The History of New Delhi – Capital of Capitals

The region of South Asia, also referred to as the Indian Subcontinent, has been looked upon as a single entity since time immemorial. The Hindu rulers referred to this region as ‘Bharat’, the Islamic rulers as ‘Hindustan’ and the British as ‘India’ (there was no Pakistan and Bangladesh until 1947!). This huge area (a total of 4,424,675 sq kms) had a fragmented political scenario for a major part of history and was ruled by a multitude of rulers (who had their own respective kingdoms which were small in sultan toto size); but it was also united under a common flag for quite some period of time by the Maurya (322-185 BC) and Gupta (320-550 AD) Dynasties, the Khalji (1190-1320 AD), Tughluq (1321-1414 AD) and the Mughal Sultans (1526-1857 AD) and later by the British Raj (1858-1947 AD).

Now, in order to secure and rule this huge landmass a ruler had to establish his capital at a geographical location which would ensure that he was at a safe distance from the borders; but also not be so far that it would prevent him from sending re-enforcements on time (in the event of an invasion). Similarly he also had to ensure that his capital city was located at a location which would facilitate smooth

running of his administration. So, while the geo-political situation permitted Mauryas and Guptas to rule the Indian Sub-Continent from Pataliputra (present day Patna, located in Eastern India,) the sultans of the Delhi Sultanate (taking cognizance of the repeated Mongol Invasions which started from the time of Genghis Khan) established their capitals in the area where New Delhi is located today. Even the British, after ruling India from Calcutta (now Kolkata) for some time, shifted their capital city to Delhi as it was more centrally located. What also encouraged rulers after rulers to establish their capital cities in Delhi, apart from its central location, was a steady supply of water and favourable weather which had a pleasant rainy season and cold winters apart from the summer months.

It is a very interesting if not an intriguing sight for an individual to observe that it was within the small area of New Delhi (a city-state spread over 1484 square kms) that ruler after ruler, across the period of time, kept establishing his capital city. There were rulers who established fully fledged cities which were well planned and well fortified and there were rulers who established military garrisons over here, garrisons which effectively functioned as the capital. 8 fully fledged cities were established here with the 9th city being the current New Delhi. Ruins of majority of these capital cities remain but in a very dilapidated condition while the rest of them have been lost to time.

The first city which is believed to have been established in this region was in the 1400 BC. It was known as ‘Indraprastha’ and was set up by the Pandavas. While it is believed to be mythological by many, traces of civilization have been unearthed by archaeological excavations.

The second city established in this region was ‘Qila Rai Pithora’ which was established around 1180 AD. It was the capital of the legendary Prithviraj Chauhan and served later as the capital of the Mamluk Sultans until Balban’s death in 1287 AD. This city served as the capital city of its respective rulers for over 100 years. The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Qutb Minar was originally a part of this city.

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