Delhi 101: Welcome to Delhi…or is it Dihli, Daidala, Dilli or Dhila?

Qutab Minar
Qutab Minar

What is in a name?

A lot if it is a matter of identity and history. Leading to the toponymy of the city being full of mythological and historical theories. Earlier travellers to India including the two Greek travellers Nearchus and Megasthenese, Fah Hian and the great Chinese traveler Hiuen Tsiang, who visited India in 5th century A.D., never mentioned a city which may have been Delhi, but they did refer to other important ones in north India. Greek geographer Ptolemy mentions Dilli, which he called Daidala, which may have been established around 57 B.C. in the area between the present day Qutab Minar complex and Tughlaqabad Fort by King Delu of Kanauj. But there is as yet no archaeological or historical evidence of the existence of either this city or the king.

Delhi 101: Cover image of book by Ajay JainThis post has been taken from Delhi 101, a book written by Ajay Jain. It is about 101 surprising ways to discover Delhi, one of the most amazing cities in the world for travelers. To know more about the book and to order one, click here.

The pillar at the Qutab is (mythically) believed to pre-date the foundation of Delhi, and may have been brought from Bihar by the city’s founding king Anang Pal. According to legend, a Hindu priest advised the king to plant it in the ground so that it could rest on the head of the snake king; and as long as that holds steady, the king’s rule will do so likewise. After putting the pillar in, the king was not sure if it had been done correctly and ordered the pillar to be uprooted. Finding its base covered with blood from the snake king’s head, Anang Pal had it put back hurriedly lest he invoke any curses. But it could never be stable like before. In Hindi, the pillar was said to be dihli meaning loose. This name of the city may thus have been derived from the word dihli.

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Some historians believe Delhi was occupied around A.D. 300 before being abandoned for reasons unknown; what is for sure is that the Tomar king Anang Pal decided to move here and make it his capital in 1052. The great Arab traveller and adventurer from Tangier, Ibn Battuta, referred to the city as Dihli in the 14th century. Some other writings have spelt it Delle.

Whatever its name, and whatever its failings, there is no doubt Delhi is a delightful place. Go explore. The journey will never finish.

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  1. Well Done Ajay !! After reading Last Mughal I also felt in love with the history !! Would be good to learn from you about Delhi


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