Delhi Gate

THE DELHI GATE

(1568-69)

 

The Delhi Gate faces the Jami Masjid, and is the most ingeniously planned and the most exquisitely finished gateway of the Mughals. It was completed in 1568-69 A.D. and was thus their first monumental gate. Its architectural plan has been so devised as to put the defenders in a definitely advantageous position. High extra-strong bastions which projected and towered forward were regularly disposed. Battlements with high merlons were provided on ramparts. They sheltered the defenders who could safely fire at the besiegers under their cover. Loopholes and embrasures were devised and so manipulated as facilitate the defence; other points were provided from where the garrison under r could catch the exposed besiegers from above and shoot them down. Obviously, the ramparts were so filled and raised as to be impregnable against the guns. A drawbridge which connected the Fort with the mainland, could be lifted this device rendered the gate inaccessible to the invading elephants.

As shown in a crooked entrance was devised with sharp curves at various trap-points and a steep rise. These dangerous points obstructed – at times blocked – the passage of the guns and the elephants. It was only at a very high cost and with utmost difficulty that an enemy could force his march through this entrance and a similar one at the Amar Singh Gate. These architectural devices would render the enemy position untenable, and this explains why Salim and Shah Jehan could not take the Fort when each one rebelled against his own father, in 1599 and 1622 A.D. respectively. The Fort of Agra proved to be invincible against the guns of Aurangzeb too, who was, therefore, compelled to take recourse to a stratagem as will be discussed shortly. Even Lake in 1803 could not force his entry through this gate or through the Amar Singh Gate which has been planned on identical lines. The Fort was surrendered to him by its Maratha garrison because of a breach in the south-eastern bastion (viz. the Bengali Burj)which Lake had made by concentrating his fire upon it, and by the treachery of the European officers of the garrison. Militarily, the Fort of Agra was impregnable in medieval times and was considered to be the strongest fort in the plains. It was because of this strength that the Fort of Agra contained the biggest and the richest treasury of the Empire from the time of Akbar to that of Shah Jehan.

As soon as the military problem had been successfully tackled, the master architect took the aesthetic aspect in hand. The inner entrance called the Elephant or the Hathya-Pol (Hathi-Pol) has been particularly so designed as to an extremely beautiful architectural effect. Two stone elephants with their riders probably the replicas of Jaymal and Phatta, the gallant defenders of Chittorgarh, originally stood on its two sides. Their pedestals with footholes still exist. The arched entrance is flanked on both sides by broad, double-storeyed, over-dominating octagonal towers, each having a battlemented parapet and crowned by an elegant chhatri (Plate-20). Horizontal oblong panels above the upper storey arches, below the frieze and cornice, atternatingly depict a pair of ‘Gaja-Vyala’ (composite animal with elephant-head) (Plate-21) on the one, and a pair of ducks Sassanian ‘sash’ or fringed ribbon, and an Assyrian palmette in the centre (Plate-22) on the other. Each `Gaja-Vyala’ is made up of lion, horse, bird and elephant and is fighting with seven elephants simultaneously. Both these motifs are auspicious symbols which have been used here to depict Royalty. The entrance is hexagonal, with arched alcoves on the remaining four sides. The gateway has a four storyed elevation on the rear (eastern) side, in receding terraces, composed of beautifully designed and finished red stone living rooms, dalans (verandahs) and pavilions (Plates-23 & 24).

The whole structure has been profusely decorated. Akbar spared no money or pains to give it a colour and character suitable for the entrance to this Imperial-Castle. The magnificence and grandeur of the gateway was, no doubt, intended to impress the imagination of the allies and the newly recruited mansabdars (nobles) who later formed the bulwark of the Empire. All available artisans were employed; all possible schemes of decoration were adopted. It, thus, contained the inlay and mosaic; stone carving chiefly in geometrical designs; stucco in arabesques; painting; and of course, glazed-tiling. Spaces were very judiciously selected for the display of different techniques of decoration. Carving was chiefly adopted in bold relief in oblong panels around the arches on the western facade. The designs are chiefly geometrical and conventionalized. The back terraces have some very beautiful examples of carving and sculpturesque decor. Brackets, particularly those with elephant heads are unsurpassed by any other example of their type at Agra or Fatehpur Sikri. Beautifully designed jalies have also been used. These different schemes were carefully chosen and distributed on the most appropriate surfaces. The composition though made of these different and varied forms of ornamentation is entirely unified, harmonious and rhythmic. Much of it has, however, been defaced but enough remains to remind us how graceful and superbly magnificent the effect originally must have been.