Home > Delhi, Delhi Architecture, Delhi History, General > Purana Qila, The 6th City of Delhi

Purana Qila, The 6th City of Delhi

Purana Qila

The 6th City of Delhi

Delhi has remained the pivot of north India over a thousand years. The stretch of land bounded by the Aravalli Hills and the Yamuna River enjoyed a strategic advantage linking the north – western mountains to the to the fertile flood plains of the Ganges.

Purana Qila Sher Mandal 2

Sher Mandal (Left) Dominates the Purana Qila complex, Delhi

The earliest literary references identify the city with the mythical Indraprastha, the grand capital of the Pandavas, the heroes of the ancient epic Mahabharata. Interestingly in 1911 when the Purana Qila (literally meaning the Old Fort) was being cleared of squatters, officials stumbled upon a village called Indrapat within the fort complex, was it the legendary capital of the Pandavas?

Purana Qila Gate

Bara Darwaza, present entrance of Purana Qila

Historians were not sure, but in 1955 they came out with more concrete evidences. A trial excavation with the Purana Qila premises yielded pieces of painted grey ware pottery, datable to 1000 BC.

A detailed excavation followed in 1969 an continued till 1973. Artifacts found in the excavation confirmed that the place in and around Purana Qila has been continuously inhabited since 3000 years!!!

The present day irregular oblong structure of Purana Qila dates back to the time of Humayun (reign: 1530 – 40 and 1555 – 56) of Mughal dynasty and Sher Shah (reign: 1540 – 45) of Suri Dynasty.

In 1533, three years after ascending the throne of Delhi, Humayun, led the foundation of the 6th citadel of Delhi. He named it Dinpanah, or the refuge of the faithful.

But in 1540 Humayun was ousted by Sher Shah Suri, who destroyed the existing citadel of Dinpanah and raised his own citadel in the same site and called it Shergarh.

According to historical records the first stint of Humayun reign was through troubled times. During this time there were continuous strife with provincial Governors, including Sher Shah, who was then known as Farid.

Purana Qila Passage

Tourist walk past the walls of Purala Qila

Quiet naturally during this troubled times Humayun did not have the time for architectural and artistic pursuit.

So though he laid the foundation of the 6th citadel of Delhi, but there have been no records of building activity.

But its quiet likely there was not much of building activity and no building from the Humayun’s first stint as emperor survives to this day.

So it can be concluded that there was nothing much to destroy for Sher Shah. Sher Shah was a great administrator and had a burning desire to build monuments.

with such embellishments that friend and foe might render their tribute of applause and that my name might remain honoured upon earth until the day of resurrection.

Purana Qila Talaqi Darwaza

Inside view Talaqi Darwaza, Purana Qila, Delhi

Sadly Sher Shah’s dream remained unfulfilled as his life was cut short by a tragic accident during the siege of Kalijar. A rocket ricocheted causing severe burns to Sher Shah, which resulted in his death.

Sher Shah died as he had lived – striving for victory. The citadel of Purana Qila and his gigantic mausoleum in Sasram, Bihar is all that he could accomplish in his short reign of 5 years.

The Purana Qila is irregular oblong in plan and has bastions on the four corners and along the western wall. It measures about 2 km in perimeter. There are three gateways. The Bara Darwaza (Big Gate), on the western wall, today operates as the entrance of the fort. The double storeyed gateway with an arched entrance is complete with chatris and oriel windows. Decorative coloured tile works form part of the ornamentation.

Purana Qila Humayun Darwaza

Inside view Humayun Darwaza, Purana Qila, Delhi

The Purana Qila has two other gates, the Talaqi Darwaza, literally meaning the forbidden gate, is on the northern end. Strangely nothing is known about the origin of the name. A scribbling in ink at the recess of the gate contains the name of Humayun.

Purana Qila Sher Mandal 1

Sher Mandal, Purana Qila, Delhi

It is quiet likely that the gate was built by Sher Shah but Humayun probably repaired or extended it during his second stint as emperor, which sadly lasted only for 11 months. This is also a two storeyed gateway, crowned with decorative chatris.

Purana Quila Baoli, Purana Quila (Old Fort), Delhi

Purana Quila Baoli, Purana Quila (Old Fort), Delhi

On the southern side the fort walls are punctured by the massive gateway of Humayun Darwaza. This was also not constructed by Humayun. The name originated because it faces the Humayun’s Tomb.

Built in similar style as the Talaqi Darwaza this gate also contains a similar ink inscription contain the name of Sher Shah and the date 950 Hijri (1543 – 44).

Purana Qila originally lay on the banks of the Yamuna River, which flowed along its eastern wall. Depression on the northern and western side of the fort suggest that the fort was once encircled by a deep moat, which was connected to the river. Draw bridges connected the three fort entrances to the main land.

Purana Qila Hamam

Hamam, Purana Qila, Delhi

The river have long shifted and apart from a small patch the moat has also dried up. The surviving part of the moat serves as a lake where paddle boat felicities were once available (it stopped in 2016).

Today the entry is through the Bara Darwaza on the western side. On the right hand side of the entrance is a small museum housing artifacts found from the Purana Qila excavation of 1955 and 1969 – 73. Also artifacts of the excavation of 2013 – 14 are also included.

The exhibits contain pottery of Painted Grey Ware and Northern Black Polished Black Ware. The exhibits date back to 1000 BC and cover several dynasties including Maurya (300 BC), Sunga (200 – 100 BC), Kushan (100 BC – AD 300), Gupta (400 – 600) and right up to the early sultanate period (AD 1100).

Purana Qila Qala i Kuhna

Qala – i – Kuhna Mosque, Purana Qila, Delhi

The structure that dominates the 6 th citadel of Delhi is the Sher Mandal. Built by Shar Shah this two storeyed octagonal sandstone memorial, relieved with marble, probably served as a pleasure resort. It is crowned with a octagonal chatri.

After recapturing Dehli Humayun turned the Sher Mandal in to his personal library. His second stint of emperor was short and only 11 months Humayun fell to his death in the stairs of Sher Mandal.

The story goes that the emperor was climbing down the stairs when he heard the call of the muazzin. He immediately knelt down on the steps to offer his prayer. When he got up he entangled his foot in his rob and fell down the stairs and died soon after. On the west of Sher Mandal is a Hamam (a public bath) and on the north east is a 22 meter deep Baoli (Stepwell). (Also see: Baolis of Delhi).

Purana Qila C1

Three of the five decorative mihrabs of Qala – i – Khuna Mosque, Purana Qila, Delhi

North of the Sher Mandal lies the star of Purana Qila the Qala – i – Kuhna Mosque (literally meaninf Mosque of the old fort). Built by Sher Shah in 1541 the single domed mosque has a hall measuring 51.2 m by 14.9 m. The mosque has a beautiful marble and red sand stone inlay giving it a pleasing character.

The eastern wall contains five arched entrances. The central arch is higher than the others and the size of the arch diminishes as moves away from the centre. The central arch is more ornate with marble and sand stone layout and is topped with a small oriel window. The western wall contains five highly decorated mihrabs with concentric marble arches with elaborate ornamentation.

Purana Qila C2

Collage of ornamental elements of Qala – i – Khuna Mosque, Purana Qila, Delhi

The back corners of the mosque has two stout minaret and the outer western wall have two oriel windows. The Qala – i – Kuhna mosque architecture occupies a important potion in Mosque architecture in the country. The stout minarets and oriel windows are distinctively Tughlaq or Lodi, while the sandstone and marble inlay mark the start of the Mughal architecture of the country.

Necessary Information:

Entry: Purana Qila is an Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) protected monument. It is open from sunrise to sunset. Entry fee Rs 20 (Indian) and Rs 200 (Foreigner). Still camera is free and Rs 25 per video camera. Photography is restricted within the museum.

Light and Sound show: Light and Sound show is held at the Purana Qila (MAY–AUGUST
(Friday Closed. Adult – Rs.100/-, Child – Rs.50/-). Hindi: 7:30 PM TO 8:30 PM. English: 9.00 PM TO 10.00 PM. Online booking

Nearby Monuments: Opposite the Purana Qila and across the Mathura Road are the Khairul Manazil Masjid and Sher Shah Gate

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