‘Chandni Chowk’, in hindi literally means ‘Moonlit Square’ or ‘Moonlit Market’. One of India’s oldest and busiest markets in Old Delhi (old Delhi or ‘purani dilli’, was the walled city of Delhi, founded by Mughal Emperor Shahjahan and was filled with Royal mansions, shops and courts), Chandni Chowk is a paradise for shoppers, paratha lovers, chaat crazy people and the one’s who are lovers of historical architecture.
Chandni Chowk was built by Emperor Shahjahan in the 17th century and the place was designed by his daughter Jahanara. It is India’s largest wholesale market, which was once divided by canals.
Princess Jahanara, Empror Shahjahan’s favourite daughter, designed and established Chandni Chowk. She designed the square employing elements of elegance and elaboration. She got a pool constructed in the centre of the bazaar, the presence of this pool added to the flambouyance of the market as it shimmered in the monlight, a feature which was perhaps responsible for the nomenclature of the the marketplace.
The theme of the Chowk was apparently the moon, since even the shops were built and arranged in a half-moon shape, but of course the shape is lost today. During Shahjahan’s time the chowk was famous for its silver merchants, which could also have been the possibility of it being named Chandni Chowk, since silver in hindi is called ‘Chandi’.
Chandni Chowk also called ‘Delhi 6′, runs through the middle of the walled city from Lahori Gate of the Red Fort to the Faterhpuri Masjid. Originally Chandni Chowk was divided into three sections-
Lahori Gate to Chowk Kotwali- the section was close to the imperial residence and hence was called the ‘Urdu Bazaar’ i;e. the Cantonemet market. The Urdu language got its name from this encampment.
Chowk Kotwali to Chandni Chowk- the pool reflecting the moonlight was replaced by a clock tower which was later damaged and demolished in the 1960s. This section was known as the ‘Johri Bazaar’. Johri in hindi literally means a diamond merchant.
Chandni Chowk to Fatehpuri Masjid- this section being closely situated to the Fatehpuri Masjid came to be known as the Fatehpuri Bazaar.
Even today, when Chandni Chowk seems to be brimming with people, the places in and around it still retain their historical names, such as-
Havelli- literally meaning a mansion in hindi, is usually characterised by a big courtyard, surrounded on all four sides by spacious rooms and another walled courtyard on the exterior as well. The only well preserved haveli in Chandni Chowk is the Chunnamal Havelli, belonging to late Lala Chunnamal, a brocade textile dealer.
Kucha- a zone with houses who’s owners share some common attribute, mostly their occupation. For example, a neighbourhood belonging to gardners was called the ‘Maaliwara’.
Katra- similar to the idea of guild housing in Amsterdam, these places had houses who belonged to tradesmen and craftsmen belonging to the same trade. They usually lived and worked together.
Chandni Chowk has historical residential areas, served by narrow lanes on both the sides.
The Chandni Chowk street houses various religious buildings, which lend the street a genuine cultural harmony. The buildings, apart from The Red Fort, include-
The most famous mosque in Delhi, the Jama Masjid, which was built in 1950.
Sri Digambar Jain Lal Mandir- which was established in 1965, with a bird hospital built in 1929.
Hindu Gauri Shankar temple, built by a Maratha General, Appa Gangadhar in 1761.
Christian Central Baptist Church, built in 1814.
The Sikh Gurudwara Sis Ganj Sahib, built by the 9th Sikh Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur and his followers. These Gurudwaras were built as memorials in Delhi under the command of Baba Baghel Singh.
Muslim Sunehri Masjid, built by Fatehpuri begum 1650, who was one of the queens of Shah Jahan.
The Havelis in Chandni Chowk-
Begum Samru’s Palace, built in 1806 – Begum Samru was a nautch girl in the 18th century India, who eventually became the ruler of Sardhana , which was a small prinicipality near Meerut. She also played a vital role in the political power struggle in the 18th and the 19th century India. The palace is now known as the Bhagirath Palace.
The Naughara Mansions in Kinari bazaar- dating back to the 18th century. The name literally means ‘nine houses’ in Hindi. Most of these houses are owned by Jains.
Khazanchi haveli- Khazanchi were Shah Jahan’s accountants. The street is called ‘Gali Khazanchi’. The money was transferred safely through a long underground tunnel which connects the haveli to the Red Fort.
Mirza Ghalib’s haveli- Ghalib was a classical Urdu and Persian Poet, from the Mughal empire during the British colonial rule.
Haveli of Zeenat Mahal- she was Bahadur Shah Zafar’s favourite wife and ruled the Mughal empire when he was improsioned by the British. Her haveli is situated in Lal Kuan bazaar.
Haksar haveli- situated in Sitaram bazaar, is where Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of Independent India, got married to Kamla Nehru.
Naharwali Haveli- situated in kucha Sadullah Khan, was where Parvez Musharraf, the former President of Pakistan, was born.
Chandni Chowk has numerous shops with goods ranging from shoes, to saris, to Indian sweet delicacies, to electronics and whatnot. The cloth market with furnishing fabric. Nai sarak with books and stationary and decorative material. Also, bridal sarees and lehengas. Lal kuan with hardware and hotel kitchen equipment. Daribe with its silver and gold jewelry shops and much more.
Eatries in Chandni Chowk include-
- Paranthewali gali
- Annapurna Bhandar
- The Jalebi wala
- Bikaner sweet shop and a lot more.
Chandni Chowk has been used in famous Bollywood ventures such as, Chandni Chowk To China, Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, Black And White and Delhi 6.
Visiting Chandni chowk is not a big deal now, since one can take the metro rail that stops somewhere right in the heart of the Chowk.
So grab the camera, wear comfortable clothes and shoes and hop onto the Chandni Chowk streets. Also, don’t forget to starve yourself before hitting the streets; I’m sure you don’t want to miss out on the mouthwatering street food !