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History of Delhi

Delhi, India's capital and a major gateway to the country, is a bustling metropolis which successfully combines in its fold the ancient and the modern. Cobbled lanes meandering to shadowed havelis, winding drives leading to colonial mansions, cramped shops tucked away in dark corners, glass-fronted emporiums opening onto shaded corridors __ and above all, a vibrancy in the air as people from all over the country employ their native enterprise in heralding the 21st century.

Looking back in time
Its strategic location was one of the prime reasons why successive dynasties established their seats of power in this city, turning it into a conglomerate of seven cities.The Hindu epic, Mahabharta, records the existence of a city called Indraprastha, built by the Pandava king, Yudhistra in 1400 BC. Located on a huge mound somewhere between the Purana Qila and Humayun's tomb, it is the earliest recorded mention of a settlement at Delhi.

To Raja Dhilu goes the credit of building the first city of Delhi in 736 AD near the site of the future Qutb Minar. The city suffered many ups and downs till the 12th century AD when Prithviraj III made it his capital. Its days of glory continued even when it passed into Muslim hands as Qutb-ud-din Aybak too chose it as his capital.

The second city was built by Ala-ud-din Khilji in the 14th century at Siri near what is today Hauz Khas and the Asian Games village.

The same century saw the building of the third city at Tughlaqabad by Ghias-ud-din Tughlaq. But he had to eventually abandon it because of scarcity of water and move back to the old site. The ruins of this once-grand city can be located on the present-day Delhi-Haryana border towards Faridabad.

The city was fortified and extended further northeast by his successor, Muhammad-ibn-Tughlaq, under the name Jahanpanah. So the fourth city of Delhi came to be located between the old cities near the Qutb Minar and the Siri Fort.

His successor, Firoz Shah Tughlaq, abandoned this site altogether and in 1354, moved his capital further north near the ancient city of Indraprastha. Thus, the fifth city, Firozabad, was founded in what is now the Firoz Shah Kotla area.

Then came the turn of the Mughals. Babur, the first Mughal ruler,re-established Delhi as the seat of his empire in 1526 after it had been invaded and partially destroyed by Timur at the end of the 14th century. Babur's son and successor, Humayun, built a new city on the site of the previously demolished Firozabad and called it Din Panah. This was subsequently razed by Sher Shah Suri when he overthrew Humayun in 1540 and built his capital, the Sher Shahi, as the sixth city.

Having lost its importance when the Mughal emperors, Akbar and Jahangir, moved their capitals to Fatehpur Sikri and Agra respectively, the city was restored to its former glory in 1638, when Jahangir's son, Shah Jahan, laid the foundations of the seventh city, Shahjahanabad. This is now known as Old Delhi. The greater part of the city is still confined within the walls that Shah Jahan built and several gates like the Kashmiri Gate, Delhi Gate, Turkman Gate and the Ajmeri Gate still stand.

With the fall of the Mughal empire during the mid 18th century, Delhi witnessed many invasions and power changes. The arrival of the British saw it reaching the zenith of its importance in 1912 when the capital of British India was shifted here from Calcutta.The construction of New Delhi was completed in 1931, reflecting the legacy the British left behind. The division between New Delhi and Old Delhi is the distinction between the capitals of the British and the Mughals respectively. But wherever the visitor may choose to explore, he will invariably confront the city's past.The walled city is all tradition and culture where one can glimpse past lifestyles in their myriad facets. New Delhi, in contrast, is a city trying to live upto the best of 21st century standards.