Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Qutb Group of Monuments Part One

The Qutb Group of Monuments in Mehrauli, New Delhi, is a group of monuments constructed by various kings who ruled Delhi over a period of time. The Qutb Group of Monuments includes the Qutb Minar, Alai Darwaza, Iron Pillar, Alai Minar, Ruins of demolished Hindu and Jain Temples, Sultan Iltutmish's Tomb, Sultan Ala ud din Khalji's Tomb, Madarsa (Islamic Seminary) constructed by Ala ud din Khalji, Arch Ruin of Quwwat ul Islam Mosque, Smith's Folly, Sanderson's Sundial, Tomb of Imam Zamin. There are, of course, other monuments of equal historical and archaeological importance which surround the Qutb Group of Monuments and form a part of the Mehrauli Archaeological Park.

The Qutb Group of Monuments were built (as per timeline) by the Hindu Rajas (till 1192), the Mamluks Sultans (Qutb ud din Aibak 1206-10  and Shams ud din Iltutmish 1211-36), the Khalji Sultan Ala ud din (1296-1316), and the Tughluq Sultan Feroze Shah (1353-88). Each of the rulers mentioned above have left a deep imprint on the history of India as well as on this Complex.

Period of Hindu Rajas

The first rulers who constructed monuments (temples) in this area were the Tomars and Prithvi Raj Chauhan II, who got constructed 27 Hindu and Jain (Jainism) temples. The ruler Anangpal Tomar also got shifted, the iron pillar which was located originally at Udayagiri, in the 10th century, to its present location.

 Some of the remaining pillars of the destroyed Hindu and Jain temples. Observe the carvings of bells, chains e.t.c. over them.

 One of the more beautifully carved and still standing pillar.

Most of those temples were demolished by Qutb ud din Aibak who reused the materials for the construction of the Quwwat ul Islam Mosque and the Qutb Minar (as per a Persian inscription on the inner eastern gateway). Although some portions of the temples outside the mosque were left untouched, and they remain standing there till this date. Historical records compiled by Muslim historian Maulana Hakim Saiyyid Abdul Hai confirms the destruction of the temples by Qutb-ud-din Aibak.

 Observe the carving of a bell with chains hanging from a mythical creatures mouth

Some shafts of the temple columns, decorated with carved human figures covered in bracelets and cable and link chains terminating in bells or tassel rosettes, were left alone. On some of the overhead slabs, representations of Vishnu and Buddha along with lotus motifs are still visible.

One of the biggest wonders in the Qutb Group of Monuments, apart from the Qutb Minar, is the (over 1600 years old) Iron Pillar. This Iron Pillar is 7.21 m (23 ft) high and 14,354pounds (6511 kgs) in weight. It is located right in front of the arch ruin of Quwwat ul Islam mosque and is notable for the composition of the metals used in its construction.

 The Iron Pillar

 Arch Ruin of the Quwwat ul Islam Mosque and the Iron Pillar standing next to each other

The pillar, is said to have been fashioned at the time of Chandragupta Vikramaditya (375–413) of the Gupta Empire. The pillar was originally erected in front of a Lord Vishnu Temple complex at Udayagiri around 402 AD, and later shifted by Raja Anangpal Tomar in 10th Century AD from Udayagiri to its present location. Raja Anangpal built a Vishnu Temple here and wanted this pillar to be a part of that temple.

 Inscriptions over the Iron Pillar

The pillar has attracted the attention of archaeologists and metallurgists and has been called "a testament to the skill of ancient Indian blacksmiths" because of its high resistance to corrosion, due to both the Delhi environment providing alternate wetting and drying conditions, and iron with high phosphorus content conferring protection by the formation of an even layer of crystalline iron hydrogen phosphate.

Period of Mamluk Sultans (Qutb ud din Aibak and Iltutmish)
Qutb ud din Aibak was a general in the army and a slave of Mohammad Ghori. So when Mohammad Ghori (after his invasion of India) went back to Afghanistan he left him (after making him Naib us Sultan) in charge of his territories in India. Iltutmish too was a slave (later a son in law) of Qutb ud din Aibak. So this is where the term 'Mamluk' (or a soldier of Slave origin) gets attached to these rulers and their dynasty.

They were the first Islamic rulers to govern India. They did so effectively and efficiently in matters of defence and administration. These rulers also constructed quite a few monuments amongst which the most iconic is the Qutb Minar.

Qutb Minar

The other monument of reputation built by them is the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque (Might of Islam) (also known as the Qutb Mosque or the Great Mosque of Delhi). It was the first mosque built in Delhi after the Islamic conquest of India and the oldest surviving example of Ghurid architecture in Indian subcontinent.

Entrance to the Quwwat ul Islam Mosque

The construction of this Jami Masjid (Friday Mosque), started in the year 1193 AD. The Qutb Minar was built simultaneously with the mosque but is a stand alone structure, built as the 'Minar of Jami Masjid', for the muezzin to perform Azan (call for prayer) and also as a 'Qutb - an Axis or Pole of Islam'.

Side View of the mosque

The mosque is built on a raised and paved courtyard, measuring 141 ft (43 m) by 105 ft (32 m), surrounded by pillared cloisters added by Iltutmish between 1210 and 1220 AD. The stone screen between prayer hall and the courtyard, standing 16 mt at its highest was added in 1196 AD, the corbelled arches had Arabic inscriptions and motifs.

By the time of Iltutmish, the Mamluk empire had stabilized enough that the Sultan could replace most of his conscripted Hindu masons with Muslims which explained why the arches added under Iltutmish are stylistically more Islamic than the ones erected under Qutb ud din's rule, also because the material used wasn't from demolished temples.

Inscriptions above the entrance of Quwwat ul Islam Mosque

The beautiful interiors of the dome of the mosque (the materials used here were taken from the demolished Hindu temples)

The mosque is in ruins today but indigenous corbelled arches, floral motifs, and geometric patterns can be seen among the Islamic architectural structures.

Another structure of importance in the Qutb Complex built during the Mamluk Period was the Tomb of Emperor Iltutmish, (1211-1236 AD).

The Tomb of Iltutmish. The prayer niche (Mihrab) is visible behind the grave.

The central chamber of the tomb is 9 sq. mt and has squinches, suggesting the existence of a dome, which has since collapsed. The main cenotaph, in white marble, is placed on a raised platform in the centre of the chamber. The facade is known for its ornate carving, both at the entrance and the interior walls. The interior west wall has a prayer niche (Mihrab) decorated with marble, and a rich amalgamation of Hindu motives into Islamic architecture, such as bell-and-chain, tassel, lotus, diamond emblems.

The No-Nonsense Travel Advice
Name of the Monument
Qutb Complex
Constructed By
Emperors Qutb ud din Aibak, Iltutmish and Others
Period of Construction
12th, 13th and 16th centuries. Repair works carried out during 14th, 16th and 19th centuries.
Mehrauli, New Delhi
How to Reach
(By Metro) Get down at Qutub Minar Metro Station (on the Yellow Line) and walk the short distance OR take an Auto Rickshaw from your Starting Point OR take a Hop-On-Hop-Off sightseeing bus which is run by Delhi Tourism. Fare is Rs 300 for Adults and Rs 150 for children. Checkout Delhi Tourism website for details.
Entrance Fee
. Citizens of India and visitors from Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Maldives, Afghanistan, Thailand and Myanmar - Rs. 10 per head
. Visitors from other countries -
Indian Rs. 250/- per head
. (Free entry to children up to 15 years)
Suggested Reading

(To be continued.......)

(Starting from the previous week's edition of Delhi-iteful Tuesdays you would be presented a fresh and acutely informative series christened Destination Delhi. This series would cover the beautiful and historical city of Delhi in detail and present you every 'landmark' worth visiting. So, Discover and Enjoy..)