16 March 2013

Hira Mahal, Red Fort complex, Delhi


This article is part of a series about Red Fort, Delhi. Refer Pixelated Memories – Red Fort complex for the composite post.

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“In dino garche dakkan mein hai badi qadre sukhan,
Kaun jaaye Zauq par, Dilli ki galiyan chhod kar?”

“Let it be granted that there is today a greater patronage and love of art in Deccan;
But, Zauq, who has the heart to leave the lanes of Delhi and go away?”
– Sheikh Muhammad Ibrahim “Zauq” (1789-1854),
Emperor Bahadur Shah “Zafar” II’s court poet and Urdu tutor

At their lowest ebb, the tragically feeble dregs of the dying Mughal Empire had to content themselves by dejectedly manifesting in the uninspiring forms of artistically and architecturally inconsequential minor palatial edifices and religious/funerary structures scattered about Delhi, including within the bewilderingly impressive Red Fort fortress-palace that one of their formidable progenitors had extravagantly constructed and opulently adorned. In the penultimate moments of their sovereignty, not long before the shallow breath of their empire was to be conclusively extinguished, these last of the “Great Mughals” commissioned several insignificant edifices with the optimistic intention of these reflecting favorably upon their distinguished existence and sumptuous prosperity, but which in reality had an unforeseen effect quite to the contrary. And although numerous of these trivial edifices were viciously obliterated in their entirety, except in contemporaneous documentary records, by vengeful British forces that ferociously occupied and avariciously devastated the magnificent fortress-palace following the Sepoy Mutiny/First War of Independence of 1857, the few that were intermittently spared in the onslaught wretchedly remain to affirm the miserable ignominy of the despairing last of this unparalleled line of sovereigns.


Disguising reality - Bahadur Shah “Zafar” II
(Photo courtesy - Columbia.edu)


Prior to being contemptuously exiled to distant Rangoon on charges of treason and conspiracy, the last emperor Abu Muhammad Sirajuddin Bahadur Shah “Zafar” II (reign AD 1837-57), ostensibly entitled “Zil-i-Ilahi Badshah Ghazi Al-Sultan-al-Azam Shahanshah-e-Sultanat-ul-Hindiya-wal-Mughaliya” (“Shadow of God, Champion of Faith, The Great King, King of Kings, The Lord of the Empire of Hindustan and the Mughals”), commissioned several inconsequential palaces within the eminent fortress-palace and elsewhere in Delhi – of these, two minor ones are still existential within the colossal fortress-palace amidst the smattering of other far superior edifices that defined the noteworthy seraglio. The first, a tiny, vibrant red pleasure pavilion has already been documented on this blog here – Pixelated Memories - Zafar Mahal.

The second, grievously narrating its pitiful tale and exposing its stark nakedness devoid of even the minutest of ornamentation, is ironically known as “Hira Mahal” (“Diamond Palace”), and was one of two identical sparkling white marble pavilions built in the year 1842 as minuscule constituents of the long row of breathtakingly splendid regal palaces commandingly overlooking river Yamuna lethargically flowing barely a stone’s throw away from the fortress’ immense peripheries. While Hira Mahal thankfully escaped post-1857 upheavals with only minor damages, its twin counterpart, “Moti Mahal” (“Pearl Palace”), was decimated to imperceptible dust.

Unfathomably unadorned vis-à-vis Emperor Shahjahan’s (reign AD 1627-57) matchless bewitching palaces to which it looks up to like an unfamiliar impoverished pauper while extraordinarily standing on their own high plinth, the pavilion, measuring a measly 15.9 X 6.8 meter squares, was envisaged as possessing three arched openings on each of its four sides, therefore rendering it wholly open to the environment and bestowing upon it the alternative nomenclature “Baradari” (“Twelve-pillared pavilion”).


Hira Mahal - Nakedness articulated!


Given the last monarch’s self-acknowledged insurmountable destitution, one assumes that neither was the poor edifice shrouded by profusely embroidered tapestries during winters, nor would it have been enclosed with continuously-watered fragrant Khas grass (Andropogon muricatus) screens during summers. It wouldn’t be disorienting to learn that the outrageously penurious emperor sat here disgracefully stripped of all authority under an appallingly tattered canopy even more shameful than his regal audience hall!

The diminutive pavilion is presently closed for public entry and the sloping walkway providing access to the imposing seraglio on this side remains barred by stretched chains and barricades. Awestruck visitors can admire the strikingly symmetrical line of copiously ornamented palaces, and endeavor to comprehend how the unequaled Mughals disastrously managed to lose all they had and squander the world’s richest kingdom to recurrent military defeats and reprehensible court intrigues and internal strife. If visitors could climb up to the level though, they wouldn’t anymore observe the river flowing opposite for it too had abruptly shifted course long time back, only to be replaced by the slithering arterial Ring Road with its ceaseless barrage of vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians. The lethargic flow of the widespread river immediately adjacent, like the prodigious Mughals, is now the envious stuff of oft-repeated legends, remembered in cherished folklore and documentary tales, yet availing little except endlessly prompting incredulous folks to wide-eyed wonder and assess what was and what could have been.


Talk about insignificance - That's all the Archaeological Survey has to offer!


Location: Red Fort, Old Delhi (Shahjahanabad). The fortress, located at an extremity of the renowned Chandni Chowk street and connected to all parts of the city via regular bus and metro services, remains open everyday from 9 am to 6 pm, followed by a light-and-sound show.
Nearest Metro Station: Chandni Chowk
Nearest Bus stop: Red Fort
Nearest Railway Station: Purani Dilli
How to reach: The fortress is a mere half kilometer from the metro station and about a kilometer from the railway station. Walk from either of them. The bus stop is located immediately across it and is connected to all parts of the city via regular bus service. There are regular trains throughout the day to Purani Dilli on Delhi circular railway line and from the neighboring suburbs.
Entrance fees (inclusive of museum charges): Indians: Rs 15; Foreigners: Rs 250
Photography/video charges: Nil. Tripods not allowed without prior permission.
Relevant Links -
Composite post about the fortress complex -
Pixelated Memories - Red Fort complex
Other edifices/museums located within the fortress complex -
  1. Pixelated Memories - Baoli, Red Fort complex
  2. Pixelated Memories - Chatta Chowk, Red Fort complex
  3. Pixelated Memories - Diwan-i-Am, Red Fort complex
  4. Pixelated Memories - Diwan-i-Khas, Red Fort complex
  5. Pixelated Memories - Freedom Fighter Museum and Salimgarh Fort complex
  6. Pixelated Memories - Khas Mahal, Red Fort complex
  7. Pixelated Memories - Mumtaz Mahal and Rang Mahal, Red Fort complex
  8. Pixelated Memories - Naubat Khana, Red Fort complex
  9. Pixelated Memories - Shah Burj and Burj-i-Shamli, Red Fort complex
  10. Pixelated Memories - Sawan-Bhadon Pavilions and Zafar Mahal, Red Fort complex

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