Travelogue: Delhi where historical Monuments Coexist with Modern Architecture

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By Dr. Eugene DSouza, Moodubelle
Pictures by Dnyanoba Makode, Vashi and Eugene
Bellevision Media Network

Mumbai, 29 December 2010: Brief vacations and site seeing, that too visiting wonders of nature or historical monuments has been one of the desirable pastimes which provide an escape from one’s hectic routine life and career and enable in developing new contacts and enriching one’s own experience and knowledge. With this view both my wife and i along with other ten friends from Mumbai went on a tour of few important places in  north India during the last week of November and first week of December 2010. During this tour we spent a day in Delhi visiting some of the prominent landmarks of both Old and New Delhi where we experienced the coexistence of historical monuments with modern architecture.


Our first stop during the daylong tour of Delhi was the Birla Mandir also known as Lakshmi-Narayan Mandir. The Birla Mandir is the first of the temples built across the country by the industrial family of Birla. Located just off Connaught Place on Mandir Marg, the main shrine is dedicated to Lord Narayan and Goddess Lakshmi, while the smaller ones are of Shiva, Ganesha, Hanuman and Goddess Durga.  To the north of the temple is the Geeta Bhawan, devoted to Lord Krishna. There is also a Buddha shrine in this temple complex, adorned with murals describing his life and work. All the statues in the temple are made up of marble and were brought from Jaipur. The splendor of the temple is enhanced by an artificial landscape in the back, with mountains and cascading waterfalls.



Built in 1938, this famous Birla Mandir was inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi on the express condition that people of all castes and especially untouchables would be allowed in. This is one of the most popular temples in Delhi.  The temple is famous for the festival of Janmashtami. The temple is designed in the Orissan style of architecture, with tall curved towers capped by large amalakas, which are circular ribbed motifs at the summit of a temple tower. The exterior is faced with the white marble and red sandstone typical of Delhi’s Mughal architecture.


From the Birla Mandir we proceeded to the heart of the Indian Government, the Parliament, North and South Block where prominent ministries are housed and the Rashtrapati Bhavan. However, we had to be satisfied with only viewing the exteriors of these British legacies as  we had no opportunity to enter these centers of power as the parliament was in session more in making noise demanding Joint Parliament Commission (JPC) to investigate the 2G Spectrum Scam and the security around the complex was very tight. As for the Rashtrapati Bhavan, visitors are allowed inside the complex on three days of the week-Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. As we were in Delhi on Thursday we missed this opportunity. However, we could proceed up to the main gate of the Rashtrapati Bhavan and could click few pictures. Being foggy morning the view was not very clear.



After spending some time in the open garden we headed towards the 42 meter tall India Gate which is the national monument. Situated in the heart of New Delhi, India Gate was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and was built in 1931.  Originally known as ‘All India War Memorial’, it is a prominent landmark in Delhi and commemorates the 90,000 soldiers of the British Indian Army who lost their lives while fighting for the British Indian Empire in World War I and the Third Anglo-Afghan War.



Originally, a statue of King George V had stood under the now-vacant canopy in front of the India Gate, and was removed to Coronation Park with other statues. Following India’s independence, India Gate became the site of the Indian Army’s Memorial of the Unknown Soldier and also known as the Amar Jawan Jyoti (The flame of the immortal soldier) where the immortal flame has been burning since 1971. The visitor can stand on the other side of the canopy and can view the entire Rajpath Avenue at a stretch, which is indeed a wonderful sight.


Humayun’s tomb complex was the next site that we visited which is replete with medieval Mughal architecture. In this complex we visited first the modest tomb of Isa Khan Niyazi, an Afghan noble in Sher Shah Suri’s court who fought against the Mughals. This tomb was constructed in 1547.



The tomb of the second Mughal emperor, Humayun was built under the instructions of his wife Hamida Banu Begum and was designed by the Persian architect Malik Mirza Ghiyas. Humayun’s Tomb was the first Garden tomb in India.


The complex comprises the main tomb of the Emperor Humayun, which also contains the graves of his wife, Hamida Banu Begum, and also Dara Sukoh, the eldest son  of the later Emperor Shah Jahan, as well as a number of other later Mughal rulers.



After his death on in January 1556, Humayun’s body was first buried in his palace at Delhi. Thereafter it was taken to Sirhind in Punjab. The tomb of Humayun was built by the orders of Hamida Banu Begum, Humayun’s widow, and its construction began in 1565, nine years after the death of Humayun and was completed in 1572 during the reign of his son-Akbar at a cost of 15 lakh rupees at the time. In 1993, the monument was declared as a World Heritage Site.


The architecture of the Humayun Tomb is a synthesis of Persian architecture and Indian traditions.  It is important to note that Humayun’s tomb became the model for the construction of the world famous Taj Mahal later by Shah Jahan in memory of his beloved queen Mumtaz Mahal.
By the time we completed the tour of the magnificent Humayun Tomb complex and proceeded to view the Lotus Temple at Kalka Ji it was around one o’clock. After having a frugal lunch at a ‘dhaba’ outside the main gate of the Lotus Temple we entered the vast garden complex of the temple.



The Lotus Temple is the Baha’i House of Worship and was built in the shape of a Lotus flower. This magnificent temple is one of the best examples of modern art and was completed in 1986.   It has won numerous architectural awards and been featured in hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles.


As with all other Baha’i Houses of Worship, the Lotus Temple is open to all regardless of religion or any other distinction. The Baha’i laws emphasize that the spirit of the House of Worship be that it is a gathering place where people of all religions may worship God without denominational restrictions. The Baha’i laws also stipulate that only the holy scriptures of the Baha’i faith and other religions can be read or chanted inside in any language; while readings and prayers can be set to music by choirs, no musical instruments can be played inside. Furthermore no sermons can be delivered, and there can be no ritualistic ceremonies practiced.


All Baha’i Houses of Worship, including the Lotus Temple, share certain architectural elements, some of which are specified by Baha’i scripture. Abdul Baha, the son of the founder of the religion, stipulated that an essential architectural character of a House of Worship be that it requires having a nine-sided circular shape. Inspired by the lotus flower, its design is composed of 27 free-standing marble clad "petals" arranged in clusters of three to form nine sides. Baha’i scripture also states that no pictures, statues or images be displayed within the House of Worship and no pulpits or altars be incorporated as an architectural feature. The nine doors of the Lotus Temple open onto a central hall, capable of holding up to 2,500 people. The Lotus Temple  in Delhi  is often compared to the Sydney Opera House and  is a major feature of Delhi and is well known for its appearance.


Our last destination of the day was the Qutub Minar considered to be the tallest brick minaret of the world with a height of 72.5 meters. Its construction was started by Qutubuddin Aibak, the first ruler of the Delhi Sultanate in 1199.  The Qutub Minar was said to have been built to celebrate the victory of Mohammed Ghori, the invader from Afghanistan over the Rajputs in 1192. He raised the first storey, to which were added three more storeys by his successor and son-in-law-IItutmish who ruled Delhi from 1211 to 1236. Numerous inscriptions in Arabic and Nagari characters in different places of the Minar reveal the history of the Minar. According to the inscriptions on its surface it was repaired by Firoz Shah Tughlaq (1351-88) and Sikandar Lodi (1489-1517).



Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque, to the northeast of the Qutub Minar was built by Qutubuddin Aibak in 1198. It is the earliest mosque built by the Delhi Sultans. It consists of a rectangular courtyard enclosed by cloisters, erected with the carved pillars and material from 27 Hindu and Jain temples, which were demolished by Qutubuddin Aibak as recorded in his inscription on the main eastern entrance.


A famous Iron Pillar, which was erected in the 4th Century AD, is located in the Qutub Minar complex. It rises to a height of 7 meters and weighs more than 6 tons. The Sanskrit inscriptions on the pillar tell that it was erected as a flagstaff in honour of Hindu god Vishnu and the memory of Chandra Gupta. It is made up of 98% wrought iron and it stood the test of time of more than 1600 years without rust or decomposition. This manifests the metallurgical excellence of ancient India. According to the traditional belief, anyone who can encircle the entire column with their arms, with their back towards the pillar, can have their wish granted. Because of the corrosive qualities of sweat the government has built a fence around it for safety.


An incomplete rough structure which stands north to Qutub Minar is known as Alai Minar which was constructed by Alauddin Khilji (1296-1316) with an intention to make it twice the size of the Qutub Minar. But he could complete only one storey and the work was abandoned after his death in 1316. The height of the Alai Minar is 25meters.



By the time we completed viewing the Qutub Minar complex it was getting darker and the complex like many others closed for the day by 5 pm. Next day early morning we started from Delhi to Nainital. On the way, the driver just stopped near the Red Fort and asked us to view it from outside only as the gates were not yet opened for the visitors and waiting longer would upset our journey to Nainital. Hence, we had a look at the front portion of one of the most enchanting Mughal monuments.


The Red Fort, also known as the ‘Lal Quila’ was constructed under the directions of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan and it took ten years to complete (1638-1648). It is the largest of old Delhi’s monuments with thick red sandstone walls. The Red Fort was the centre of the Mughal government until 1857 and houses palaces, public audience hall, private audience hall, Pearl mosque and quarters of the royal family. Even today, the fort remains an impressive testimony to Mughal grandeur, despite being attacked by the Persian Emperor Nadir Shah in 1739, and by the British soldiers, during the war of independence in 1857.



During the British period the Fort was mainly used as a cantonment and even after Independence, a significant part of the Fort remained under the control of the Indian Army until the year 2003.The Red Fort is a tourist attraction from around the world. On Independence Day on 15 August every year, there has been a tradition of the Prime Minister of India unfurling the national flag from the Red Fort and addressing the nation. Nearly 26 years ago I had an opportunity to visit the Red Fort and view the well maintained structures inside the fort.


As the driver signaled us back, we boarded the vehicle and headed towards Naintal. As we travelled further away from Delhi towards the hill station passing through Uttar Pradesh and later Uttarakhand states, the thought of Delhi with an excellent mixture of historical monuments and modern architectural wonders lingered in my mind.



Comments on this Article
Vijay Dsouza, Moodubelle Thu, December-30-2010, 8:14
Superb photos and beautiful narration. Thanks Dr.Eugene, now I am also planning my north India trip.
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