One of the identities of Delhi… as the Leaning Tower is associated with the city of Pisa… or the Eiffel Tower with Paris… so is the Qutab Minar one of India’s most noted monuments, towering way over other monuments, it is recognized worldwide as one of the world’s top ‘Most Famous Towers!’
Soaring at a height of 72.5 meters, thus ‘tower of victory’, was built in 1193 by Qutab-ud-din Aibak immediately after the defeat of Delhi’s last Hindu kingdom. A fluted red sandstone tower, the Qutub Minar is covered with intricate carvings and verses from the holy Quran and according to speculations was used to call people for prayer in the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque. However the tower being so high the person standing on the top could not be heard!
Inspired by the Minaret of Jam in Afghanistan, the Qutub Minar is a five storied structure; the stories are surrounded by a projected balcony encircling the Minar and supported by stone brackets, which are decorated with honeycomb design, more conspicuously in the first storey.
While the construction for its victory tower began with Qutub-ud-din Aibak, only the first storey was completed by him, the other stories were built by his successor Iltutmish, while two circular stories in white marble were built by Ferozshah Tughlaq in 1368, replacing the original fourth storey.
Close studies show the development of architectural styles from Aibak to Tuglak is quite evident in the minaret. Numerous inscriptions in Arabic and Nagari characters in different places of the Minar reveal the history of Qutab; according to the inscriptions on its surface it was repaired by Firoz Shah Tughlaq (AD 1351-88) and Sikandar Lodi (AD 1489-1517).
A marvel in itself, the Qutab Minar is not only known for its exquisite architecture, but is also significant for what it represents in the history of Indian culture, as being one of the earliest and most prominent examples of Indo-Islamic architecture. The Qutab Minar, the first monument of Muslim rule in India, heralded the beginning of a new style of art and architecture that came to be known as the Indo-Islamic style.
An art form that is neither a local variant of Islamic art, nor a modification of Hindu art; Indo-Islamic architecture is an assimilation of both the styles, though not always in an equal degree. Differing from region to region, there is no standardization. Originating when rulers from different parts of the Muslim world, came and settled in India; bringing along various artistic traditions of their regions, and thus giving birth to a new art form. This amalgamation of indigenous and beautiful architectural styles was possible due to a variety of factors, some of them being Muslim rulers in most cases, used Indian craftsmen and sculptors who were schooled in their own art traditions.
Another speculation was that this art form originated as often materials from Hindu and Jain temples and sometimes temples themselves were modified into mosques. Though both the Indian and Islamic styles have their own distinctive features, some common characteristics made fusion and adaptation easy.
While today the tower doesn’t allow visitors to enter, it is said that from the top of the towers, you can get a bird’s eye view of the city. The Khilji and Tuglaq kings used to look out for Delhi from atop this tower. Also seen from here is Hauz Khaz on the left and the walls of the Jahanpanah and Siri on the right. Other important monuments that are visible from the top are the walls ofTughlaqabad, Humayun’s Tomb, Purana Qila, Firoz Shah Kotla and Jama Masjid.
However a visit here is not just restricted to the tower as there are numerous monuments within the Qutab complex apart from the Qutab Minar. Some of them include the Quuwat-ul-Islam Mosque, the first mosque to be built in India. Though in ruins today, still seen here are indigenous corbelled arches, floral motifs, as well as Islamic practices such as squinches (setting arches diagonally to a square to support a dome), calligraphy, and geometric patterns.
To the west of the Quuwat-ul-Islam mosque is another remarkable building, the Tomb of Iltutmish, built by the monarch himself in 1235. Again an interesting example of the Indo-Islamic style, one can see a fusion of Indian and Islamic decorative motifs – the lotus and the wheel belonging to the former tradition and geometric arabesque patterns and calligraphy from the latter genre. While the dome no longer exists, the corbelled squinches testify to an early amalgamation that went wrong, a flaw that characterizes early Indo-Islamic architecture.
Standing in the courtyard of the Quuwat-ul-Islam mosque is the 4th-century Iron Pillar, 7.2 m high, and 37 cm in diameter. While the origin of this pillar is a mystery, the pillar has distinct Hindu inscriptions from the Gupta period. What remains a mystifying factor is that despite being exposed to the elements, the pillar has remained rust-free. According to popular belief, anyone who stands with his back to the pillar and encircles it with his arms will have his wish granted!
Other monuments within this complex include the Alai Darwaza and the Alai Minar built by Ala-ud-din Khilji (1296-1316). The Alai Darwaza is the magnificent gateway with inlaid marble decorations and latticed stone screens that display the remarkable artistry of the Turkish artisans who worked on it, while the Alai Minar was conceived of as a tower greater than the Qutab Minar, but its construction was abandoned after the completion of the 24.5-m-high first storey.
Also present within its complex are the tombs of Ala-ud-din-Khilji, Imam Zambian, a Sufi saint from Turkestan who came to India during the reign of Sikandar Lodi (1488-1517) and Muhammad Quli Khan, one of Akbar’s courtiers. Ala-ud-din Khilji’s mausoleum and a madrassa are also close by.
Built on the ruins of Lal Kot in the city of Dillika, the capital of the Rajput Tomars and the Chauhans, who were the last Hindu rulers of Delhi, the Qutab Complex is thus symbolic of Delhi’s ability to assimilate, integrate, and yet come up with something new and remarkable.