TOWER OF TRIUMPH
If you ask most human beings, they will tell you they want to live forever. This is true, especially of kings who have a deep desire to be immortal. They don’t ever want to die. Hence, you find that throughout history, many of the monuments were designed and built in such a way as to immortalize rulers and reflect their power.The Qutb Minar is no different. This five-storey building was built with beautiful marble and sandstone. It extends to the skies as a declaration of sovereignty. This magnificent structure was built to symbolize many conquests and also to commemorate the formation of the Delhi Sultanate in India.
The Qutb Minar stands tall over the city of Delhi and is the main monument of the Qutb complex, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The historical monuments that make up this complex were constructed from as early as the late 12th century onwards and represent some of the earliest Indo-Islamic architecture in the world. The monuments were built by the Delhi Sultanate rulers. They were built over the city of Qila Rai Pithora, which was established by the Chauhan Rajput clan. Qila Rai Pithora is the first of the seven distinguished cities that made up Delhi. Mehrauli, Firozabad, Tughlaqabad, Siri, Shahjahanabad, and Jahanpanah are the other six.
The Chauhans was an Indian dynasty that ruled sections of what we now call Rajasthan between the 7th and 12th century. However, they were forced to surrender these territories to Muhammad of Ghur in 1193. History records that Muhammad’s general, Qutbuddin Aibak became the first sultan of Delhi. He was the one who started to build the Qutb Minar. Note that the meaning of the word “qutb” is “axis,” and the word “minar” means “tower”). Although Qutbuddin Aibak has been credited with constructing this tower, the facts show that no single ruler can be given the attribution. After finishing one storey, Aibak died. Subsequently, other kings who ruled over the years completed the structure. The neighboring area that surrounds the Minar is called the Mehrauli Archaeological Park. It is rich in history and has several outstanding monuments all over its terrain.
Rulers of Delhi
The establishment of the Delhi Sultanate in 1206 was the beginning of a new epoch in the history of India. For more than two hundred years, the Mamluk, once known as the slave kings, the Sayyid, Khilji, Lodi, Tughlaq, and sultans successively ruled India. Their rulership transformed India’s cultural and political environment significantly. After the end of their reign, the great Mughal empire was established. However, in the early 18th century, this empire tumbled quickly. Consequently, European powers were given easy control of the country. The British became a strong political force to reckon with, and in 1857 they deposed the last Mughal emperor. Below are some of the significant dates in the history of the Qutb complex.
1206-1290 Mamluk sultans
1206-1210 Qutbuddin Aibak
1211-1236 Shamsuddin Iltutmish
1266-1286 Ghiyasuddin Balban
1290-1321 Khilji sultans
1296-1316 Alauddin Khilji
1321 -1414 Tughlaq sultans
1351-1388 Firoz Shah Tughluq
1414-1 451 Sayyid sultans
1451- 1526 Lodi sultans
1488-1517 Sikander Lodi
1526-1857 The Mughal emperors
1526-1530 Zahiruddin Babur
1530-1556 Nasiruddin Humayun
1556-1605 Mughal Emperor Jalaluddin Akbar
1605-1717 The other Great Mughals
1836-1857 The Last Mughal Bahadur Shah Zafar
Looking Back in Time
Delhi’s strategic location was an attraction to those from Central Asia who wanted to invade. Muhammad of Ghur (now central Afghanistan), invaded north India and took control of Delhi. His conquest allowed his general, Qutbuddin Aibak, to institute his sovereignty in the city. The Delhi Sultanate lasted until the early 16th century and developed the region significantly. Again, in 1526, yet another Central Asian invaded Delhi. He was Zahiruddin Babur whoBabur who took control of Delhi and facilitated the growth and reign of the Mughal empire for over 200 years in the subcontinent.
The Mamluk sultans
The Mamluk sultans were the first Muslim rulers of India. They ruled the country for 84 years. After the death of Muhammad of Ghur in 1206, a former slave, Qutbuddin Aibak, remained in Delhi; he was then enthroned as the sultan. Of note, Qutbuddin Aibak was not the only slave to have been crowned as a sultan throughout history. His son-in-law, Shamsuddin Iltutmish and Ghiyasuddin Balban were also slaves before they were enthroned. Both of these men were Il-bari Turks. You will find their tombs in the Qutb complex. Iltutmish, the third ruler of the Mamluk dynasty of Delhi established the Delhi Sultanate to Sind in the west and Bengal in the east. The eighth sultan, Balban, took absolute control and ruled with an iron fist. He was very successful in repressing uprisings and securing a peaceful kingdom. With the expansion of their empire, the sultans built magnificent monuments around the Qutb Minar to display their might.
The Khilji rulers
Jalaluddin Khilji was a member of an Afghan tribe. He seized power from Balban’s successors and set up the Khilji dynasty. The Khilji sultan who came after him was his nephew Alauddin Khilji. His ambition was to take control of all India. In pursuit of that goal, he successfully raided and conquered the wealthy kingdoms south of Delhi between the years 1299 and 1305. These victories allowed him to expand the sultanate. He was not only ambitious in his political goals, but he also had a big vision for the architectural landscape of India. This is seen in his elaborate design of the Alai Minar, which was created to compete against the Qutb Minar. However, it remains unfinished. There is also the outstanding Alai Darwaza, and the large extensions on the Quwwat- Il-Islam Masjid, which Aibak built.
The Tughlaq Sultans
Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq was the first Tughlaq sultan. He set up his capital at Tughlaqabad, the third of Delhi’s seven cities. Although the Tughluq dynasty had 11 rulers during its era, only those from the first three generations showed any major interest in architecture.
Firoz Shah Tughlaq, an inventive builder in those times built an additional fourth and fifth storey onto the Qutb Minar. He also established his own city called Firozabad located in the north of Delhi, along the banks of the Yamuna River. In addition, he used his creativity to build many rest houses and schools (madrasas). Hauz Khas in Delhi houses a madrasa and an L-shaped mosque that were both built by him.
Very little development was done to the Qutb complex by the Sayyids. However, Sikander Lodi of the Lodi dynasty repaired and restored the Minar. The octagonal tomb of Sikander Lodi is located in the Lodi Garden, Delhi.
Influences from Afar
The religious, architectural, and other aspects of northern India changed as the new inhabitants established their own religious and social ideas, which they brought with them. They introduced several new architectural designs and techniques. The local craftsmen were not left out because they too were able to use their native skills and creativity while they worked on the monuments the new rulers wanted built.
At one stage, the Hindu or Jain temples were raided and demolished. Some of the material from these temples were used to construct new buildings; for example, the Quwwat-ul-lslam Masjid in the Qutb complex. However, as time went by, this practice ceased and the materials to build these monuments were procured from neighboring areas.
The Central Asian rulers were credited with bringing a new architectural feature called the true or keystone arch as seen below. These arches were built with wedge- shaped stone blocks. Before the introduction of this new design, the local craftsmen used corbelled or “false” arches.
Aspects of the Minar
The Qutb Minar stands Minar stands a towering 72.5m (238ft) tall. Without doubt, it has to be one of the most perfect minarets to have ever been built in all history. Certainly, it is the tallest one in India. The width at the foundation is 14.4m (47ft), and it becomes narrower upwards to 2.75m (9ft). Thrice it was damaged by lightning: 1326, 1368, and 1503. After these acts of nature, the builders used iron clamps to fortify the stone joints, as well as to be lightning conductors. An interesting observation is that the Minar Tower leans approximately 0.6m (2ft) towards the southwest; however, it is not seen as a threat.
2. Courtyard of Quwwat-ul-lslam Mosque
3. Iron Pillar
4. Alauddin Khilji’s Tomb
5. Alai Darwaza
6. Tomb of Imam Zamin’s
7. Tomb of lltutmish’s
8. Alai Minar
9. The Central Courtyard
10. The Prayer Hall Screen
Quwwat-ul-lslam Masjid (Mosque)
Qutbuddin Aibak specially ordered the construction of the Quwwat-ul-lslam (Might of Islam) Masjid. It was the first mosque to be built in India where people gathered for worship. This structure was built between1193 and 1197. The mosque itself is made up of an elaborate screen, which is intricately decorated and a courtyard surrounded by pillared walkways on three sides.
The Iron Pillar towers some 7m (2ft) in the courtyard. The inscription embedded in it describes it as a beam of the Hindu deity Vishnu. It also memorializes King Chandragupta Il; hence, it appears to have been built sometime during the fourth-century Gupta period.
FUSION OF STYLES
This mosque showcases a new style of architecture that mixed the Islamic and Hindu decorative elements. The material to build this mosque was taken from some 27 temples that were destroyed. There is a unique blend of Islamic calligraphy and patterns on the mosque’s sandstone screen with Hindu motifs such as ghata- pallava (flower-pots), lotuses, and tasselledtasseled ropes on each pillar.
In 1197 when the mosque was completed, a maqsura (a screen that separates an enclosed prayer space) was constructed. The maqsura was built in front of the prayer hall by Aibak in 1199. It had a main central arch with smaller arches on both sides. The maqsura faces the west in the direction of Mecca. It appears as if it was modeled after the screen of the mosque in Medina built by Prophet Muhammad. Later, lltutmish and Alauddin Khilji developed the structure even more and enclosed the Alai Minar and Qutb Minar.
The Alai Darwaza was built by Alauddin Khilji in 1311 with exceptionally perfect proportions and a fantastically decorated exterior, It is located southeast of the Qutb Minar. Initially, there were plans to build four gateways to the Minar, but this was the only one that was completed because Alauddin died in 1316 before he could finish the building project.The Darwaza has a square shape with tall arched doorways that lead to the four main compass points. This was one of the first buildings to use the true arch, and it displays several inscriptional panels in marble, as well as detailed decorations in the red sandstone. The central arch is elevated to almost the entire height of the building and its bands are attractively ornamented with geometric, floral, and arabesque patterns. It is has a dome, which is supported by corner arches that set back into the wall. Sections of the upper wall’s surface have fallen off. In 1828 Major Robert Smith, a British military engineer did repairs to the structure, which resulted in the square outline of the current wall
A Builder with Visions of Grandeur
Not only did Alauddin Khilji build the outstanding Alai Darwaza, he also expanded the Quwwat-ul-lslam Masjid’s enclosure and screen. Along with that, he began the construction of the massive Alai Minar. The foundations of Siri wereSiri were built while Khilji ruled. Siri was the second city of Delhi, and it is also the first to be built by a Delhi sultan). Alauddin Khilji also built a madrasa, which was an educational institution and what would become his tomb eventually. He also commissioned the construction of a massive reservoir (hauz khas) to supply his fortress with water.
Imam Zamin’s Tomb
Imam Zamin, whose real name was Muhammad Ali, was a Sufi saint in the15th-century Sufi. He journeyed from Turkestan to Delhi during the rule of Sikander Lodi. It is possible that he held a prominent post in the Quwwat-ul-lslam Masjid. His tomb can be found next to the eastern gateway of the Alai Darwaza where it was built during the reign of Mughal emperor Humayun. This indicates that it was built later than the other monuments in the complex. The square-shaped building stands 16.5m (54ft) high and is embellished with marble coverings above the sloping eaves (chhajjas).
To protect from the glare of the sunlight, sandstone screens were placed on three sides of the tomb. The detailed geometrical designs and star shapes are their distinct features.
Alauddin’s Madrasa and Tomb
The madrasa of Alauddin Khilji is located to the southwest of the Quwwat-ul- Islam Masjid. Alauddin built this structure as a school to teach Islamic scripture. The complex is made up of small chambers, some positioned with their fronts toward the lawn with four sides (quadrangular). It is covered by high domes and the arches of the doorways jutt out of the walls. A large square structure is located to the south of the court. This is believed to be Alauddin’s tomb. You can still see the remnants of the porch that extends outward; however, the original dome, which stood on top of the wall has disappeared.
Shamsuddin lltutmish succeeded Qutbuddin Aibak and in 1235 constructed this tomb for himself. The tomb is situated to the northwest of the Qutb complex close to the very extensions he made to the Quwwat-ul-lslam Masjid. Initially, the tomb was covered by a dome, which was propped by “squinch arches” a kind of true arch. However, because the local artisans had limited knowledge about how to build true arches, the dome collapsed.Unlike many of the structures in India, the outer walls of this tomb are not decorated; they carry bands that are simply carved. Quite the contrast is the tomb’s interior, which is splendidly decorated with geometric and arabesque designs, as well as Quranic engravements in Naskh and Kufic lettering.
The Alai Minar is not far away from the Quwwat-ul-lslam Masjid and Alauddin’s madrasa. In fact, it requires just a short stroll to get there. You will notice that this minaret is unfinished. Alauddin Khilji built the first storey in 1315, but he died in 1316 before he could develop it any further. The structure is 24.5m (80ft) tall. The original plan was to build it two times the height and size of the Qutb Minar. It was a part of Alauddin Khilji’s great project to expand the Ouwwat-ul-lslam Masjid to twice the size it was originally. The Alai Minar was built on a high platform
By Air: If you are an international traveler, you can visit New Delhi through the Indira Gandhi International Airport. Local travelers can board flights to and from the domestic terminal of the IGI Airport.
By Rail: If you are travelling by train, all the cities in India are connected to New Delhi by the Indian Railways.
By Road: All the cities in India are connected to New Delhi by road. Taxis, auto rickshaws, and luxury coaches buses are easily available for a fee to take you to the Qutb complex.
Between the months of October and March are the ideal times of the year to visit Delhi. Visitors are welcome to visit the Qutb complex from Sunrise until Sunset each day. The fees to enter are different for visitors and citizens. If you are a citizen of India or ana SAARC country (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation), the entrance fee is Rs 50 per head. For visitors from other countries, the fee is around US $8 or Rs 600 per head. You will be happy to know you are allowed to take photographs in the Qutb complex, so do don’t forget to bring your camera with you. Below, we have outlined a few of the important items you should travel with when visiting India.
↳ Water to drink, torchlight, sunblock, mosquito repellent, map or guidebook, loose change
↳ In the summer, travel with light cotton clothes to beat the heat and in the winter, woolen clothing to keep you warm; credit cards or travelers’ cheques (optional, but recommended) umbrella or raincoat, hat, and footwear you can easily take off
↳ The restroom, baggage counter and parking area is located near the ticket counter. Please be aware that food is not allowed inside the complex
↳ Entrance is free for children under the age of 15 (Indian and Foreigners)
↳ A separate line is reserved for foreign visitors. This will reduce your waiting time
There are a number of organized tours through the Qutub Minar Complex, if you are interested.
Places to Visit in the Vicinity
Although Delhi’s popular tourist attractions are not located near-by, there is still plenty to see and do in the Mehrauli area. Next to the Qutub Minar lies the Mehrauli Archeological Park where more than a hundred historical relics like tombs, stepwells, mosques and palaces, some dating back a thousand years can be viewed. The park can be visited free of charge every day between sunrise and sunset