Delhi: Hidden under thick vegetation for years, Red Fort’s chhota hammam to get a facelift

Somya Lakhani
According to the ASI, the hammam was for palatial use. The conservation project will take six months. (Tashi Tobgyal)

A single undated photograph of a slew of monuments inside Red Fort is the only reference the Archaeological Survey of India has to conserve the chhota hammam (royal bath) near Asad Burj. Lost to obscurity and hidden under weeds, the hammam will be conserved by January 2020 and open to the public for the first time ever.

All we know is that this hammam was for palatial use. Since the Red Fort opened to the public, this portion was always covered in thick vegetation. We have started clearing it now and should begin conservation after Independence Day, said Dr N K Pathak, Superintending Archaeologist, ASI Delhi circle.

Right next to Asad Burj, occupied by the Army till 2003, lies the hammam.

At least 4.46 metres below the surface, the rectangular hammam is 21.5×6.3 square metre in size. Two stairways, made of Lakhori bricks and red sandstone, lead to the bath, which has 15 arches including one which has space to keep at least 10 oil lamps that once lit up the hammam.

For now, wild plants have taken over the hammam, built along with the Red Fort between 1639-48 by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. According to Luv Kush Soni, ASI s conservation assistant at Red Fort, conservation will take six months and will begin with pointing, the process of strengthening Lakhori bricks using lime mortar. Broken arches made of Lakhori bricks will be replaced, so will the missing pieces of the red sandstone floor .

He said there is a drain that has been found near the hammam, and once conservation work begins, it will be decided if the structure will have water or not.

An ASI official said a budget of Rs 1 crore-1.5 crore will be set aside for the project, for which at least 100 workers will be employed. A pathway too will be built to connect Imtiaz Mahal with the hammam.

Shama Mitra Chenoy, associate professor of History at Delhi s Shivaji College, said Mirza Jahangir Bahadur, son of Mughal emperor Akbar II, lived in Asad Burj in the early 19th Century. Close proximity of the hammam to the Asad Burj means that it was probably used by Mirza Jahangir Bahadur… plus, Asad Burj was the water bastion, she said.