A royal fort—qila—would be built to house the Mughal royalty and a sprawling city would come up just outside its precincts. Work began on 29 April and was completed in nine years. On 19 April , Shah Jahan, who had personally supervised the construction in many parts, entered the new qila and formally declared Shahjahanabad as the capital of Mughal India.
Shahjahanabad was shielded by a stone wall twenty-seven feet high, twelve feet thick and almost four miles long. Just outside the qila came up a grand and vibrant city with wide streets, large squares, specially carved-out bazaar areas and residential localities, a garden and a water channel fed by the Yamuna. Out of that bequest, Jahanara commissioned an octagonal square with a large pool of water in its centre. At night, moonlight would reflect in the water and the place came to be called Chandni Chowk Moonlight Square.
As a gift to his third wife, Izz-un-Nisa, commonly known as Akbarabadi Begum, Shah Jahan got another beautiful garden laid out to the west of the city. It was named Shalimar Bagh, perhaps after the magnificent garden of the same name that his father Jahangir had built for his last wife, Noor Jahan.
Izz-un-Nissa later, out of her own funds, built a sarai, or inn, within the garden complex. With its pivotal position in the city—geographical as well as societal—the qila from where the emperor ruled soon began to be called the Qila-e-Moalla, the Exalted Fort , familiar to us as the Red Fort. If there is paradise on Earth It is here, it is here, it is here! Around the mosque came up mohallas residential neighbourhoods and katras commercial enclaves , many of which were named after the occupational identities of their inhabitants: for instance, the area where bangle-makers lived came to be called Churiwalan, and the one where butchers lived was called Qassabpura.
The new capital soon became home to people from all walks of life, including traders, artisans, writers, poets and scholars and, within a few years, its population surged to around six million. As the emperor periodically gifted largesse to his favourites and even named streets after them, a new class of aristocrats and nobles was also created, some of whom also began to settle outside the new city. The distinction now remains academic. In , Shah Jahan fell ill and entrusted most of his responsibilities to the eldest of his four sons, Dara Shikoh.
Having thus incarcerated his father and brother, Mohiuddin returned to Shahjahanabad and, on 31 July , at a grand coronation ceremony held at Shalimar Bagh, declared himself the new emperor. Within a year of his coronation, Aurangzeb ordered the execution of Dara Shikoh. Shah Jahan remained imprisoned in Agra for another eight years and died in captivity in Aurangzeb ruled India from the Mughal throne in Shahjahanabad 4 5 6 for almost fifty years, till he died in An authoritarian ruler, he presided over an era of territorial expansions, and by the time he died, the Mughal Empire extended across almost the entire Subcontinent.
Though puritanical, Aurangzeb was neither a religious bigot nor did he despise the fine arts. Highly educated and erudite, he was well-versed in history and Persian literature and was a religious scholar of great eminence. By now, Shahjahanabad had become quite the centre of art and literature.
While Khan-e-Aarzu was the first scholar to draw similarities between Sanskrit and Urdu, Bedil was a Sufi mystic and philosopher, whose works would later inspire not only great poets like Ghalib and Iqbal but also Central Asian scholars from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, where even today he has a cult-like following. Bedil died in Some historians have, however, disputed the claim that he was interred in the grave located in Bagh-e-Bedil.
In or around , Wali Mohammad Wali Dakhni, who is widely believed to be the father of the Urdu ghazal, visited Delhi from his native Deccan. The new emperor dreamt of expanding his territories and busied himself in fighting battles outside Shahjahanabad. He was brought to the Capital in only to be buried next to the Shrine of Qutubuddin Bakhtiyar Kaaki in Mehrauli, then in the outskirts of Delhi.
He was followed by Jahandar Shah, who had barely ruled the gigantic empire for six months when, after killing him in a bitter war of succession, his nephew Abul Muzaffar Moinuddin Muhammad Shah Farrukhsiyar succeeded to the Mughal throne. Upon his coronation in February , Farrukhsiyar was presented with an India that was standing at the precipice of fragmentation.
Of his two immediate predecessors, Bahadur Shah I had spent all his time outside the Capital and Jahandar Shah had only made a name for his debauchery and decadence. As a result of those six years of neglect, the territories which had been consolidated by Aurangzeb were now in danger of being wrested by provincial chiefs desirous of being rulers of their own independent kingdoms.
In Delhi, meanwhile, what is now called Urdu was still in the early stages of developing into a language of poetry. It was still called Rekhta, or sometimes Hindi, and was used only by a few native poets. Farrukhsiyar had just ordered the minting of a new coin to mark the beginning of his rule. On the coin was inscribed a Persian couplet: Sikka-zad az fazl-e-haq bar seem-o-zar Padshaah-e-bahr-o-bar Farrukhsiyar By the grace of God, [he has] minted coins of silver and gold The Emperor of the earth and the oceans, Farrukhsiyar.
In a parody of this couplet, also in Persian, Zatalli lashed out at the Emperor, referring to rampant corruption, even in the distribution of public supplies and food: Sikka-zad bar gandum-o-moth-o-matar Padshaah-e-tasmakash Farrukhsiyar He has minted coins even of wheat and lentils and peas The Emperor whose face is inscribed on the coins—Farrukhsiyar. A fearless poet who raised his voice against the growing decay of the Empire, he was famed for his razor-sharp tongue.
It is generally believed that Urdu was born in the army camps of Delhi as a language that borrowed words from different languages so that soldiers from different parts could easily communicate with each other. Noted critic and author, Shamsur Rahman Faruqi, however, dismisses this claim: The belief that Urdu originated in Muslim army camps and cantonment bazaars helped generate and sustain two myths: Urdu was the language of the Muslims, and being originally the language of camp and cantonment, it stood in natural need of being refined and gentrified, and this process was initiated by the master poets of Delhi in the second half of the eighteenth century.
None stopped to consider that the only foreign armies in India during and from the s were British and some French. There were no Arabic or Persian or Turkishspeaking armies in India from the s, and the language of Urdu had by then been in existence for several centuries. Whatever be the origins of the name, Urdu by now had become the lingua franca of Delhi. It was spoken by everyone, from poor men begging for alms to members of the royalty. Urdu was not just a language, it had become a way of life in Delhi.
Urdu poetry was mostly a spoken-word occupation and one did not have to be literate to be a poet or a lover of Urdu poetry. The common man on the streets of Delhi was, thus, as much taken by Urdu poetry as were the royalty and the elite. Here it was, it was life itself. But it was a long saga of decline, of chaos, corruption and tragedy.
As the Empire disintegrated, weakened by wars of succession and Mughal nobles asserting independence and declaring themselves rulers of the provinces they governed, large territories were captured by the Marathas, Rohillas and other rising local powers. Delhi was raided and plundered frequently. But none of this compared with the brutal invasions of the city by Nadir Shah in and by Ahmed Shah Abdali later.
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He defeated the army of Muhammad Shah and entered Delhi. His soldiers took over the city, and when some residents fought back, Nadir Shah ordered a massacre. In a single day, 22 March , over 20, men, women and children were slaughtered in the streets of Shahjahanabad. Delhi recovered from this loot and savagery, too.
Meanwhile, a new power was rising: the British East India Company. Having defeated Nawab Sirajuddaulah at the Battle of Plassey in , the Company had been granted the right to collect revenue in Bengal and Bihar. By , the Company had firmly established its presence in Delhi, and began curtailing the powers of the Mughal Emperor. They also seemed indifferent to the changing power balance in the Capital.
By the time Akbar Shah II took over the reins of the Mughal Empire in , sovereign command had literally been usurped by the Company. It did not take the British very long to demonetize the Mughal currency, and by they had begun minting their own coins without any reference to the Mughal Emperor. While in the political scheme of things the supremacy of the Qila-e-Moalla was fast shrinking, Delhi was playing capital to a parallel empire.
It had become the most vibrant centre of Urdu literature in India. Young officers would be invited to lavish poetry evenings by prominent Dilliwalas. Some of them even took to formally learning the language and trying their hand at poetry. Thus, while Mughal power and influence diminished, Urdu continued to grow and evolve. They enriched the language with their own vocabulary and mannerisms.
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They could either be very proper and decorous or sardonic and even coquettish. Mushafi had famously said: Ae Mushafi tu in se mohabbat na kijiyo Zaalim ghazab hi hoti hain yeh Dilli-waaliyaan10 O Mushafi! The Qila-e-Moalla, too, occupied a dominant position in the literary life of the city. Its customs were different from those of the city outside. Its syntax was distinct, and it influenced Urdu just as much as the vocabulary and syntax of the street, salon and pleasure house. It was customary for Urdu poets to adopt a nom de plume or takhallus.
Of course, there were a number of others too. Many of the later Mughal Emperors themselves were poets. Delhi also saw a surge of visiting poets through much of the eighteenth century and up to the mid-nineteenth from nearby areas. It was common practice for senior poets to accept young poets as pupils or shaagird. The senior poet, acting as ustaad, or tutor, would supervise and mend verses composed by his pupils.
The elite would organize mushairas, social gatherings where poets would be invited to recite their verse. The mushaira soon became an important institution of Urdu literature, offering poets a secular space to not only showcase their poetic talent but also vent their anger and frustration with political, social and economic affairs.
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To this day, the mushaira continues to occupy a central position in Urdu poetry across the world. Certain customs became attached to the mushaira. It would be presided over by a senior poet or a member of the royalty who was also a poet. The junior-most poet would be asked to recite first and the one presiding—sadr-e-mushaira—would recite last. There were some basic genres or forms of poetry, the romantic ghazal being the most popular one.
A ghazal is a collection of many couplets—sher—of the same length and following the same metre.
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These couplets are thematically autonomous of each other. Sometimes, though, a few of them can be read together, indicating a single theme, and when this is done, the cluster of couplets is called qita or qata. Each line of a sher is called a misra and the first sher of a ghazal is called the matla.
In the matla the two lines rhyme with each other, whereas throughout the rest of the ghazal only the second lines of the sher rhyme with each other. Poetry is figurative and allegorical and Urdu poetry is no exception.
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