This Sunday morning was a spent rambling around the historic street of Chandni Chowk. Our heritage walks here focus on discovering discreet phenomenon which were responsible for shaping up this place the way we see it today. Shahjahanabad has seen affluence and as well as the crises of the Mughal Empire. Further, the creeping in of British influence is also evident in the Mughal capital city.
We started our walking tour from Digambar Jain Lal Mandir which is the oldest Jain temple of the city. Its shrine dates back to the time of emperor Shahjahan’s reign. However, the building is a nineteenth century construction. It is beautifully decorated with carvings, paintings and statues describing Jain tradition. A bird hospital in its premises is another interesting place to explore here. Just a few steps ahead stands Gauri Shankar Temple devoted to Hindu deity Lord Shiva and his consort Gauri. The architecture of these temples resembles popular Nagara and Dravida style respectively.
Along the same street is the SBI building which is a clear example of colonial architecture. It is built on the estate of a lady called Begum Samroo who was Kashmiri dancing girl. She had married European mercenary and inherited a principality in Sardana (near Meerut) & she maintained a strong and efficient army. Her leadership qualities were credited when she was gifted the very land on which SBI stands, by the Mughal emperor, Shah Alam. Today here estate has a large market called Bhagirath Place. A few steps ahead is Central Baptist Church & across the street is Dariba Kalan, the market known for its jewels. At the mouth of Dariba is located, the old & famous jalebiwala, known for his desi ghee jalebis & samosas.
The next stop on the heritage walk is Sisganj Gurdwara. The shrine marks the martyrdom of ninth Sikh Guru, Teg Bahadur who was beheaded here on the orders of Mughal ruler Aurangzeb. The Gurdwara was built much later in 1784 by Sikh commander Baghel Singh. The langar hall of the Gurdwara was the former Mughal kotwali where the Guru was imprisoned. The roundabout where the Gurdwara stands, also has a museum dedicated to Sikh history. It is named after the 3 followers of Guru Teg Bahadur –Bhai Mati Das, Bhai Sati Das & Bhai Dyala– who were killed here along with the Guru.
The Sunheri Masjid which stands next to the Gurdwara has a gory history too. When the Persian ruler Nadir Shah came raid Delhi, he stood on the terrace of this very mosque & watched over the massacre of the city’s residents. Moving on to more pleasant experiences- the Ghantewala Shahi Halwai. The shop traces its antecedents back to the Mughal times. The story goes that the royal elephant was so fond of the sweets from here, that as the state processions passed through Chandni Chowk, it would stand outside the shop playing its bell (ghanti) until it was given its usual quote of sweets. A small detour from the main street leads us into the famous Parathewali Gali (the street of fried bread).
From Tiraha Kinari Bazaar, we walked into the area behind Sisganj, into Naughara. Naughara is a group of havelis which also have a Shwetamber Jain Mandir. Coming back to the main street, our next stop was the Town Hall, a well known landmark in old Delhi. The city square which was here during the Mughal time had an octagonal pool. The street of Chandni Chowk too had a canal running down its whole length. All this water reflected moonlight, hence the street was named ‘Chandni Chowk’ or ‘moonlight square’. The area before Town Hall was the original Chandni Chowk.
Old Delhi is also known for its mansions havelis. Most famous ones are gone or are in ruined condition. One of the better ones is Lala Chunnamal’s haveli. Lala Chunnamal was a merchant & banker & also a member of the city’s municipality. The haveli is probably the largest in old Delhi, with more than 150 rooms. His descendants are still in the haveli today. The neighbourhood in which the haveli stands is Katra Neel, a famous cloth market. Katra Neel has numerous temples of Lord Shiv (shivalaya), which is why the neighbourhood is compared to the city of Varanasi. We visited Kunni ji Maharaj Shivalaya here.
Our next stop was Fatehpuri Masjid, located at the end of Chandni Chowk. This mosque is older than the Jama Masjid & is built by Fatehpuri Begum, a wife of Shahjahan. In the 1860s, this mosque was actually the property of Lala Chunnamal for a few years before he returned it to the Muslim community. The northern gateway of Fatehpuri Mosque opens up in the Khari Baoli area, the spice market. This is the last stop on our walking tour. We climb up the stairs of a large warehouse, called Gadodia Market, up to its roof for a magnificent view of the old city.
Thanks everyone for joining us.
(posted by Niti Deoliya & Pushpa Mandal, team members, Delhi Heritage Walks)