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A History of Chandni Chowk in 60 Seconds

Picture of Mridu Rai
Updated: 31 October 2017
This vibrant market came to existence when the fifth Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan, shifted his capital from Agra to Shahjahanabad, now Old Delhi, in the mid 17th century. While Chandni Chowk or the moonlit square no longer bears the magnificence of the bygone era, its importance in the annals of Delhi will never be lost.

The past

The bazaar was designed by Jahanara Begum, the eldest daughter of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal, in whose memory the Taj Mahal was built.

The original market was divided into four parts: Urdu Bazaar, Johri Bazar, Ashrafi Bazaar, and the Fatehpuri Bazar. During the golden days of the Mughal era, the splendor of Chandni Chowk had spread far and wide. Merchants from Asia and Europe are known to have frequently visited the market.

The most striking aspect of Chandni Chowk was the glittering reflection of the moon in the tributary of the Yamuna river, which passed down the center of the bazaar. The rows of banyan trees lining the streets added to the appeal. The canal was bordered by wide platforms, and it was here that the residents loved to sit for hours lost in conversation. Elaborate royal processions passing through Chandni Chowk was also a common sight in those times.

Over 1,500 businesses of all kinds had initially set up shop along the 1.3-kilometer-long road, stretching from the Red Fort to Fatehpuri Masjid. At the time, these shops were designed in the shape of a half moon.

The present

Chandni Chowk is still one of the most important commercial hubs in Delhi, but the aesthetic charm of the place has passed into oblivion. Narrow bylines swarming with people is how one would find this once majestic market.

Today, it is known as the busiest and largest wholesale market of Asia. People coming to Chandni Chowk usually head to Khari Baoli for spices, Katra Neel for fabrics, Dariba Kalan for silver jewelry, and Nai Sarak for secondhand books. Streets like Paranthe Wali Gali are also usually crowded with people queuing up to enjoy delicious street food.

Chandni Chowk, Delhi, India