World Heritage Day: How Delhi’s Hindu heritage was eclipsed by foreign invasions



By Shilpika Srivastava

From becoming the capital city of almost every single dynasty and empire that blossomed in India, Delhi has lineage, history, class and then some more. The seeds of Delhi spread not in the misty myth, but very firmly in the ground – put there by the Hindu pedigree, as the historical texts suggest.

Around 1400 B.C., there existed a powerful and magnificent city of Indraprastha – the city of PandavasMahabharata suggests that the Demon Maya, who was said to be the best architect of his time, built the fabled city of Indraprastha after Dhritarashtra partitioned the Kingdom of Hastinapur into two in order to cut down the enmity between the Pandavas and the Kauravas.

In fact, there are historical evidences that suggest that the area has been settled for around 2500 years. Last year, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) started its excavation at Purana Qila in hope to unearth Painted Grey Wares (PGW), which could have proved the existence of the Mahabharata period. Also, an excavation conducted inside the fort grounds in the early 1970s unveiled Black Polished Ware and PGW that dated back to 300 B.C. The excavation gave boost to ASI and its historians’ belief that the fort’s site was, indeed, a part of the mythological Indraprastha.

Upinder Singh’s book, Ancient Delhi, also makes a reference of a place called ‘Dillika’. Also, the heroic poem, Prithviraj Raso, penned by Chand Bardai, links ‘Dhilli’ with a Rajput king and Mehrauli’s iron pillar.

Pasanaha Chariu of Vibudh Shridhar, an Apabhramsha writer, provides the first reference to the legend of the origin of the name ‘Dhilli’ for Delhi. He says:

हरियाणए देसे असंखगाम, गामियण जणि अणवरथ काम|
परचक्क विहट्टणु सिरिसंघट्टणु, जो सुरव इणा परिगणियं|
रिउ रुहिरावट्टणु बिउलु पवट्टणु, ढिल्ली नामेण जि भणियं|

It literally means: There are countless villages in Haryana. The villagers there work hard. They don’t accept domination of others, and are experts in making the blood of their enemies flow. Indra himself praises this country. The capital of this country is Delhi.

Countless invaders who were attracted to the riches and wealth of India, found their calling in Delhi. Being located on the banks of River Yamuna, the erstwhile city of Indraprastha soon became the Pole Star that every marauder wanted to win over.

Delhi has witnessed the rise and fall of almost eleven cities. Therefore, every dynasty that ruled the area left its distinct streak over the city’s architecture. During the entire hotchpotch, from the decline of Indraprastha to the invasion of Muhammad of Ghor, the Hindu heritage that the city had beautifully preserved faded away gradually in the darkness of time.

The rule of Qutbuddin Aibak, the slave and successor of Mohammed Ghori, saw Sultanate being reinforced, and then began a chapter of cultural experimentation and efflorescence in language, food, and architectural techniques. There ran an anabolism of the cultural traditions of Central and West Asia, and these when synthesized with the indigenous architectural styles of India gave rise to a distinct building style called Indo-Islamic.

The earliest buildings during this time were created using materials from the Hindu and Jain temples. Quwwat-ul-Islam, Delhi’s first congregational mosque was built over the substratum of a Hindu temple, and beams, brackets and columns from 27 temples were utilized in its construction.

From 1526 to 1757, the Mughal Emperors accomplished huge power in India. The Empire sustained in a diluted form, for another hundred years, until 1858 and was slowly grasped by the British presence.

Conspicuously, the Indian architecture during the Mughal period was greatly prejudiced by Persian styles depicting a uniform pattern both in structure and character.

The emergence of Mughal Raj saw the evolution of the Hindustani language, which was the precursor to Hindi and Urdu, however, the Hindustani dance form was hugely affected by the Mughal patronage. It is also notable that the concoction of Persian words into the vocabulary proved to be a long lasting cultural change.

The Western frontier region changed its tune from an “Indian” or Hindu characteristics and progressed more towards an Islamic or Arab identity. This, on the other hand, led to the modern nations of Pakistan and Afghanistan that resonate more with the Arab culture than the Indian culture. Not necessarily bad, but certainly a hard hit for “Indian” heritage.