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Delhi (dĕlˈē), union territory and city, N central India. The union territory, officially the National Capital Territory of Delhi (2021 est. metro area pop. 31,181,000,), 573 sq mi (1,484 sq km), is on the Delhi plain, which is crossed by the Yamuna River and stretches between the Aravalli Hills on the south and the Shiwalik Range on the north, connecting the alluvial valleys of the Indus and Ganges river systems. A hot and arid region, with temperatures rising above 110℉ (43℃) in the summer, it has extensive irrigation works to support agriculture. Hindi and Urdu are spoken by more than 90% of the population. New Delhi, the capital of India, and Delhi (or Old Delhi; see below) are the chief urban centers. It is governed by a chief minister and cabinet responsible to an elected unicameral legislature and by a governor appointed by the president of India.


Throughout India's history the region of Delhi, commanding roads in all directions, was the key to empire. From the earliest times many cities rose and fell there, and within 50 sq mi (130 sq km) S of New Delhi are more important dynastic remains than exist in any other area of the country. The earliest city on the Delhi plain was the semilegendary Indraprastha, mentioned in the Hindu epic Mahabharata. Another historic site is the Rajput citadel and town containing the Lal Kot [red fort], erected in 1052; it is sometimes confused with Shah Jahan's Red Fort in Old Delhi.

In 1192 the legions of the Afghan warrior Muhammad of Ghor captured the Rajput town, and the Delhi Sultanate was established (1206). The invasion of Delhi by Timur in 1398 put an end to the sultanate; the Lodis, last of the Delhi sultans, gave way to Babur, who, after the battle of Panipat in 1526, founded the Mughal empire. The early Mughal emperors favored Agra as their capital, and Delhi became their permanent seat only after Shah Jahan built (1638) the walls of Old Delhi. Among the most famous monuments on the Delhi plain are the 12th-century Kutb Minar and the tomb of Humayan (built 1565–69; it is the architectural prototype of the Taj Mahal at Agra).

The City of Delhi

The city of Delhi, or Old Delhi, on the Yamuna River, adjoins New Delhi in the east central part of the state and is a commercial center. It was enclosed by high stone walls erected in 1638 by Shah Jahan. Within the walls he built the famous Red Fort—so called for its walls and gateways of red sandstone—that contained the imperial Mughal palace. The fort remained a military garrison until 2003. In the palace is a public audience hall (Diwan-i-Am), where the splendid Peacock Throne stood, and a private audience hall (Diwan-i-Khas), built entirely of white marble and bearing the apt inscription “If there is a heaven on earth, it is this!” Shah Jahan also built the Jama Masjid [great mosque], one of the finest in Islam. Just south of the fort, on the Yamuna's bank, is Rajghat, where the bodies of Mohandas Gandhi and of India's prime ministers have been cremated; it is now one of the most revered shrines in India. In the northwest, beyond the old walls, is the Univ. of Delhi.

The present city of Old Delhi did not become important until Shah Jahan (for whom it was sometimes called Shahjahanabad) made it the capital of the Mughal empire in 1638. It was sacked (1739) by the Persian Nadir Shah, who carried off the Peacock Throne. The city was held by the Marathas from 1771 until 1803, when the British took it. During the Indian Mutiny of 1857 it was held for five months by the rebel soldiers. Delhi Cantonment was (1912–31) interim capital of India until New Delhi was officially inaugurated.

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the Union Territory of Delhi, an administrative and political unit in northern India controlled by the central government. Located in the central Yamuna basin. Area, 1,500 sq km.

The population of Delhi is growing rapidly, primarily because of an influx of settlers from other regions of India. The population of Delhi, including the inhabitants of the city of New Delhi, which is the capital of the country and the administrative center of the union territory, was estimated at 4 million in 1971 (1.7 million in 1951; 2.7 million in 1961). About 90 percent of the population is urban. Hindi is the basic language. In 1961, of the 930,000 employed individuals, 29.1 percent worked in industry and construction, 20.4 percent in trade and finance, 5.9 percent in transportation and communications, 8.1 percent in agriculture, and 36.5 percent in government service and other forms of service. The territory has factories and plants (primarily in the city of New Delhi) and handicraft industries. There is suburban agriculture, including the cultivation of grains, beans, sugarcane, and cotton.



the capital of India and administrative center of the Union Territory of Delhi. Situated in the northern part of the country on the high right bank of the Yamuna River, a tributary of the Ganges, at the foot of the Aravalli Range at an altitude of 216 m. The climate is monsoonal. Spring and summer are hot. (The hottest period is from March to June, and the average temperature in July is 31°C.) The winter is warm, with an average January temperature of 14.2°C. Annual precipitation is 660 mm, with the maximum during the monsoon season from July to October. The area of the city is 400 sq km. Since the 1950’s, the area of Delhi has increased more than twofold at the expense of the surrounding countryside. Administratively, the city is made up of three parts: the municipal corporation of Delhi (Old Delhi), New Delhi, and the military settlement (fort).

In terms of nationality, the population is relatively homogeneous. Most of the inhabitants speak Hindi, but Panjabi, Urdu, and other languages are also widely used. The population is growing rapidly as a result of an influx from various regions of the country as well as the extension of the city limits. In 1971 the population was more than 3.6 million (in Old Delhi, 3,280,000; in New Delhi, 300,000, and in the military settlement, 57,000). By comparison, the population was 2.4 million in 1961. The population density of Delhi is about 9,000 per sq km. More than half the inhabitants of the city are men, 53 percent of whom are employed. Only 5 percent of the female population is employed. A significant number of the economically active inhabitants work for the government or in service industries, particularly retail trade and household work.


Administration. Delhi is a federal territory directly administered by the Parliament of India through the Ministry of Home Affairs. Executive power is held by the chief commissioner, who is appointed by the president of India. The home minister heads the Advisory Council, made up of the members of Parliament from Delhi, the mayor of the city, the vicechancellor of Delhi University, the president of the New Delhi Municipal Committee, and other officials. Since 1958, Delhi has had a municipal corporation, partly elected by the inhabitants and partly appointed by the central government.

Historical information. Delhi is one of the oldest cities of India. In ancient times it was known as Indraprastha. The present name appeared in 736, when the city Dhillika (Delhi) was built near the ancient town. In the Middle Ages the city was moved several times within the boundaries of the present territory of Delhi. In 1206 it became the capital of the Sultanate of Delhi and in 1526, of the Mogul Empire. The British seized the city in 1803. Delhi was one of the centers of the Indian People’s Uprising (1857-59). In 1911 the capital of British India was transferred to Delhi (Old Delhi) from Calcutta, and the construction of New Delhi was begun.

The significance of the capital as an administrative, economic, and cultural center grew rapidly after India achieved independence in 1947.

Economy. Delhi is a major economic center of India. Its location on old trade routes that link northern areas of the country with Western countries promoted the transformation of Delhi—the northwestern “gates” of India—into an important trade and transportation center. Delhi is a junction for rail motor vehicles, and air traffic. There are two airports: Palam for international flights and Safdarjang for local traffic. The industrial significance of the city has grown tremendously since 1947. Many industrial enterprises have been built since the nation achieved independence, including housebuilding-components, chemical-pharmaceutical, and electrical engineering plants. Industry is oriented primarily toward serving the needs of the capital’s inhabitants. Among Delhi’s major industries are textiles (cotton and woolen fabrics), garmentmaking, knitwear, leather footware, glass and ceramics, metalworking, and small machinery (razor blades, watches, electrotechnical goods and equipment, and bicycles). There is also a printing and publishing industry. Hand weaving and traditional handicrafts are still carried on (ivory carving, silver and gold filigree jewelry, and papiermache creations).


Architecture. In the Old City (Shahjahanabad), a number of architectural monuments have been preserved, including part of the city walls and gates, the Jamaa Mosque (1644-58) and Lai Kila (the Red Fort, 1639-48). The fort includes the palaces Rang Mahal, Diwan-i-Am, Diwan-i-Khas (all 1639-48) and the Pearl Mosque (c. 1660). South of the Old City are the ruins of the city Firuzabad (1351-88) and the palace-fortress complex Purana Kila (begun in 1540), which includes the Kulan Mosque (1380), the Kilai Kuhna Mosque (1545), and the mausoleum of Humayun (second half of the 16th century).

About 20 km south of the Old City are four city-fortresses: Siri (begun in 1303), Jahanpannah (14th century), Tuglakabad (1325, with remnants of fortifications and the mausoleum of Ghiyas-al-Din), and Lai Kot (end of the 12th century). Preserved in Lai Kot are the Iron Pillar (415), ruins of the Quwwat al-Islam Mosque (begun in 1193), the Qutb Minaret (c. 1200-20), and the mausoleum of Iltutmish (after 1235).

New Delhi is a large territory with many public squares and parks and gardens at the center of a radial pattern of broad streets. Within New Delhi are the complex of government buildings, built between 1912 and the 1930’s (the Rashtrapati Bhawan, which is the residence of the president of India, two secretariat buildings, the Parliament, villas of officials, and ministries), as well as the India Gate (a monument to soldiers killed in World Wars I and II), the national stadium, the Jantar Mantar Observatory (1725), the Lakshmi Narain temple (1938-39), and the M. Ghandi Memorial Museum (completed in the 1960’s; architect, A. Kanvinde).

Large complexes of apartment houses built in the 1950’s and 1960’s are located primarily in the southern district of New Delhi. Embassies and hotels are concentrated in the southwestern part of New Delhi in the diplomatic enclave.

Educational, scientific, and cultural institutions. Located in Delhi are a university, the Technological Institute, the National Academy of Arts, and the Academy of Music, Dance, and Drama, in which there is a school of national drama. The city also has the Council on Scientific and Industrial Research, the Institute of Basic Education, and All-India Institute of Medical Sciences. There is a public library (433,000 volumes) and the National Archives. Among the city’s museums are the National Museum of India (largest in the country), the National Gallery of Modern Art, the International Doll Museum, and the memorial Museums of Ghandi and Nehru. The Indian Theatrical Center is located in Delhi, which is the home city of the theatrical companies Yatrik, the Indian Center of Arts, the B. Maharaj Company, the Center of Arts of Kerala, and the New Theater.


Spear, T. G. P. Delhi. Its Monuments and History. London, 1945.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. the capital of India, in the N central part, on the Jumna river: consists of Old Delhi (a walled city reconstructed in 1639 on the site of former cities of Delhi, which date from the 15th century bc) and New Delhi to the south, chosen as the capital in 1912, replacing Calcutta; university (1922). Pop.: 9 817 439 (2001)
2. an administrative division (National Capital Territory) of N India, formerly a Union Territory. Capital: Delhi. Area: 1483 sq. km (572 sq. miles). Pop.: 13 782 976 (2001)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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