The gateway to Mughal history

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Even to those of us, who reside in the ‘newer’ parts of Delhi, Kashmere Gate is a most familiar name. We hear of it in the context of ‘Old Delhi,’ its bustling bazaars, a gateway of yore or simply as the Kashmere Gate Metro Station.

Few, though, are familiar with the history of Kashmere Gate or its surrounding iconic buildings. This gate, if you listen carefully, has many tales of rulership, war and
defeat to tell.

Shahjahanabad, the city founded by Mughal emperor Shahjahan in 1639, had a six km long wall with 14 gates. These were all named after the destination they led to such as Ajmeri Gate, Lahori Gate and Kashmere Gate. Shah Jahan was particularly fond of visiting Kashmir, having written the famous couplet: ‘Gar firdous baroye zameen ast, hami asto, hami asto, hami asto,’ meaning ‘If there is paradise on
earth, it is here, it is here, it is here.’  

In view of his frequent visits of Kashmir, this northern gate of the city, which had a road leading to Kashmir, was named the Kashmiri Gate.

If one reads a map of Shahjahanabad carefully, this gate, of all the 14, was closest to the ‘royal palace and garden’ (now known as Red Fort) and had important roadways and the river Yamuna nearby. Kashmere Gate, without a doubt, facilitated a great amount of trade and political exchange at that time.  
 
Years later, when the British first started settling in Delhi in 1803, they found the walls of Shahjahanabad lacking repair. This was especially after the siege by Maratha Holkar in 1804. Subsequently they reinforced the walls and numerous gates, and Kashmiri Gate became Kashmere Gate since. The area also became home to estates of several British officers, replacing Mughal palaces and the quarters of nobility.  

This gate then served its most important role in history in 1857 once Hindu and Muslim soldiers in the British army declared India’s First War of Independence. They managed to kill most of the British soldiers inside the city and laid siege to Kashmere Gate. Kashmere Gate was also a repository of arms for Britishers which the freedom fighters now occupied.

History enthusiast Vikramjit Singh Rooprai informs us, “The Indian soldiers had almost won the war and were on the verge of declaring Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar the king again, if it were not for the machinations of British officers. They paid some of the Indian soldiers to create factions in the Indian regiment and also spoil their food
stock after which the Indian side just crumpled like a pack of cards.”

Notably, all of this drama took place at Kashmere Gate. Even today, one can see angular bastions - space created in a gate/small fort to attack the enemy – in Kashmere Gate, and also large holes and damage caused by cannonballs which flew thick and fast during the war.

After 1857, the British moved to Civil Lines, and Kashmere Gate lost its vitality, at least in the military terms. The area, however, still retains its historic importance with a number of monuments such as St. James’ Church – one of Delhi’s oldest churches, a cemetery, a mosque, Dara Shikoh’s library in IP University campus, the telegraph memorial, the Ritz Cinema, old St Stephen’s College, British Magazine etc.

A mere gateway can tell you a lot about the history of your city.

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