“Felt very sad as this highly important and famous piece of history has been so poorly maintained. It could have been much better but those people given the responsibility to maintain it are totally ignorant.”
These lines written about the Red Fort by a visitor on a travel website might seem appalling, but the iconic Red Fort—which symbolises the country particularly on Independence Day from where the Prime Minister addresses the nation—has become victim of poor upkeep and bad maintenance.
The Fort draws 10,000 tourists annually, earning Rs 12 crore. Apart from this, Rs 3-4 crore is allocated for its upkeep each year by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). Despite the funds, the symbol of India’s Mughal might is crumbling.
Rising in the sheer magnificence of red sandstone, the imposing Lal Quila built by the fifth Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in 1639 was the ceremonial and political centre of the empire till 1857.
Originally named Qila-i-Mubarak (Blessed Fort) and later Lal Quila, the residence of the imperial family was renamed Red Fort by the British. It appears on the back of the new Rs 500 note issued post demonetisation.
In days gone by, emperors strode in its massive halls, ramparts and held magnificent durbars in the glory of the great Mughal Empire, which stretched from the Deccan plateau to northern Afghanistan at its peak in the 17th century under Emperor Akbar.
Today in the 21st century, the Red Fort is falling apart. Whether it’s the Rang Mahal (palace of colours), Khas Mahal (Shah Jahan’s residence) or Diwan-e-Khas (hall of private audiences), most of the Mughal structures are losing their splendid glory due to indifference of the ASI, which comes under the Union Ministry of Culture and is responsible for protection and conservation of cultural heritage and monuments.
“Structures in the Red Fort are 300 to 400 years old. In heritage structures, retaining the original character or heritage value of the monument is the main challenge. You can’t make it brand new. We have to maintain the antique value of the monument,” said Romel Singh Jamwal, Director Conservation, ASI.
The very entrance to the fort is in a shambles, and plaster is crumbling from the once glorious Meena Bazaar, also known as Kuhs Ruz (day of joy) during the Mughal era. These bazaars were held exclusively for women. Only the emperor, princes and some nobles were allowed to enter the bazaar to purchase the goods, which were sold at high prices. The earnings were given for charity.Emperor Humayun (b. March 17, 1508; d. January 27, 1556) was the first to organise them, but Akbar and his successors made them more elaborate. The fair in those days was closed for the public, while the women of the harem, Rajput ladies and the wives and daughters of the noblemen in the court, set up their stalls to sell cloth, jewellery, handicrafts, etc.
The Naubat Khana, or Naqqar Khana, the drum house that stands at the entrance between the outer and inner court at the Red Fort in Delhi, is also dilapidated. It was here that musicians would announce the arrival of the emperor and other dignitaries at the Diwan-e-Am (court of public audience). Music was also played five times a day at chosen hours.
Khas Mahal, where Emperor Shah Jahan lived, consists of three parts: the Viz-tasbih-khana (chamber of telling beads), Khwabgah (sleeping chamber) and the tosha-khana (wardrobe) or baithak (sitting room). Once shining carved white marble painted with colourful floral decorations with a gilded ceiling, marble screen with the scale of justice (Mizan-i-adal), to depict the emperor’s justice, it is a shadow of its imperial facade. Pale wall motifs are now damaged everywhere due to lack of proper care, and stone jaalis originally carved to beautify the walls are broken.
The Diwan-e-Khas, where the Mughal emperor heard private audiences in his royal splendour with courtesans in attendance, is the worst today. The four side open intricately engraved marble structure is damp and broken at places, with a leaking ceiling when it rains. Carvings are broken, and colours are missing from the Mughal delicacies.
Rang Mahal (palace of colours) was originally a part of the imperial harem and was known as Imtiyaz Mahal (palace of distinction) during Shah Jahan’s reign. Its interior was richly painted and decorated. Today, its broken ceilings have made it a house of pigeons Some apartments here are called Shish Mahal due to tiny pieces of mirrors that cover the ceilings..
All these Mughal structures have been fenced with a rope to stop the entry of tourists inside by the authority at the Red Fort. When asked, a security guard said that this was done long ago because of the bad condition. “Tourists are not allowed past the fence. They can do more damage to this place,” said a security guard.
Moti Masjid (pearl mosque) inside the fort complex, lies near the Diwan-e-Khas, and was built by Emperor Aurangzeb from 1659-1660. It's once shining white walls today have large green patches, suggesting no one has bothered to clean them for years.
A fountain inside the pond between Naubat Khana and Rang Mahal hasn’t spouted water in years.
ASI’s Director General Usha Sharma, who took charge on August 29, “has instructed the officials to make a proper plan of maintenance and conservation of the Red Fort,” said an official.
Sources at ASI said there’s been lack of supervision at higher levels to conserve the past glory of national importance. “Staff crunch at the senior level and other issues have led to slow pace of conservation and chemical treatment of monuments, which is required for proper upkeep,” said an official.
ASI has a budget of `900 crore for over 3,650 pan-India monuments it has to take care of. Apart from this, it also has the mandate of archaeological excavation.
Fortified In Time
Emperor Shah Jahan commissioned construction of the Red Fort on May 12, 1639, when he decided to shift his capital from Agra to Delhi, and was completed on April 6, 1648.
Originally red and white, Shah Jahan’s favourite colours, it was designed by Ustad Ahmad Lahauri, architect of the Taj Mahal.
The Lahori and Delhi Gates were for the public, and the Khizrabad Gate was for the Emperor.
The fort lies along the Yamuna River, which fed the moats around it.
It is spread over 254.67 acres and is enclosed by 2.41 km of defensive walls with turrets and bastions ranging from 59 feet to 108 feet high.
The octagonal fort with marble, floral decorations and double domes exemplifies later Mughal architecture.
In 1803, after the Second Anglo-Maratha, the British took over the administration of Mughal territories and installed a Resident at the Red Fort.
The Kohinoor diamond was part of its furnishings.
The last Mughal emperor to occupy the fort was Bahadur Shah II, who was imprisoned after the Revolt of 1857.
Most of the jewels and artworks of the Red Fort were looted during Nadir Shah’s invasion of 1747 and again after the Revolt of 1857, and ended up in London.
On August 15, 1947, India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru raised the national flag above Lahori Gate.