City and Union Territory, north-central India. Popularly known as Old Delhi, it is the third largest city of India, surpassed in population only by Calcutta and Greater Bombay. New Delhi, the capital of the Indian Union, lies immediately to the south. Besides being at the political centre of the country, Delhi is also a focal point in India’s transportation network.

Delhi is situated about 100 miles (160 kilometres) south of the Himalayas and stands on the west (right) bank of the Yamuna River, a tributary of the Ganges. The union territory, which lies at an altitude of between 700 and 1,000 feet (213 and 305 metres), covers an area of 573 square miles (1,485 square kilometres). Of this area, Old Delhi occupies 360 square miles and New Delhi 169 square miles. The union territory is bounded on the east by the state of Uttar Pradesh and on the north, west, and south by Haryana. It generally has been presumed that the city was named for Raja Dhilu, a king who reigned in the 1st century BC , and that the various names by which it has been known (Delhi, Dehli, Dilly, and Dhilly) have been corruptions of this name.

Delhi has been the capital city of a succession of mighty empires and powerful kingdoms, and numerous ruins mark the sites of the various cities. According to popular tradition, the city has changed its locality a total of seven times, although some authorities, who take smaller towns and strongholds into account, claim it has changed its site as many as 15 times. All these locations are confined to a triangular area of about 70 square miles called the Delhi triangle. Two sides of this triangle are represented by the rocky hills of the Ar(valli Range in the west and south and the third side by the shifting channel of the Yamuna River. The present site of Delhi is bounded to the west by a northern extension of the Ar(valli Range known as the Delhi Ridge.

The name “Delhi” is of uncertain etymology. One suggestion is that its eponym is “Dhillu”, the name of a king who ruled the area. However, some historians believe that the word Dilli, another name for Delhi, originated from the Persian word dahleez, meaning “frontier” or “threshold”. Another theory suggests that the city’s original name was Dhillika. The Persianized surname Dahelvi is also related to residents of Delhi. The Hindi/Prakrit word dhili (“loose”) was also used for the locality, gradually morphing into the local name “Dilli”.


Qutub Minar, Delhi

Qutub Minar, Delhi

Delhi, where a empire rose and fell before the dawn of history; where citadels of emperors appeared and disappeared; a city of mysterious eternity whose old ruins proclaim a majestic and imperial past and whose present pulsates vibrantly with the ever flowing life of India. The eternal Jamuna bears witness to the glorious and tumultuous 5,000 year old history of Delhi. A history which begins with the creation of Indraprastha by the Pandavas and the transformation of this barren gift of the Kauravas into an idyllic haven.

The earliest reference to a settlement at Delhi is found in the epic Mahabharata (a narrative about the descendants of the prince Bharata), which mentions a city called Indraprastha, built about 1400 BC under the direction of Yudhishtira, a Pandava king, on a huge mound somewhere between the sites where the historic Old Fort (Purana Qilah) and Humayun’s Tomb were later to be located. Although nothing remains of Indraprastha, according to legend it was a thriving city. The first reference to the place-name Delhi, as already mentioned, seems to have been made in the 1st century BC, when Raja Dhilu built a city near the site of the future Qutub Minar and named it for himself. Thereafter Delhi faced many vicissitudes and did not reemerge into prominence until the 12th century AD, when it became the capital of the Cauhan (Cahamana) ruler PrithvYraja III. After the defeat of Prithvyraja in the late 12th century, the city passed into Muslim hands. Qutub-ud-Dyn Aybak, founder of the Slave dynasty and builder of the famous tower Qutub Minar (completed in the early 13th century), also chose Delhi as his capital.

Åala-ud-Dyn Khaljy (1296–1316) built the second city of Delhi at Siri, three miles northeast of the Qu¡b Minar. The third city of Delhi was built by Ghiyas-ud-DYn Tughluq (1320–25) at Tughlakabad but had to be abandoned in favour of the old site near the Qu¡b Minar because of a scarcity of water. His successor, Muhammad Bin Tughluq, extended the city farther northeast and built new fortifications around it. It then became the fourth city of Delhi, under the name Jahanpanah. These new settlements were located between the old cities near the Qutub Minar and Siri Fort. Muhammad Bin Tughluq’s successor, FYroz Shah Tughluq, abandoned this site altogether and in 1354 moved his capital farther north near the ancient site of Indraprastha and founded the fifth city of Delhi, FYrozab(d, which was situated in what is now the Firoz Shah Kotla area.

After the invasion and sack of Delhi by Timur (Tamerlane) at the end of the 14th century, the last of the sultan kings moved the capital to Agra, so that Delhi experienced a temporary diminution in its importance. Babur, the first Mughal ruler, reestablished Delhi as the seat of his empire in 1526. His son Humayun built a new city, DYn Panah, on the site between Firoz Shah Kotla and the Purana Qalaah. Sher Shah, who overthrew Humayun in 1540, razed DYn Panah to the ground and built his new capital, the Shar Shahy (Purana Quilaah), as the sixth city of Delhi.

Delhi later again lost importance when the Mughal emperors Akbar (1556–1605) and Jahangyr (1605–27) moved their headquarters, respectively, to Fatehpur Sykri and Agra, but the city was restored to its former glory and prestige in 1638, when Shah Jahan, Akbar’s grandson, laid the foundations of the seventh city of Delhi, Shahjahanabad, which has come to be known as Old Delhi. The greater part of the city is still confined within the space of Shah Jahan’s walls, and several gates built during his rule—the Kashmiry Gate, the Delhi Gate, the Turkman Gate, and the Ajmery Gate—still stand.

With the fall of the Mughal Empire during the mid-18th century, Delhi again faced many vicissitudes—raids by the Maratha (a people of peninsular India), the invasion by Nader Shah of Persia, and a brief spell of Maratha rule—before the arrival of the British in 1803. Under British rule the city flourished, except during the Indian Mutiny in 1857, when the mutineers seized the city for several months, after which British power was restored and Mughal rule ended. In 1912 the British moved the capital of British India from Calcutta to the partially completed New Delhi, the construction of which wasfinished by 1931.

In 1984, the assassination of then Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi, led to a violent backlash against the Sikh community, resulting in more than two thousand seven hundred deaths. The Constitution (Sixty-ninth Amendment) Act, 1991 of Constitution of India declared that the Union Territory of Delhi would be known as National Capital Territory of Delhi. The Act gave Delhi its own legislative assembly, though with limited powers. On February 16, 2006 the Delhi High Court passed a notice to the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) to remove all illegal commercial establishments within residential areas in the city.


There is perhaps no city in India that can compare with Delhi in the number of its monuments. These edifices illustrate the types of Indian architecture from the time of the imperial Gupta dynasty 1,600 years ago to the period of British rule, when the style of such architects as Sir Edwin Lutyens and Sir Herbert Baker was in evidence in New Delhi.

Jama Masjid, Delhi

Jama Masjid, Delhi

Delhi is particularly rich in material for the study of Indo-Muslim architecture. The monuments of the early Pashtun style (1193–1320)—represented by the Q¨wat-ul-Islam mosque, the Qu¡b Minar, the tomb of Iltutmish reveal the adoption and adaptation of Hindu materials and style to Islamic motifs and requirements. The later Pashtun styles represented in Tughlakabad and in the tombs of the Sayyid kings (1414–51) and LodY kings (1451–1526) are characterized by finer domes and decoration and the use of finer marbles and tiles. The later Mughal architecture represented in the Red Fort (Lal Qilah) and the Principal Mosque (Jama Masjid) reveals an increasing use of marble, elaboration of external surfaces with florid decoration, and the construction of bulbous domes and lofty minarets.

The Red Fort is one of the most important buildings of the city. Its massive red sandstone walls, 75 feet in height, enclose a complex of palaces, gardens, military barracks, and other buildings. The two most famous of these are the Hall of Public Audience (DYvan-e Åamm) and the Hall of Private Audience (DYvan-e Khaas). The Hall of Public Audience has 60 red sandstone pillars supporting a flat roof. The Hall of Private Audience is smaller and has a pavilion of whitemarble.

The architectural styles in the British period—represented by the Central Secretariat,

Lotus Temple, Delhi

Lotus Temple, Delhi

Parliament House (Sansad Bhavan), and the Presidential House (formerly the British viceroy’s house)—combine the best features of the modern English school of architecture with traditional Indian forms. In the post – independence era, public buildings in Delhi began to show a utilitarian bias and a search for a synthesis of Indian and Western styles; the attempt, however, has not always been successful, as is evident from the Supreme Court building, the Science Building (a conference hall), and the government ministries. The Children’s Building (a children’s centre) and Rabindra Building (a fine arts centre) show a trend toward a new style, using modern materials. Along the Yamuna riverfront, memorials set in flowering gardens have been built for such 20th-century national leaders as Mahatma Gandhi (Raj Ghat), Jawaharlal Nehru (Shanti Vana), and Lal Bahadur Shastri (Vijay Ghat).


The climate of Delhi is characterized by extreme dryness, with intensely hot summers. It is associated with a general prevalence of continental air, which moves in from the west or northwest, except during the season of the monsoon (rain-bearing wind), when an easterly to southeasterly influx of oceanic air brings increased humidity. The summer season lasts from mid-March to the end of June, with average maximum and minimum temperatures of 97° F (36° C) and 77° F (25° C); it is characterized by frequent thunderstorms and squalls, which are most frequent in April and May. The monsoon season, following the hot summer, continues until the end of September, with an average rainfall of about 26 inches (660 millimetres). The post-monsoon period of October and November constitutes a transition period from monsoon to winter conditions. The winter season extends from late November to mid-February. The air in Delhi is dry for most of the year, with very low relative humidity from April to June and markedly higher humidity in July and August, when weather conditions are oppressive. Delhi’s mean daily temperature is highest in May; and the monthly mean temperatureis highest in June, which is also the month when the night temperature is at its maximum. The mean daily temperature may rise as high as 110° F (43° C). The coldest month is January, when both the mean maximum temperature and the mean minimum temperature are at their lowest – 70° F (21° C) and 45° F (7° C), respectively.

Air and water pollution have increased with the growth of population, industry, and the use of motor vehicles. Sometimes a temperature inversion (which can occur when a warm air mass remains over a land surface that cools during the night)forms in the winter months, which traps pollutants, prevents them from dispersing, and increases contamination considerably.


Traditionally, Delhi has been well known for its artistic work, such as ivory carving and painting, gold and silver embroidery, decorative ware, copperware, and brassware. In modern times industry has become diversified, and Delhi has become important for the manufacture of sophisticated products in small-scale industry, such as electronics and engineering goods, automobile parts, precision instruments, machinery, and electrical appliances. Wearing apparel, sports and leather goods, handloom products, and handicrafts are also produced. A large and thriving tourist industry has also developed.

Delhi’s position as the national capital and as a major industrial city have accentuated its function as a banking, wholesale-trade, and distribution centre. It is the headquarters of the Reserve Bank of India and of the regional officesof the State Bank and other banking institutions. It is also a divisional headquarters for the insurance business and an important stock-exchange centre. Delhi has long acted as a major distribution centre for much of northern India, handling a wide variety of items. Much of the distributive trade is carried on from within the Old Delhi area, where most of the markets are located near each other.


The growth of modern education in Delhi has kept pace with the expansion of the city’s population. Primary-level education is nearly universal, and a large proportion of students also attend secondary school. Education for women at all levels has advanced at a much faster pace than it has for men. Among the institutions of higher learning, the most important is the University of Delhi, which has many affiliated colleges and research institutions. Among the major colleges for professional and other studies are the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, the Indian Institute of Technology, and the All India Institute of Medical Sciences.


The geographic position of Delhi on the great plain of India, where the Deccan tableland and the Thar Desert approach the Himalayas to produce a narrow corridor, ensures that all land routes from northwestern India to the eastern plain must pass through it, thus making it a pivotal centre in the subcontinent’s network of transportation. Fivenational highways converge on Delhi. Several railway lines also meet there, linking the city with all parts of the country.Delhi is the most important air terminus in northern India for both domestic and international air services. Indira Gandhi International Airport, located in the southwestern part of the city, handles international flights. The nearby Palam Airport is one of the hubs of the domestic airway system.

Public transport in Delhi is provided by buses, auto rickshaws, rapid transit system, taxis and suburban railways. Buses are the most popular means of transport catering to about 60% of the total demand. Major bus service providers include state-owned Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC), and other private operators. The fleet of private operators is collectively known as the Blueline buses. Private vehicles account for 30% of the total demand for transport. At 1922.32 km of road length per 100 km², Delhi has one of the highest road densities in India. Delhi is well connected to other parts of India by 5 National Highways: NH 1, 2, 8, 10 and 24. Roads in Delhi are maintained by MCD, NDMC, Delhi Cantonment Board, Public Works Department (PWD) and Delhi Development Authority.

Delhi’s high population growth rate, coupled with high economic growth rate has resulted in an ever increasing demand for transport creating excessive pressure on the city’s existent transport infrastructure. Like many other cities in the developing world, the city faces acute transport management problems leading to air pollution, congestion and resultant loss of productivity. In order to meet the transport demand in Delhi, the State and Union governmet started the construction of a mass rapid transit system, including the Delhi Metro. As of 2007, the metro operates 3 lines with a total length of 65 km and 59 stations while several other lines are under construction. The MCD and PWD also launched several traffic decongestion programmes. Due to high traffic congestion, Delhi’s pollution levels increased drastically during the mid-1990s. In 1998, the Supreme Court of India ordered all public transport vehicles to use compressed natural gas (CNG) as fuel instead of diesel and other hydro-carbons. The DTC now operates the world’s largest fleet of environment-friendly CNG buses. Though pollution from road transport has decreased in recent years, it remains alarmingly high.

Railways used to serve only 1% of the local traffic till 2003. However Delhi is a major junction in the rail map of India and is the headquarters of the Northern Railway. The four main railway stations are Old Delhi, Hazrat Nizamuddin, Sarai Rohilla and New Delhi Railway Station. Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGI) situated in the southwestern corner of Delhi serves for domestic and international connections. In 2005–2006, IGI recorded a traffic of more than 8.5 million passengers, making it one of the busiest airports in South Asia. Two other airports are Palam (now part of the IGI complex) and Safdarjung Flying Club.

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