In the late eighteenth century; Calcutta, Bombay and Madras rose in importance as they became the Presidency cities. These three cities became the centres of British power in different regions of India. Around the same time, many smaller cities declined in importance. Many towns which were important manufacturing centres declined in importance because of a drop in the demand for what they produced. When the flow of trade moved to new centre, old trading centres and ports could not survive.
When the local rulers were defeated by the British, many earlier centres of regional power collapsed and new centres of administration emerged. This process is usually called de-urbanisation. Machlipatnam, Surat and Seringapatam were some of the cities which were deurbanized during the nineteenth century. By the early twentieth century, only 11 per cent of Indians were living in cities.
Delhi had been the centre of power for over thousand years; but with some gaps in between. Right from the days of the Rajput kings up to the Mughal dynasty, Delhi used to be the centre of power. Cities developed in different parts on the left bank of river Yamuna during the reign of different dynasties. Remnants of all those cities can still be seen in different parts of the modern Delhi.
Character of the City: Shahjahanbad was built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in 1639. It consisted of a fort-palace complex and the city adjoining it. The Red Fort contained the palace complex. The Walled City is towards west of the Red Fort. The main streets of Chandni Chowk and Faiz Bazaar were made broad enough to that the royal processions could pass through them. A canal ran down the centre of Chandni Chowk. Jama Masjid was built in the densely packed mohallas and various bazaars. It was among the largest and grandest mosques in India. At that time there was no place higher than Jama Masjid in the city.
Culture: During Shah Jahan’s time, Delhi was an important centre of Sufi culture. There were many dargahs, khanqahs and idgahs in Delhi. Open squares, winding lanes, quiet cul-de-sacs and water channels were the pride of Delhi’s residents.
Social Disparities: There were sharp divisions between rich and poor. Havelis or mansions were interspersed with the far more numerous mud houses of the poor. The colourful world of poetry and dance was usually enjoyed only by men. Women had to live within the confines of their homes. Celebrations and processions often led to serious conflicts.
The British gained control of Delhi in 1803; after defeating the Marathas. At that time, Calcutta was the capital of British India. Hence, the Mughal emperor was allowed to live in the palace complex in the Re Fort.
The British shifted their capital from Calcutta to Delhi in 1911. The modern city of Delhi developed only after that.
Demolishing a Past: Before 1857, Delhi did not hold much importance from the British perspective. Hence, it developed in somewhat different way than other colonial cities. In the Presidency Cities, the living spaces of Indians and the British were sharply separated. While the Indians lived in the “black” areas, the British lived in well-laid out “white” areas. During the first half of the nineteenth century, the British lived along with the wealthier Indians in the Walled City. They learned to enjoy Urdu/Persian culture and poetry and participated in local festivals.
All this changed after 1857. The British wanted Delhi to forget its Mughal past. During the revolt of 1857, they recognized the importance of the Mughal rule and the symbolic importance of Delhi. The area around the Fort was completely cleared of gardens, pavilions and mosques. The British wanted a clear ground for security reasons. Mosques were either destroyed, or put to other uses. No worship was allowed in the Jama Masjid for five years. One-third of the city was demolished, and its canals were filled up.
In the 1870s, the western walls of Shahjahanabad were broken to establish the railway and to allow the city to expand beyond the walls. The British now began living in the sprawling Civil Lines area that came up in the north, away from the Indians in the Walled City.
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