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Northampton, United Kingdom
November 7, 2010
From journal India 2010 Part 2 - Delhi to Dehradun
Gravesend, United Kingdom
March 22, 2010
From journal Delightful Delhi
New Delhi, India
February 15, 2009
Qutbuddin Aibak commissioned the Qutb Minar as a victory tower (not, as some believe, as a minaret from which the muezzin at the Quwwat-ul-Islam could call the faithful to prayer). Like the mosque, the tower symbolised the power of the new ruler. Incidentally, there’s no end to the theories floating about regarding the origin of the Qutb Minar; some believe it to be of Hindu origin, possibly even erected by Prithviraj Chauhan, whom Mohammad Ghori defeated and displaced. Why Prithviraj Chauhan should have decorated the outside of his tower with verses in Persian escapes me.
The Qutb Minar has had a chequered history. Although Qutbuddin Aibak began building it in 1199 AD, his death in 1210 AD meant that his successor Iltutmish had to take over. Iltutmish added two more stories to the tower. The three-storied tower stood around for over a century and a half before a much later ruler, Firuz Shah Tughlaq, commissioned renovations at the Qutb Minar. He also added two more stories to it in 1368 AD, bringing the total to five stories.
During their stint in Delhi, the British, not to be left behind, did their bit. They added red sandstone parapets bounding the balcony of each storey, and began repairing the broken carving. In the 1820’s, a military engineer, Major Robert Smith, supervised the putting back of slabs of calligraphy which had collapsed over time. Smith knew no Persian, and obviously didn’t think it necessary to call in a Persian scholar to assist him, so the present calligraphy, running in broad bands across the face of the tower, is gibberish. And Smith didn’t stop there—he also got built a small circular pavilion of red sandstone, which he placed on top of the tower’s fifth storey; this was topped by a wooden pagoda, which in turn had a flagstaff on top.
Fortunately enough, a bolt of lightning shot the pagoda and the flagstaff off the tower. Lord Hardinge (Governor General and Viceroy, 1910-1916) on a visit to the Qutb Minar, declared that the pavilion was ugly and should be taken down immediately. It was, and now stands on the adjacent lawn—it’s known as Smith’s Folly.
The Qutb Minar is constructed of rubble masonry, dressed with red sandstone. The tower’s sides are multifaceted: semicircular alternating with angular, all of it very striking, with bands of carving every few feet. These are mainly calligraphy, but with some floral and geometric elements too. On the side facing the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque is the entrance to the inside, which is kept locked, after numerous accidents and suicides. If you’re really keen on seeing what the Qutb Minar looks like on the inside (it’s unexceptional), have a look at this clip from a 1963 Bollywood film—the song was filmed inside the Qutb Minar.
Lastly, a little bit of trivia: the tower is named not after Qutbuddin Aibak, who began building it, but after the saint Qutbuddin Bakhtiar Kaki.
From journal World Heritage Site #233: Delhi’s Qutb Minar
December 30, 2006
After that, move on to the imposing Quwwat-ul-Islam (`Might of Islam’) Mosque, one of the earliest examples of Islamic architecture in India - work began in 1192 AD under Sultan Qutubuddin Aibak. The mosque was built on the ruins of 27 Hindu and Jain temples, and signs of the original carving can still be seen in places.
Walk to beyond the exquisitely carved screens of the mosque, and you’ll reach the ornate Tomb of Sultan Shamsuddin Iltutmish, consolidator of the Delhi Sultanate. The tomb’s interior is heavily carved and was once topped by a dome (it’s open to the elements now). The white marble grave that you see in the tomb is a dummy; the actual grave is in a crypt below. From the tomb, walk on towards the main attraction of the site, the Qutub Minar.
The red and buff sandstone tower known as the Qutub Minar is the largest standing stone minaret in the world and dates back to 1199 A.D. The bottom three stories of the tower were built by Qutubuddin Aibak, and the 4th and 5th were built by Sultan Alauddin Khalji. Later rulers repaired it and added features such as railings (courtesy Sikandar Lodhi) and a hideous "mock Mughal" cupola (added by a Britisher called Major Smith; it was later removed at the orders of the more aesthetically astute Lord Hardinge). The cupola today stands on the lawn nearby and is called Smith’s Folly - in more ways than one! But what’s worth admiring is the soaring Qutub Minar, with its 24 flutings- alternating semi-circular and angular "ribs" decorated with wide bands of beautifully carved Quranic verses. It’s awesome.
Next to the minaret is the square chamber of red sandstone and white marble, known as the Alai Darwaza. The Alai Darwaza was built in 1311 by Alauddin Khalji as the southern entrance to the Qutub Minar, and has an unusual feature - the exterior has been carved in such a way that it looks like a two-storied structure. It’s profusely carved, and although it’s all stone, parts of it resemble carved timber.
Next to the Alai Darwaza is the Tomb of Imam Zamin (d.1536), the head ulema of the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque. Not spectacular, but peek in while you’re exploring the area. The Qutub Archaeological Site is open from sunrise to sunset. Entry is US$5.
From journal Historic Delhi Part 4: Emblems of Might
October 26, 2006
From journal Delhi: The Good, the Bad or the Ugly?
New York City, New York
October 23, 2003
This ancient complex was built in the 12th century and includes ruins of India's very first mosque, and a series of tombs and mausoleums. It reminded me of places I'd been to in Greece and Rome -- almost like a smaller Forum, but obviously not as old.
The incredibly detailed lattice-work and delicate screens carved of red sandstone are just beautiful, decorated with the writing of the Koran in calligraphy, and designs of the lotus flower. I would plan to spend at least a few hours exploring the grounds here, and even on a hot day there's plenty of shade provided by the buildings and the trees sprinkled throughout the grounds.
From journal Delhi, India: Exotic, Colorful, Fascinating & HOT!
London, United Kingdom
October 17, 2001
The Qutab Minar itself is a victory tower, built to celebrate the taking of Delhi from the Hindus - in the days of a Hindu majority in India, and the increasing extremism of Hindu national political movements, the lack of maintenance of the complex is not a surprise. You are now not able to climb the stairs inside the tower; there is no rail on the balcony which emerges at the top and it's therefore thought to be dangerous - several people died here a few years ago, owing to a crush of people causing those at the top to fall off. The lower part of the tower, which is some 60 feet in diameter at the bottom, is not perfectly round. Rather, there are semi-circular half-pillars emerging from it, with elaborate carvings and decoration.
The builder of the complex originally intended the tower to be the first, small effort. On the far side of the complex is the much greater start of the second tower, which would have been 2 or 3 times the size of the first. The tower only made it to about 18 feet above the ground, however, before events overtook and the King was deposed.
It is a good idea to combine a trip to these buildings with a visit to Tugluguabad, which is a few miles to the east, as both sites are some way south of Old and New Delhi. Hiring a rickshaw or taxi to take you to both is a good idea, it can then take you back to the centre without your having to bargain at each stage of the tour.
From journal Delhi - exciting, vivid, and hot!
Very close by to the wall-less building is the complex’s religious area. The mosque was founded in the 12th century, and has been built and re-built many times, into its present graceful form. The mosque is fairly small, and has that serene air of many centuries' worship - I got the feeling there that I have also had in Cathedrals in Europe - Westminster Abbey, or Smarden parish church among others, that this is a place "in which prayer has been valid". If you venture inside the mosque (taking off your shoes, and either leaving them with the boy guard and paying him a rupee or two a pair, or carrying them with you) you can see that the façade is better preserved than the interior and rear of the building. Like other mosques in India, such as that at Fatephur Sikri, or the Jama Masjid in Delhi, the centre is open to the sky, and the edges are roofed in. The walls have carved stone windows, with amazing lattice work which allows in a breeze, and deep window seats people can sit in and observe the scene. The pillars, some 12 inches thick, show most clearly the remains of the temples from which parts of this building were constructed – there are some parts which obviously once had faces or animals carved into them, the faces smashed when they were incorporated into the mosque to avoid Islam’s ban on grave images. The far side of the mosque is not complete – there are entire sections of the back wall missing, and the odd monkey wanders in and out to have a look at the scene.
The complex consists of various buildings set among calm gardens. There are the usual Muslim buildings found elsewhere in India (for example, a hall of private audience) and a few whose function now can only be guessed at. There is a mosque, cloisters, the remains of what were probably living quarters, and the tower itself.
As you enter the complex, dodging enthusiastic hawkers and buying your $10 ticket, you walk under a red stone tunnel-arch. It’s a transformation from Delhi to peace – the cooler air, shade from the sun, and quiet as the hawkers are left behind. On your left and right, after you emerge from the stone tunnel, are crumbling buildings whose significance is not obvious; they may have been living areas. There are lawns surroundings the buildings, with large striped squirrels running up and down the trees, and Indian families picnicking in the shade of the bigger shrubs. The gardens and buildings are walled in, and from here you can see the mosque straight ahead of you, the Minar itself to your left, and the stump of the follow-on version to your right. The first time I came here, in 1998, we were near the end of our summer-time trip, and spent a morning here; the serenity of the place is wonderful. The second time, when I was in India with my mother in Sept. 2001, I brought her here on the afternoon of our first day, to counteract the panic that the overwhelming nature of India can breed. Delhi, although a fascinating place, is so hot, noisy, and polluted that a morning or afternoon at somewhere like this is just what the doctor ordered to recharge your batteries.