The original Red Fort of Delhi

Lal Kot, built by Raja Anangpal Tomar, is not the same as Lal Qila

October 29, 2017 12:15 am | Updated 01:22 pm IST

Delhi’s Red Fort, or Lal Qila, is not only an iconic structure but is synonymous with the city. However, much before the Lal Qila, there was another Red Fort in Delhi called Lal Kot, which was built by Anangpal Tomar in the eighth century. It is the original Red Fort of Delhi. Let me clarify that Lal Qila was not built on the ruins of Lal Kot; they are quite far away from each other.

History of Delhi

We have documented proof for the foundation of Delhi from the first Tomar king onwards. Raja Anangpal Tomar founded it in AD 736. He probably chose the rocky Aravalli hills in Mehrauli as his headquarters for the strategic and military advantages it offered. It was one of the reasons why Qutbuddin Aibak, the first Sultan of Delhi, and some of his successors continued to live in the Lal Kot/Qila Rai Pithaura area for some years till Kaikobad moved to Kilokhari.

Delhi was built over several years as successive rulers felt the need for fortification against enemies, or wanted to go closer to sources of water, or just wanted to create a magnificent city. The seven cities are still extant; the eighth city was designed and built by Edwin Lutyens.

The first city of Delhi — Lal Kot/Qila Rai Pithaura — is situated in Mehrauli. The seventh city of Shahjahanabad, where Lal Qila is situated, is 23 km away from Lal Kot. In between are the ruins of the five other extant cities: Siri, Jahanpanah, Tughlaqabad, Firozabad and Dinpanah/Sher Shah Garh.

The first city stretched from Lado Sarai to Mehrauli. Later this area was expanded and renamed Qila Rai Pithaura after the famous ruler Raja Prithviraj Chauhan (AD 1169-1191).

The Tomars ruled over it from AD 736 but it was Anangpal II who re-peopled it and built Delhi’s first Red Fort in AD 1052. It seems probable that Anangpal II was forced to move to Delhi from Kanauj after the attack by Mahmud of Ghazni on Kanauj. Here, the Tomar kings, Anangpal and his successors, reigned undisturbed for a century, during which time they were able to build the city walls and construct masonry, dams, and tanks.

Basheeruddin Ahmed in Waqeat-e-Darul Hukumat Dehli and Gordon Risley Hearns in The Seven Cities of Delhi refer to an invasion and conquest of Delhi by Chauhan Rajputs in AD 1151 after which they reached an arrangement that the Tomar should marry a Chauhan princess so that their offspring becomes the king of Delhi.

That son was Prithviraj. He fortified the walls of his grandfather’s fort, erecting massive stone ramparts around it and extending its original boundaries. The excavations undertaken by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in this area showed that the citadel was oblong in plan and “the high stonewalls to its west which enlarge the original enclosure and are usually regarded as its area are a later construction”. It also shows the presence of a palatial building built by Prithviraj. The Turk rulers called it Qila Rai Pithaura after him.

Raja Prithviraj fought two battles against Sultan Mohammad of Ghor. In the first, Prithviraj defeated the Sultan in Tarain. In the second battle, Prithviraj was defeated after which, according to historians, he was taken to Ghor as a prisoner. With this, the city of Delhi changed hands and became the capital of the Delhi Sultans.

The gates around Lal Kot

Lal Kot, which lies inside Sanjay Van, a medicinal forest, is now mostly in ruins and its stone ramparts and remains of a moat survive only at very few places. The walls are 28-30 feet thick and about 60 feet in height. They are surrounded by a ditch. The bastions are 60-100 feet in diameter; the intermediate towers are 45 feet in diameter on top and well splayed out below. Qila Rai Pithaura, which extends beyond that, is also in the same state with only some portions of its walls still erect.

The victorious Turks entered Lal Kot through the Ranjit Gate, which was then renamed Ghazni Gate. The ruins and stones of this gate lie within the present Lal Kot walls a short way inside from the Fateh Burj.

General Alexander Cunningham traced the remains of ten gates in the 19th century for the ASI. We know the names of some of the gates: Badaun, Ranjit, Sohan, Barka, Hauz Rani and Fateh. The defences of Ranjit Gate were breached by the invading army of Qutbuddin Aibak. It entered Qila Rai Pithaura from this gate near the tomb of Adham Khan, Akbar’s general. Badaun Gate was the busiest under the Delhi Sultans. Most of the movement here related to state administrative work. The remains of the Badaun Gate are in the Qila Rai Pithaura grounds in the Qutub Golf Club.

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