Why is the capital of India – New Delhi named so?

69 years ago, when India gained its hard-earned independence, our first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru hoisted the tricolour for the first time in free India on the ramparts of the Red Fort in the capital city of New Delhi.

But the city of Delhi has been preponderant since a time-period greatly longer than the mere 69 years that it has been labelled capital of our liberated soil. Although the name’s true origin continues to remain shrouded in mystery, one plausible theory suggests that Delhi has been called so since the years Before Christ.

Since 800BC, the Dhillon Dynasty ruled over the region where modern-day Delhi lies. Legend has it that in 50 BC, one of the Dhillon kings, Raja Dhilu – who is also referred to as a Mauryan ruler – decided to rename the erstwhile town of Yoginipura (named after the Yogmaya Temple situated there) and it became known as ‘Dhillika’, referring to the king’s name.

The historical Hindu prophetic text, the Bhavishya Purana, presents a different viewpoint. King Prithiviraja built a fort (now known as Purana Qila) in the legendary city of Indraprastha. A gateway to the fort was constructed and hence the fort was called dehali.

This theory runs parallel to the belief that Delhi earned its name from the word ‘dehleez’ or ‘dehali’which means ‘threshold’ or ‘gateway’. This is an allusion to the city’s geographic location as a gateway to the Indo-Gangetic Plains

Yet another speculation traces the name’s origin to the Rajput-Tomara Dynasty during which city’s importance as a political centre grew manifold. Even the monetary coins were known as delhiwal. It is rumoured that this name came to be when King Anangpal Tomar tried to construct the Mehraulli Pillar but do to his lack of confidence (and allegedly interference by a demon serpent) the pillar was relocated. This mistake earned not only his pillar but also his city the nickname of “dhilla”, the Prakrit word for “loose”.

Going by the plethora of legends surrounding our capital, it is safe to assume that the term Delhi is nothing but an aberration of dhillika, dehleez, dehali or dhilla. Oh, and those of y’all wondering why the ‘New’ appears before Delhi, it happened in 1911-12 when the British decided to build a ‘new’ capital in the pre-existing geographical region known as Delhi.

That sure was a lot of history to stomach at one go but I’m sure it won’t leave you with a Delhi Belly.

-Rtr. Aman Vasavada

Rotaract Club of N.M. College


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