“If you see the entire design of the Red Fort it appears like an eight-sided flower,” wrote Bashir-ud-Din in his magnum opus on Delhi, detailing the extensive work that went into its construction

As promised in cityscape last week we present here an excerpt from a description of the Red Fort as left for us by Bashir-ud-Din Ahmad in his 2,400-page magnum opus Waqeyaat-e-Daar-ul-Hukoomat-e-Dehli ‘Events at the Capital City of Delhi’ in an English translation from the original Urdu, published 94 years ago in 1919.

“……after Jehangir the celebration of the coronation ceremony of Shahjahan too was organised on a grand scale at Agra, the fort of his ancestors. After 11 years it was realised that the forts at Agra and Lahore were no longer adequate to contain the ever expanding scale of the grandeur of the Mughal court and therefore the emperor decided to make Delhi his capital. He visited the city of Deen Panah (the sixth city built by his great grandfather Humayun) on several occasions, the site where the Red Fort is now located was chosen after consulting astrologers, Ulema and great sufis and then the foundation of the city of Shahjahanabad, popularly known as Dehli, was laid next to the site of the fort.

Construction of a fort that was superior to the fort at Agra and much better than the fort at Lahore, soon commenced. The foundation of the fort was laid after elaborate preparations on the auspicious moment five hours and 12 minutes into the night of Friday the 9 of Moharram of 1049 Hijri (May 12, 1639) coinciding with the 24 day of the second month of the 561 year of the Persian Malik Shahi calendar, under the care of Izzat Khan (who was later to be governor of Sindh). The two most senior masters (architects) involved at the time were Ustad Ahmad and Ustad Hamid. Izzat Khan remained in-charge for five months and two days, during this period he succeeded in completing the laying of the foundations and getting together the required building materials. He was appointed governor of Sindh and was replaced by Allah Wardi Khan who remained at the helm for two years, one month and 14 days, the perimeter walls of the fort were built to a height of 12 yards during this period. Allah Wardi Khan was now appointed Subedaar of Bengal and Mukarmat Khan made in-charge of construction. Construction work concluded successfully after nine years of hard work in the 20 year of the coronation of Shahjahan.

The Emperor was in Kabul at the time and Makarmat Khan, in-charge of works, despatched a request letter for the Emperor. The Emperor arrived by boat in a royal procession and entered the fort through a river-side gate, probably the Khizri Darwaza, and inspected the fort on 24 Rabi-ul-Awwal 1057 Hijri (April 18, 1648). From the foundations to the top of its lofty walls the fort was resplendent in red sand stone with white marble margins, canopies, cupolas, citadel walls, striking buildings and gardens and water channels and streams, each one so attractive that even a matter of fact description of each will fill volumes. If you see the entire design of the fort it appears like an eight-sided flower.

The Emperor was pleased to approve the convening of the Darbar at Deewan-e-Aam (Hall of Public Audience), preparations for the celebration thus commenced. ‘Dal Badal’ and ‘Suha Mandal’ the shamianas (canopies) that had been prepared over seven years were now installed respectively at the Deewan-e-Aam and the Deewan-e-Khaas, the finial of the latter rose higher than the canopy of the skies! Thousands of yards of Pashmina from Kashmir and velvet and Zarbaaf (carpet)from Gujarat had been used in the making of these canopies, both were raised on pillars of gold and stays made of silver, in front of these were beautiful awnings stretched through gold and silver hooks and rings. The ceiling of Deewan-e-Khaas was as lavishly decorated with elaborate and delicate meena work as it was draped with exquisite fine carpets from Iran and kimkhwab (brocade) from Benaras. Each structure, from the sadar (Deewan-e-Khaas) to the paa-andaaz (small carpet for wiping of feet at the threshold), had been draped in velvet, Iranian Zarbaaf , brocades, imported curtain materials, expensive drapes from Rome and Chinese satins, the magnificent glory of the fort was overwhelming. The peacock throne was placed inside the Deewan-e-Aam and the court was held with all its awe inspiring grandeur.

The traveller Bernier writing in 1663 had this to say about the fort, ‘the shape of the fort is like a half circle, one gets a fine view of the river from the fort, between the fort and the river there is a large sandy stretch, elephant fights are organised here, the armies of nobles, jagirdaars and rajas are arrayed here for inspection of his majesty and the Emperor graces them with his presence from the fort. The cupolas and domes of the fort are akin to those built along the bastions of the fort walls, though some of them are made from bricks and others of red sand stone and similar to those made of marble, but their general appearance is better’.”