This intriguing plan depicts ‘Old Delhi’, founded during the 17th Century by Shah Jahan as the new Mughal capital. Taken from a roughly westward-oriented perspective, the map showcases the city as it appeared not too long after the Siege of Delhi, a major event of the Uprising of 1857, although much of Delhi remained unchanged since Shah Jahan’s reign.
The Delhi region had been inhabited since the 2nd millennium B.C., and was home to permanent settlements since the 6th Century B.C. The Tomar Rajput Dynasty established Lol Kot in 736 AD, making the future site of Delhi a major political centre for the first time.
The Chauhan kings of Ajmer conquered Lal Kot in 1180, and renamed it Qila Rai Pithora, thus founding the first of what are known as the “Seven Cities of Delhi”. Over the following four and a half centuries, these successive imperial capitals, built within what is today the Greater Delhi region, would be destroyed and then rebuilt. Qila Rai Pithora fell to the Delhi Sultanate, which through five dynasties, from 1206 to 1526, ruled almost all of Northern India (and, for a time, during the 14th Century, most of the Subcontinent). The successive capitals of the Delhi Sultanate were Mehrauli, Siri, Tughlakabad, and Firozabad. Following a brief period under Mughal rule, the short-lived Suri Empire (1540 to 1556) commenced Shergarh, which was intended to be their capital, but which was never finished.
Following the Mughal restoration in 1556, Delhi lost its status as an imperial capital, a mantle taken up by Agra. However, Emperor Jahan (reigned 1628-58) decided to construct Shahjahanabad, from 1638 to 1649, which formally became the capital of the Mughal Empire in 1648.
The Delhi that is depicted on the present map is largely true to the original form of Shajahanabad, save for some modifications and editions that were added in the succeeding two centuries.
Shah Jahan’s city had an area of just over 6 square kilometers, enclosed by great walls with fourteen gates. The city was dominated by the Red Fort, the colossal imperial palace constructed of red sandstone, completed in 1648, that straddled an offshoot channel of the ‘Jumna’ (Yamuna) River, depicted in the lower part of the map.
From the Fort’s Lahore Gate, a great thoroughfare led to the ‘Chananee Choak’ (Chandi Chowk, meaning ‘Moonlight Square’), an enormous market place designed around 1650 by the emperor’s daughter, Princess Jahanara. On the north side of the market area were several magnificent gardens, while at the end of the great thoroughfare stood the ‘Musjid Futeporee’ (Fatehpuri Mosque). Built in 1650, under the patronage of one of Shah Jahan’s wives, Fatehpuri Begum, the mosque was named in honour of her native city, Fatehpur Sikri, which served as the Mughal capital from 1571 to 1585.
Further south, amidst the dense warren of streets that comprised most of the city, is the ‘Jama Musjid’ (Jama Masjid), properly the Masjid-i-Jahan-Numa (‘World-reflecting Mosque’). Built between 1644 and 1656, it boasted 40 metre high minarets.
A more recent construction appears within an enclave off of the southwestern portion of the city’s walls. ‘Oriental College’, originally founded as a madrasa in 1692 by Emperor Aurangzeb, closed in 1790-1. It reopened in 1792 as a college dedicated to the arts, literature and sciences. The institution survives to this day as Zakir Husein Delhi College, named after the third President of India.
Numerous details are provided of sites outside of Delhi’s walls. ‘The Cantonment’, located the north of the city refers to the massive British army that guarded the city. Just to the south of Delhi is labeled the ‘Kotila of Feeroz Shah’, referring to the Feroz Shah Kotla, a fortress built in 1354-6 by Sultan Feroz Shah Tughlaq to anchor his planned capital of Ferozabad. Interestingly, the Kotla included one of the many surviving Pillars of Ashoka, monuments bearing inscriptions that were made on the orders of King Ashoka of the Mauryan Empire during the 3rd Century BC. During his reign, these columns were distributed throughout Ashoka’s empire, which included most of India. Feroz Shah moved this column to Ferozabad to serve as piece of iconography legitimizing his rule. The ancient inscriptions on the Ferozabad Ashoka Pillar were deciphered by the English antiquary James Prinsep in 1837. The pillar still stands at the Feroz Shah Kotla to this day. Other curious locations outside of Delhi include the ‘Lunatic Asylum’, and a number of old Mughal monuments.
The Historical Context leading up to the Siege of Delhi (1857)
The era following the death of Shah Jahan’s son, Aurangzeb (reigned 1658 – 1707), saw the decline of the Mughal Empire and, with it, the fortunes of Delhi. The city was conquered several times during the 18th Century. It was sacked by the Persian ruler Nadir Shah in 1739; it was placed under Maratha suzerainty in 1752; it was raided by the Afghan king Ahmed Shah Durrani in 1761; and, it was captured by Sikh forces in 1783.
During the Second Anglo-Maratha War (1803-5), the armies of the British East India Company (EIC) defeated the Marathas at the Battle of Delhi (1803). The city and the surrounding region came under the administration of the local EIC Resident, while it remained nominally under the rule of the Mughal Emperor. As shown on the map, the British set up a compound just outside of the Red Fort, along the offshoot of the Yamuna. It included a ‘Residency’, a ‘Custom House’, and a ‘Church’, amongst other structures. Delhi remained an important regional commercial and cultural centre, although its role in India’s affairs was one of faded grandeur.
Delhi came back into prominence as the scene of one of the great events of the Uprising of 1857. On May 11, 1857, forces nominally under the authority of the aging Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah II, expelled the British from Delhi. However, in what became known as the Siege of Delhi, a large British force besieged the city from June 8 to September 21, 1857, and only managed to regain control of the city with great difficulty.
Following the rebellion, the Mughal Empire was dissolved and Delhi was formally placed under British crown rule. In 1911, the British named Delhi as the future capital of India, a role realized upon the completion of New Delhi in 1931.
The present map of Delhi and its surroundings seems to be largely based (for its depiction of the walled city of Delhi only) on a map entitled Plan of Dehli Copied and Zincographed at the Ordnance Survey Office, Southampton, from a M.S. Plan in the possession of Col. Edward Harvey, Unattached, August 3rd 1857, printed by the
British Ordnance Survey Office, in Southampton, England, in 1857. The details with respect to the outlying areas were added from other sources.
The map was designed by Edward Weller (c. 1820-84), a prominent London cartographer and was published as part of the 1863 edition of Cassell’s Weekly Dispatch Atlas, an atlas sponsored by The Weekly Dispatch newspaper. The map is scarce and appears on the market only occasionally. It is one of only very few obtainable mid-19th Century maps of Delhi.
References: Cf. (Re: the 1857 antecedent entitled ‘Dehli’): Vivek Nanda & Alexander Johnson, Cosmology to Cartography: A Cultural Journey of Indian Maps (New Delhi, 2015), no. 46.