. That of Humayun, the second of the Mogul dynasty, is a noble building of rose-coloured sandstone inlaid with white marble. It lies about 3 m. from the city, in a terraced garden, the whole surrounded by an embattled wall, with towers and four gateways. In the centre stands a platform about 20 ft. high by 200 ft. square, supported by arches and ascended by four flights of steps. Above, rises the mausoleum, also a square, with a great dome of white marble in the centre. About a mile to the west is another burying-ground, or collection of tombs and small mosques, some of them very beautiful. The most remarkable is perhaps the little chapel in honour of a celebrated Mussulman saint, Nizam-ud-din, near whose shrine the members of the imperial family, up to the time of the Mutiny, lie buried, each in a small enclosure surrounded by lattice-work of white marble.

Still farther away, some 10 m. south of the modern city, amid the ruins of old Delhi, stands the Kutb Minar, which is supposed to be the most perfect tower in the world, and one of the seven architectural wonders of India. The Minar was begun by Kutb-ud-din Aibak about A.D. 1200. The two top storeys were rebuilt by Feroz Shah. It consists of five storeys of red sandstone and white marble. The purplish red of the sandstone at the base is finely modulated, through a pale pink in the second storey, to a dark orange at the summit, which harmonizes with the blue of an Indian sky. Dark bands of Arabic writing round the three lower storeys contrast with the red sandstone. The height of the column is 238 ft. The plinth is a polygon of twenty sides. The basement storey has the same number of faces formed into convex flutes which are alternately angular and semicircular. The next has semicircular flutes, and in the third they are all angular. Then rises a plain storey, and above it soars a partially fluted storey, the shaft of which is adorned with bands of marble and red sandstone. A bold projecting balcony, richly ornamented, runs round each storey. After six centuries the column is almost as fresh as on the day it was finished. It stands in the south-east corner of the outer court of the mosque erected by Kutb-ud-din immediately after his capture of Delhi in 1193. The design of this mosque is Mahommedan, but the wonderfully delicate ornamentation of its western façade and other remaining parts is Hindu. In the inner courtyard of the mosque stands the Iron Pillar, which is probably the most ancient monument in the neighbourhood of Delhi, dating from about A.D. 400. It consists of a solid shaft of wrought iron some 16 in. in diameter and 23 ft. 8 in. in height, with an inscription eulogizing Chandragupta Vikramaditya. It was brought, probably from Muttra, by Anang Pal, a Rajput chief of the Tomaras, who erected it here in 1052.[1]

Among the modern buildings of Delhi may be mentioned the Residency, now occupied by a government high school, and the Protestant church of St James, built at a coast of £10,000 by Colonel Skinner, an officer well known in the history of the East India Company. About half-way down the Chandni Chauk is a high clock-tower. Near it is the town hall, with museum and library. Behind the Chandni Chauk, to the north, lie the Queen’s Gardens; beyond them the “city lines” stretch away as far as the well-known rocky ridge, about a mile outside the town. From the summit of this ridge the view of the station and city is very picturesque. The principal local institution until 1877 was the Delhi College, founded in 1792. It was at first exclusively an oriental school, supported by the voluntary contributions of Mahommedan gentlemen, and managed by a committee of the subscribers. In 1829 an English department was added to it; and in 1855 the institution was placed under the control of the Educational Department. In the Mutiny of 1857 the old college was plundered of a very valuable oriental library, and the building completely destroyed. A new college was founded in 1858, and was affiliated to the university of Calcutta in 1864. The old college attained to great celebrity as an educational institution, and produced many excellent scholars, but it was abolished in 1877, in order to concentrate the grant available for higher-class education upon the Punjab University at Lahore.

The Ridge, famous as the British base during the siege of Delhi during the Mutiny, in 1857, is a last outcrop of the Aravalli Hills which rises in a steep escarpment some 60 ft. above the city. At its nearest point on the right of the British position, where the Mutiny Memorial now stands, the Ridge is only 1200 yds. from the walls of Delhi; at the Flagstaff Tower in the centre of the position it is a mile and a half away; and at the left near the river nearly two miles and a half. It was behind the Ridge at this point that the main portion of the British camp was pitched. The Mutiny Memorial, which was erected by the army before Delhi, is a rather poor specimen of a Gothic spire in red sandstone, while the memorial tablets are of inferior marble. Next to the Ridge the point of most interest to every English visitor to Delhi is Nicholson’s grave, which lies surrounded by an iron railing in the Kashmir gate cemetery. The Kashmir gate itself bears a slab recording the gallant deed of the party under Lieutenants D. C. Home and P. Salkeld, who blew in the gate in broad daylight on the day that Delhi was taken by assault.

The population of Delhi according to the census of 1901 was 208,575, of whom 88,460 were Mahommedans and 114,417 were Hindus. The city is served by five different railways, the East Indian, the Oudh & Rohilkhand, the Rajputana-Malwa & Bombay-Baroda, the Southern Punjab, and the North-Western, and occupies a central position, being 940 m. from Karachi, 950 from Calcutta, and 960 from Bombay. Owing to the advantages it enjoys as a trade centre, Delhi is recovering much of the prominence which it lost at the time of the Mutiny. It has spinning-mills and other mills worked by steam. The principal manufactures are gold and silver filigree work and embroidery, jewelry, muslins, shawls, glazed pottery and wood-carving.

The District of Delhi has an area of 1290 sq. m. It consists of a strip of territory on the right or west bank of the Jumna river, 75 m. in length, and varying from 15 to 233 m. in breadth. Most of the district consists of hard and stony soil, depending upon irrigation, which is supplied by the Western Jumna canal, the Ali Mardan canal and the Agra canal. The principal crops are wheat, barley, sugar-cane and cotton.

When Lord Lake broke the Mahratta power in 1803, and the emperor was taken under the protection of the East India Company, the present districts of Delhi and Hissar were assigned for the maintenance of the royal family, and were administered by a British resident. In 1832 the office of resident was abolished, and the tract was annexed to the North-Western Provinces. After the Mutiny in 1858 it was separated from the North-Western Provinces and annexed to the Punjab. The population in 1901 was 689,039.

The Division of Delhi stretches from Simla to Rajputana, and is much broken up by native states. It comprises the seven districts of Hissar, Rohtak, Gurgaon, Delhi, Karnal, Umballa and Simla. Its total area is 15,393 sq. m., and in 1901 the population was 4,587,092.

History.—According to legends, which may or may not have a substantial basis, Delhi or its immediate neighbourhood has from time immemorial been the site of a capital city. The neighbouring village of Indarpat preserves the name of Indraprashta, the semi-mythical city founded, according to the Sanscrit epic Mahabharata, by Yudisthira and his brothers, the five Pandavas. Whatever its dim predecessors may have been, however, the actual history of Delhi dates no further back than the 11th century A.D., when Anangapala (Anang Pal), a chief of the Tomara clan, built the Red Fort, in which the Kutb Minar now stands; in 1052 the same chief removed the famous Iron Pillar from its original position, probably at Muttra, and set it up among a group of temples of which the materials were afterwards used by the Mussulmans for the construction of the great Kutb Mosque. About the middle of the 12th century the Tomara dynasty was overthrown by Vigraha-raja (Visala-deva, Bisal Deo), the Chauhan king of Ajmere, who from inscribed records discovered of late years appears to have been a man of considerable culture (see V. A. Smith, Early Hist. of India, ed. 1908, p. 356). His nephew and successor was Prithwi-raja (Prithiraj, or Rai Pithora), lord of Sambhar, Delhi and Ajmere, whose fame as lover and warrior still lives in popular story. He was the last Hindu ruler of Delhi. In 1191 came the invasion of Mahommed of Ghor. Defeated on this occasion, Mahommed returned two years later, overthrew the Hindus, and captured and put to death Prithwi-raja. Delhi became henceforth the capital of the Mahommedan Indian empire, Kutb-ud-din (the general and slave of Mahommed of Ghor) being left in command. His dynasty is known as that of the slave kings, and it is to them that old Delhi owes its grandest remains, among them Kutb Mosque and the Kutb Minar. The slave dynasty retained the throne till 1290, when it was subverted by Jalal-ud-din Khilji. The most remarkable monarch of this dynasty was Ala-ud-din, during whose reign Delhi was twice exposed to attack from invading hordes of Moguls. On the first occasion Ala-ud-din defeated them under the walls of his capital; on the second, after encamping for two months in the neighbourhood of the city, they retired without a battle. The house of Khilji came to an end in 1321, and was followed by that of Tughlak. Hitherto the Pathan kings had been content with the ancient Hindu capital, altered and adorned to suit their tastes. But one of the first acts of the founder of the new dynasty, Ghias-ud-din Tughlak, was to erect a new capital about 4 m. farther to the east, which he called Tughlakabad. The ruins of his fort remain, and the eye can still trace the streets and lanes of the long deserted city. Ghias-ud-din was succeeded by his son Mahommed b. Tughlak, who reigned from 1325 to 1351, and is described by Elphinstone as “one of the most accomplished princes and most furious tyrants that ever adorned or disgraced human nature.” Under this monarch the Delhi of the Tughlak dynasty attained its utmost growth. His successor Feroz Shah Tughlak transferred the capital to a new town which he founded some miles off, on the north of the Kutb, and to which he gave his own name, Ferozabad. In 1398, during the reign of Mahmud Tughlak, occurred the Tatar invasion of Timurlane. The king fled to Gujarat, his army was defeated under the walls of Delhi, and the city surrendered. The town, notwithstanding a promise of protection, was plundered and burned; the citizens were massacred. The invaders at last retired, leaving Delhi without a government, and almost without inhabitants. At length Mahmud Tughlak regained a fragment of his former kingdom, but on his death in 1412 the family became extinct. He was succeeded by the Sayyid dynasty, which held Delhi and a few miles of surrounding territory till 1444, when it gave way to the house of Lodi, during whose rule the capital was removed to Agra. In 1526 Baber, sixth in descent from Timurlane, invaded India, defeated and killed Ibrahim Lodi at the battle of Panipat, entered Delhi, was proclaimed emperor, and finally put an end to the Afghan empire. Baber’s capital was at Agra, but his son and successor, Humayun, removed it to Delhi. In 1540 Humayun was defeated and expelled by Sher Shah, who entirely rebuilt the city, enclosing and fortifying it with a new wall. In his time Delhi extended from where Humayun’s tomb now is to near the southern gate of the modern city. In 1555 Humayun, with the assistance of Persia, regained the throne; but he died within six months, and was succeeded by his son, the illustrious Akbar.

During Akbar’s reign and that of his son Jahangir, the capital was either at Agra or at Lahore, and Delhi once more fell into decay. Between 1638 and 1658, however, Shah Jahan rebuilt it almost in its present form; and his city remains substantially the Delhi of the present time. The imperial palace, the Jama Masjid or Great Mosque, and the restoration of what is now the western Jumna canal, are the work of Shah Jahan. The Mogul empire rapidly expanded during the reigns of Akbar and his successors down to Aurungzeb, when it attained its climax. After the death of the latter monarch, in 1707, came the decline. Insurrections and civil wars on the part of the Hindu tributary chiefs, Sikhs and Mahrattas, broke out. Aurungzeb’s successors became the helpless instruments of conflicting chiefs. His grandson, Jahandar Shah, was, in 1713, deposed and strangled after a reign of one year; and Farrakhsiyyar, the next in succession, met with the same fate in 1719. He was succeeded by Mahommed Shah, in whose reign the Mahratta forces first made their appearance before the gates of Delhi, in 1736. Three years later the Persian monarch, Nadir Shah, after defeating the Mogul army at Karnal, entered Delhi in triumph. While engaged in levying a heavy contribution, the Persian troops were attacked by the populace, and many of them were killed. Nadir Shah, after vainly attempting to stay the tumult, at last gave orders for a general massacre of the inhabitants. For fifty-eight days Nadir Shah remained in Delhi, and when he left he carried with him a treasure in money amounting, at the lowest computation, to eight or nine millions sterling, besides jewels of inestimable value, and other property to the amount of several millions more.

From this time (1740) the decline of the empire proceeded unchecked and with increased rapidity. In 1771 Shah Alam, the son of Alamgir II., was nominally raised to the throne by the Mahrattas, the real sovereignty resting with the Mahratta chief, Sindhia. An attempt of the puppet emperor to shake himself clear of the Mahrattas, in which he was defeated in 1788, led to a permanent Mahratta garrison being stationed at Delhi. From this date, the king remained a cipher in the hands of Sindhia, who treated him with studied neglect, until the 8th of September 1803, when Lord Lake overthrew the Mahrattas under the walls of Delhi, entered the city, and took the king under the protection of the British. Delhi, once more attacked by a Mahratta army under the Mahratta chief Holkar in 1804, was gallantly defended by Colonel Ochterlony, the British resident, who held out against overwhelming odds for eight days, until relieved by Lord Lake. From this date a new era in the history of Delhi began. A pension of £120,000 per annum was allowed to the king, with exclusive jurisdiction over the palace, and the titular sovereignty as before; but the city, together with the Delhi territory, passed under British administration.

Fifty-three years of quiet prosperity for Delhi were brought to a close by the Mutiny of 1857. Its capture by the mutineers, its siege, and its subsequent recapture by the British have been often told, and nothing beyond a short notice is called for here. The outbreak at Meerut occurred on the night of the 10th of May 1857. Immediately after the murder of their officers, the rebel soldiery set out for Delhi, about 35 m. distant, and on the following morning entered the city, where they were joined by the city mob. Mr Fraser, the commissioner, Mr Hutchinson, the collector, Captain Douglas, the commandant of the palace guards, and the Rev. Mr Jennings, the residency chaplain, were at once murdered, as were also most of the civil and non-official residents whose houses were situated within the city walls. The British troops in cantonments consisted of three regiments of native infantry and a battery of artillery. These cast in their lot with the mutineers, and commenced by killing their officers. The Delhi magazine, then the largest in the north-west of India, was in the charge of Lieutenant Willoughby, with whom were two other officers and six non-commissioned officers. The magazine was attacked by the mutineers, but the little band defended to the last the enormous accumulation of munitions of war stored there, and, when further defence was hopeless, fired the magazine. Five of the nine were killed by the explosion, and Lieutenant Willoughby subsequently died of his injuries; the remaining three succeeded in making their escape. The occupation of Delhi by the rebels was the signal for risings in almost every military station in North-Western India. The revolted soldiery with one accord thronged towards Delhi, and in a short time the city was garrisoned by a rebel army variously estimated at from 50,000 to 70,000 disciplined men. The pensioned king, Bahadur Shah, was proclaimed emperor; his sons were appointed to various military commands. About fifty Europeans and Eurasians, nearly all females, who had been captured in trying to escape from the town on the day of the outbreak, were confined in a stifling chamber of the palace for fifteen days; they were then brought out and massacred in the court-yard.

The siege which followed forms one of the memorable incidents of the British history of India. On the 8th June, four weeks after the outbreak, Sir H. Barnard, who had succeeded as commander-in-chief on the death of General Anson, routed the mutineers with a handful of Europeans and Sikhs, after a severe action at Badliki-Serai, and encamped upon the Ridge that overlooks the city. The force was too weak to capture the city, and he had no siege train or heavy guns. All that could be done was to hold the position till the arrival of reinforcements and of a siege train. During the next three months the little British force on the Ridge were rather the besieged than the besiegers. Almost daily sallies, which often turned into pitched battles, were made by the rebels upon the over-worked handful of Europeans, Sikhs and Gurkhas. A great struggle took place on the centenary of the battle of Plassey (June 23), and another on the 25th of August; but on both occasions the mutineers were repulsed with heavy loss. General Barnard died of cholera in July, and was succeeded by General Archdale Wilson. Meanwhile reinforcements and siege artillery gradually arrived, and early in September it was resolved to make the assault. The first of the heavy batteries opened fire on the 8th of September, and on the 13th a practicable breach was reported.

On the morning of the 14th Sept. the assault was delivered, the points of attack being the Kashmir bastion, the Water bastion, the Kashmir gate, and the Lahore gate. The assault was thoroughly successful, although the column which was to enter the city by the Lahore gate sustained a temporary check. The whole eastern part of the city was retaken, but at a cost of 66 officers and 1104 men killed and wounded, out of the total strength of 9866. Fighting continued more or less during the next six days, and it was not till the 20th of September that the entire city and palace were occupied, and the reconquest of Delhi was complete. During the siege, the British force sustained a loss of 1012 officers and men killed, and 3837 wounded. Among the killed was General John Nicholson, the leader of one of the storming parties, who was shot through the body in the act of leading his men, in the first day’s fighting. He lived, however, to learn that the whole city had been recaptured, and died on the 23rd of September. On the flight of the mutineers, the king and several members of the royal family took refuge at Humayun’s tomb. On receiving a promise that his life would be spared, the last of the house of Timur surrendered to Major Hodson; he was afterwards banished to Rangoon. Delhi, thus reconquered, remained for some months under military authority. Owing to the murder of several European soldiers who strayed from the lines, the native population was expelled the city. Hindus were soon afterwards readmitted, but for some time Mahommedans were rigorously excluded. Delhi was made over to the civil authorities in January 1858, but it was not till 1861 that the civil courts were regularly reopened. The shattered walls of the Kashmir gateway, and the bastions of the northern face of the city, still bear the marks of the cannonade of September 1857. Since that date Delhi has settled down into a prosperous commercial town, and a great railway centre. The lines which start from it to the north, south, east and west bring into its bazaars the trade of many districts. But the romance of antiquity still lingers around it, and Delhi was selected for the scene of the Imperial Proclamation on the 1st of January 1877, and for the great Durbar held in January 1903 for the proclamation of King Edward VII. as emperor of India.

Authorities.—The best modern account of the city is Delhi, Past and Present (1901), by H. C. Fanshawe, a former commissioner of Delhi. Other authoritative works are Cities of India (1903) and The Mutiny Papers (1893), both by G. W. Forrest, and Forty-one Years in India (1897), by Lord Roberts; while some impressionistic sketches will be found in Enchanted India (1899), by Prince Bojidar Karageorgevitch. See also the chapter on Delhi in H. G. Keene, Hist. of Hindustan ... to the fall of the Mughol Empire (1885). For the Delhi Durbar of 1903 see Stephen Wheeler, Hist. of the Delhi Coronation Durbar, compiled from official papers by order of the viceroy of India (London, 1904), which contains numerous portraits and other illustrations.

  1. See the paper by V. A. Smith in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Soc. (1897), p. 13.