Delhi’s First Red Fort
Delhi’s Red Fort is not only iconic but synonymous with it too. However, much before the Lal Qila or Red Fort there was another Red Fort in Delhi, known as Lal Kot. In fact Lal Qila’s original name was Qila e Mubarak.
In fact Lal Kot built by Anangpal Tomar in the 8th century AD is the original Red Fort of Delhi. Here let me clarify that Lal Qila was not built on the ruins of Lal Kot and both are quite a distance away from each other.
We have documented proof for the foundation of Delhi from the first Tomar king onwards. Raja Anangpal Tomar founded it in AD 736. He probably chose the rocky Aravalli hills in Mehrauli as his headquarters, for the strategic and military advantages it offered. It was one of the reasons why Qutbuddin Aibak and some of his successors continued to live in the Lal Kot/Qila Rai Pithaura area for some years till Kaikobad moved to Kilokhari.
Over the years Delhi was built several years as successive rulers, felt the need for fortification against enemies or wanted to go closer to sources of water or just create a magnificent city. Today seven of these cities are still extant. The eighth city, the last one, was designed and built by Sir Edwin Lutyens.
The first city of Delhi, which is Lal Kot/ Qila Rai Pithaura as mentioned is situated in Mehrauli and the seventh city of Shahjahanabad where Lal Qila is situated are around 23 km apart. In between are the ruins of the five other extant cities, namely: Siri, Jahanpanah, Tughlaqabad, Firozabad and Dinpanah/Sher Shah Garh.
To come back to the first city, it stretched from Lado Sarai to Mehrauli. Later this area was expanded and renamed Qila Rai Pithaura after its famous ruler Raja Prithviraj Chauhan (AD 1169–1191).
The Tomars ruled over it from AD 736 but it was Anangpal II who re-peopled it and built Delhi’s first Red Fort (or Lal Kot) in AD 1052. It seems probable that Anangpal II was forced to move to Delhi from Kanauj after the attack by Mahmud of Ghazni on Kanauj.
Here the Tomar kings, Anangpal and his successors, reigned undisturbed, for a century, during which time they were able to build the city walls, and construct masonry, dams and tanks.
Basheeruddin Ahmed in Waqeat e Darul Hukumat Dehli and Hearns in The Seven Cities of Delhi, both refer to an invasion and conquest of Delhi by Chauhan Rajputs in AD 1151 after which they reached an arrangement that the Tomar should marry a Chauhan princess, so that their offspring becomes the king of Delhi.
That offspring was Prithviraj who fortified the walls of his grandfather’s fort, erecting massive stone ramparts around it and extending its original boundaries. The excavations undertaken by ASI in this area showed that the citadel was oblong in plan and ‘the high stonewalls to its west which enlarge the original enclosure and are usually regarded as its area are a later construction’. It also shows the presence of a palatial building built by Prithviraj. The Turk rulers called it Qila Rai Pithaura after him.
Raja Prithviraj fought two battles against Sultan Mohammad of Ghor. In the first he defeated Sultan Mohammad of Ghor at Tarain. In the second battle of Tarain, Raja Prithviraj was defeated after which, according to historians, he was taken to Ghor as a prisoner.
With this, the city of Delhi changed hands and became the capital of the Delhi Sultans.
Lal Kot, which lies inside Sanjay Van, a medicinal forest, is now mostly in ruins and its stone ramparts and remains of a moat survive only at very few places. The walls are 28–30 feet in thickness, and about 60 feet in height, surrounded by a ditch; the bastions are 60–100 feet in diameter; the intermediate towers are 45 feet in diameter at the top, and well splayed out at the bottom. Qila Rai Pithaura, which extends beyond that, is also in the same state with only some portions of its walls still erect today.
The victorious Turks entered Lal Kot through the Ranjit Gate, which was then renamed Ghazni Gate. The ruins and stones of this gate lie within the present Lal Kot walls a short way inside from the Fateh Burj.
General Cunningham traced the remains of ten gates in the 19th c for ASI. Some of the gates whose names are known are Badaun, Ranjit, Sohan, Barka, Hauz Rani and Fateh. Ranjit Gate—later renamed Ghazni—was the gate whose defenses were breached by the invading army of Qutbuddin Aibak and they entered Qila Rai Pithaura from this. It was near Adham Khan’s tomb. Badaun Gate was the busiest under the Delhi Sultans with much movement related to the state administration. The remains of the Badaun Gate are in the Qila Rai Pithaura grounds in the Qutub Golf Club.