Thursday, December 5, 2013

My new jacket

It is winter now, and Fab India has started to stock several jackets for women. I bought a new blue jacket a couple of days ago, and yesterday I wore it for the first time. I teamed it with an orange linen kurta.

As soon as I wore the jacket, I fell in love with it. Especially the easy laid-back yet formal look! And the pockets, lord, they were super useful!! As the day progressed, my phone, my pen, money, little chits of paper, coins...everything found its way into two spacious pockets.

By evening, I was hooked good and proper.

I was going to become a Jacket-Wearing-Person.

I would be just like my friend Debashish from Ahmedabad, who works in heritage conservation, and wears the kurta-jacket combination often on walks and lectures. This was going to be my new look!

And then came the rub. I discovered that the jacket was Matka Silk.

Matka is the local term for rough hand spun silk fabric. It feels and looks a bit like tweed, except that it is single-colour. It's a soft fabric, so if you provide inner lining cloth, you can make great jackets with it. Often there are rough irregularities in the fabric, which gives it a charm all its own. The best thing about matka, though, is that it always drapes softly and adapts to the contours of the body.

So what's the problem, you ask? The problem is that I've more or less given up buying silk. Especially after I visited the silk making village near Bangalore and saw the moths being boiled to death. Not a pretty sight.

The jacket was a quick impulse buy, I didn't even stop to see what the fabric was. I just assumed it was cotton. But I've bought it now, and I'm a little bit stuck here. Should I give it up? Aaaaagh, No! Maybe I should just gift it to someone. I'm telling you, parting from this jacket is going to be a very difficult thing :-)
Here's a closer look in sunlight, clicked in my car.
You can see the Matka fabric more clearly in this one. 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Note-walla, Old Delhi

If you're stuck with a torn rupee note, head to the nearest note-walla. You'll see them in many places in Old City, sitting with a display of crisp 10 rupee notes. 

It's not as if there are no formal channels available for the exchange of soiled and mutilated banknotes.  The Reserve Bank of India has provided clear guidelines for it. If a note is old or damaged, you can take it to your bank, have it assessed based on the RBI guidelines, and then changed. Not all notes can be exchanged, especially those which are too brittle or damaged. 

But who wants the hassle of going to the bank and dealing with the bureaucratic procedure? And really, no one has the expertise to assess whether the note meets the Reserve Bank guidelines. So this little note-walla stall works as the instant alternative. It's queue-less, painless, and quick. For this kind of service, people are willing to pay the note-walla a commission. 

Apart from exchanging soiled notes, the note-walla also provides other services. If you have a wedding or other function in the family, and want new crisp notes to gift during the event, you can come to the note-walla. He has a "setting" with his bank clerk, and can get a bundle of new notes for you. If you're a shopkeeper who wants to provide change to his customers, you can get notes in smaller denominations from the note-walla. You can bring a stack of coins and exchange them for notes (a useful service for beggars, I'm sure). If you've been conned with a fake note, you can try asking him for help.

The note-walla's business operates in the grey zone. He has no permits or licenses to do what he is doing. But he meets a specific need, especially among less educated and less privileged people who are outside the formal banking system.

Whenever I see small businesses like this, I feel a sense of admiration for the sharp business instincts that the owner has (maybe because I totally lack this kind of instinct). This man has set up a service business based on his expertise, risk taking ability and negotiation skills, and by providing instant customer service. His stall is a simple wooden box; the hollow inside portion serves as a stool for him to sit. There's a drawer with a set of crisp new currency notes; those are his stock in trade. I'm sure he has to pay off the cops every now and then. It can't be comfortable, sitting like this in Delhi's hot summers and cold winters. But he does it, all through the year, and puts food on the table for his family.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Deepa's Guide to Delhi's Bazaars

More entries in Deepa's Guide to Delhi's Bazaars! Enjoy!!

Deepa's Guide to Delhi's Bazaars
Deepa's Guide to Delhi's Bazaars
My picks for what to buy from Delhi's dazzlingly diverse markets!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Indian National Flag - a short refresher!

I don't know about you, but I have forgotten most of what I learnt in school about the Indian tri-colour (tiranga). Although we see the flag flying very often in Delhi, we don't really give it much thought. With Independence Day round the corner, I thought I'd write a little refresher. 

Indian National Flag, proudly flying on top of Parliament House, Delhi
The colours of the Indian flag are saffron (top band), white (middle band) and green (bottom band), with the Ashok Chakra (wheel with 24-spokes) in the middle

The Indian National Flag, our Tiranga (Tricolour)
Photo source: Wikimedia Commons
The Indian flag is imbued with deep meaning that comes from our philosophies and belief systems. Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, second President of independent India, and also one of India's foremost scholars of comparative religion and philosophy, explained the colours beautifully: 

"Bhagwa or the saffron colour denotes renunciation or disinterestedness. Our leaders must be indifferent to material gains and dedicate themselves to their work. The white in the centre is light, the path of truth to guide our conduct. The green shows our relation to soil, our relation to the plant life here on which all other life depends. The Ashoka Wheel in the center of the white is the wheel of the law of dharma. Truth or satya, dharma or virtue ought to be the controlling principles of those who work under this flag. Again, the wheel denotes motion. There is death in stagnation. There is life in movement. India should no more resist change, it mus tmove and go forward. The wheel represents the dynamism of a peaceful change.”

Flag colours on decorative display at North Block (Secretariat) in Delhi
Did you know that the flag was designed in Andhra Pradesh, in the 1920s, much before India got independence? The design came from Pingali Venkayya, a freedom fighter born in the Machilipatnam district. Venkayya met Gandhi in Africa during the Boer war, and their friendship lasted over 50 years. It was Venkayya who suggested at the Indian National Congress meeting in Kakinada (Cocanada session, 1923-24) that the India for which they were fighting should have a flag. Gandhi agreed and asked Venkayya to design the flag. The design went through several discussions and changes, before it was adopted in 1931.

Pingali Venkayya (Photo Source: Worthview)
The Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) defines the rules/standards for how the flag should look. For example, the ratio of length to breadth is defined by BIS as 3 : 2. The cloth with which the flag is made should be handspun and handwoven khadi (wool, cotton, silk). Currently, the only company which is certified to manufacture the flag is the Karnataka Khadi Gramudyog Samyukta Sangha. BIS has given them specifications for thread count, colour shades, and even the type of stitching, for example the four corners of the flag are to be reinforced with triangular buntings of the same construction and colour as those used for the flag. You can see the entire process here.

The Flag Code of India (originally created in 1950, amended in 2002) defines rules for how to use and respect the flag. For example, the code prohibits the usage of the flag on clothing, cushions, bags etc. The flag cannot be used as a receptacle for carrying anything (except flower petals, which are hidden inside it during the unfurling of the flag). It cannot be used to drape anything, except the ceremonial usage in state funerals. It cannot be flown at half-mast, unless there is a specific occasion with instructions from the government. It cannot be used to salute a person or thing, as it represents India. Most importantly, it cannot be flown upside down, so all of you, remember that Saffron is on Top!!! 
Patriotic running with the flag, Wagah border, Amritsar
Photo source: Wikimedia Commons
You can see the full text of the Indian Flag Code here, on the website of the Ministry of Home Affairs. 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Bakeries of Old Delhi (and their many delights!)

For the past month, the bakeries of Old Delhi have been especially busy. Their ovens have been churning out various types of delights for the Ramzan feasts.

We walked past Sikander Bakery a couple of days ago, and found them making their popular rusks.

The popular Sikander Bakery is super-busy.
They were making rusks.
Have you seen how rusks are made? Did you know that they are "twice-baked"? The first time it is baked like a soft bread, something resembling a brioche. Then it is sliced, the slices are placed on trays and baked a second time. It's the second round of baking that makes rusks perfectly crisp for dipping into chai. 

Indian-style rusks originated by happy accident. They have their beginnings in the city of Surat, which was the biggest trading port on the Western coast of India during the reign of Jehangir and Shah Jahan. The Dutch had a settlement in Surat, and they established a bakery there, teaching the art of baking bread to five Parsi gentlemen. 

When the Dutch left Surat (I assume somewhere in the early 1800s), one Parsi gentleman called Dotivala took over their bakery. Business was not good; as locals did not eat the kind of bread that Dotivala produced. In those days, bread was fermented with toddy sap, to prevent spoiling. But old bread would lose moisture and become hard. When he was stuck with old surplus bread, Dotivala sold it to the poor at low prices. Soon he discovered that these hard breads were very popular with people, who dipped them in tea to soften them. So Dotivala began to deliberately harden his bread, through a process of drying them in the ovens a second time. And thus the "toast biscuit" or rusk was born. If you want to see what Dotivala makes these days, you should check out their website. They still have toast biscuits.

The same "double-baking" method is used in the bakeries of Old Delhi:
Soft bread out of the oven after the first round of baking.
Ready for slicing.
The slicing process.
Rusks going into second round of baking.
Bakeries are typically small operations with a
single bhatti (oven). This means the only way to
handle the Ramzan rush is by working extra hours.
In the photo below, you can see rectangular packages of rusks, wrapped in clear plastic.
Lots of rusks for sale. They are sweet as well as savoury.
In the bottom right corner you can see a circular bread called paapey, or gol-paapey.
Pappe have anise inside, and are dusted with poppy seeds after baking.
In the left bottom, you can also see pheni, which is a thin vermicelli.
The most visible thing in the market during Ramzan is pheni, very fine noodles that have been fried (supposedly) in ghee. These are eaten with hot, sweetened milk, and often garnished with pistachios and almonds. Pheni is typically a Sehri dish (pre-dawn meal). Pheni is of different types, some are super-fine, some are saffron flavoured, some are coloured, some are fried almost a dark brown.
Pheni or feni, does not need cooking as it is already fried
Pheni is sold sometimes in
long thin threads
Apart from rusk and pheni, there are lots of interesting bakery products / breads you can see in the market during Ramzan.

Sheermal is a sweet bread; usually the dough is sweetened with milk and sugar, and flavoured with saffron. It is popular in Old Delhi but many bakeries only make them during Ramzan or other festivals. Sheermal probably has origins in Iran, where they are almost twice the size of the ones below, and they are commonly sold in the markets. The Irani sheermal seems much thinner too.
I'm not sure what this bread is, but it looks like a sheermal that has been dunked in sugar and saffron syrup, ready to eat:
Looks awesome.
There is also khajla, deep-fried, flaky and melt-in-the-mouth.
Like pheni, khajla is also usually eaten in the
pre-dawn hours for Sehar.
Photo courtesy Nadeem Khan
Coconut Parantha, a mild-tasting unleavened
bread flavoured with coconut
(also from Nadeem Khan, thanks Nadeem!)

The soft Khamiri Rotis, baked in tandoors are hugely popular
And as if all this wasn't enough, Delhi's repertoire of baked goodies also includes lots of stuff sold all through the year in tiny shops scattered around the city.
Masala Twists
In the foreground is a pastry called "fein" or "fan".
Behind that are the always-popular cream rolls.
And of course, there is also that awesome delight, the nankhatai, about which I posted some time ago.
The Nankhatai Man
With all these treats, one would think the bakeries in Old Delhi are prospering. But it's quite clear that they are in fact, struggling to stay afloat. There aren't as many of them as there used to be. Everywhere in Old Delhi you see branded biscuits and other packaged eatables from big companies; so I am sure they are taking away a big chunk of the bakeries' business. I don't know how long these bakeries will survive.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Meswak at Nizamuddin Basti, Delhi

If you go to Nizamuddin during the month of Ramzan, you will always spot the meswak sellers doing brisk business:

Meswak / Miswak / Siwak, Nizamuddin, Delhi
Spotted on the Delhi Magic Heritage Walk through Nizamuddin:
Meswak is a traditional way of cleaning teeth and is widely used among Muslims in India. It is sometimes spelt as miswak, and it's also called siwak. 

Sales of meswak shoot up during Ramzan, because during fasting, you are not allowed to brush your teeth with toothpaste (as the fast will be considered broken). Meswak is "sunnah" (approved way of life), so you can use it to clean your mouth. Meswak triggers the flow of saliva. Swallowing this saliva is considered ok (whereas there are usually restrictions on swallowing saliva during fasting). 
Cutting implements used to shape the Miswak and scrape off the bark..
If the twig is whitish, it means it is fresh and good for use
The meswak is a shrub / small tree. Its natural habitats in India are near mangroves, in saline lands, thorn shrubs, desert flood plains and along drainage lines in arid zones. It can tolerate lots of salinity.  

The scientific name is Salvadora Persica; this fancy name was bestowed upon the tree by Dr. Laurent Garcin (1683-1751), a French naturalist working with the East India Company. In choosing the name "Salvadora" Dr. Garcin was honouring a 17th century apothecary from Spain, Juan Salvador i Bosca (1598-1681). The "Persica" refers to Persia, where the "true specimen" of the tree is said to be from.

To me the Salvadora Persica looks very much like a tree which is native to India, because it is widespread and has names in several Indian languages, including Samskrit. Some examples below:
Hindi: मेस्वाक meswak, पिलु pilu 
Kannada: ಗೊನಿಮರ gonimara 
Marathi: khakan, पिलु pilu
Sanskrit: गुडफल gudaphala, पिलु pilu
Tamil: உகா uka
Telugu: గున్నంగి gunnangi

Here is a photo of the plant in its natural settings, from Salem Al Shekaili's flickr page. Looks like a very uninspiring and ordinary shrub, doesn't it? But it is a valuable resource - the leaves are used as food (they have a mustardy flavour), the bark has medicinal properties, and it is being widely planted in Kutch as part of reforestation attempts.
Salvadora Persica, by Salem Al Shekaili

In fact, to check to the versatile plants of the desert, you should head over to Salem Al Shekaili's really fabulous page to see his full collection of halophytes (plants which grow in saline environments).

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Of Papad and Urad

On a lazy afternoon, the papad-walla is very welcome in homes and shops in Old Delhi. Here he is, selling roasted urad-dal papads, sprinkled with masala. It's the perfect snack with hot chai.
Papad seller talking to a family 
near Fatehpuri Masjid, Old Delhi.
It's not just adults who like this snack. 

Kids love it too.
Roasted papads are a very inexpensive snack (you can get 2 papads for just one rupee). They are very popular among families picnicking at India Gate in the evenings (although these days papad sellers are becoming a rare sight there). The secret of the papad's popularity is not just the low price, it's the spicy tangy masala that is sprinkled on it. You'll always see people asking for more masala :)

Among Delhi's poorer families, school-going children often eat roasted papad for breakfast, along with a cup of tea. A friend of mine, doing a PhD at Delhi, says that in one low-income community she surveyed, nearly 50% of the kids ate papad for breakfast. I was pretty shocked, really, and then I felt really stupid at my lack of knowledge of what poverty is really all about. What was I expecting? A fancy breakfast with fruit juice? 

Papad doesn't really meet any nutritional needs, although since roasted papads are made of lentils, I suppose they are better than nothing. Typically, these papads are made of urad-dal (black gram), a lentil that is native to India. In fact, India is the world's largest producer (and consumer) of urad dal. Black gram accounts for more than 40 % of total legume seeds traded in the world, although I haven't seen it being used in any Western cuisines. Have you? I think it is used in central Asia and some Asian countries. 
Whole black gram (akkha urad or sabut urad)
photographed in my kitchen
In India it is used not just for papads; but also as part of the daily diet, especially in South India, where it is a part of almost every breakfast (dosa, idli, vada).
Home-made dosa for breakfast. 
The batter is made of rice and urad dal.
The thick iron griddle is one of my prized possessions :)
In Delhi, other than papads, the most popular dish with urad dal is the famous Dal Makhani.
Dal Makhani (in the bucket) and a 
super-orangey paneer butter masala!!
At the ITC Maurya, they have their signature Dal Bukhara:
From the Arkansas blog of  Max and Ellen, who travelled with us on a Delhi Magic Tour
The picture above is a collage of two separate photos - on the left is a typical meal at the Maurya's Bukhara, with tandoori roti, dal bukhara, kebabs etc. On the right is the menu of the special Presidential Platter that the restaurant created after Bill Clinton's visit. It is supposed to be for 2 people, but really, in my view, four people can eat what they serve. There is a vegetarian version of this platter as well, inspired by Chelsea Clinton.

There are several studies showing that urad-dal boosts the immune system. It is traditionally used in Ayurveda for several things, including as a face scrub, treatment for dandruff and acne, as a solution for low sperm count and erectile dysfunction in men, and for problems with menstruation. If you're interested in natural remedies, then see this link.

But if like me, your primary interest is in food, then look for a papad seller and try a roasted papad. And don't forget to ask for extra masala!

Monday, July 1, 2013

How to visit the Hill forts of Rajasthan, now on UNESCO World Heritage List

Last week, a set of 6 Hill Forts of Rajasthan were declared UNESCO World Heritage sites.

The forts range from the 7th century to the 16th century. Taken together, these rugged hill forts tell us about the political, cultural, social and architectural evolution of the ruling Rajput caste in the history of India.  Many are scenes of valour, and exemplify the Rajput belief in "death before dishonour".

These forts are built strategically on the Aravalli range, which is the oldest mountain range in India. According to UNESCO, they constitute "the most authentic, best conserved and most representative sites of Rajput military architecture".

Since there will likely be renewed interest in these forts, I thought I'd write something practical about where these forts are located, and how to get to them.

The forts on the list are:

(1) Chittorgarh (Chittaurgah) - this fort is 2hrs to the north-east of Udaipur. If you are driving between Jaipur and Udaipur, you can visit this fort on the way, although it will make for a long day. The ideal way to visit it is as a day excursion from Udaipur. See more details here:
Chittorgarh Fort, where the poetess Meera and the famous Rani Padmini lived

(2) Kumbhalgarh - it is 2.5hrs to the north of Udaipur. If you are driving between Udaipur and Jodhpur, you can visit this fort. Also, you can combine it with a visit to the temples at Ranakpur. You can do a day excursion from Udaipur, see details here: You can also choose to spend the night at Kumbhalgarh, the Aodhi hotel is a very nice option. There's a sound and light show in the evenings.
Kumbhalgarh Fort, said to have the longest wall after the Great Wall of China

(3) Gagron Fort - this fort is in Jhalawar, in the south eastern part of Rajasthan. Surrounded by the waters of the Ahu and Kali Sindh rivers on three sides, it is one of the finest examples of water forts. If you are driving between Udaipur and Jaipur, you can take a break at Bundi and visit Gagron as a day trip from Bundi. It is about 2.5hrs drive from Bundi.
Gagron Fort, Jhalawar. Rajasthan's only strategic water fort.

(4) Ranthambhore Fort - located uniquely inside a tiger sanctuary, this fort is home to a popular Ganesha temple. It is accessible all days of the week and makes for a good visit combined with jungle safaris. Ranthambhore is 6hrs drive from Agra, and 4hrs from Jaipur (the nearest airport). More about my tiger sighting at Ranthambhore here. It is very popular with tourists, so expect crowds. 
Ranthambhore Fort, as seen from entrance to Zone 2 jungle safari

(5) Amber Fort - Most tours to India include a visit to Amber in Jaipur. In fact, Amber (also called Amer) is probably the most visited fort in Rajasthan, because it is part of the popular Golden Triangle circuit. There are elephant rides to the top of the fort. For how to visit Amer Fort, see this link:

(6) Jaisalmer Fort - Jaisalmer Fort, or Sonar Qila, the Golden Fort - Its massive yellow sandstone walls are a tawny lion color during the day, fading to honey-gold as the sun sets. Jaisalmer is 6hrs drive from Jodhpur. At the moment there are no flights to Jaisalmer.
Sonar Qila, Jaisalmer

I created a map, showing where these forts are located. I'm sure you'll find it useful.

Each of the hill forts selected in this list is of "Outstanding Universal Value" with "advanced construction techniques exploiting natural terrain and contours for defense". They also have "unique social associations with Rajput courtly life". Many are the sites of ritual suicides, the Rajput mass-immolations called jauhar. The temples and palaces inside them are extraordinarily beautiful. These hill forts represent the most sophisticated and evolved examples of secular Hindu Rajput architecture, utilizing the wealth of natural resources and located in an extraordinary geographical setting.  .

I hope you will visit at least some of these forts this year. If you need help with planning the trip, please email me at

Photo sources:
Chittorgarh, Kumbhalgarh, Jaisalmer - Wikimedia Commons
Gagron Fort, Jhalawar -
Amber Fort: Stephen Mullis sent this photo to me, he travelled with Delhi Magic to Jaipur
Ranthambhore Fort - my own camera

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Ice Runner

Ice delivery in Old Dehi - this is how it rolls.

Now you know why tourists should say, "No ice please!" :) :)

Friday, May 10, 2013

Finding mulberries (shahtoot) in Delhi

I heard that mulberries were being sold in the city, and so I asked my colleague Gaurav if he had seen any. Thus began Gaurav's hunt for shahtoot :) It took him all over the city, but finally he found this young boy selling mulberries in Old Delhi. 

There was no shortage of buyers. First there was a man in a white shirt.

And then a boy with his father on a scooter.

The sweet lure of shahtoot drew everyone to it. Shahtoot. What an interesting name, shah originating from the Farsi word for emperor, and toot meaning berries. The King's Berries. It is pronounced sheh, not shah, actually. Typically the fruits start to develop in April, and are seen in the markets up to May. 

The mulberry tree is originally from China, but it has grown in India for so long that it has become naturalised.  There are two types of mulberry usually found in Delhi - morus alba (white) and morus australis (darker berries). But the so called "white" mulberry tree produces fruits of all colours, ranging from pale yellow to very dark purple, so it's difficult to tell the two sub-species apart.
This batch of mulberries has all kinds of shades, but they
are all from the same white mulberry tree
In fact, other variants, like morus nigra (black mulberry) and morus serrata (Himalayan mulberry) are probably here somewhere as well, quietly growing in some part of the city. But the fact that the white mulberry produces such a diverse range of fruit colours means that these other types are hard to identify when you see the fruits in the market.

Mulberry Tree growing in Sarai Kale Khan
Silkworms have been reared on the white mulberry tree in China for silk since antiquity. In Japan also, where silk is made from the mulberry tree, there are over 700 recognised varieties of white mulberry.

In India, the silk that we see in the market is primarily sourced through silkworms reared on mulberry trees. The major mulberry silk producing states are Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Jammu-Kashmir. These states together account for 92 % of country's total mulberry raw silk production. There are about 6 million workers in the silk production process, of which 60% are women.

A couple of years ago, I went to a weaver's house in Kanchipuram, in Tamil Nadu. They were a family of traditional weavers, and like all traditional establishments, it was a cottage industry with everyone in the family involved in the many activities. I saw silk thread (uncoloured) and also the thread coloring and weaving process.
Uncoloured silk thread. This is the raw material
which they purchase from silk suppliers 

(it comes from silkworms bred on mulberry leaves).
The weaver's family dyes the thread, and winds it into wooden spools.
Mostly this activity is done by women, and it is interspersed with
other household work like cooking and cleaning
The thread is placed on the loom as per the design (which is defined 
through a complicated pattern of vertical threads and knots).
It is then woven into cloth. The whole thing is a slow process, 

and the end result is a shining silk saree.
When you see the mulberry tree, it's difficult to imagine that such a beautiful glossy thread can come from it. But the process of rearing silkworms, and getting the silk from it, is far from beautiful.
There's an outstanding step-by-step set of photos here, if you'd like to see it. Very time-consuming, and  labour-intensive. And yes, for those of you who are squeamish, they do boil the cocoons to kill the chrysalis.

Apart from being used for rearing silkworms, the mulberry tree has many other uses. In rural areas, the bark of the tree is used to weave baskets. You can make a cool sherbet for summer. Nirulas in Delhi also sells mulberry jam. In the Unani medicine system, mulberries are popularly used for sore throats, and also as a cure for melancholia. Some scientific studies show that mulberry extract has "has anti–inflammatory, exudative, proliferative and anti-pyretic activities".

Next time you see shahtoot being sold, buy some and try making sherbet from it. Here's my version:

  • Buy 200 gms of mulberries, wash and clean it and pat it dry
  • Remove stems
  • Add approximately same amount of sugar, blitz in your mixer
  • Taste and see if it is super-sweet.
  • Add juice of 1 lemon or half a lemon, depending on how you want it
  • Strain the juice
  • Serve with ice, garnished with mint
This is a fresh juice, which you should ideally consume the same day. Enjoy :)

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Marathas in Delhi

Not many people know that Delhi was under the control of the Marathas in the late 1700s.

But the Diwan-e-Khas of the Red Fort in Delhi is a standing reminder of the Maratha presence in the city. A major portion of the silver enamelling from the roof and walls of the Diwan-e-Khas was knocked down and melted by the Marathas, to finance their foray into North-West India.

Diwan-E-Khas, Hall of Private Audience, Red Fort, Delhi
After the death of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb in 1707, the Marathas emerged victorious in the 27 year long Mughal-Maratha conflict. Under the two Maratha Peshwas, Baji Rao I and Balaji Baji Rao, the Marathas began an ambitious expansion program, dreaming of a large pan-Indian empire. They began conquering territories in all directions, including northwards, paving the way for them to become the most dominant empire in India.

Other than the green portions, everything else on this map below shows areas under the Maratha Confederacy (either direct rule, or right to taxes, or areas raided) 

Under Peshwa administration and with the support of several key
generals and diplomats, the Maratha Empire reached its zenith,
ruling most of the Indian subcontinent landmass

Ahmad Shah Abdali, also called
Ahmad Shah Durrani is the
founder of what we know today
as Afghanistan
In Delhi, the weakness of the Mughals had allowed Ahmad Shah Durrani (an Afghan who wanted to expand his territory) to take over the city in 1757. He returned to Afghanistan, leaving behind his son Timur at Delhi. At the invitation of the Mughals, the Marathas captured Delhi by 1758, defeating the Durranis. Timur fled to Afghanistan.

The capture of Delhi was only a political gain for the Marathas, because the city was bankrupt - the treasures of the Mughal Empire had been squandered by Aurangzeb in his futile quarter century war against the Marathas. What remained had been looted by Nadir Shah in 1739 and by Ahmad Shah Durrani. 

Hard-pressed for money, the Marathas stripped the Red Fort’s Diwan-i-khas of its silver (amounting to Rs 9 lakhs, two months upkeep for the Maratha army). 

After capturing Delhi, the Marathas moved further north-west, conquering territories as far as Lahore, Attock and Peshawar, chasing the Afghans beyond the Khyber pass. 

However, as soon as the Marathas diverted their northern troops south, the Durranis returned to soundly defeat the Marathas and re-capture Delhi. There was a decisive battle at Panipat in 1761, where the Maratha forces were routed. Over 100,000 Marathas (both combatants and non-combatants) perished; while some managed to return to their homes. The Peshwa Balaji Baji Rao lost his son in the battle and died a broken man the same year.

Mahadajee Scindia of Gwalior
The Panipat battle dealt a severe blow to Maratha supremacy. However, ten years later, in 1767, under Peshwa Madhavrao, the Marathas rose again to came northwards. 

The Maratha general Mahadajee Scindia captured Delhi again, appointed the Mughal Shah Alam II as a puppet king, and reinforced Maratha foothold in Central and North India. 

However, the grand confident ambitions which fueled earlier Maratha thrusts northwards, and their dreams of creating the next big pan-Indian empire, did not resurface. The death of Peshwa Madhavrao in 1772, the breaking up of the Maratha confederacy into strong individual fiefdoms (the Holkars, Scindias, Bhonsles etc), and the loss of group identity and confidence after Panipat led to the gradual weakening of the Martha empire until they finally lost to the British.

Thus ended a major chapter in Indian history; starting with the founding of the Maratha empire in 1684 by Shivaji, and ending with the third Anglo-Maratha war in 1818. If you would like to see an interesting series of photos of Maratha weaponry, head over to our facebook page album.

- By Aishwarya Pramod, with inputs from Deepa Krishnan
Photo source: All photos from Wikipedia