Remember ‘khoob ladi mardani woh to Jhansi wali rani thi’ or ‘do gaz zameen bhi na mili kue yaar mein’? Rani Laxmi Bhai of Jhansi, her companion Jhalkari Bai, Tantia Tope, Mangal Pandey & Bahadur Shah Zafar: these are people from Indian history we have most often read about, their poetry of defiance or of despair, were all part of the experience of 1857.
Delhi was the battle site where all was at stake. For the rebels, Delhi was the capital of the country. It stood of everything they had lost and wanted back: the glory, the dignity & the pleasures of life. For precisely the same reason, Delhi was crucial to the British too. Win Delhi & you keep the empire! Our heritage walk in Kashmiri Gate looks at some of the sites where events of 1857 played out in Delhi. We also talk about Delhi before the revolt & the people who lived here.
The heritage trail starts at Nicholson Cemetery near gate no. 4 of Kashmiri Gate metro station. John Nicholson is a hero for the British who was fatally injured in the ‘Mutiny’. It is said, he lay injured, dying slowly each day, but would not give up until he heard that Delhi had been taken by the British. The British forces had camped at the Ridge (what is today the Delhi University) & were targeting the rebels who were holed up within the walls of Shahjahanabad. As the British tried to enter the city, the rebels stood at its gates, defending it. Kashmiri Gate was one such site. The outer façade of the gate still bears the damage it suffered from enemy canons. There was bitter fighting here & its breach was a turning point in the course of the rebellion, turning the tide in favour of the British. The British forces were in, but it still took them a few days to make their way from Kashmiri Gate to the Red Fort less than a kilometer away. So fiercely did the rebels fight.
The neighbourhood between this gate & the Red Fort initially had the houses of some of the most important nobleman in Shahjahanabad including Dara Shukoh & Ali Mardan Khan. Later, in the 19th century, many of these estates were purchased by Europeans who modified these mansions to make their own homes. James Skinner, of Skinner’s Horse & William Fraser & David Ochterlony, both Residents of English East India Company at the Mughal court, had their houses here. Not much is left of James Skinner’s estate, except the church built by him. St James Church has James Skinner’s own burial along with those of his dear friend, William Fraser & of Thomas Meltcalfe, another Resident. William Fraser purchased a Mughal mansion, complete with a tehkhana, which is now the office of Northern Railways. David Ochterlony, who was ‘more native than the natives themselves’, built his Residency over the site of Dara Shukoh’s library.
Once the rebellion broke out in Delhi these houses & the institutions associated with colonial rule were under severe attack. The Europeans all fled the city; the printing press & the Bank was attacked. The copper ball & cross atop the dome of St James Church was apparently used for target practice by the rebels. The Delhi College was looted, its library destroyed & its teachers, particular those who were seen to be sympathetic to foreign rule were targeted. Yasudas Ramachandra, a professor of Mathematics who had converted to Christianity was one such man. He lies buried in Nicholson Cemetery. The British Magazine & Telegraph office close to the Residency were also attacked. Both are now memorials dedicated to the memory of British who sacrificed their life or acted with bravery in face of certain death. On the same road, is the oldest Christian cemetery in Delhi, the Lothian Road Cemetery.
There is another memorial in this neighbourhood which dates back to the Mughal times. A small mosque called Lal Masjid or Fakhr ul Masajid, stands in the Bara Bazaar area (or Sultan Singh market). It was built by a Khaniz I Fatima, in memory of her husband who was a commander under Mughal emperor Aurangzeb & died in a battle. It is one of the few surviving monuments, built by women in Shajahanabad.
(posted by Kanika Singh & Kavita Singh, team member, Delhi Heritage Walks)