The cultural and socio-economic significance of Shahjahanabad

The imperial capital Shahjahanabad was built by Mughal Emperor Shahjahan between 1639 and 1648 and it spread out over a large area along the banks of river Yamuna. The outspurs of the Aravalli range reaching deep into the great alluvial plains of north India have their terminal point in the Delhi Ridge which afforded natural protection to the city from erosion by the river Jamuna. Thus, heights for commanding positions, rocks for stone-quarries, and the river for water supply were the factors which should have combined to attract Shah Jahan for the creation of his capital city that virtually overlapped the cities of Sher Shah and Firuz Shah.

Shahjahanabad as the example of the sovereign city model 

Shahjahanabad was the “exemplar” of the sovereign city model. The city was an extension of the imperial mansion as the layout of the buildings and gardens, and the shops in the city copied the layout of the buildings within the palace complex. In respect of the social interaction of the inhabitants of the city also the imperial palace set the model.  There was a pattern-client relationship between the emperor and his nobles, then between the nobles and the members of their household bound the city in a kind of vast extended family. These ties were reviewed and strengthened in the daily rituals of the palace-fortress. The planning of Shahjahanabad reflected the power of the ruler as many other cities of medieval India, but it also had certain distinguishing features denoting an independent urban growth in many respects. 

The Important Places and Bazaars in the city

The most important road was one connecting the Lahori Gate of the city wall and the Lahori Gate of the palace-fortress with a minor diversion near the Fatehpuri mosque. The Nahr-i Faiz flowed through the centre of the road between the Fatehpuri mosque and the palace-fortress, and a square was constructed around the central part of the canal. The beautiful reflections on the moonlit nights soon gave it the popular name Chandni Chowk. It is apparent that Chandni Chowk was laid, though on a large scale, on the same plan on which chamans or flower gardens are arranged in front of the Mughal palaces. Both sides of the road were lined with the trees and more than 1500 shops on it, which were either owned by Princess Jahan Ara or Nawab Fatehpuri Begum (one of the queens of Shahjahan). Another straight road connected the Akbarabadi Gate of the palace-fortress with the Akbarabadi Gate (now called the Delhi Gate) of the city wall, and the market here was called the Faiz Bazar. On the road to the Nahr-i Faiz flowed through the centre and both sides of the road were strewn with shops. It is now known as Darya Ganj. This road was joined, near the fortress by the road coming from the Kashmiri Gate, on which the main sections of the Havelis and mansions of the nobility located. Yet another straight road came from the Kabuli Gate, running parallel in the north to the Chandni Chowk, it joined the Kashmiri Gate road.

Cityscape of Shahjahanabad

Shahjahan imposed his own vision on the new capital. Its cityscape centred on the structures of the ruler and his nobles. The construction work on the site commenced under the supervision of two renowned architects Ustad Ahmad and Ustad Hamid. Long before Paris set the fashion (1670 AD) of having the principal streets of the city flanked with avenues, Shahjahan had planned in 1638 a beautiful boulevard in the Chandni Chowk of Delhi. The plan of Shahjahanabad reflects both Hindu and Islamic influences. 

The City Walls and Gates 

The city was fortified on three sides by a strong wall and the fourth – on the eastern side – partly by the Fort and partly by the wall. The northern wall of the city extended just three-quarters of a mile from the Water Bastion in the east to the Mori Bastion in the west. It was encircled by a massive wall more than 8 meters high and 3.5 meters wide. The major gateways pointed to the direction of the important places and regions of the empire, such as Lahori Gate, Kashmiri Gate, Ajmeri Gate, Akbarabadi Gate, etc.

The Palace-fortress

The Palace-fortress of Shahjahan called the Qila-i Mubarak, (popularly known as Lal Qila) was an overpowering structure that took nine years to complete. It was the residence of the emperor, and also the seat of the government as well as cultural activities, and contained a variety of buildings, thus forming a city within the city. The extent of the wall of the palace-fortress comes to about 3 kilometres, and it encloses an area of about 124 acres, which is twice the size of the fort at Agra. The high walls are relieved at intervals with towers surmounted by shapely kiosks. Thousands of stone-cutters, masons, stone carvers, carpenters, gardener-designers, and other craftsmen worked on it.  The palace-fortress was separated from the city proper by three gardens namely Buland Bagh, Gulabi Bagh, and Anguri Bagh. The hall was connected with a square-shaped structure, called naubat-khana through a covered corridor. Shops were constructed on both sides of the corridor and expansive luxury items were available here. It accommodated the entire royal apartments, palace, and pavilions.


The planning of the city of Shahjahanabad was done in a manner that it symbolizes the hold of the ruler in many ways. However, Shahjahanabad was not solely dependent on the emperor for its growth or sustenance. The urban communities retained “their own distinctive style and character”. This is the reason that in spite of the decline in the power of the Mughal emperor from the middle of the eighteenth century Shahjahanabad continued to flourish as a busy commercial centre. The culture it had evolved continued to thrive. One can see strong traces of this even today in the walled city.

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About Harish Kumar

Harish, a technical core team member at with five year experience in full stack web and mobile development, spends most of his time on coding, reading, analysing and curiously following businesses environments. He is a non-graduate alumni from IIT Roorkee, Computer Science and frequently writes on both technical and business topics.

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