Aurangzeb was believed to have transformed the Samilgarh Fort into a prison, which continued to be so even under the British regime, ever since the British overpowered this fort in the year 1857. Salimgarh Fort is considered as an integral part of the Red Fort Complex, which was granted the status of a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2007. The Archaeological Survey of India or ASI has been entrusted the duty of ensuring proper maintenance measures of this historical monument.
History of Salimgarh Fort
Salimgarh Fort was created in 1546 AD. However immediately after Humayun had recaptured Delhi, he renamed Salingarh Fort as 'Nurghar'. He passed an ordered that its original name would no longer be used since Sher Shah Suri (the father of Salim Shah Suri) had previously conquered his kingdom in the period 1540 AD. According to historical records, Salimgarh Fort was transformed into a prison house. This was the fateful place where Aurangzeb had imprisoned Murad Baksh, who was his brother on the grounds of violating the fundamental principles of Islam. Murad Baksh was later moved to Gwalior, where he underwent execution following the orders of his elder brother Aurangzeb. Aurangzeb had also jailed Zebunnisa, who was the eldest daughter of Murad Baksh, for a prolonged period of 21 years, right till her death. It was said that Zebunnisa was incarcerated simply for harbouring a taste for poetry, literature and music, apart from being sensitive towards Muhammad Akbar, her brother, who was despised by Aurangzeb.
Bahadur Shah Zafar II, who was the last Mughal emperor, was believed to conduct his operations form this very fort. Salimgarh Fort was the centre where several important meetings and discussions were held, regarding wars. Shah Zafar was known to arrange meetings here during September 1857. It was from this fort that he witnessed firings which were aimed at the British Army. This Mughal emperor carried out psychological games with his own army officers who approached him for their salaries. He replied that he would readily sacrifice a few of his crown jewels only if they promised to protect the fort from the British. His soldiers agreed, as they thought the emperor was being patriotic. Announcements were made stating that Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar would lead an attack against the British and all his soldiers were asked to join him in this noble attempt. However, towards the middle of September 1857, the British soldiers began marching into the fort already. Thereafter, Bhakt Khan, one of the trusted assistants of the emperor persuaded him to retreat and move to a much safer location in order to escape being killed by the British army.
But, the emperor disagreed to follow this plan, though he allowed his armies and sentries to leave the Salimgarh Fort. The British army made a grand entry into the fort, where they noticed a single sentry near the gate. After the Sepoy Mutiny was suppressed, Salimgarh Fort started being used by the British as an important camp of their army. Bahadur Shah Zafar was imprisoned at Salimgarh Fort, just after he was discovered at the tomb of Humayun. Later, however, Shah Zafar was shifted to exile in the country of Burma. However, since 1945 onwards, this fort used to provide shelter to the prisoners who belonged to the Indian National Army or INA.
Presently, Salimgarh Fort is renamed as Swatantra Senani Smarak to commemorate the innumerable prisoners who met their ends in the prison of this historical fort.
Structure of Salimgarh Fort
Salimgarh Fort was equipped with thick walls which were constructed in rubble masonry and circular bastions. It was constructed according to a triangular plan. Over time, the Salimgarh Fort underwent numerous kinds of maintenance work. It is connected with the Red Fort with the aide of an Arch bridge, which was believed to have been built during the regime of Bahadur Shah Zafar. Therefore, the gate is referred to as 'Bahadur Shah Gate'. This gate is manufactured from brick masonry and red sandstone has been employed to build the Salimgarh Fort.
Museum in Salimgarh Fort
The complex of Salimgarh Fort is home to the Swatantra Sangram Museum, which was opened for public viewing on 2nd October, 1995. This museum was located within the premises of Red Fort Complex. This area was selected for constructing the museum after it was identified by Colonel Singh Dhillon.
During the initial days of the construction of Salimgarh Fort, one could access it with the help of boats. However, historical accounts state that a bridge was also created by Mughal emperor Jahangir to connect Salimgarh Fort with the Red Fort. However, a railway bridge later replaced this bridge at the exact location. Visitors can enjoy spectacular view of the river, Red Fort and the surroundings, from the Salimgarh Fort. Salimgarh Fort had to be crossed by the East Indian Railway when it approached Delhi.
Salingarh Fort was built on an area which had an altitude of 24 to 34 metres and was bordered by the Aravalli Hills on one side and Yamuna River on another side. The topography selected for constructing the fort was ideal since it was a significant link with the north-eastern ridge and Jama Masjid which ensured complete protection against the Yamuna. The setting was advantageous also from the political viewpoint as its location would serve as a powerful, natural barrier for several invaders who would make an attempt to approach Delhi.
Salimgarh Fort was occupied by the British Army ever since 1857 and continued to belong to the British Raj till India attained independence in the year 1947. Till 2005, the Indian Army had its headquarters in the Salimgarh Fort.