Shahjahanabaad: Then and Now.

Delhi, 2020. The capital state of India is known for its new innovative ways and old settlements. It has been a historic power centre and a veteran to reigns of various monarchies. This past makes Delhi a hub of various monuments and historic places, which are from different eras and have distinguished architectural styles. One of such places with great historic significance is the old city of Delhi, Shahjahanabad. This blog contains facts about Shahjahanabadi settlement and its current situations.

Shahjahanabad (also known as the walled city) is the seventh city of Delhi (out of seven). The city is named after a Mughal monarch Shahjahan, one of the sons of Akbar, who shifted from Agra to Delhi in 1638 AD. The city of Shahjahanabad was initially planned organically and was designed to accommodate 60,000 population. It spread over 569 hectares approximately.

The settlement’s geometry was influenced by ‘Vastu Shastra’ and attains the shape of a bow and an arrow shaping like a semi-ellipse. The city was planned on the basis of analogies of a human. The wall acts as a skin, chandni chowk stretch is the spine, streets are ribs, the fort as head, Jama Masjid as heart and Sarai (rest houses) as organs (Datmann, 1969). The city was designed with a concept based on identification of usage of the spine to take place. Commodities as jewellery, clothing and accessories were the main attraction.

The main streets connecting the bazaar were primarily for original layout of this Mughal city, drastically altered in British era. The introduction of railway line transformed and enhanced commerce sector. This attracted population for job opportunities. In-migration resulted in densely populated areas around industries and trade centres.

At present, more than 1500 persons reside per hectare in this area. Once, Shahjahanabad acted as a central core of the city and 42 thousands people lived there in 1961, which decreased to 35 thousands in 1981 and then 23.5 thousands in 2001. This out-migration is because of exhaustive use of infrastructure which led to irreversible dilapidation. The image of Shahjahanabad (also commonly known as Chandni Chowk, now) has varied from ancient fort and settlements of a Mughal emperor to a distinctive wholesale and retail markets of modern days.

Shahjahanabad is immensely rich in cultural heritage, with all kinds of architecturally beautiful structures varying from palaces, mosques, bazaars, havelis, katras to streets and layers of architectural elements. Despite of all the richness, in public memory, Shahjahanabad is a mess of chocked traffic movement, intense commerce, a maze of dark narrow alleyways and a great tangle of billboards and electric cables. The walled city is plagued with issues like congestion, infrastructural dilapidation, unauthorized construction, deteriorated housing conditions and unthoughtful conversion of residential premises to non- residential/commercial uses.

After so many urban renewal projects being planned and the issues remain intact. Urban renewal, in terms of the walled city is more of a gentrification process; but since Shahjahanabad comes under ‘special zone’ section in Master Plan of Delhi (MPD, 2001; MPD, 2011), the area cannot be touched, eradicated or changed. The urban renewal projects have intended to change the face of the area but due to residential leases and willingness of residents to be a part of the area, it makes it difficult for the government to intervene and authorize any project in Shahjahanabad. All these conflicts doesn’t leave much rooms for tourism in the area.

The special zone in master plan pertains to the areas which are the part of the walled city as built by Shahjahan. Today, more area than walled city is under heritage privileges and possess a great value for being adjacent to the old city. Residents of the area within the walled city have also capitalised on surroundings which has increased the possibilities of trade and commerce for them.

It has always been a struggle for people from old city to survive in such dilapidated conditions but they have surely enjoyed the perks which came with the identity of this area. Shahjahanabad has been one of the more integral parts of Delhi’s past and present.

Published by Yashika Sachdeva

An architect and city planner by profession. Part time blogger. A travel enthusiast. Loves to explore and document experiences through sketches and in her writings.

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