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Home / Travel / What's in a name? Colourful history of Delhi's famous spots

What's in a name? Colourful history of Delhi's famous spots

Although the Capital is 100-year-old on the map of the world, the etymology of the word ‘Delhi’ is still wrapped in various tales. From Connaught Place and Chawri Bazaar to GB Road and Shahdara, the colourful history behind Delhi's names is not to be missed.

travel Updated: Sep 09, 2015 11:36 IST
Pragya Gandhi
Pragya Gandhi
Hindustan Times
Connaught Place at dusk. (Sonu Mehta/HT Photo)
Connaught Place at dusk. (Sonu Mehta/HT Photo)( )

Although the Capital is 100-year-old on the map of the world, the etymology of the word ‘Delhi’ is still wrapped in various tales. The most popular being: it is derived from Dilli, a corrupt version of dehleez or dehali (meaning threshold). This made the city’s name symbolic of a place which is the gateway to the Indo-Gangetic plain. But, like there is always another side to every story, few know that Delhi could have also derived its name from the legend of king Anangapala II ­— who erected an iron pillar with a weak foundation. Because of the king’s lack of confidence, the pillar and his kingdom were thereafter considered dheela (meaning loose). Read on to know stories behind names of various places in Delhi...

Connaught Place

Constructed in 1933, CP was named after Duke of Connaught (Arthur, son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert) to honour him on his visit to Delhi. Interestingly, CP doesn’t have ‘I’ and ‘O’ blocks! The reason behind that is because they are likely to be confused with the numerical 1 and 0!

Chawri Bazaar

Named after a Marathi word ‘chawri’ (meeting place), here, a ‘sabha’ would take place in front of a noble’s home, who’d try settling matters. Another legend is that people used to gather here to see vaishyaas dance, giving them ‘chavannis’ and thus, the term ‘chavannis’ evolved to ‘chawri’.


The charge of relocating the people of Raisina village to make way for the grand edifices of state to come up along Rajpath was given to a British officer named Young, who was the deputy commissioner of Delhi. The colony where he resettled these people was called ‘Youngpura’, which was later colloquialised as Jangpura.

Chirag Dilli

As the story goes, Nizamuddin blessed one of his most loved disciples so that he could light lamps with water instead of oil in the neighbouring village. After accomplishment of this feat, his disciple Naseeruddin was named ‘Chirag’, and the area was named Chirag Dilli. (Chirag means ‘lamp’).

Jantar Mantar

The name is the spoilt version of Yantra Mantra — which means instruments and formulae. One of the five places built by Maharaja Jai Singh II of Jaipur, it came into being after Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah gave the former the task of revising the calendar and astronomical tables. The monument has 13 architectural and astronomy instruments.


In Urdu, Shahdara means ‘door of kings’. The origin of the name lies in two Persian words: ‘Shah’ meaning kings and ‘Dara’ meaning a door. There is another legend: “Shahdara has originated from ‘shahi dara or dariya’. It was near a ‘dariya’ — Yamuna river, and goods came to Delhi through this river. In fact, there are other places in India which were named Shahdara as well because of the same reason.

GB Road

There were five brothels in Delhi earlier. Garstin, a British commissioner, unified them into one red-light area. It was named after him: Garstin Bastion Road/GB Road. “GB Road was named after Garstin. It was a place where ‘mujras’ happened. In fact, there were three places to view mujras from, for different classes- Qutub Road for lower, GB Road for middle and Chawri Bazaar for the higher classes,” says Satish Sundra, a shop owner.

Siri Fort

According to the legend of Ala-ud-Din Khilji’s war exploits, the name Siri given to the fort was because the foundation of the fort was built on severed heads (‘sir’ means head in Hindi) of about 8,000 Mongol soldiers killed in the war.“Khilji defeated the Mongols. The soldiers were beheaded, and their heads were used in the foundation of the Siri Fort. The remains of the fort still remain for all to see”, says Om Prakash Tanwar, owner, Siri Fort Associates.


Named after the boatsmen of the Mughal era, ‘Balli’ is a hindi word meaning ‘oars of a boat’ and ‘Maran’ means ‘the act of steering oars’. “In Mughal era, boats were used for transportation between Red Fort and Fatehpuri mosque. However, in what is now Ballimaran, streets were too small for a boat to navigate. That is why ballis were used instead. And that’s how Ballimaran got its name”, says Muhammed Masir, 61, president, RWA Ballimaran.


Mehrauli was earlier known as Mihirawali, which means ‘Home of Mihir’, and was founded by King Mihir Bhoja of the Gurjara-Pratihara Dynasty. Another legend is that the name Mehrauli is attributed to Mehrawali Mai (Mehr means Blessings), whose temple is right next to Bhool Bhulaiyya (Adam Khan’s tomb), as one enters Mehrauli. “The Muslims in Mehrauli believe that the name comes from Mehr-e-wali, where ‘mehr’ means blessings and ‘wali’ is an Arabic word meaning ‘custodian’, ‘protector’ or ‘helper’ — thus, a holy man. However, the Hindus here attribute the name to ‘Mehrawali Mai’,” says Raman Lamba, SHO, Mehrauli.

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