Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Red Fort baoli

I had to climb a fence and jump into padlocked territory in order to see this stepwell.

But a stepwell is worth it.
This one is located inside the Red Fort.  It likely pre-dates the fort and palaces built by Shah Jahan and was not much used by any of the royal family.

And this stepwell?  It was used as a prison.  The British closed up some of the chambers and imprisoned 1857 mutineers here.

Imprisoned in a stepwell.
I love stepwell history.

This makes number nine in Delhi.
How many more are left to find!?

Grounded art

I need a Mughal art expert.

I've been examining these carvings and inlaid stone work designs along with those of the Taj Mahal and I'm fascinated by something.  Unlike designs elsewhere, and like those done by the modern-day inlaid stone artists, the flowers depicted are all firmly grounded in the earth.

Beautiful flowers have to grow out of dirt.
So often flowers are shown as something that float in space.
But this is realism.  Earthy realism--something I'm not sure the Mughal emperors (believing they were kings of the universe) had a very grasp of.
I'm also really curious about the two odd fish-like things flying past the flowers.  What is that supposed to be?
They aren't symmetrical at all.  Was there some significance to this part of the design?

I need an expert, with answers to my questions.  As it is, I'm conjecturing all sorts of theories.

Diwan-i-khas and the Peacock Throne

Visitors can still go see the Diwan-i-Khas at the Red Fort, the private audience hall of the Mughal emperors.  And though it's run down and the restoration work slow, it's still a beautiful building.  White marble, intricately carved pillars inlaid with semi-precious stones.
Emperor Shah Jahan was so pleased with the pavilion that he had these words engraved on it:  "If there is paradise on the face of this earth, it is this, it is this."

The last time court was held here was during 1857, when the last Mughal emperor was making the fateful decision of whether or not to join the forces who were in revolt against the British rulers.  Though he tried to resist, he was swept up in a conflict that ended in tragedy for the empire and his family.
Along with the royal family, something else is missing from the Diwan-i-Khas.  The Peacock throne.
The throne used to sit on a pedestal as the centerpiece of all the Mughal splendor.

Shah Jahan had it made when he ruled the empire from Delhi.  The national treasury was displayed for all to see.  A statement in gold, diamonds, sapphires and pearls to say, "We are not just kings here, we are emperors."

The Mughals were defeated by a Persian army in 1739 and the Peacock throne was plundered.  A short time after, the Persian ruler himself was assassinated and the throne was dismantled, its jewels and gold dispersed to different factions.

The sun may have set on the Mughal empire and their treasures may be stolen and lost to history.  But a few hints of what once was still remain.

Lal Qila

The imposing walls of the Red Fort in Delhi stretch over two kilometers.  They were built by Shah Jahan, who, like his grandfather Humayan, preferred Delhi to Agra.

The fort was a huge undertaking.  The builders and architects were told to create a paradise on earth for the emperor and his court next to the Yamuna river.

At the edge of the private royal residence was the Diwan-i-Aam, where the public came to the ruler to tell him their problems. There was a courtyard and garden in front where the people used to gather to see the emperor sit on his magnificent throne. The area was heavily ornamented and hung with thick curtains--meant to impress and awe all those who saw it.

In the private quarters, a continuous channel of water connects a row of pavilions.  The Nahr-i-Behisht, or "Stream of Paradise", collected in pools (like this one in the Rang Mahal) and fountains throughout the royal gardens and provided a kind of air-conditioning for the summer months.
One of the last things to be constructed by the Mughal rulers within the fort is the pavilion in the Hayat baksh garden.  Here Bahadur Shah II built his own small palace within a lake. 
The descendents of Shah Jahan found it difficult to maintain the splendor of the fort.  And not just building at the same level of grandeur, but  living.
When the British took over the fort in 1857, the royal descendents were found living in run down streets and alleyways that looked the same as those outside the fort.  The whole area was cleared away for army barracks.
Now, the red sandstone columns of the Diwan-i-Am glow in the afternoon sun, but in their original state, painted gold, they must have awed the public audience that gathered here to see the emperor.
The golden door is the entrance to Chhatta chowk, which was modeled after the Persian covered markets.  Shah Jahan thought the covered market was a good idea as a relief from the hot sun.
It's still a market place for the usual touristy items of India.

Mughal and British rule have both come to an end in India.  The towering red walls of the Red Fort symbolize the independence of India and the merging of history with the present.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


During the afternoon, it was deceptively quiet out there.  Not even the call of a vegetable man.
But it was coming.

My street was already lit up in expectation for what was coming.

 In the evening the neighbors lit their candles to light the way to their homes.

 The houses hung with lights, the streets and skies alive with firecrackers.

Diwali is Delhi's biggest party.