Red Fort or Lal Qila as it is more popularly known is a masterpiece of architecture and one of the most haunting spots for tourists from both India and abroad. Before the mutiny of 1857, the fort presented an altogether different picture from what it presents today because only about one-fourth of the imposing structure is accessible to visitors with the rest of the area being under the control of the Indian Army, which continues the occupation begun after the uprising of 1857 was suppressed. In 1858, a large number of palaces in the fort were demolished, many of the taikhanas (basement rooms) sealed and massive barracks constructed for the soldiers.
Before 1857, the fort was a mini-city with palaces, offices, workshops and halls of audience where about 3,000 people lived, yet today more than 10,000 visitors come to savour the magnificence of the building everyday.
There are 15 distinct structures within the fort with the first being the Lahore Gate and the last one the Moti Masjid. The Lahore Gate of the palace is veiled by the barbican added by Aurangazeb, a Mughal emperor. The gate is from where the Prime Minister addresses the nation and unfurls the National Flag on August 15, Independence Day.
The entrance of the Gate leads through a long covered bazaar called the Chatta Chowk. From Chatta Chowk follows the Naqqar Khana (Drum Room) also called Naubat Khana or the Welcome Room, which earlier formed part of a square enclosure with apartments for the umrah (Nobles) on duty. It was at this point that every one other than the Emperor had to dismount from their elephants and walk towards the magnificent Diwan-e-Am (hall of public audience) where the emperor used to listen to his grievances of the common man.
The Naqqar Khana is 49 feet high with an open arched hall at the top which served as a music gallery from where the strains of music filtered down to welcome the Emperor or to bid him a safe journey. The War Memorial Museum is housed on the first floor. The Diwan-e-Am is built of red sandstone and is set atop an impressive plinth. The southwest and northwest concerns of the pavilion are articulated by small chhattris.
After 1857, an ornamental panel depicting Orphans was dismantled, but it was restored at Lord Curson’s initiative at the beginning of the 20th century. The Diwan-e-Am was originally gilded with elaborate stucco work. However, today only the shell of the magnificent structure can be seen. Along the eastern wall of the fort and commanding a scenic vie of the Yamuna river was spaced out the private realm of the emperor.
The Yamuna in those days lowed past the walls. The remains of the palaces exist today in the form of Mumtaz Mahal, Rang Mahal, Khas Mahal, Diwan-e-Khas, the hammam and the Shah Burj from where originated the Nahar-e-Bishisht (Canal of Paradise) which flowed in a channel through these buildings.
The Museum of Archaeology, which has artifacts salvaged from the royal palace, is housed in the Mumtaz Mahal, Rang Mahal (Palace of Colours) gets its name from its painted interior. The northern and southern sections were called Sheesh Mahal (Sheesh-mirrors and mahal-palace). Embedded in the ceiling which reflected lights in fascinating multiplicity, were embedded in the ceiling. This, with its basement, was the palace of the royal ladies. Khas Mahal (Emperor’s Palace) has special rooms for private worship and for sleeping. It was small and elegant and had a fine marble screen at the north end which carried a motif of the scales of justice which carried a motif of the scales of justice which are seen in many miniature paintings of Shahjahan’s time.
A marble balcony, which one projected over the banks of the Yamuna and once the river, changed its course it was from this place that the Emperors used to present themselves for public appearance. Perhaps the most elegant part of the fort is the Diwan-e-Khas (hall of private audience) and it is almost like an undetachable part of the history of the Mughal Empire.
In 1739 the hall witnessed Nadir Shah receiving the submission of Emperor Mohammed Shah and depriving him of his most valuable treasures including the famed Peacock Throne. It was again here in May 1857 that Indian soldiers declared Bahadur Shah Zafar, the Emperor of Hindustan. The throne was set on a high impressive plinth along the rear wall and its lat ceiling supported by a series of engrailed arches, was gilded in sliver and had some of the finest pieta durra work and paintings.
Over the corner arches is inscribed the couplet of firdaus, the poet in Sahajahan’s court which when translated from Urdu means: “if there is a paradise on earth, it is here, it is here, it is fountain in the middle of the one in the centre. It also has pieta dura work on the walls. Shah Burj was a place where the emperors held private conclaves and it is in a secluded point.
Besides the conclaves, the emperors would also relax in privacy pondering over various issues. Moti Masjid (Pearl mosque) was a private masjid and was added by the emperor Aurangzeb. The masjid with three domes in perfect proportion gives it a rare look of elegance. To the north of this masjid is the Hayat Baksh, a Mughal garden built by Shahjahan. While at the southern and northern ends are the Sawan Bhadon pavilions in the centre of the garden are the grand Zafar Mahal.
The Red Fort served a great purpose for nearly 200 years as the centre of Shah Jahan’s empire where he led a life known to be of great pomp and ceremony. From here, taking place in various rooms of the palace, he could; show himself to his public in a ceremony called darshan from a large balcony, received public petitions and messages in the Diwan-I-Am, discussed important state matters with his principle state ministers in the Diwan-I-Khas, discuss the most secret of affairs with his kin and most trusted officers in the Royal Tower of Shah Burj, held lively gatherings and feasts and retiring for the night. This place was the greatest of Mughal Palaces and was the heart of Shah Jahan’s empire.