Panāh-I Din Daran: The Story of the Forgotten Mughal Capital, Dīnpanāh

نہ تھا شہر دہلی یہ تھا چمن کہو کس طرح کا تھا یاں امنن”

“جو خطاب تھا وہ مٹا دیا فقط اب تو اجڑا دیار ہے

“Delhi was never just a city; it was a garden of harmony.

They have erased all signs of that, and now only a ruined waste remains…”

  • Bahadur Shah ‘Zafar’, the last Mughal Emperor, on the destruction of Delhi in 1857.


It is hard to imagine that the city Zafar so eloquently described in his poems was not a favourite of his ancestors for the first hundred years. Scholars believe that Delhi gained prominence as the capital of the Mughals only after Shahjahan, the fifth Mughal Emperor, ascended the throne, creating Shahjahanabad in c.1648 CE. [i]

However, Delhi did become the capital of the Mughals, roughly a hundred and ten years before Shahjahanabad was built— this was under the second Mughal emperor, Humayun (r.1530-40; 1555-56 CE), and the city he built was Dīnpanāh.


The Abrupt Origin of the First Mughal Fortress-Palace

In his chronicle, Qānūn-i-Humāyunī, Khwandamir writes,

“He [Humayun] at the beginning of Dhu’l-hijja 939 AH [24 June 1533] turned the reins of his world-traversing horse to the capital city of Delhi… After taking omens and religious advice, selected a raised area adjacent to the banks of the Jawn [Yamuna], and from where the distance to the city may be estimated at three kurōhs [∼9.6 km] for the foundation of Dīnpanāh…”  [ii]

In times when Delhi and its vicinity have been heavily documented and researched,[iii] It is surprising that Dīnpanāh, a mere 12.3 km away from the well-known Red Fort (in Shahjahanabad), is seldom discussed. But then, going by the dismissiveness that Humayun, the creator of this city is destined with, it is not a complete shock either. [iv]

There is little consensus about who built this city. However, the foundation was certainly laid by Humayun who had declared his desire to construct a ‘high and wide city’ (Balda-i Rafi’ wa wasi) to an assembly of his courtiers in February-March 1533. The Emperor had envisaged a city with ‘high fortifications within a place of seven storeys’ (qaṣrī mabnī bar haft ṭabaqa) ‘surrounded by gardens’ (bāghāt wa basātīn) and so magnificent that ‘people from all directions would hasten to see its elegance and beauty’. The city, he said, would be called Dīnpanāh (‘Refuge of Religion’).[v]

Profoundly religious and keenly interested in astrology, Humayun had chosen this name to announce his policy of providing a haven for all holy men in deliberate contrast to the bigotry of his contemporaries, the Safavids and the Ottomans. The site selected was the age-old fortified settlement of Inderpat (the capital city Indraprastha of the Sanskrit Epic, Mahābhārata) and also the centre of the famous Sufi saint, Nizamuddin Auliya. [vi]

However, the decision to build Dīnpanāh in Delhi was by no means a novelty: besides its mythical and religious significance, Delhi was primarily an epicentre for political power for nearly a millennia in Northern India.

When Humayun’s father, Babur (r.1526-30), the founder of the Mughal Empire, had won Delhi in the Battle of Panipat, he had not settled here. Humayun’s decision to return to Delhi and make an urban settlement in the city was tantamount to adding Mughals in a direct line to three centuries of Islamic rule in India. Also, with the construction of a palace-fortress, Humayun had inaugurated a new chapter in Mughal architecture since his father, who had lived in gardens like his Timurid ancestors, did not build any palace in his four-year-long reign. Whilst aligning himself with Sultanate history, Humayun had ensured that his capital was not too close to Sultanate seats of power (Siri, Tughlaqabad, Lalkot, Jahanpanah and Dihli-i Kuhna) to prevent association with any of them.

However, Humayun’s self-assuredness and architectural prowess were not matched by his leadership qualities or fate. All plans to build his grand ‘Panāh-i Din Daran’[vii] were cut short by his defeat at the hands of Sher Shah Suri, the Afghan military general in 1540 CE. This is where the confusion begins: scholars remain unclear about the extent to which Humayun had built Dīnpanāh and Sher Shah’s contribution to, or destruction of, this city. [viii]

A contemporary writer, Bada’uni notes:

“And when he [Sher Shah] arrived at old Dihli….he destroyed that also, and established between the fortresses of Dīnpanāh, which Muhammad Humayun Padshah constructed, and Firozabad an extensive city, and built round that Fort a rampart of stone and mortar, having an extensive three krohs.” [ix]

Clockwise: The Humayuni Darwaza (Southern Gate), Bara Darwaza (Western gate), the interior and facade of the Taluqi Darwaza (northern gate). Unlike the other gates, where the chhatris (domed kiosk) are on the facade, for the Bara Darwaza, the chhatri is situated on the bastions. One has been lost.
Picture Credit: By Varun Shiv Kapur – originally posted to Flickr as West Gate, CC BY 2.0,


What Remains of the Dīnpanāh?

Today, all that has survived of the city is only its citadel, the Purana Qila – an irregular, elongated trapezoid built on a slightly raised platform. This is perhaps why Purana Qila is interchangeably used to describe Dīnpanāh. The fortifications of the Purana Qila, built of rubble masonry, and punctuated by gates on the northern, western and Southern ends have remained intact.

All the gates are flanked by semicircular bastions and jharokha[x] on both sides, have a sandstone façade, and a double arched entrance. Slight variations exist. For example, the main entrance gate, the Bara Darwaza on the western end has two prominent six-pointed stars in the spandrels and a carved lotus medallion in the centre. The northern gate, Talaqi Darwaza, contains partly preserved scenes of leogryphs. Humayuni Darwaza on the southern end has panels with elephant motifs.

Within the fortified settlement, we see a bāolī (step-well), a tahkhāna[xi] (an underground structure for escaping summer), the Qala-i-Kuhna, a congregational mosque most certainly built by Sher Shah which continued to function even after the Mughals reclaimed India, and an octagonal pavilion called the Sher Mandal which served as a kitābkhāna (library) for the erudite Humayun, finished after his return to India in 1555 CE. It was on the staircase of this complex that Humayun had knelt to pray and on rising from which he had fallen to his death, putting a tragic end to his architectural pursuits, less than a year after his return.

The Tahkhāna and The Sher Mandal
By Hemant banswal – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,


As Koch notes, “The main reason why scholars so far have not been able to solve what was built by Humayun and what by Sher Shah is that neither the textual nor the archaeological evidence has presented a clear picture…Secondly, the architectural evidence does not provide the desired answer ….[Moreover], features of the Purana Qil’a, which have been identified as ‘Mughal’, could also date from Akbar’s period [r.1556-1605]….” [xii]

What was common in the architectural style of both Humayun and Sher Shah’s design of the Dīnpanāh was their quest to revive the Delhi Sultanate. This style had gone into disuse in 14-15th century Delhi, but continued uninterrupted in provincial centres, creating a heritage from which early Mughal and Suri architecture could easily draw inspiration — this included the use of red sandstone, geometrical ornamental style, inlays of coloured stones (esp white), jalis (perforated screens) etc.

Whilst posterity may have forgotten Dīnpanāh, it certainly left its mark on Mughal architectural designs, as can be witnessed in Humayun’s tomb, Akbar’s Fatehpur Sikri and even the Red Fort!

By Chandini Jaswal, Panjab University, India.

Chandini is a second-year postgraduate history student at Panjab University, India. She secured the gold medal in her undergraduate history degree. Jaswal is a core team member at Karwaan Heritage, India and a communication member at The Museum of British Colonialism, UK-Kenya. Jaswal has published 15 research papers and 27 articles focusing on subcontinental history, particularly pre-modern India. She is also engaged in documenting oral histories of the 1947 Partition. Her research papers have been recognised at various conferences and workshops, including the New York Conference on Asian Studies and the Indian Association for South Asian Studies among others. 

[i] Giles Tillotson, Delhi Darshan: The History and Monuments of India’s Capital (Gurgaon, Haryana, India: Penguin/Viking, an imprint of Penguin Random House, 2019), p.51.

[ii] Kwāndamīr, and Baini Prashad, Qānūn-i-Humāyūnī: A Work on the Rules and Ordinances Established by the Emperor Humāyūn and on Some Buildings Erected by His Order, Bibliotheca Indica Series, No. 263, Reprint (Calcutta: Asiatic Society, 2011).

[iii] Some great books on history of Delhi written in the last decade include: Liddle, Swapna, The Broken Script: Delhi under the East India Company and the Fall of the Mughal Dynasty 1803-1857 (New Delhi: Speaking Tiger, 2022); Tillotson, G. H. R., Delhi Darshan: The History and Monuments of India’s Capital (Gurgaon, Haryana, India: Penguin Viking, 2019); Dalrymple, William, The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty : Delhi, 1857, 1st Vintage books ed. (New York: Vintage Books, 2008).

[iv] Eva Orthmann “Ideology and State-Building: Humāyūn’s Search for Legitimacy in a Hindu-Muslim Environment” Dalmia, Vasudha, and Munis D. Faruqui, eds., Religious Interactions in Mughal India, (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2014), pp. 3-29 (p. 3-4).

[v]  Ebba Koch, The Planetary King: Humayun Padshah, Inventor and Visionary on the Mughal Throne (Ahmedabad: Mapin publishing, 2022), p.240.

[vi] Asher, Catherine B., Architecture of Mughal India, The New Cambridge History of India, I, 4 (Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992), p.32. 

According to Koch, for Humayun, a follower of the Shattari order, to choose a Chishti centre as the site of his capital was a noteworthy politico-religious decision – perhaps another proof of his ‘liberal outlook’? (See Koch, “Planetary King”, p.241).

[vii] Dinpanah was to be an asylum for religious men, who are renowned for being alert (panāh-i dīn-dārān ma’ārif-intibāh). See Koch “Planetary King”, p.241.

[viii] According to Khwandmir, “the walls, bastions, ramparts and gates” were nearly finished by the end of Shawwal (circa May) of that year (1533)–which is probably an exaggeration since it is too short of a time period for construction of such a large complex. (See Asher “Architecture of Mughal India” p.33).

[ix] Bada’uni 1864-69: ‘Abd al-Qadir Badauni, Muntakhab al-tawärikh, Persian text ed. by Kabir al-Din Ahmad, Munshi Ahmad Ali and W. N. Lees, 3 vols (Calcutta: Asiatic Society of Bengal, 1864-69)  (accessed 12 October 2023). p.472.

[x] Jharokha – literally a window. The intricate jharoka architectural frames are the marked architectural style of the Rajputana in western India.

[xi] Koch argues that this underground structure is popularly and wrongly identified as a Mughal hammam. (See Koch, “Planetary King”, p. 242).

[xii]  Ebba Koch, Mughal Art and Imperial Ideology: Collected Essays (New Delhi ; New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), p.181.

OpenEdition suggests that you cite this post as follows:
courtstudies (November 1, 2023). Panāh-I Din Daran: The Story of the Forgotten Mughal Capital, Dīnpanāh. The Court Observer. Retrieved July 17, 2024 from

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