Old Fort popularly known as Purana Qila is noted for its massive walls and three large gateways. The walls are 18 m high at some points. Humayun Darwaza, Talaqi Darwaza and Bara Darwaza are the three gates of Purana Qila and today the entrance is through the Bara Darwaza. Sher Mandal a small octagonal red sandstone tower inside the Purana Quila was used by Humayun as a library. Historians believe that the fort marked the site of Indraprastha, the capital of Pandavas. Kuhna Masjid, built by Sher Shah with marble and red sandstone, is also located inside the fort.
The Purana Qila built on an ancient mound, perhaps conceals the ruins of the city of Indraprastha of Mahabharata story. Archaeologists carried out excavations at the Purana Qila from the 1950’s to the 1970’s. The excavations showed that the Purana Qila was indeed a very old site. Archaeologists found that the settlement had many phases dating from about the fourth century B.C. (or earlier) to the nineteenth century A.D. Pieces of old pottery known as Painted Grey Ware were also found and this suggested that people may have lived at some spot in or around the Purana Qila from about 1000 B.C. onwards Sher Shah Suri demolished the city of Dinpanah built by Humayun and on the same site raised this citadel.
It is believed that Sher Shah left the Purana-Qila unfinished, and Humayun completed it. Among the scribblings in ink that existed in a recess of the gate, there was a mention of Humayun, and it is possible, therefore, that if the gate was not constructed by Humayun, it was at least repaired by him. In the southern gate, which is called the Humayun-Darwaza, there existed a similar inscription in ink mentioning Sher Shah and the date 950 A.H. (1543-44).
There are three Gates to this fort. Today entrance is through the Bara Darwaza. The South Gate is called the Humayun Darwaza, probably because Humayun built it or because the tomb of Humayun is visible from here. The third gate is the Talaqi Darwaza.
The construction of old fort was taken up by Humayun in 1538. He named it Dinpanah. Humayun was not able to rule from the fort for long and was defeated by the Afghan ruler Sher Shah Suri. Sher Shah named the place as Shergarh. It was Sher Shah who added many buildings to the complex. Some of the buildings constructed by him still stand. Sher Shah was killed when a canon misfired and Humayun came back to power. But it seems that the place was not ready to accept Humayun as the ruler and he died while coming down from the library for his Namaz (prayers). This library is known as the Sher Mahal and was constructed by Sher Shah. Originally the structure was to be much higher than it is today but the untimely death of Sher Shah halted any further construction.
Purana Qila covers perimeter of nearly 2 Kms.The gates are double storeyed built with sand stone and surmounted by chattris. It is believed Sher Shah left Purana Qila incomplete and was completed by Humanyun. Purana Qila originally lay on banks of river Yamuna. The general depression on northern and western side of fort suggests that a wide moat connected with river existed on these sides and a causeway connected fort with mainland.
The depression is now converted into a small lake and developed into a picnic spot for boating. This photo shows western gate and lake.
Located at the highest point of the Old Fort, Sher Mandal may have been built by Mughal emperor Humayun as an astronomical library and pleasure tower during his rule in Delhi between 1530 and 1556, which was interrupted for fifteen years by the Afghan Suri Dynasty. Some historians attribute it to Suri ruler Sher Shah Sur (1540-1545) based on vague references to the building in his biography Tarikh-i-Sher Shahi, commissioned by Mughal emperor Akbar in 1579. There is no epigraphical evidence to support either claim. In any case, Sher Mandal along with Kuhna Masjid, is one of two surviving structures within the fort ramparts from the mid sixteenth century.
The building is a two storey octagonal structure crowned with a pillared and domed pavilion (chattri). Built entirely of local red sandstone, both storey are punctuated with deeply recessed arched niches on each side of the octagon. While the niches on the second storey are connected to form a verandah around a central chamber, those on the lower storey only allow for entry arches into the tower. The upper chamber is cruciform in plan and opens into a verandah through four doors. A continuous eave (chajja) runs below the roof parapet.
Qila-i-kuhna masjid is one of the most fascinating buildings in the Purana Qila Sher Shah Suri built it in 1541. The mosque is quite a place; its prayer hall measures 51.20m by 14.90m and has five doorways with the ‘true’ horseshoe-shaped arches. Apparently the idea was to build the whole mosque in marble, but the supply ran out and red sandstone had to be used instead. But the builder used the material at hand very skillfully. The result is quite spectacular. The red sandstone and the marble contrast beautifully with each other.
Purana Qila was chosen as venue for address by the US President Bush with backdrop of ruins. This venue is popular with organizers hosting concerts at night.This monument was specially illuminated for a music concert organised by Times of India group of newspapers.
Source: Nath, R. 1978. History of the Sultanate Architecture. New Delhi
Delhi and its neighbourhood 1982 Archaeological Survey of India
Photos-copyright Ramesh Lalwani
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Author: Ramesh Lalwani- New Delhi