Bengaluru: Being the tallest masonry tower in India and surrounded by a forested green cover as well as a vast archaeological complex, Qutub Minar stands tall amidst the ruins of a great ancient city, hemmed by a bustling, thriving modern capital of India.
Representing Delhi’s towering legacy as the capital of many great empires and home to many powerful dynasties, Qutub Minar is a true icon of the city’s never-ending tryst with destiny.
As a historic city, Delhi has no dearth of architectural wonders and world renowned monuments, narrating the tales of the rise and fall of the city’s fortunes with that of successive dynasties.
Delhi’s fame and allure has been the source of both its glory and agony. The city has been known to have risen from the ruins of successive conquests only to fall again in the new hands of power, moulding it with new ambitions - each leaving its indelible mark on the heart of Delhi, narrating fascinating tales of triumph, tribulations and survival.
Part of one of Delhi’s earliest citadels that includes a vast archeological complex of mosques, tombs, learning centres, step-wells, travellers’ inn as well as other markers of a flourishing medieval civilisation shaped in grand scale and proportions, none stands out and represents the grandeur and allure of Delhi as much as the 12th century Qutub Minar.
Though, other grand Delhi monuments such as the Jama Masjid and the Red Fort compete with the Qutub Minar in terms of popularity, but none has come to be synonymous with the pomp of Delhi as much as the Qutub Minar.
Exuding both awe and admiration at the same time, Qutub Minar’s towering presence dwarfs all might and reduces all claims to greatness.
Easily among the loftiest representations of the composite heritage of India, Qutub Minar has stood tall for eight centuries as the beacon of hope and inspiration.
Built with the twin purpose of being a victory symbol and a minaret from which to raise the call for prayers, Qutub Minar is the first and by far the greatest architectural achievement of the Delhi Sultans, particularly the first two sultans, Qutub Al Din Aibak and his son-in-law and successor Shamsuddin Iltumish.
Aibak, a persian slave boy of Sultan Muizuddin Mohammed of Ghur, rose in ranks and went on to become Sultan Mohammed’s general when he conquered Delhi in 1193 AD.
When the Sultan returned to his homeland after the conquest of Delhi, Aibak was left as the governor of the newly acquired territory. Following Sultan Mohammed’s death, Aibak virtually became the independent ruler of North Western India and the first Sultan of Delhi. He is also known as the founder of the Slave Dynasty that ruled over northern India for almost a century.
A great military general and an able administrator, Aibak and his son-in-law Shamsuddin Iltumish quickly consolidated their power and expanded the empire, adding the territories of Bihar and Bengal in east as well as territories in the central and western India.
To celebrate the conquest of Delhi and other victories that led to the expansion of the Delhi Sultanate, Qutub Al Din Aibak began the construction of Qutub Minar in 1199. He could only complete the first storey of the tower before his death in 1210, following which his successor Iltumish added three more stories and completed the construction, raising the minaret to the height of 72.5 metres.
At its base, the Minar is 14.32 metres in diameter, tapering as it rises, to 2.75 metres at its peak.
Built of red and buff sandstone, the tower is skilfully engineered with alternating angular and rounded flutings as well as rich marble inlay. A stairwell within the hollow of the tower leads all the way to the top, with lofty doors leading to projected balconies marking each floor.
The projected balconies supported by stone brackets encircle the minar on every floor. The brackets are profusely decorated with honey-comb design. Each of the story is also marked by bands of lavishly carved inscriptions from the Holy Quran.
The Minar has gone through several stages of repair and various
inscriptions on the tower in Arabic and Nagari characters narrate its chronology of restorations.
According to these inscriptions the Minar was first repaired by Firuz Shah Tughlaq (AD 1351-88) and then by Sikandar Lodi (AD 1489-1517) after it was affected by natural calamities. British colonial officer Major R. Smith also repaired and restored the minar in 1829.
Part of the now ruined Quwwatul Islam mosque complex that includes the handsomely decorated tomb of Iltumish, built in1235 AD; the magnificent Alai Darwaza, which is the grand ceremonial gateway built by Sultan Alauddin Khilji in 1311 AD as well as the Ala’i Minar, which was commenced by Alauddin Khalji with the intention of making it twice the size of the Qutub Minar, but could only complete the first storey before he died, after which the project was abandoned.
The Qutb complex also comprises a Khilji-era college, several tombs, a Mughal-era mosque and several architectural members.
Apart from the Minar, what attracts the biggest attention is the
Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque that was built by Aibak in 1198 AD. It is the earliest extant mosque built by the Delhi Sultans and the first to introduce the classical model of Islamic architecture in India.
Apart from employing the authentic Islamic principles of construction, the mosque heavily draws from the architectural language of the local temples.
The mosque constitutes a large rectangular courtyard enclosed by arcades with carved pillars on three sides and an imposing five-arched screen marking the west.
The profusely carved pillars with visible symbols of Indian temple architecture such bells, urns and chains standout alongside the geometric patterns and arabesque panels.
This is the first known occasion of the harmonious synthesis of two great cultures and styles of architecture and this shouldn’t be the last.
Now, a UNESCO World Heritage site, the archeological park is among the most visited tourist spots in Delhi and a must visit landmark for all students and lovers of Indian heritage.
— Shafaat Shahbandari is a freelance journalist based in Bengaluru and Founder-Editor of Thousand Shades of India