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Published in the 1-15 June 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Dilli's gates and windows
By Mahtab Jahan

Though every particle of Delhi, that is Dilli, has a history of its own, but whatever existed inside the city walls was unique from historical, social, cultural and practical points of view. Old Delhi existed inside the city walls only and people living outside this boundary were not considered as “Dilliwalas”. Though Delhi has spread far and wide now, but even today when people living in neighbouring places like Seelampur and Bara Hindu Rao visit Jama Masjid or Chandni Chawk, they tell their family members that they are going to “Dilli”.

Delhi Gate

Delhi Gate

In olden days, Delhi was a kind of fortress separated from outside by thick and strong boundary walls on all sides. When the city developed by Emperor Shahjahan was completed, he ordered boundary walls to be built around the city. There were huge gates and smaller windows through which people could enter or exit the city. According to Sir Syed Ahmad Khan’s Aathaar al-Sanaadeed, the city had a total of 13 gates (darwazas) and 16 windows (khirkis). The gates were known as Dilli Darwaza (also known as Delhi Gate), Kabuli Darwaza, Raj Ghat Darwaza, Khizri Darwaza, Nigambodh Darwaza, Kela ke Ghat ka Darwaza, Lal Darwaza, Kashmiri Darwaza, Badar Darwaza, Patthar Khati Darwaza, Lahori Darwaza, Ajmeri Darwaza and Turkuman Darwaza.



The windows were known as Zeenatul Masajid Khirkee, Nawab Ahmad Bakhsh ki Khirkee, Nawab Ghaziuddin ki Khirkee, Musamman Burj ki Khirkee, Muslim Garh ki Khirkee, Naseer Ganj ki Khirkee, Nai Khirkee, Shah Ganj Khirkee, Ajmeri Darwaza ki Khirkee, Sayyad Bhole ki Khirkee, Buland Bagh ki Khirkee, Farash Khana ki Khirkee, Ameer Khan ki Khirkee, Khalil Khan ki Khirkee, Bahadur Ali Khan ki Khirkee and Nigambodh ki Khirkee.

The historically important Kashmiri Gate is the only gate of Delhi through which traffic still goes on. It is situated in the north-western wall which has double passage. From this gate there was a passage which went all the way to Kashmir, so it came to be known as Kashmiri Gate. The importance of the gate rose after the first war of Independence in 1857. Freedom fighters fired volleys of cannon balls from the ramparts of this gate to Ludlow Castle which was a big and important battle front of the British army. Nearby was St. James Church where the freedom fighters used to assemble and discuss the strategies of war. The soldiers had vowed here to lay down their lives for the sake of the country's independence.

Ajmeri Gate

Ajmeri Gate

Even today this gate links the old city to Old Secretariat and Delhi University. The gate was badly damaged during the first war of independence.

Mori Gate
It is located at a small distance from Kashmiri Gate. This gate is almost totally destroyed but the city wall is still visible there indicating the existence of the gate. Cannons were fired at Ludlow Castle from this gate also. The gate was blown up on 17 September 1857 under the command of Alexander Taylor. Dirty water and sewage of the city used to collect here and drain out. The locality known as 'Ganda Nala' is situated nearby. Mori Gate was probably named so because of its dirty surroundings.

Kabuli Gate
The gate has now lost its name and existence. It was located inside the western wall where today 'Mithai ka Pul' stands. The gate and wall were razed by railways department for laying down railway-lines. Many historical buildings in this locality including the tomb of Nawab Zaibun Nisa (who died in 1752) have been gobbled up by the railways now. This gate was closed by the freedom fighters in 1857 itself to protect themselves from enemy incursions. 

Lahori Gate
The gate has lost its existence though its name still remains. Like Kashmiri Gate, this too was strongly-built and had double passage. Heavy fighting took place here during the 1857 war of independence. Gen. Reid tried hard to enter the city through this gate but he failed. Story goes that an old cannoneer was stationed here and used to fire cannon from the gate’s ramparts. When his stock of cannon balls was finished, he started throwing stones, hindering the march of British soldiers. Some grain merchants helped the British in entering the city from the backdoor. The old cannoneer was arrested and blown up with the cannon.

Ajmeri Gate
Built in 1644, this gate exists even today though the old walls have been demolished and residential and commercial buildings have come up in the vicinity. It is famous because just outside the gate there was the madrasa of Nawab Ghaziuddin Bahadur. The modern version of this madrasa was Delhi College and Anglo-Arabic School. Delhi College too has now shifted from this place but the Anglo- Arabic School is still there spread over a vast area. In olden days sons of nobles and aristocrats used to receive education here. The road to Ajmer started from this outlet. In those days it was the meeting ground of labourers and sweepers of the municipality.

Turkuman Gate
Built in 1658, it was in the south-western wall of Dilli. The tomb of a saint, Shah Turkuman, is situated nearby and probably this gate is named after him. Behind this gate is the tomb of Razia Sultan and Kali Masjid or Kalan Masjid. 

Delhi Gate
Built in 1638, this is in the southern part of the wall. Because of its enormous size, it was named Dilli Gate. It is made of simple and ordinary stones. In those days the road that passed through it was known as 'Thandi Sarak' (Cool Road) because it was the coolest road of the city. Now it is known as Daryaganj which leads to Kashmiri Gate while the outer road leads to Hazrat Nizamuddin. A portion of the wall to the east still exists but the wall to the west is destroyed to make way for the railway station.

While talking about gates, it would be in the fitness of things to mention a gate known as 'Khooni Darwaza' (Bloody gate). It lies slightly beyond the old fortress of Delhi and has an important place in the history of the city and the first war of independence. It is built of red and ordinary stones. The tradition goes that the sons of Bahadur Shah, the last Mughal emperor, had taken shelter in Humayun's tomb. They were arrested and shot dead while being taken to Red Fort. They were shot at this place by Hudson. He later justified their murder claiming that the crowd on seeing the chained princes was becoming restive, and sensing trouble he shot them dead. Dilliwalas believe that the signs of blood still visible on the gate belong to the murdered princes.
Now with the changed times neither there is that old Delhi nor those Dillwalas nor that spirit. Of the 13 gates only four survive now but not a single “window” exists today.

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