Forged by the yoke of blood and steel, the insignia of our nation’s pride & coveted gem of medieval Asia, DELHI and its little-known origins, might surprise you. Recognized as the center of power / influence in the north as well as the gateway to prosperity, since its very inception, this city has stood the test of time for untold centuries.
Home to numerous legends and the setting for a myriad of ancient lore; our now polluted, suffocating capital was once upon a time a flourishing metropolis that held sway over the rest of the archaic realms. Besides its political and strategic significance, Delhi had always been a sanctuary for the conjunction of medieval art, culture, literature & architecture.
Now ravaged by the evils of overpopulation, illiteracy & choked by the fist of smog; Old Delhi, was once upon a time, site of the prettiest gardens, splendid mosques, pristine palaces, mahals & bhavans, all of which were inhabited by a literate, wealthy and thriving populace. The visual, moral and literary aesthetic & essence of ancient Delhi has been captured effectively by various ancient explorers, from Marco polo, Al beruni to the illustrious, Ibn Batutta.
Delhi before Christ
The second millennia Delhi we’ve learnt about growing up, owing to history textbooks, is either the pompous Delhi run by the Slave sultans or the later and far more romanticized Delhi of the Mughals. However, what most channels of knowledge fail to inform us of, is the rich & mystical culture prevalent in the delhi plains. A civiliation that can be traced back to the primordial days of the very mahabharata. One out of many ambiguous origin-claims, explains how the infamous city got its name from its former emperor Dhilu.
A scion of the Jat Dhillon household, Raja Dhilu is believed to have established one of the earliest townships of Delhi situated south-west of modern delhi, in around 800 BCE; which the later Dhillon kings continued to use as a centre during their burgeoning 600 year reign, up until the 3 rd century BCE. The Dhillons were believed to be ancestors of the Fabled Karna from the Mahabharata. While Swami Dayanand saraswati’s satyarth Prakash places Emperor Dhilu’s reign towards the beginning of the 8th century BCE, modern historians credit him to have been a Maurya descendant of the 1st century BCE. The dual theories present conflicting accounts of Delhi’s timeline yet unanimously accredit Dhilu as the city-state’s founder.
According to legend, the cities of early Hastinapura and later Indraprastha of the Pandavas, were both located in the same part of the gangetic-plains as modern Delhi. They were the precursors to what would eventually evolve into New delhi. Under the reign of the Dhillons; the townships sprung up to become the capital city of Dhillika, which prevailed, untill its fall and eventual decline in the 3rd century BCE.
Delhi In The Dark Ages
With the ascension of Magadha, Nanda, Maurya dynasties successively, the capital of the Gangetic plains shifted east to Pataliputra, while most of Dhillika lay in ruins and desertion. It wasn’t until the later stages of the gupta empire, that local rulers perceived the site as a potential settlement and strategic stronghold.
Resurgence In The New Millennia
The resurgence however, of this once glorious seat of influence & culture; didn’t take place until as late as the 8th century CE, which came about with the onset of the Tomar dynasty, descendants of the royally acclaimed KABUL SHAHS of the Hindu-kush. The Tomar’s were a Daunting JAT lineage; spirits who held the North with an iron fist. Historic evidences support the claim that Tomar ruler, ANANGPAL the 1st; re-developed the ruins of antediluvian Delhi, by erecting its very first township, Suraj kund. His descendant, Anangpal the 3 rd , fortified this archaic township by building a huge citadel, surrounding the region’s villages. This stronghold went by the name of Lal-kot ; a forerunner to the Red fort that would be built in the same region about 800 years later by Mughal emperor Shah jahan. The Tomar’s renamed this budding township as Dhilli; reviving the ancient heritage; which in the coming centuries would sprout into a manifold stronghold of the future sultanates.
Story Behind The Name
According to one out of many conflicting sources, after erecting of the Bastion of lalkot citadel (later called the Qutub complex) ; Anangpal tomar is believed to have relocated and installed a Gupta empire Iron pillar in the lal-kot compound, present day, Mehrauli as a trophy to commemorate his newly-founded empire. Their Kingdom would continue to develop and hold the Dhillika-seat of power for a prosperous reign of 444 years and despite being ignored by most modern historians; were the longest Hindu dynasty to hold sway over ancient Delhi.
According to myth, the pillar had its roots installed so firmly in the ground; that its base was believed to be rested on the serpent King, Vasuki’s head. Vasuki was the cosmic Naga who’s body wrapped around the entire planet and resulted in stability of the Kingdom. The primeval prophecy stated that the hindu empire would remain stable only until the pillar remained fixated. Disbeliever, King anangpal tomar the 3rd attempted to defile the prophecy and dug out the pillar, only to find the serpent’s blood. Attempts were made to re-install the pillar, but it would always remain ‘loose’ or ‘dhilla’ in the years to come, hence popularizing the label ‘Dhilli’ or ‘dilli’, assigned to the neighbourhood surrounding it.
Rule of The Rajputs & The fall to Islamic hands
Soon enough the township it was located in too would fall to the hands the Rajput clan of chahamanas, led by Prithviraj Chauhan the third. After ascending to the throne; Prithviraj constructed the sound stronghold, Qila rai pithora surrounding the regions of Lal kot, to consolidate his existing frontiers.
Under Prithviraj’s dominion the empire blossomed into an All-powerful state, that would be medieval India’s only defence from barbaric and external invasions for several years to come. Prithviraj’s dauntless defence; repelled the mongol & mongol hordes multiple times, including a complete sub-version of Mahmud of ghazni’s first invasion. His stronghold hence came to be known as the final ‘dehleez’ or gateway / frontier to the indo-gangetic plains; culminating in the name ‘delhi’.
Soon enough however, the ancient prophecy pertaining the “dhilla” iron pillar played out; as the dawn of the second millenia saw the fall of Delhi’s last Hindu dynasty & a shift in power to the muslim monarchs of Asia. Prithviraj’s decisive defeat in the second battle of Tarain, witnessed Mahmud of Ghor’s formidable victory and subsequent control over Delhi’s throne.
The fall of Prithviraj, marked the beginning an entire millenia of muslim rule over delhi, led by indulgent slave sultans, mamluks, khaljis & Tughlaqs for the former half; followed by the romanticized & much revered reign of the Mughals during the latter. First came the Khilji’s who built SIRI fort in 1303 to parry mongol raids. Ghiyasuddin’s Tughluqabad, Muhammad bin tughluq’s Jahanpanah & Feroz shah tughluq’s ferozabad came in quick succession as the Tughluq sultanate rose to power. Later came the establishment of the renowned Shahjahanabad & its gems, the red fort, jama masjid, undertaken by Mughal emperor shah Jahan. These monuments of heritage are now collectively referred to as ‘old delhi’ or ‘purana qila’.
Delhi in the 21 st century
History is testimony of how the mighty city of Delhi served a pivotal role in the growth of Art, culture & infrastructure across the sub-continent. Ruled, dictated & inspired by JAT, hindu & Rajput regimes for the former millenia and by successive Islamic empires up until the very dawn of the 19 th century, delhi is the perfect example of diversity in ever aspect branching from literature & music to traditions & religion. By the time of the East india company’s onset in india, Delhi was already an established, fortified & strategic city that the British used to exercise control over their Hindustan-empire. After the English, granted the nation its much coveted independence, the parliament pronounced delhi as its capital. Fast forward another century, the millennial generation knows little about the rich culture, heritage & sentiment this city bears. Today, lost in the dense façade of sky-scrapers, bustling traffic & pollution, lies the once Golden city of Delhi, still serving as a seat of power and privilege in Modern India.
If you enjoyed this, we suggest you read