This heritage walk explores the history of the city of Shahjahanabad, today, old Delhi or Purani Dilli. The trail focuses on the street of Chandni Chowk which was the main boulevard of the 17th century city, and still remains so. Over a period of 400 years the city has seen many changes, but two events have most prominently shaped it: the suppression of the rebellion of 1857, and the Partition of 1947. Delhi was one of the major centres of the Revolt of 1857. The rebellion was crushed and the Mughal dynasty came to an end. India became a British colony. The British occupied the Red Fort and the city and large parts of the city were flattened. A clearing was created outside Red Fort to provide for firing range, in case of another rebellion; prominent public buildings like Fatehpuri Masjid were razed in this clearance of settlements; the Mughal buildings inside the Fort were pulled down and barracks for British soldiers created. The physical fabric of the city was drastically altered. 1947 saw a massive migration of people across the newly created border. A number of refugee colonies came up to settle the people displaced by Partition. Many of these were built on lands which were part of garden estates of the nobility in Shahjahanabad. Both 1857 & 1947 have had a tremendous impact on the life of the city and as it appears to us today. We also have to keep in mind that in old Delhi many site will have historical associations but the buildings identifying the sites could be fairly recent. This is because it is an area of continuous settlement; people who have lived here have built, repaired and rebuilt on older sites.
Our trail starts at Digambar Jain Lal Mandir, which is well known in old Delhi for its bird hospital. Next to it is Gauri Shankar Mandir established by the Marathas in the 18th century. The modern buildings of these two temples is a great contrast to lesser known temples in the city. We visited the Kunni ji Maharaj Shivalaya in Katra Neel where the shrine was established under a canopy of which architecture was distinctly ‘Indo-Islamic’. One of the sites covered by us was the Sisganj Gurdwara and the Fountain Chowk. There are a number of sites of interest around this chowk. The Bhai Mati Das Museum has been built on the site of Majestic cinema. The community kitchen (langar khana) of the Gurdwara stands on the location of Mughal Kotwali (police station), an old sign board indicated the location of Ghantewala Shahi Halwai (which shut shop recently), the Sunheri Masjid stands next to the gurdwara, its golden dome now black. A small detour from Chandni Chowk into Parathewali Gali takes us to the famous Kinari Bazaar and a quaint group of households called Naughara. It lies in the neighbourhood of Dharampura where the population is predominantly Jain. The next stop on our walking tour was the Town Hall. A creation of the British, the Town Hall, along with the Delhi Railway Station stands on the estate of Mughal princess Jahanara. When Shahjahanabad was first planned this was also a major city square with a pool. The entire stretch of Chandni Chowk had a canal running through its centre. This water reflected moon light, hence the name ‘Chandni Chowk’ or ‘moonlight square’ for the street. After 1857, the canal, the garden estate were all gone. A new road (nai sarak) was created and named Egerton Road. Later the name was changed to Nai Sarak. Close by is Katra Neel where Chunnamal’s Haveli still stands as the most prominent landmark. The mansion is still occupied by the descendants of Lala Chunnamal and the house has more than 170 rooms. Lala Chunnamal was one of the Indian merchant-bankers who were the new rich in Delhi, after 1857. So much so, that Fatehpuri Masjid which lies at the end of Chandni Chowk was once his private property. Today, Fatehpuri Masjid is an active mosque and madrasa. It is an oasis of calm within the chaos of the old city. Fatehpuri Mosque shares its boundary with the Gadodia market in Khari Baoli. This was the last stop on our heritage walk. One of the biggest warehouses and shop spaces in the spice market, Gadodia Market offers a spectacular view of old Delhi from its rooftop.
(blog post by Kanika Singh & photos by Kavita Singh, team members Delhi Heritage Walks)