On August 15, 1947, Jawaharlal Nehru hoisted the national flag at Lahori Gate of the Red Fort ,in Delhi to mark the birth of a new independent nation — an image that will remain etched in India’s history forever.
Since then, every Independence Day, it has become customary for the Prime Minister of India to hoist the national flag at Red Fort and deliver the “Address to the Nation”.
But why Red Fort?
Heritage activist and historian, Vikramjit Singh Rooprai says, a site that people could connect to emotionally had to be chosen. It was most important that this building was not a colonial structure. Given that Delhi was to continue as the country’s capital and that all other forts in Delhi were in bad shape, Red Fort was the only option that would have come to anyone’s mind, in 1947.
Here is a look at Red Fort’s historical, cultural and political significance that made it the perfect venue to celebrate Independence Day:
After deciding to shift his empire’s capital from Agra to Delhi, Emperor Shah Jahan commissioned the Red Fort on May 12, 1638 near the existing Salimgarh Fort. Delhi was chosen because it was well connected with all major towns via river (which was the most important mode of royal commute), plus it was strategically located in middle of the most important trade route of South Asia, connecting Kabul, Lahore, and Dhaka (territory of Mughals).
Seat of power
During the reign of Aurangzeb, India’s boundaries expanded and the Mughal empire became a force to reckon with; but like all great empires, it eventually declined.. The Fort witnessed numerous wars of succession, occupation and plunder over the centuries. Finally, following the Second Anglo-Maratha War in 1803, the Fort came under the control of the British East India Company. Over time, the British took over entire sub-continent, but the crown was still considered to be in Delhi, sitting in the Red Fort, so much so that when King George V came to India in 1911, Red Fort was the site where all the celebrations took place, except for the main Coronation.
- Red Fort was designed by architect Ustad Ahmad Lahouri, who also constructed the Taj Mahal.
- Red Fort had many buildings which were destroyed after 1857 by the British. Many of these were gilded with gold and had precious and semi-precious stones embedded in walls.
- Even the Hammam (The Hammam-e-Lal Qila is the Turkish bath located in the Red Fort in Delhi and served as the bathing area of the Mughal Indian emperor. It is located in the north of the Diwan-i-Khas.) of Red Fort is having 6 chambers. The marble slab on wall near Emperor's bed chamber has been so finely carved that even sun-light penetrates through it.
- The Emperor’s Seat in Diwan-i-Aam is precisely aligned with the central vista (Chandni Chowk) and sitting there, the emperor could see up to the end of road, till Fatehpuri Masjid. Later, Aurangzeb, due to security reasons, added a wall around all the gates, which blocked the view.
- The older Salimgarh Fort behind Red Fort, was built by Salim Shah Suri (aka Islam Shah Suri). The Red Fort was later built near it and both were connected by a bridge. The Red Fort Trials actually happened inside Salimgarh, but during the British period, it was considered to be the part of Red Fort.
- The Red Fort’s boundary walls are asymmetrical to make provision for the inclusion of the older Salimgarh Fort.
Fortification of freedom
Red Fort had become the site for struggles by Indians against the British at many occasions. Since the emperor himself was sitting here, most discussions took place in the corridors of the Fort-Palace, though the former “King of Hindustan” was reduced to a pensioner following a treaty.
Two events in particular sealed the Fort’s status as a place of significance in the fight for India’s independence:
The Revolt of 1857: The revolt was started by Indian soldiers in Meerut who shot the British officers and took off to Delhi, where they captured the city and took control of the Fort, and declared Bahādur Shah II as their leader. The rebellion soon spread to other parts of the country. But the British managed to seize Delhi back on September 20, and suppress the rebellion. The emperor was sent into exile.
The Red Fort Trials, November 1945: The Red Fort was the venue for the trial of Shah Nawaz Khan, Prem Sahgal and Gurbaksh Singh Dhillon — members of the Indian National Army, raised by Subhas Chandra Bose — for siding with the Japanese and fighting against the British in World War II, and thus going against the Crown.
With inputs from Vikramjit Singh Rooprai