chehre pe saare shahr ke gard-e-malāl hai
jo dil kā haal hai vahī dillī kā haal hai
-malikzada maNZnzoor ahmad

whether it was because anang pal tomar rendered the Iron pillar loose or ‘dhilli’ that the region around it came to be called ‘dilli’ is not certain. the name ‘dhilli’ could also have been given due to the fact that the soil where the tomars settled was loose or ‘dhilli’. however, there are a number of oral traditions that record the christening of the city as Delhi. Some opine that when this region was known as yoginipura after goddess yogmaya, there existed a king known as raja dhilu/delu in c. 50 b.c.e. It was after him that the region began to be called as ‘dhilli’ or ‘dhillika’. according to one of the narrative, the city got its name from the hindustani word ‘dahleez’, meaning entrance. The city was considered to be the entrance to a land where kings and noblemen resided, hence ‘dehli’.basheeruddin ahmed was of the opinion that the word ‘dil’ in the hindi language meant a ‘raised/elevated ground’ (maqaam-e-martaqa) and delhi acquired its name as it was built on a hilly terrain. another narrative mentions that the city was inhabited by people with a ‘dil’ (heart) and was therefore named Dilli. A popular saying thus goes:

Jahan dil hay wahan dilli hai (dilli is where the heart is)

apart from oral traditions, there exist many inscriptional evidences testifying as to how the name delhi came into existence. the earliest was the Bijhli or the Bijoli rock inscription from udaipur (rajasthan), issued by chahmana someshvara in 1160-70 C.E. It recorded the exploits of vigraharaj, the first chahmana emperor and referred to dhillika which is identified with modern-day Delhi.
another inscriptional evidence came from a step-well (baoli) constructed in the year 1276 by uddhara who was a merchant and his family belonged to uchh in punjab.this inscription, popularly known as the palam baoli inscription, was in sanskrit and was a long panegyric in the honour of the then-reigning sultan ghiyas-ud-din balban. In the twelfth verse, dhilli (delhi) has been mentioned as his capital and in the thirteenth verse the alternative name of ‘dhilli’ was given as ‘yoganipura’.
One very significant inscription came from ladnu in jodhpur, rajasthan that recorded the excavation of a step-well in the year 1316-17 C.E. It mentioned ‘dilli’ as a city located in the haritan (haryana) region. This inscription was significant as it exhibited that Persian as a language was growing in influence, evident from the transformation of ‘Dhilli’ to ‘Dilli’ where the true hard ‘dh’ was dropped from the popular speech. It was also interesting that in arabic writing, the only way in which ‘dhilli’ could be written was ‘dahli’ that over the centuries acquired an anglicised tone. This was due to the fact that in english phonology, ‘h’ cannot be preceded by a syllable and therefore ‘dahli’ became ‘delhi’.
Other two inscriptions that belong to the reign of Muhammad bin Tughlaq were: inscription from Nadayana (now Nariana) belonging to 1327 c.e. and inscription from sarban belonging to 1328 C.E. both mentioned the city of ‘dhilli’ located in the province known as hariyana.
Delhi, as a site, has been favoured for settlement since a long period of time due to its strategic geographical location. It is flanked by the aravallis in the west and by river yamuna in the east. therefore, over the years a number of settlements have emerged, starting with the ancient settlement of ‘indarpat’ or ‘indraprastha’ to the modern new delhi. today’s delhi, in reality, is an amalgamation of a number of cities.

the following is a beautiful nazm by rifat sarosh that is entitled ‘naghma-e-dehli’.

dekho nigah-e-shauq se dehlī ke nazāre
tahzīb kī jannat hai ye jamunā ke kināre
ye indr ke rañgīn akhāḌe kī parī hai
sadiyoñ meñ ye zevar se tamaddun ke sajī hai

jamhūr ne is shoḳh ke gesū haiñ sañvāre
dekho nigah-e-shauq se dehlī ke nazāre
har ek imārat se ayaañ jāh-o-hasham hai
har iiñT pe tārīḳh-e-vatan is kī raqam hai
har zarre meñ haiñ azmat-e-rafta ke sitāre
dekho nigah-e-shauq se dehlī ke nazāre
mīnār vo mīnara-e-azmat jise kahiye
masjid vo ki sajda-gah-e-fitrat jise kahiye
fankāroñ ne miT miT ke haiñ har naqsh ubhāre
dekho nigah-e-shauq se dehlī ke nazāre
durveshoñ ne bhī is pe mohabbat kī nazar kī
valiyoñ ne sadā phūlne phalne kī duā dī
ye zinda-o-pā.inda hai ḳhvāja ke sahāre
dekho nigah-e-shauq se dehlī ke nazāre
ye ‘ġhālib’-o-‘āzurda’-o-‘ḳhusrau’ kī chahetī
gahvāra-e-urdū hai abhī ‘dāġh’ kī dehlī
dil meñ abhī is ke haiñ mohabbat ke sharāre
dekho nigah-e-shauq se dehlī ke nazāre
bachpan se rahī gardish-e-daurāñ kī sahelī
har daur meñ ye gardish-e-ayyām se khelī
bigḌe jo kabhī vaqt ne abrū haiñ sañvāre
dekho nigah-e-shauq se dehlī ke nazāre
ab ḳhuld kī tasvīr haiñ ye kūcha-o-bāzār
ye zohra-jabīñ ḳhanda-ba-lab paikar-e-anvār
jis tarah utar aa.e hoñ gardūñ se sitāre
dekho nigah-e-shauq se dehlī ke nazāre
dehlī nahīñ ye azmat-e-mashriq kā nishāñ hai
is daur meñ bhī naġhma-gar-e-amn-o-amāñ hai
maġhrib se kaho ‘’-e-dehlī ko pukāre
dekho nigah-e-shauq se dehlī ke nazāre


1. m. athar ali, “capital of the sultans: delhi during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries”.

2. shrimali, k.m. “the origins: From Indraprastha to dhilli.”



5. safvi, rana. “where stones speak: historical trails in mehrauli, the first city of delhi”. harper collins. 2015. Pg. no. 9-10.



civil Lines

mehrauli/ qutub delhi


lutyens’ Delhi



new Delhi