Monday, October 3, 2011

Delhi – my highlight, The Qut’b Minar

This relatively unknown and little publicised site was quite a revelation to me in 2001 and for all the other relics of the Mughal era it makes a great impression in terms of the scale of their ambition and their devotion to Islam, from the magnificent Qut'b Minar itself to the completely bonkers conept of the Alai Minar (a 500 foot tall stone tower in an earthquake zone!).

In 1193 the Governor of Delhi (and later first sultan of the Lodi slave dynaty) Aibak built India’s first mosque here. The Quwwat-ul-Islam Masjid (might of Islam mosque). The site over time including a mosque, a number of tombs, a college (madrasa), and the magnificent Qut’b Minar that was begun by Aibak and is a red sandstone and marble 240 foot high intricately carved tower.

Aibak had the first storey built and the next three were completed by his son-in-law Iltutmish. Later Feroz Shah Tughluq built two further storeys in 1368 made of Makrana marble (partly to replace some lightning damage) and added a cupola at the top that was removed by the British and now sits apart in the gardens.

The Minar is richly decorated with fluting up each stage and elaborate platforms.

More on the Qut'b Minar

The mosque is laid out on a large rectangular pattern covering an area of 43m by 33m enclosed by cloisters. The mosque was extended by both Iltutmish and later Ala-ud-din who carried out a number of other works.

The mosque was largely built from twenty-seven Hindu and Jain temples that were demolished in the area and re-used that can be seen in the remaining columns of the mosque cloisters.

Aibak built the huge five-arched screen (maqsura) in 1199 covered in deeply incised Qur’an verses.
The Sanskrit inscribed Gupta iron pillar is thought to be 4th or 5th century and its origins and casting are unknown, it carries the legend that anyone who can encircle it with their arms will have their wish granted.

The tomb of Iltutmish (ruled 1211 to 1236) is here and is richly carved in keeping with the surroundings.

More on the tomb

The Alai Minar was initiated by Ala-ud-din (ruled 1296 to 1316) and abandoned at his death. The core of the first storey stands some 75 feet tall and is impressive in the scale of its ambition the intention being that it would be twice the height of the Qut’b Minar.
More on the Alai Minar
Ala-ud-din built a college  complex here for Islamic studies (madrasa) that later incorporated his tomb. The college is a quadrangle surrounded by high walls lined with rooms with an entrance in the west.

Ala-ud-din also added the Alai Darwaza gateway in 1311 being the first example of wholly Islamic principles in its geometric design and ornamentation. Built in red sandstone it has bands of white marble that are heavily inscribed under its large dome.
More on the Alai Darwaza

The Imam Zamin tomb is a much later addition being early 16th Century. The Imam is said to have come from Turkestan to the court of Sikander Lodi. The tomb was built during his lifetime (he died in 1539) and has typical Lodi period features particularly in its perforated screens.

Qut'b photo collection:

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