Purana Qila is the inner citadel of the city of Dina-panah, founded by the second Mughal Emperor, Humayun in 1533 and completed five years later. Purana Qila and its environs flourished as the sixth city of Delhi.
Sher Shah Suri defeated Humayun in 1540, and renamed the fort as Shergarh, and also added several more structures in the complex, during his reign that lasted for the next five years until his death in 1545.
Subsequently Islam Shah took over the reins of North India from this fort, but later shifted his capital to Gwalior, as it was supposed to be a safer capital in that period. After Islam Shah's death in 1553, Adil Shah took the charge of North India, and this fort remained neglected. Adil Shah shifted his capital to further east to Chunar in present day Uttar Pradesh. Humayun, who was based in Kabul got an opportunity to re-capture the citadel and the seat of Delhi in 1555, fifteen years after he had to leave it, though his reign didn't last long, he died only a year later in Jan. 1556, due to a tragic accident, within the fort complex at Sher Mandal
Hearing about re-capture of Delhi by Humanyun, Hemu, the Hindu Prime Minister – cum – Chief of Army of Adil Shah Suri rushed towards Delhi from Bengal, where he had just quelled a rebellion, defeating and killing Muhhamad Shah, the ruler of Bengal. After capturing Agra, Itawah, Kanpur easily, the battle for Delhi took place in Tuglaqabad area on 6 October 1556, and Hemu, who had won 22 battles spanning entire north India, defeated the forces of Akbar which were led by Tardi Beg Khan. Hemu had his 'Rajyabhishake' or Coronation at Purana Quila on 7 October 1556, declared 'Hindu Raj' in North India, and was bestowed the title of Samrat Hem Chandra Vikramaditya. Hemu, who was slain and killed at the Second battle of Panipat in Nov. 1556 had his torso hung outside this fort to create terror among Hindus.
The walls of the Fort rise to a height of 18 metres, and run on for about 1.5 km, and has three arched gateways, the Bara Darwaza (Big Gate) facing West, which is still used today, the south gate, the 'Humayun Gate' probably called so because it was constructed by Humayun or that Humayun's Tomb is visible from there, and lastly, the 'Talaqi Gate' or forbidden gate. All the gates are double-storeyed sandstone structures flanked by two huge semi-circular bastion towers, and decorated with white and coloured-marble inlays and blue tiles, and replete with detailing, like ornate overhanging balconies, jharokhas, pillared pavilions chhatris on top, reminiscent of Rajasthani architecture as seen in the North and South Gates, and which were amply seen in future Mughal architecture. Despite the grandeurs of the exterior, few of interior structures have survived except the Qila-i Kuhna Mosque and the Shermandal, both credited to Sher Shah
Purana Qila, situated on the banks of Yamuna, was constructed by the Mughal emperor Humayun. It is where Humayun's capital Din Panah was located. Later it was renovated and named Shergarh by first Afghan emperor of India, Sher Shah Suri. Samrat Hem Chandra Vikramaditya, often referred to as the last Hindu emperor of India, had his coronation in this fort after defeating Akbar's forces in Delhi on 7 October 1556. Fort was supposed to be unlucky for rulers, who operated from here. Humanyun, Sher Shah Suri and Hindu king "Hem Chandra Vikramaditya" also called (Hemu) had short tenures of their rule. Akbar did not rule from here and Shahjahan built a new fort in Delhi known as 'Lal Quila' or Red Fort.
When Edwin Lutyens designed the new capital of British India, New Delhi in 1920s, he aligned the central vista, now Rajpath, with Purana Qila. During the Partition of India, in August 1947 the Purana Qila along with the neighbouring Humayun's Tomb, became the site for refuge camps for Muslims migrating to newly founded Pakistan. This included over 12,000 government employees who had opted for service in Pakistan, and between 150,000–200,000 Muslim refugees, who swarmed inside Purana Qila by September 1947, when Indian government took over the management of the two camps. The Purana Qila camp remained functional till early 1948, as the trains to Pakistan waited till October 1947 to start
In the 1970s the Purana Qila ramparts was first used as a backdrop for theatre, when three productions of National School of Drama were stage here, Tughlaq, Andha Yug and Sultan Razia, directed by Ebrahim Alkazi. In the coming decades it has been the venue of various important theatre productions, cultural events and concerts. Today, it is the venue of a daily sound and light shows after sunset, about history of seven cities of Delhi, from Indraprastha and right up to setting up of New Delhi.
The single-domed Qila-i-Kuna Mosque, built by Sher Shah in 1541 is an excellent example of a pre-Mughal design, and an early example of the extensive use of the pointed arch in the region as seen in its five doorways with the 'true' horseshoe-shaped arches. It was designed as a Jami Mosque, or Friday mosque for the Sultan and his courtiers. The prayer hall inside, the single-aisled mosque, measures 51.20m by 14.90m and has five elegant arched prayer niches or mihrabs set in its western wall. Marble in shades of red, white and slate is used for the calligraphic inscriptions on the central iwan, marks a transition from Lodhi to Mughal architecture. At one time, the courtyard had a shallow tank, with a fountain.
A second storey, accessed through staircases from the prayer hall, with a narrow passage running along the rectangular hall, provided space for female courtiers to pray, while the arched doorway on the left wall, framed by ornate jharokas, was reserved for members of the royal family. On a marble slab within mosque an inscription thus read, "As long as there are people on the earth, may this edifice be frequented and people be happy and cheerful in it". Today it is the best preserved building the Purana Qila
The Sher Mandal stands to the south of the mosque. This double-storeyed octagonal tower of red sandstone with steep stairs leading up to the roof. The structure was intended to be higher than its existing height but the work was stopped due to the untimely death of Sher Shah. It was built by Sher Shah and was used as a personal observatory and library by Humayun after he recaptured the fort. It is also one of the first observatories of Delhi. The first being in Pir Gharib at Hindu Rao at Ridge built in 14th century by Firoz shah Tughlaq.The tower is topped by an octagonal chhatri supported by eight pillars and decorated with white marble. Inside there are remnants of the decorative plaster-work and traces of stone-shelving where, presumably, the emperor's books were placed. This was also the tragic spot where, on 24 January 1556 Humayun fell from the second floor to his death. He slipped while hasting to the evening prayers, following his hobby of astronomical star gazing at the top of this private observatory. He fell headlong down the stairs and died of his injuries two days later.
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