Qutub-Minar made of red and buff sandstone is one of the highest stone towers in the world. Built in the 13th century, the magnificent tower stands in the Indian capital of Delhi. Characterised by humungous proportions, the tower has a diameter of 14.32m at the base and about 2.75m on the top with a height of 72.5m and has 379 steps towards the top. An architectural marvel of the medieval period, it was built to commemorate the victory of invading Islamic armies over the native Hindu rulers.
Like most of the monuments built during the Muslim rule in India, Qutub Minar is located within a complex that consists of other important monuments like the iconic Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque, the Alai Darwaza, tombs of important personalities of the time like Iltutmish, Ala-ud-din Khilji, Imam Zamin, the awe-inspiring Iron Pillar and; the unfinished rival of Qutub Minar- the Alai Minar etc. Considering its strategic status in the Indian history, the UNESCO declared it a world heritage monument.
While a visit to the Qutub Minar complex is a must visit for tourists, many do not understand its context. Arguably one of the most pivotal monuments, it symbolizes the continuity of invading powers in India and the Minar is inevitably associated with the ascension of Muslim rule in India. It was constructed to overwhelm and subdue the native populace. As a visible and potent symbol of power, it continues to play an axis role in the Indian political psyche.
Even before the arrival of the invaders, Delhi has had a long history. The remains found during archeological excavations in Delhi and adjoining regions have pushed its identifiable history back to pre-historic period. Though its fortune seems to have fluctuated intermittently, the site seems to have been continuously inhabited from early times. The most important reason for its fame has been its association with the Indian epic “The Mahabharatha”. According to popular legends, main characters of the epic including the protagonist Krishna & the members of the Pandava family lived here in their fabled capital Indraprastha. There was a village by the same name located near the Old Fort or Purana Quila till the early 20th century. However, hard archeological evidence to support the presence of Indraprastha has remained elusive. For the simple minded, evidence is a matter of conjecture-They believe this was the land where their God Krishna lived among the mortals. This very association places Delhi at the psycho-geographical cross road in India.
There are various versions regarding the founding of Delhi including a story about a king called Dillu who named the place “Dilli” or Delhi. The most accepted version says that Its founder was the Tomar king Anangpal. Archeological evidence suggests that the Tomar clan ruled the area from 700AD. They were based out of Suraj Kund now located in Haryana state. In Delhi, the rulers constructed the fort (naturally Hindu) called the Lal Kot. Lal Kot stands for the red city or the Red Fortress. In the medieval times Rajput clans were vying with each other for territory and the north western India Including Ajmer, Sambhar & the area constituting Delhi came under the suzerainty of the Chauhan (Chahamana) Rajput Clan. The ruler Prithviraj Chauhan ruled the Delhi and its surrounding areas. Considering the symbolic importance of Lalkot, Prithviraj expanded the fortress city and branded the newer parts as Quila-Rai-Pithora.
The area comprising Lalkot & Quila-Rai-Pithora remained symbolic of an imperial Hindu past. This area was deliberately chosen by Qutb-ud-din Aibak the general who led the invasion on behalf of Mohammad Ghori to build the Quwwat- ul- Islam Mosque & the Qutub Minar. The construction of these monuments and the presence of the leaders of Invasion in it transformed Delhi’s fortunes and it was branded as the crux of legitimate political power. Every sultan who came after Aibak wanted to own this piece of land for political legitimacy. Most of them tried to leave behind organised permanent structures mostly in the form of a city including the last colonial force on Indian soil-the British. There were a total of eight cities built in Delhi. They are:
(1) LALKOT & its extension Quila-Rai-Pithora, built by the Rajput Kings.
(2) SIRI-built by Alauddin Khilji
(3) TUGHLAQABAD-built by Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq
(4) JAHANPANAH-built by Muhammad bin Tughlaq
(5) FEROZ SHAH KOTLA-built by Feroz Shah Tughlaq
(6) PURANA QUILA-built by Sher Shah Suri
(7) SHAHJAHANABAD-built by Mughal Emperor ShahJahan (He was also the builder of Taj Mahal)
(8) NEW DELHI-Built by the British
ARCHITECTURE & ITS ASSOCIATIONS WITH POWER:
Power-relationships are omnipresent in this world and such relationships exist across all species. The underlying objective of a “power-relationship” is to acquire the ability of one entity to influence the behaviour of another. In humans chasing this power seems to be an overwhelming compulsion. Architecture has always been used by political rulers to emphasize their power and to overwhelm masses reminding them about the futility of rebelling against imperial might. Monumental architecture involves deliberate play with solids and void to plan space in order to influence mass behaviour. In earlier times it was one of the effective ways of the state to exert control.
The role that architecture has played in public life throughout history, whether in homage to an individual or as a monument to an institution or ideology, has always been a potent symbol of wealth, status and power. From castles to cathedrals, from the pyramids to palaces, architecture has been used effectively to glorify in some way the animating ideal of the time. Visual stimuli always act from a certain distance & architecture demands sensory involvement imprinting powerful visual images in the mind of the viewer thus resulting in “sensory intensification” affecting perception. Perception being a dynamic phenomenon is a malleable concept and is influenced by both psychological and physical symbols. Ingrained with the tendency to change over time, perception can be actively influenced by architecture.
Colonial architectural monuments in India reveal the aesthetic preferences of the ruler, his aspirations & power struggles and material culture of a society. Medieval architecture in India serves as a medium to understand the constant struggle of a society that was being pulled apart by two opposite and strong religio-cultural forces: that of the inhabitants’ and the conquerors. These buildings were the outcome of complex totalities fundamentally motivated by religion, ideology and politics. They were spectacular manifestations of state manipulation of a visual culture. Building monuments remained an important part of the political agenda of a multitude of conquerors. Formal architecture like mosques, tombs, palaces, forts and utilitarian structures like bridges, dams etc played important roles in unifying land & its inhabitants under the ever-changing dynasties. Spectacular buildings directly and indirectly served the current dynasty in power. Triumphal structures like Qutub Minar constructed by Victors wear testimonies to their great military power. Most of the rulers being Muslims had to keep emphasizing their commitment to the principles of their religion in order to retain the loyalty of their soldiers. Religion and politics being interrelated concepts, the associations with authority were an important rationale for the proliferation of mosques in India. Destruction of temples & building of mosques in their place was a clear testament of the ruler’s dedication to Islam. Analysis of medieval Indian architecture including the Qutub Minar Complex demonstrates how the organization of the space and the disposition of the buildings created almost a symbolic map of Islamic power.
Though in the earlier times, the concept of a political India did not exist, there were various factors including geographical, cultural, religious and political factors that lend it a semblance of unity including a common religion. This subcontinent was administered by rulers both small and big whose writ ran within their political boundaries. India was rich yet, has a fragmented political landscape making it a temptation for invaders. Many have invaded the land including Alexander the great. Most of these invaders looted and returned to their homelands or settled down in India eventually losing their distinctiveness and becoming one with the inhabitants.
It was the ascent of the ambitious Mohammad Ghori in Afghanistan that became a game changer. Ghori wanted to enlarge his kingdom and chose to cross the Hindu-Kush Mountains to nibble at the borders of the Indian Sub Continent. His incursions began in 1175 AD. He did meet with resistance and he won and lost territory. He conquered Multan and then tried to do the same with the region that more or less constitutes the contemporary Gujarat region. He was unsuccessful in taking Gujarat. In subsequent attacks, he conquered the Peshawar region and built a fort at Sialkot in 1181 AD. He cobbled an alliance with the King Jayadev that enabled him to put an end to the rule of the Ghazni Dynasty in Punjab and seize Lahore in 1186 AD. These successes fuelled Mohammad Ghori’s appetite for more land. A larger stake in India now seemed a reality for Ghori. His acquisitions had brought the conqueror closer to the borders of the land ruled by the warrior king-Prithviraj Chauhan. Prithviraj belonged to the powerful Rajput clan that ruled the most powerful kingdom in northern India.
PRITHVI RAJ CHAUHAN:
Prithvi Raj Chauhan, (1166-1192 AD) belonged to the Chauhan (Chahamana) dynasty and ruled Delhi and its adjoining areas. His clan ruled one of the most extensive kingdom that included Ajmer, Sambhar and Delhi in northern India during the latter half of the 12th century. The Chauhans consolidated their kingdom by conquering & amalgamating neighboring kingdoms including the Chandela Rajputs of Bundelkhand. Chauhan rule it included much of northwest India including contemporary Rajasthan, Haryana, parts of Uttar Pradesh, and Punjab. Arguably, Prithviraj was one of the most powerful kings in northern India.
Known for his ambition and courage, his military exploits made him a legend during his lifetime. His daring kidnap and subsequent marriage to Princess Samyuktha, the daughter of Jai Chandra Rathod, the king of Kannauj is a part of popular romance. His life and death were romanticized & celebrated in the epic poem “Prithviraja Raso” written by his close associate and Courtier Chand Bardai. Prithviraj Chauhan was the last independent Hindu king to sit upon the throne of Delhi.
THE BATTLES OF TARAIN (1191 & 1192):
Having come close to Prithviraj’s dominions, in 1191, Mohammad Ghori captured a fortress in Batinda region. Ghori couldn’t hold temptation and sounded the bugle of war with Prithviraj. He faced a tough adversary in Prithviraj. The Rajput army was led by Govindaraj-the vassal of the king. The two armies met at the town of Tarain or Taraori near Thanesar located in contemporary Haryana State approximately 150 Kms north of Delhi. In this war, Prithviraj was able to create a coalition of contemporary rulers including King Jayadeva-the ruler of Kannauj. Ghori came across unexpected resistance and lost the battle terribly. It is said that he was severely wounded and barely escaped the battlefield with the help of a water bearer.
Ghori felt insulted and craved revenge. He did not have the reputation of being an intelligent general. Till he turned to India, he was known more for his defeats than military successes. He more than made-up for his weaknesses with his zeal. India was meant to be a redemption point for him. Despite a humiliating defeat, he returned in the next year 1192. This time, however circumstances favored him and he was able to win the battle and what a decisive win it was! The second battle of Tarain was pivotal in the politico-military history of India. It was the beginning of loss of political power for its rulers and its inhabitants. The decisive defeat of Prithviraj who had the aura of a daring superhero had a spiraling effect. Having tasted blood, Ghori’s armies suddenly turned into Machines of destruction and victory. The army marched forward and reached virtually unchallenged towards Ajmer. Disheartened by the defeat of their contemporary, Rajput kingdoms like Saraswati, Samana, Hansi, Kohram fell without making the aggressors sweat much. After these successes, the Ghurid army turned its attention to Delhi and captured it too. Just about a year after his victory in the second battle of Tarain, Mohammad Ghori controlled much of northern and central India including sumptuous portions of Rajasthan and the fertile Ganges-Yamuna Doab area. Ghori’s Indian possessions were organised with Delhi as the pivot. Delhi saw itself emerging into political limelight. The limelight added glamour to the land and began its metamorphosis. This small piece of land was permanently associated with the notion of power.
Ghori was not “blessed” with heirs. In the medieval period, slaves were an integral part of an emperor’s life. The slaves played crucial roles including helping their Lords maintain and expand their empires. Considering their important roles, the slaves were well trained in various aspects including warfare. Many slaves rose to positions of importance based on their exhibited capabilities. The role they played in Ghori’s political matrix is highlighted in his reply to a courtier’s lament that he didn’t have heirs: “Other monarchs may have a son or two; but I have thousands of them (the slaves). They will be the heirs of my kingdom and after me will take care of the task of preserving my name in the khutbah (political speech delivered after the Friday prayers) throughout my territories. After the assassination of Mohammad Ghori, his slaves divided his territory among themselves after his death.
The battle for Indian territories was led by Ghori’s capable & ruthless general Qutub-ud-din Aibak. He was a slave of his king and had to wait till his assassination in Afghanistan to free himself. Once freed, Aibak declared himself the ruler of Ghori’s Indian possessions and established the “Mamluk” or slave Dynasty in 1206. The Mamluk dynasty was the first among the dynasties that went on to be known as the “Sultanate of Delhi”. The importance of the ascension of Aibak may be understood in the words of Paul K. Davis who writes: “Though Islam was introduced into India several centuries previously, after this battle a Moslem ruled India, especially northern India, until the fall of the Moghul Dynasty in 1857”.
The construction of Qutub Minar played a vital role in the entrenchment of rule of Islamic kings in India. Its construction was well planned and symbolizes the domination of invading powers in India. The story of Qutub Minar is inevitably associated with the beginning of political imperialism in India.
The soldiers of Ghori entered a territory that was inhabited by people who followed a religion that was anathema to their religious beliefs. They appeared strange in their beliefs, manners and psychological make-up. With their king (Prithviraj Chauhan) dead and the sudden shift in political leadership, the chances of the new victors’ ability to settle down in the new territory remained slim. Atrocities by itself might not have guaranteed success thus along with barbarity, Aibak used the most important and time tested tool to play with the minds of his “subjects”-RELIGION.
Even before he officially took over the reins as sultan, Aibak laid the foundation of the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque. One of the prime reasons for its speedy construction was the invaders desperate need for a prescribed place of worship in the new lands. The first Mosque to be built in Delhi after the Islamic conquest of India, it remains the oldest surviving example of Ghurid architecture in the subcontinent. Built on a raised and paved courtyard, measuring 141 ft. X 105 ft, It is a simple structure surrounded by pillared cloisters. The main mosque comprises of an inner and outer courtyard, of which an exquisite colonnade, the pillars of which are made of richly, surrounds the inner decorated shafts.
Sounds simple? Read on. The mosque was built on the foundations of the largest Vishnu temple within the vicinity of Lalkot. The eentrance to the courtyard used ornate mandap dome from temples & pillars extensively throughout the edifice. These were obtained from the 27 Hindu & Jaina temples nearby destroyed and plundered to construct the mosque. It was also constructed by captive Hindu masons. It is, therefore, not surprising that the Muslim mosque has typical Hindu ornamentation.
Immediately after the site for the mosque was selected, Aibak began the destruction. For his weary troops who had travelled with far from their motherland, this destruction was symbolic of to the destruction of idols in Kabaa by Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). By this act, he endeared himself to his soldiers presenting himself as a ghazi or religious warrior. Aibak also made a huge statement to the native inhabitants. His destruction of their sacred spaces symbolized the powerlessness of their pagan Gods. The iconoclastic tendencies of the invaders are evident even today at the site as the carvings of gods and godlings on pillars have been crudely disfigured. Yet in creating a worship place for a religion that was diametrically dissimilar to natives, a power statement was made-“My god is more powerful than yours”. Interpreting it in contemporary terms “this was great propaganda”.
Visible to masses and understood by them for its simplistic symbolism, the first Islamic structure within the Qutub Complex, “Quwwat-ul-Islam” (meaning “might of Islam”) mosque majestically stood as a symbol of dominance. It stood for the ability of the invader to wipe-out the familiar and comforting skylines of Delhi thereby creating sensory-deprivation to its inhabitants. This was done to break the spirit of the inhabitants and reduce or impair any chances of rebellion. In order to proclaim his intentions loud and clear, Aibak unabashedly put-up an inscription in Persian on the inner eastern gateway that “the mosque was built by the parts taken by destruction of twenty-seven Hindu and Jaina temples”. Either due to paucity of time, convenience or deliberately, the plinth of the temple built by the Hindu kings were left intact created the illusion of a dominant mosque within the perimeters of a temple (of the defeated people). In an asymmetrical merger, the powerful illusion of an aggressive religion taking over an intense but non-aggressive religion was complete. This mosque remained the symbol of Islamic domination. This association was powerful and subsequent sultans also wanted to have a stake in its symbolism. It was expanded by Shams-ud-din Iltutmish and Alauddin Khilji.
Overall, Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque is reminiscent in style and design of the Arhai-din-ka Jhompra or Ajmer mosque at Ajmer, Rajasthan, also built by Aibak during the same time, also constructed by demolishing earlier temples and a Sanskrit school, at the site.
In its finished state, the Minar is a symbol of architectural perfection and is known to have no parallel in the world. The foundation of Qutub Minar was laid in A.D. 1199. The tallest stone minaret in the world is clearly inspired by many other structures found in the Islamic world including the Minaret of Jam in Afghanistan. The Qutub Minar has five distinct storeys, each marked by a projecting balcony carried on muqarnas corbel. Qutub Minar went on to be one of the most important “Towers of Victory” in the Islamic world.
The construction of Qutub Minar seems to have begun at the same time as the mosque but its completion took far longer than the Mosque. While the story of the construction of the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque spread far and wide, its visual impact was point- blank meaning people who saw it, was impacted by its sheer proportions and symbolic meaning. The Minar was a more potent symbol that could have a mass-visual impact as it was positioned as the Qutub, an axis or pole of Islam. It could be seen from far. It has been suggested by many scholars that the original purpose of building Qutub Minar was to facilitate the mu’azzin (crier) to call believers for prayer. Considering the height of the Minar, it would take a superbly fit & athletic Mu’azzin to climb the 379 steps five times a day.
Aibak lived only to see the completion of the first storey. Other three storeys were built by his son in law and successor Iltutmish. Qutub Minar served as the tower of victory-the victory of Islamic warriors against the predominantly Hindu, Jaina & Buddhist Inhabitants who couldn’t stand up to the might of their conquerors. The balcony on the first floor of the Minar which could have been used by the mu’azzin to call the faithful for prayers. A loud mu’azzin calling the faithful could be heard for quite a distance five times a day, reminding the conquered their altered status.
Originally Qutub Minar comprised of only four storeys made up of red and buff sandstone. When the top floor (fourth) was damaged due to lightning strike, Feroz Shah Tughlaq the then reigning sultan ordered repairs in 1368. He replaced the damaged uppermost storey with the two marble stories (a way of gaining permanent stake in its construction). Thus today the Minar stands grandly with five floors.
The Iron Pillar is located within the courtyard of the Qutub Complex. It is one of the world’s foremost metallurgical curiosities with an estimated weight of the decorative bell of the pillar is 646 kg. The main body weighs 5865 kg taking the weight of the pillar to 6,511 kg. It rises to a height of 7.20 m, with 93 cm buried below the present floor level. The reason for awe and wonder is that despite being made of iron and exposed to vagaries of nature for over 1000 years, it has not rusted thus, representing an excellent example of advanced metallurgy of those times. Recent researches have suggested that the metal that constitutes the pillar is pure malleable iron. Its unrusted state has also fuelled myths. It is believed that one who can encircle the entire column with their arms, with their back towards the pillar, can have their wish granted.
The iron pillar is clearly a Hindu structure. It bears inscription in Brahmi script prevalent from the fourth century A.D. Recent research suggests that it was probably relocated from a different location. It is estimated that it was set up as a Vishnudhvaja (standard of god Vishnu) on the hill known as Vishnupada in memory of a mighty king named Chandra most probably Chandragupta II Vikramaditya (375-414 AD). originally erected in front of a Vishnu Temple complex at Udayagiri around 402 AD, It has a deep socket on the top of the ornate capital indicates that probably an image of Garuda was fixed into it as was common practice. There are two stories about it. One story says that it was brought to Delhi by Anangpal, the founder Delhi. Most of the evidence supporting this story has been gleaned from legends. There seems to be a consensus among researchers that it was Iltutmish who shifted the pillar from Udayagiri to its present location around 1233 AD.
TOMB OF ILTUTMISH:
To build ones own tombs within politically significant physical spaces was considered to be a great and rare honour. Thus, such opportunities for anybody other than the ruler himself, his blood relatives or spiritual guide was denied. As the true consolidator of the Delhi Sultanate, Iltutmish claimed this privilege as his right. The tomb of Iltutmish (A.D. 1211-36) was built in A.D. 1235. It is a plain square chamber of red sandstone, profusely carved with inscriptions, geometrical and arabesque patterns in Saracenic tradition on the entrances and the whole of interior. The central chamber is a 9 mt sq. and has squinches, suggesting the existence of a dome, which has since collapsed. The cenotaph, in white marble is place on a raised platform in the centre of the chamber. The tomb is ornately carved including the façade and interior walls. The west wall in the tomb has a mihrab decorated with marble, and constitutes rich carvings such as bell-and-chain, tassel, lotus, diamond emblems etc.
TOMB OF ALA-UD-DIN KHILJI:
Located at the back of the Qutb Minar complex, southwest of the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque, Ala-ud-din -Khilji’s tomb is located within the remains of an L-shaped construction. The tomb has been dated to 1316 AD. In its vicinity lies a madarsa or Islamic seminary built by him. Khilji was a powerful conqueror and the second Sultan of Delhi from Khilji dynasty, who ruled from 1296 to 1316 AD. The central room of the building, where his tomb is open to the sky having lost its dome. Many rooms of the seminary or college are intact, and since been restored. This is also the first example in India where a tomb is located beside a madarsa. In keeping with his reputation as a conqueror, ala-ud-din styled himself as the second Sikander (Alexander). He was known to be a megalomaniac as well as an orthodox Muslim. It was but natural that he claimed his place in the unique symbol of Islamic Victory in Hindustan.
Alai- Darwaza, the southern gateway of the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque was constructed by Ala-ud-Din Khalji in A.D. 1311 as recorded in the inscriptions engraved on it. This building employs Islamic principles of construction and ornamentation including true arches and true domes. It is decorated with red sandstone and inlaid with white marble decorations, inscriptions in Naskh script; latticed stone screens and showcases the remarkable craftsmanship of the Turkish artisans who worked on it. It is considered to be one of the most important buildings built in the Delhi sultanate period. With its pointed arches and spearhead of fringes, identified as lotus buds, it adds grace to the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque to which it served as an entrance.
The unfinished tower of Ala-ud-din Khilji, Alai Minar stands to the north of Qutub-Minar. He wanted to rival the Qutub Minar and planned its construction in such a manner that once finished, it would be double the size of Qutub Minar. Alai Minar symbolizes the megalomania of its patron Ala-ud-din Khilji who clearly understood the symbolic importance of the Qutub Minar. Ala-ud-din Khilji no doubt was a great conqueror. He expanded his territory towards the southern parts of India. He conceived a very ambitious construction programme after his returned in triumph from his Deccan campaign. He started the construction of Alai Minar, after he had doubled the size of Quwwat ul-Islam mosque. He wanted his tower to be two times higher than Qutb Minar in proportion with his enlarged mosque. After his death, work on the Minar was abandoned and its rump stands at an extant height of 25 m.
During the Islamic rule, iconoclasm was a part and parcel of political administration. It was done for political gains or was an outcome of intolerance. These acts did have powerful political outcomes. The contemporary historian should interpret these acts keeping in mind the sensitivities of the time. Most of the conquerors including the Romans destroyed the worship places of their rivals. This does not mean ratifying such brutal acts but to interpret them by understanding that in those times these tactics were common. The idea here is to learn how domination was achieved in the medieval period and how monumental architecture played a crucial role in this political matrix.