The Indian capital city of New Delhi has a long history, including a history as the capital of several empires. The earliest architectural relics date back to the Maurya Period (c. 300 BC); since then, the site has seen continuous settlement. In 1966, an inscription of the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka (273-236 BC) was discovered near Srinivaspuri, which is near Noida. Two sandstone pillars inscribed with the edicts of Ashoka were brought to the city by Firuz Shah Tughluq in the 14th century. The famous Iron pillar near the Qutub Minar was commissioned by the emperor Kumara Gupta I of the Gupta dynasty (320-540) and transplanted to Delhi during the 10th century.
Eight major cities have been situated in the Delhi area. The first four cities were in the southern part of present-day Delhi, According to Indian folklore, Delhi was the site of the magnificent and opulent Indraprastha, capital of the Pandavas in the Indian epic Mahabharata, founded around 500 BC. Hindu texts state that the city of Delhi used to be referred to in Sanskrit as Hastinapur, which means “elephant-city”. A village called Indraprast existed in Delhi until the beginning of the 19th century. The British demolished the ancient village to make way for the construction of New Delhi in the late 19th century.
Archaeological evidence suggests that Indraprastha once stood where the Old Fort is today. Excavations have unearthed shards of the grey painted ware (c. 1000 BC) that some archaeologists associate with the age of the Mahabharata, but no coherent settlement traces have been found. The name Delhi may be derived from the word ‘Dhillika’, though there are other theories. Raja Dhilu (King Dihlu) founded ancient Delhi in 800 BC It was the name of the first medieval township of Delhi, located on the southwestern border of the present Delhi, in Mehrauli. This was the first in the series of seven medieval cities. It is also known as Yoginipura, that is, the fortress of the yoginis (female divinities). It gained importance during the time of Ananga Pala Tomar. In the 12th century, the city was included in the dominions of Prithviraj Chauhan.
8th century to 16th century
The Tomar Rajput dynasty founded Lal Kot in 736 near the Qutub Minar. The Prithviraj Raso names the Rajput Anangpal as the founder of Lal Kot. The Chauhan Rajput kings of Ajmer conquered Lal Kot in 1180 and renamed it Qila Rai Pithora. The Chauhan king Prithviraj III was defeated in 1192 by the Afghan Muhammad Ghori. Anangpal Tomar, a Chandravanshi Rajput ruler of Delhi, often described as the founder of Delhi, built the citadel some 10 kilometres from Suraj Kund around 731. From 1206, Delhi became the capital of the Delhi Sultanate under the Slave Dynasty.
The first Sultan of Delhi, Qutb-ud-din Ayb ak was a former slave who rose through the ranks to become a general, a governor and then Sultan of Delhi. Qutb-ud-din started the construction the Qutub Minar, a recognisable symbol of Delhi, to commemorate his victory but died before its completion. In the Qutb complex he also constructed the Quwwat-al-Islam (might of Islam), which is the earliest extant mosque in India. He was said to have pillaged exquisitely carved pillars from 27 temples for this mosque, many of which can still be seen.
After the end of the Slave dynasty, a succession of Turkic and Central Asian dynasties, the Khilji dynasty, the Tughluq dynasty, the Sayyid dynasty and the Lodhi dynasty held power in the late medieval period and built a sequence of forts and townships in Delhi. in 1398, Timur Lenk invaded India on the pretext that the Muslim sultans of Delhi were too tolerant of their Hindu subjects. Timur entered Delhi and the city was sacked, destroyed, and left in ruins. In 1526, following the First Battle of Panipat, Zahiruddin Babur, the former ruler of Fergana, defeated the last Lodhi sultan and founded the Mughal dynasty which ruled from Delhi, Agra and Lahore.
17th century to 19th century
In the mid-sixteenth century there was an interruption in the Mughal rule of India as Sher Shah Suri defeated Babur’s son Humayun and forced him to flee to Afghanistan and Persia. Sher Shah Suri built the sixth city of Delhi, as well as the old fort known as Purana Qila and the Grand Trunk Road. After Sher Shah Suriâ€™s early death, Humayun recovered the throne with Persian help. The third and greatest Mughal emperor, Akbar, moved the capital to Agra resulting in a decline in the fortunes of Delhi.
In the mid-seventeenth century, the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan (1628-1658) built the city that sometimes bears his name (Shahjahanabad), the seventh city of Delhi that is more commonly known as the old city or old Delhi. This city contains a number of significant architectural features, including the Red Fort (Lal Qila) and the Jama Masjid. The old city served as the capital of the later Mughal Empire from 1638 onwards, when Shah Jahan transferred the capital back from Agra. Aurangzeb (1658-1707) crowned himself as emperor in Delhi in 1658 at the Shalimar garden (‘Aizzabad-Bagh) with a second coronation in 1659.
Nader Shah defeated the Mughal army at the huge Battle of Karnal in February, 1739. After this victory, Nader captured and sacked Delhi. In 1761, Delhi was raided by Ahmed Shah Abdali after the Third battle of Panipat. At the Battle of Delhi on 11 September 1803, General Lake’s British forces defeated the Marathas.Delhi passed to British control in 1857 after the First War of Indian Independence; the last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar II was exiled to Rangoon and the remaining Mughal territories were annexed as a part of British India.
Shortly after Indian Rebellion of 1857, Calcutta was declared the capital of British India but in 1911 the capital was again moved to Delhi. Parts of the old city were pulled down to create New Delhi, a monumental new quarter of the city designed by the British architect Edwin Lutyens to house the government buildings. A brief but fascinating account of the Indian contractors behind this construction can be found in Khushwant Singh’s autobiography Truth, Love and a Little Malice. New Delhi was officially declared as the seat of the Government of India after independence in 1947. During the Partition of India thousands of Hindu and Sikh refugees from West Punjab migrated to Delhi. In 1984, the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi led to a violent backlash against the Sikh community, resulting in the deaths of 5,000 people.