From a trading hub developed along a river to a market built by Shah Jahan’s empress to a renowned second-hand book market, Darya Ganj, or the market by the river, has a long and varied story.
Shama Mitra Chenoy, associate professor of history at Delhi University, pointed out that areas around the river Yamuna have always been fertile ground for marketplaces to crop up. “Most of the vegetables and food for the city came from across the river. People would row down in boats and perhaps set up impromptu markets along there for their products,” Chenoy pointed out.
However, historian Sohail Hashmi said it was not a river that the actual market in question was built along, but a canal, the construction of which spanned across dynasties.
“When Feroz Shah Tughlaq was building his capital at Feroz Shah Kotla, he also worked to create a canal to bring water from Hisar to Delhi for the capital. It was not completed because he died before that. Later, repair work on this was carried out by both Jahangir and Akbar, and it was completed by Shah Jahan’s chief engineer to bring water to Chandni Chowk,” he said.
According to him, the water body alluded to in Darya Ganj was a branch of this canal, and a market was built along it by Shah Jahan’s queen Akbarabadi Begum.
“Shah Jahan had given out parcels of land to his relatives for them to build up. For instance, you have Jahanara building Chandni Chowk. This market was built by his queen and was first known as Akbarabadi Bazar after her. The Akbarabadi Masjid had also been built here. The market was later known as Faiz Bazar, and then Darya Ganj,” he said.
Chenoy, however, distinguishes between Darya Ganj and Faiz Bazar and stated that while Faiz Bazar existed in the 17th century, Darya Ganj became visible in historical records of the 19th century with the East India Company setting up a cantonment with a church and hospital there.
“The cantonment was built here because it was not a heavily built area. It didn’t have serpentine lanes and was open and green,” she said.
Today, the market is best known for being a hub of publishing and books, two famous single screen cinemas Delite and Golcha — the latter shut down in 2016 — and for housing the first Moti Mahal restaurant.
However, now the curtains have closed on the famed Sunday book market as well, following a Delhi High Court order to the North Delhi Municipal Corporation to shut all markets on Netaji Subhash Marg.
Qamar Sayeed (58), president of the Sunday Book Bazaar Patri Welfare Association, said he has been selling second-hand books at the market since 1978.
“ When we started , we were just around 30-40 people doing this. It expanded with their relatives and children carrying forward the trade and before it was closed down, there were 276 vendors,” he said.
“My brothers and I started supplying paper bags to fruit and vegetable sellers of Old Delhi. One day, a book-seller followed us and asked for our old magazines because he wanted to sell them. That’s when we realised a different field…,” Sayeed said.