The history of the capital of India is so closely linked to the history of Bharat, Hindustan and India that it is indeed difficult to speak of one without the other. The formidable challenge is not the dearth of sources or reference materials: on the contrary, it is how to sift the “salient” from the plethora of information about a city with a living tradition of the second millennium BC. era, and projected to be the most populous city in the world by 2030. The first known city, Indraprastha, was founded by the Pandavas during the time of the Mahabharata; it was one of the five establishments sought by Krishna from the Kuru kingdom of Hastinapur (now Meerut) to avoid war – the other four being Swarnprastha (Sonipat), Panprastha (Panipat), Vyaghrprastha (Baghpat) and Tilprastha ( Tilpat). Incidentally, even though they are not part of the National Capital Territory (NTN), they are all part of the National Capital Region (NCR).
The discovery of an Ashokan edict in Brahmi script around the 3rd century BC. part of the Indian subcontinent. Another view is that this was the site of one of the five temples built by Pandavas. The city has found a mention like “Indapatta” or “Indapattana” in Buddhist texts, where it is described as the capital of the kingdom of Kuru, located on the Yamuna river.
Indraprastha was also known in the Greco-Roman world: the “Geography” of Ptolemy (2nd century AD) described the city as “Indabara”. Although during the Maurya, Kushan, Gupta, Vardhan, and Gurjara Pratihara dynasties it continued to be a garrison outpost as well as an important center of trade and pilgrimage, political power had shifted to Pataliputra in the Maurya and Gupta periods, Pauraspura (Peshawar) in the time of the Kushans, Kannauj in the time of the Vardhans and Ujjain in the time of the Pratiharas. The Tomar dynasty resurrected Delhi’s political fortunes by establishing Surajkund and Lalkot in the 9th century. Although Abul Fazal in his work, ‘Ain I Akbari’, says that Quila Rai Pithora was built by Prithvi Raj Chauhan in 1180 CE, there is some evidence to suggest that the real builder was Anangpal Tomar. However, it was Prithviraj Chauhan who lost the city to Mohammad Ghori in 1192. In a way, this also marked the erasure of Bharat and the advent of Islam in the subcontinent – d first under the Mameluks, the Khiljis, the Tughlaqs, Sayyids and Lodhis (from the 13th to the 15th century) then the Mughals who made it the most resplendent city in the world. The Mamluks first camped at Mehrauli and established the Qutub Minar complex in the 13th century. However, the iconic three-ton iron pillar (23 feet 8 inches high and 16 inches wide) was originally erected during the time of Emperor Chandragupta II (375-413 / 14 CE) and moved to its present location by Anangpal Tomar in the 11th century. The Siri Fort, which was established by Alauddin Khilji in 1300 CE, was followed by the establishment of Tughlaqabad, Jahanpanah, and Firozabad by the Tughluqs from 1320 to 1354. Between 1538 and 1545, Humayun developed Dinapanah and Feroze Shah Suri built Shergarh – both near the Indraprastha site (Purana Quila region). When the Mughal Empire was at its peak (1638-1649), Shah Jahan built Shahjahanabad, along with Chandini Chowk, Jama Masjid and Lal Quila, where the Mughals lived until the fall of the empire in 1857. However, the Mughals had effectively lost power to the Marathas in 1759, and by 1783 the combined armies of Khalsa – the Sikhs under the combined leadership of Baghel Singh of Karorsinghia, Jassa Singh of Ahluwalia and Jassa Singh of Ramgharia Misl – occupied the Red Fort, took possession of the Mughal throne on which Aurangzeb had condemned Guru Teg Bahadur to death and built Gurudwaras across Delhi, including the historic Sis Ganj, Rakab Ganj and Bangla Sahib. But Khalsa’s army left Delhi after making its presence felt and the Marathas held their own until 1803, when the British took effective control after the Anglo-Marathi War in which the Marathas were defeated. In 1857, due to the disaffection aroused by the annexation of Oudh (Awadh) and the introduction of “greased cartridges” which Hindu and Muslim soldiers consider a sacrilegious act, the soldiers rally behind Bahadur Shah Zafar who is thrown into the leadership role “reluctantly”; but he was a convenient scapegoat who spent his last years in exile in Rangoon. Even when the capital of British India was Calcutta, Delhi continued to be the location of most important political events and announcements, until it again became India’s premier city.
Opinions expressed are personal