Coronation Park and Mughal Gardens in North Delhi

Few visitors today venture into this area of Delhi, tucked away in the north of the walled city of Shahjahanabad, a little removed from the more popular tourist attractions of Red Fort and Chandni Chowk. Although the area contains few remains from the earlier Sultanate period, it was actively in use during the Mughal period, being the recreational area for the Mughal royalty and nobility. The earliest building from this period in the area is a tomb known as Maqbara Paik, the name of which suggests that it was built for an important messenger of the Mughal court. Several great gardens were built in north Delhi and some of these still exist, blending harmoniously with later residential and commercial developments. Shalimar Bagh, a pleasure garden built during Shahjahan’s reign, particularly well-known because it was where Aurangzeb was crowned emperor, contains ruins of pavilions and fountains. Roshanara, Shahjahan’s second daughter also chose this area to build her garden and residence and was eventually buried inside a pavilion she commissioned within the garden, now known as Roshanara Bagh. An ancient canal dug during the reign of Firoz Shah Tughlaq was repaired by Ali Mardan Khan, a nobleman in Shahjahan’s court, to bring water to the gardens and orchards of Shahjahanabad, that had come up adjacent to the canal. In 1793, a British traveller to Delhi named Franklin described the area as being crowded with spacious gardens and country houses. The area continued to be popular with the later Mughals, and Mahaldar Khan, an important official in the court of Muhammed Shah ‘Rangeela’, © The British Library Board. (Add.Or.4807) constructed the unusual Tripolia Gateways enclosing a marketplace and his own residential estate between them.

The British, when they came to Delhi in 1803, also concentrated their activities here, occupying some of the gardens and converting them into pleasure retreats and setting up a military cantonment that was to become the site for the three successive Imperial Durbars of 1877, 1903, and 1911. The British Empire was at its zenith at the beginning of the twentieth century when it was decided, for political and pragmatic reasons, to move the capital from Calcutta to Delhi. At the Durbar held in 1911, the announcement of shifting the capital of British India from Calcutta to Delhi was made by King George V. All this time, this area was used only as a military camp, but considerable changes took place in this area after the announcement that Delhi was going to be made the capital. A commemorative column, erected in 1911 at this spot, stands till today as a reminder of this major event. It is within what is today called the Coronation Park. A foundation stone was laid at this location for a new Imperial capital but the site was later abandoned because it was found to flood during the monsoons. The new capital that was proposed was to be the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the British Empire and took almost twenty years to be built. Today, many of the historical sites in and around Coronation Park lie hidden and much remains to be discovered about this intriguing and fascinating area!

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