If there be paradise on earth, this is it vaunted Diwan-i-Khas in its prime and when King George V arrived for his Durbar 100 years ago the State Procession that followed his entry hurried the king away from the hall, out of Delhi Gate and into the city. George V had time merely to mark the fort’s sparse grandeur and discrete pavilions, and wonder why it had been called the noblest palace in the world for so long. What he probably didn’t know was that most of the ‘Exalted Palace’ travellers raved about for two centuries had been swept away. The sparkling canal that divided the very road he took out of the fort, Houses of the salatin (royal descendants) had made way for the new lawns to his right. Razed palaces, arcades and cloisters had left behind the long, empty brackets of space to his left were all gone.
What George V witnessed was more like a poem with most of its lines missing. With most of its glory missing, it’s very difficult to visualize Red Fort in its prime but thankfully a new book offers a glimpse into the palace of the last Mughal and the surrounding city that Zauq and Ghalib loved and lived in. JP Losty’s Delhi 360º (Roli Books) reveals the Red Fort and Shahjahanabad of the Mughal dynasty’s dying years through artist Mazhar Ali Khan’s panorama, “A Picture of the Imperial City of Shahjahanabad Drawn from the Lahore Gate of the Exalted Fort”. Acquired by the British Library at a country auction in 1981, the painting is signed November 25, 1846 , and is an important historical record.
During the Mutiny of 1857, the British had cleared a large swathe of the city that lay within firing range (450 yards) of the fort walls. Most of the palaces and buildings within the fort were also demolished in the name of security. So, Khan’s panorama captured the fort and the city in their swan song, and in massive detail. Measuring 66.5cm high and 490.8cm wide, the panorama is the equivalent of a 455-megapixel shot when printed at 300 dots-per-inch photo quality. The only way to produce such a photo-real historical record in the 1840s was by faithfully recording every line of street, roof and pillar with brush and paint.
From Khan’s observation deck under one of Lahore Gate’s chhatris (cupolas), Khan swept his gaze first north (towards the ticket counters) and then clockwise, till he had traced a unique 360º view. The roughly 5-metre water colour panorama was painted on five sheets and pasted together as a scroll longer than an average apartment bedroom.
More than its age, the panorama is important for what it shows. The fort is fully built up. It is no longer true to Shahjahan’s aesthetic, but a living, thriving space nonetheless. Outside, the city is more orderly built and leafy than what you see today. Trees ring it from the north all the way to Fatehpuri Masjid on the west. There are trees even on Chandni Chowk’s median. Of traffic there is little, and squalor none, but the last may be the artist’s disinclination to sully his canvas. It nothing less of a wonder. From the painting at first glance, nothing but the fort’s august gates is recognizable. There is so much between them that no living person has seen. The very intricate decorations of Chhatta Bazaar’s walls. They are now lost under layers of white paint. Immediately to the right is a spread of houses for the salatin. Towards the Naqqarkhana has a large, enclosed court with three-arched gateways to the north and the south. In fact, gates, arcades and cloisters regularly frame, link and also curtain the fort’s different quarters. Another surprise is the white Diwani-Aam beyond Naqqarkhana. The hall’s pearly plaster finish was stripped off early in the last century, exposing its red sandstone.
The painting also shows Shahjahanabad in relation to the older relics. Monuments such as Kotla Firoz Shah, Humayun’s Tomb, Purana Qila, and the farthest, Qutab Minar, are duly marked out. Studying Khan’s panorama will leave you a little wistful, for the lost splendours of Red Fort, the city’s easy pace, its leafy environs, the Yamuna’s wide expanse — and the horizon. Once upon a time, earth and sky met all around Delhi.
News Source : Times of India