ON THE QUTB MINAR

Dr Brahma Bharadvaja Is the Qutb Minar a Hindu building? If the testimony of Maj.-General W.H.Sleeman, K.C.B. is believed, it is a ‘foolish notion’ among some people, who are ‘over fond of paradox’. And this notion is supported by some British administrators like Cunningham, and the historians like Vincent A. Smith. Let us examine whether it is really a ‘foolish notion’. While teaching history or describing and discussing historical events and buildings, facts should not be suppressed. The historian should present all the facts faithfully and sincerely, and allow the reader to conclude. He may give his opinion, but should not try to impose it; bare open facts. It is in this context that we discuss the ‘Qutb Minar’. ‘Qutb Minar’ is one of the most important building in Delhi, nay a world heritage. The inquisitive mind immediately asks, “Who built it?”. The answer to it is a complicated knotty problem. When suggested that it was built by Qutbud Din Aibak, Sir Saiyyad Ahmed Khan’s spontaneous response to it was: How this tower could have been made by a Muslim? And Maheshwar Dayal has noted this opinion in his “Dilli, Meri Dilli” (Hindustan Times Publication, 1978). Let us now know what the Qutb Minar is; how it looks like. The Qutb Minar is a tower; the outer of it is built in red and buff sandstone, whereas the interior is of grey hard compact freestone. It is 72.5 meter high, and has 379 steps to climb up the top storey. The diameter of its base is 14.3 meters and that of the top floor it is 2.7 meters. The tower is beautifully ornamented with carvings. The lower storey of the Minar has 24 flutings alternatively semi cylindrical and angular. The second storey has semi cylindrical flutings and the third only angular ones. The highest two do not have any. They are plain white marble. All storeys are surrounded by a projected balcony. They encircle the Minar and are supported by stone brackets which are ‘decorated with honeycomb design’. It is more conspicuous in the first storey.

The Qutb minar has balconies at the height of 90’, 140’, 180’ and 204 feet from the ground. The first three storeys have ribbons of passages in cufic characters. The first storey has five horizontal belts, the second four and the third only three horizontal belts. There are numerous inscriptions also in Arabic and Nagari characters at different places of the Minar. According to some inscriptions, the Minar was repaired by Firoz Shah Tuglaq, Sikandar Lodi and also by Major Smith in 1829. The Minar complex has two more things which need mention. One is the Jami Masjid or the ‘Quwwatul Islam Mosque’, and the other is the ‘Iron Pillar’. The Tomars and Chauhans had built several temples within the Lal Kot, and they were all pulled down by the Muslims and their stones reutilized mainly in the Quwwatul mosque (see Y.D.Sharma, Delhi and its Neighbourhood, Published by the Director General, Archaeological Survey of India, New Delhi, 1982). These temples were 27 in number both Hindu and Jain (Vincent A. Smith, Oxford History of India, Third edition, 1958, 1970 p. 238). The Iron Pillar is 22’high on the ground, and 1’8” under ground. Diameter at the base is 16.4 inches, and that of the capital 12.05 inches. The height of the capital is 3.5 feet. At the distance of a few inches below the surface it expands in a bulbous form to a diameter of 2’4” and rests on a gridiron of iron bars which are fastened with lead into the stone pavement (A.S.R. vol. iv, p. 28). The pillar has an inscription in Sanskrit, in Brahmi script which reveals its identity. According to the inscription it was set up as a ‘Vishnudhwaja’ on the hill known as ‘Vishnupada’ by King Chandra. It is held that the Gupta King belonged to the 4th century AD – Chandragupta II (373 – 413). The Vishnupada hill needs to be identified; and whether it was transplanted or originally installed at the present site, also needs to be examined. Purpose Why was the Minar built? And built so high to reign supreme over all other minars of the world – both in height and beauty? Various explanations are offered. First, the Minar was built by Prithviraj to enable his daughter to see the Yamuna daily from here. Second, it was built by Qutbud Din Aibak for the use of muaddhin to call the people for the namaz (prayer). Third, it was a part of an observatory. Fourth, a nagari inscription

2

on the minar calls it Allauddin’s ‘Victory Column’ (Vijaya Stambha) (Y.D.Sharma, op cit. p.54). The first explanation if accepted, one will have to answer the question: was it the only purpose? It does not appear logical. It may be used as the secondary service. Then the question remains: what was the primary and the main purpose? Was it for azan by a muazzin? If so, who could climb the stairs five times a day? And with what strength the person would he be who could cry so loud that he could be heard by the masses to collect for the namaz? To serve the object of the muazzin it was too high. Ferguson is also of the opinion that the Qutb minar ‘is any thing else than a mazina’ (History of Indian and Eastern Architecture). The current name ‘Qutb Minar’ “refers to the saint Khwaja Kutb-ud-din of Ush, who lies near the tower” (Vincent A. Smith’s note in Sleeman, op. cit.).It is also said that its purpose was to honour this saint. But some other explanation is that it is the ‘Victory Tower’. Any explanation should catch the imagination of the reader. But contradictory arguments negate one another. And again, it did stand much superior in strength and beauty to the main mosque – Quwwatul Islam, now in a state dilapidated lying near by. Sir Saiyyad Ahmad Khan also notes that the towers for the azan had to be two not one; and also to be situated close to the mosque and not at a distance. The entrance should be from the east and not from the north. And the third objection was that they are built on a platform. But the Qutb is raised from the ground without a platform. In short, it does not conform to the norms of the Islamic tradition. Then what was the purpose it served? Was the minar part of an observatory? If so, did it have any big telescope? No such traces are available. Then, it may be like the Jantar Mantar, or the one at Udaigiri near Besnagar, Vidisha and Sanchi. The idea has some ground. The word ‘Qutb’ also means the axial tower, (see: T.P. Spear, Delhi: Its Monuments and History, updated & annotated by Narayani Gupta & Laura Skyes, Oxford, Delhi, 1994). The tower was in the centre of some 27 temples around it, which were destroyed by the muslim raiders and the material of them was used in the Quwwatul Islam mosque and other constructions (Oxford History of India, op.cit.). These 27 temples represented twenty seven Nakshatras

3

(constellation, lunar asterism). The shadow of the tower indicated the position of the Sun in the sky. There should be some water pond also nearby. Again the location name ‘Miharauli’ is significant. “Miharauli itself is derivable from ‘Mihirpuri’, and it suggests that a sun temple may have also existed here” (Y.D. Sharma, op. cit., p. 16). It is the corrupted form of ‘Mihiravali’.

Who Built the Tower? Let us now consider the question: who built this tower? There are different opinions on this point. One is that it was built by Rai Pithora, i.e., Prithviraj the Chauhan ruler. The contradictory view is that it is a muslim building, the foundation and the first storey of which was built by Qutbud Din Aibak and the other storeys were raised by his successor Iltutmish. But, the Qutb minar, says Vincent A. Smith, was erected by about AD1232 by Sultan Shams-ud-din Iltutmish alone (“Who Built the Qutb Minar?”, East & West, December 1907, pp.1200-5). “The statement in most of the books, including Fanshawe (pp. 265-8) that it was begun by Sultan Qutbud-Din is erroneous” asserts Vincent A. Smith (see his note in Sleeman, op. cit.) A Muslim Building? In this context let us see what the persons say in support of the claim that it is a muslim building. W.H. Sleeman does not find any Hindu building in India ‘like or of the same kind as this’ ( Rambles and Recollections of an Indian Official, London, J. Hatchard & Sons, 1844, Vol. 2, pp 255-6). Perhaps he did not see the Kirti Stambha of 12 th C standing erect in Chittaurgarh, or the Vijaya Stambha of Maharana Kumbha built later there in AD 1440. The Kirti Stambha is 22 meter high, and the second one 37 meter high. Sleeman has also referred to the ‘ribbon of passages from the Koran’, but has ignored the Nagari characters there. To him, the unfinished minar was commenced first, which the historians say was started by Alaud Din Khalji (AD 1296-1316). Another British, Thomas Seymour Burt (Account of Voyage to India Vol. 2; Account of an excursion in search of Ancient inscriptions and other relics in India,

4

Allahabad, 1847, pp 185-90) holds the opinion contrary to Sleeman. He holds: (1) In no original muslim building remains of Hindu building are found. But in the Qutb tower, many stones contain nagari letters and inscriptions. (2) The remains of the second minar exist in a parallel line with the Qutb, which is of larger diameter at the base. ‘The composition of the masonry is absurdly different’. The stones of the ruined ones are generally smaller, irregularly shaped and heaped up in much disorder. (3) The gateway close to it is also in a state of dilapidation and destruction, because its masonry is also like that of the second minar. All Hindu buildings, including the Qutb, still remain erect. (4) Neither on the gateway nor on the masjid at Delhi, nor on any other muslim building are to be found characters other than Arabic, - in no case nagari or Sanskrit characters. (5) “Stair case is evidently of Hindu composition; look at the curved returns of the stairs – who will show me a Mussulman structure having them in any part of India’. (6) About the use of red stone, outside the building, Burt holds the opinion that ‘the structure is evidently newly coated with red stone’. The interior of the Qutb is ‘positively all grey hard compact freestone. Red stone is not near so strong as the grey’. (7) The Arabic outside is scarcely at all injured by time, whereas the Hindoo writing inside is injured by time. “Time therefore claims it for the Hindoos, and so I!”. In conclusion, he observes: “the Moslem has tried to turn this splendid Hindoo relic into a Mohammedan one, and I hope he is here shown to have notoriously failed”. The Iron Pillar In this context one more question may be examined: the presence of the “Iron Pillar” in the courtyard of the Quwwatul mosque. The pillar, as the Sanskrit inscription thereon reads, was set up as a dhvaja of God Vishnu on the hill known as Vishnupada in the memory of the King who had left this world to live in the paradise; may be this king is Samudragupta, father of Chandra. King Chandra is identified with Chandragupta II of AD 375 – 413 of the imperial Gupta dynasty. Vincent A. Smith (see notes to Sleeman, op.cit.) suggests that King Chandra is Chandra-varman of Pokharan, Rajasthan. On the top of the pillar there is a deep hole; may be the image of garuda or a charka was fitted

5

into it. This would have been in conformity with the Vishnudhvaja. It is conjectured that it was brought here from somewhere; from where no body knows. It will not be illogical to suggest that the pillar was original set here. A temple existed where the mosque was built after razing down the temple. In the Qutb complex a four armed image of Vihnu dated in Samvat 1204 (i.e., AD 1147) was found to the southeast of the tower. This image of Vishnu is exhibited in the National Museum, New Delhi (Y.D.Sharma, op.cit.). It seems the pillar was originally fixed here, and the place was called then the Vishnupada. The imagination is not far fetched in view of the fact that Ashokan rock inscription is also found at some place in Delhi, and two Ashokan pillars also exist. Also it had been installed here before the Muslims came; the muslims are not said to have done it. If so, who did it? Who Hindu king destroyed the observatory at some part of India and brought the pillar to Delhi? The Hindu kings are not in the tradition in destroying Hindu temples or such other buildings. Concluding Before concluding the discussion on the ‘Qutb Minar’, we should also examine the following questions: (1) Art and culture flourish when there is peace and stability in the kingdom, and not when in turmoil or war torn. Qutbud Din and his successor Iltutmish were engaged in warfare, and had little time for development of the finer taste. They annihilated the places and temples of the larger Hindu society. Buildings like Quwwatul mosque were built with the material from the debris of the destroyed temples. And, perhaps, this prompted Kabirdas to say “kankar pathar jod ke masjid layi banaya”. (2) If the minar was built by Sultan Iltutmish alone, it is interesting to know that the Sultan’s reign lasted for about 26 years, from AD 1211 till his death in AD 1235. And the building of the Qutb minar took about forty four years to complete (Sleeman, op.cit.). (3) Qutbud Din and his successor could not get the architects, masons and other workers from their country, and they are said to have depended on the Hindu team.

6

(4) The Mosque at Ajmer and at Delhi have collapsed, but the Qutb Minar stands erect with its grandeur, with some periodical repairs of course. (5) Why the mosque was allowed to crumble down and not repaired periodically? The identity of the Qutb minar is the victim of the imperialist machinations. It is an example of how the facts are distorted and misrepresented to suit the imperial design. E-mail : bbharadvaja@yahoo.co.in

7