Though I got acquainted with the nuances of the English language from a very early age, I came to comprehend the significance of the three letter word ‘awe’ only when I saw the Red Fort. I was in my second year in college, a student of history, when I travelled to Delhi, Agra and a couple of other places for my summer vacation. It happened to be, as I later realized, the most appropriate time and the most impressionable age to make that journey. It created a lasting impact on my mind of one of the most magnificent and regal monuments that the Mughals left behind for posterity to treasure.
As we approached the fort, it was nearing evening. The sun had started to set and in that twilight hour, I was rendered speechless for a moment when we suddenly perceived the massive red walls of the fort looming before us. I realised that this was what epitomised the concept of ‘regal’. Even today I can feel the thrill running through my bones as I entered the Lahore Gates, built out of red sandstone. So named owing to it faces the direction of Lahore, currently in Pakistan, the Lahore Gate is the main gate of the fort. It leads you into the Chatta Chowk also known ‘Meena bazaar’. This is a covered marketplace which sells trinkets and knick knacks to carry back as souvenirs. This was also the place known to sell items desired by the royal household. Every Thursday, men were barred from entering the premises of the fort as women went on a shopping spree chirping and chatting with shopkeepers to bag the best bargain.
As you leave the hustle and bustle of the bazaar behind you enter the Naubat Khana or the house of drums. Also known as the Naqqar Khana this was known to house the musicians as they played to entertain the emperor or to announce the arrival of a royal guest. Even today, it feels as if you can hear the sound of kettledrums, trumpets and cymbals reverberate as you walk through its exalted portals.
The ramparts of the fort comprised the Diwan-I-Am (the hall of public audience) and the Diwan-I-Khas (The Hall of Private audience). However, the ravages of time and human influence have robbed it of its splendour. These remain as proud remnants of its glorious past amidst a sea of green grass. The faded murals that can still be viewed on the crevices of the Naubat Khana are considered to be precious historical artifacts as they reveal images of Central Asian plants. These it can be assumed, helped the Mughals retain their umbilical ties with their TransOxianan homeland.
The first flush of awe-inspired breathing is quietened as you carefully take in the detailing on the impregnable walls of the fort, the cusped arches, the delicate jharokha or hanging balconies and the beautifully carved lotus flowers floating on the sandstone pond under the horseshoe shaped arches. You can well imagine history to come alive as you stand beneath the Diwan-I-Am and imagine the Monarch, flanked by his sons, hold an audience.
Lal Quilla (as the red fort is known in Indian dialect) has always had a deep significance in Indian history. Built under the patronage of Shah Jahan, the most aesthetic of all the Mughal emperors, in 1648, it represents the epitome of Mughal creativity. It was built along the Yamuna river which fed a moat that ran around the river making it an impregnable structure. Under Aurangzeb, Shah Jahan’s son, two fortified gateways or Barbicans, to make entrance to the fort more difficult. However, unfortunately Aurangzeb, lacked the finer aesthetic sense of his father and ended up in hampering the beauty of the fort without making a major difference in its defence mechanism. Under the British, the fort lost some more of its adornments as the galleries on either side of the drum house were removed to help it serve as the headquarters of the British army.
However, Shah Jahan’s sense of art and beauty can still be applauded through the remnants of the Royal baths or hammams, the Shahi Burj, the Khas Mahal and the Charbaghs (gardens in four sections). A beautiful reminder of Lal Quilla’s glorious past can be relieved through the fantastic light and sound show organized every evening on the fort grounds.
Indoctrinated into a whole new way of reading history, I left the fort physically tired but mentally refreshed. I knew that the fort bereft of its gilt-edged arches and stone studded jharokhas was entering into a new chapter of its history. A chapter, we would leave behind for our posterity to open, just in case they are interested.