Who Built The Qutub Minar? A New Fight Over History
The story of Qutub Minar is as diverse and layered as India's history and culture. Now, a former ASI official has claimed that it was constructed by Raja Vikramaditya and not by Qutb al-Din Aibak.
New Delhi: As cases are fought in various courts over the Gyanvapi mosque in Varanasi, there's a new controversy brewing in the capital city, over the Qutub Minar.
Earlier this week a former officer of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), Dharamvir Sharma, claimed that a 1200-year-old statue attached to a pillar in the structure of the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque in Qutub Minar complex is of Lord Narasimha and devotee Prahlad. Soon the television channels jumped on the bandwagon.
However, a senior officer from the ASI told BOOM that the claim made by Sharma is his own and "no serving officer has any role to play."
Sharma, who was the regional director of the ASI, claims that the statue dates back to the period of the Pratihara kings in the eighth-ninth century. The archaeologist has identified this statue of Lord Narasimha.
A senior ASI officer, who did not want to be named, said that the ASI has placed cultural notice boards in the complex describing the monuments and their genesis. "Everybody knows the fact that the complex was built after breaking 27 Jains and Hindu temples. This is a known fact and there is nothing new in it. It is there for decades. If you go to any monument, there is a brief written outside every monument. The claim made is not anything new. There was this Arabic inscription found inside the complex which explains how the Minar and Mosque were built," the officer said.
Layered history of Qutub Minar
The 72.5-metre-high Qutub Minar is known as Delhi's enduring symbol and is the world's tallest brick tower. The Minar has the finest specimens of Islamic craftsmanship as well. Surrounded by other monuments in middle of lush green compound, this UNESCO World Heritage Site attracts around three million visitors annually.
The story of Minar is as diverse and layered as India's history and culture.
Inside the Qutub complex, Alai Darwaza, Quwwat -ul- Islam mosque and the Iron Pillar showcase the coexistence of the architectural heritage and styles of various faiths, sometimes a harmonious blend and a hasty juxtaposition at others.
The entire history of the construction, started by Qutb al-Din Aibak, the first ruler of the Delhi sultanate in 1198 to the additions by Sultan Iltutmish and repairs by Sultan Firoz Shah and Sultan Sikandar Lodi, is documented in the inscriptions inside the Minar.
The fact that the same architect who supervised the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque was in-charge of the minar further strengthens the theory that the first storey was built by Qutbuddin Aibak, the first king of the Mamluk dynasty. He completed only the base of the minar before his death in 1211. His son and successor, Shamsu'd-din Iltutmish (1211-36), added three more storeys.
In the 14th century, the minar was damaged due to lightening and later, Firoz Shah Tughlaq constructed its topmost part, a fine specimen of workmanship in white marble and red sandstone.
The Quwwat-ul- Islam mosque situated on the west side of Qutub complex, though in ruins, is one of the most magnificent structures in the world. The construction of this mosque was also started by Aibak in 1193 and was completed by 1197.Architect Richa Bansal Aggarwal explained the 'new era' of architecture of the Qutub complex in her piece in Sahapedia, where she writes, "It can be concluded that the Qutub complex marks the threshold of a new era of architecture in India which came to be known as Indo-Islamic architecture. The complex presents an excellent collage of medieval art and architecture with an amalgamation of Persian, Arabic and Indian styles."
She notes that Aibak's rule had "a great influence on the subcontinent's culture, faith, art and architecture".
The mix happened naturally as the complex was built on the ruins of Lal Kot that had 27 Hindu and Jain temples, a fact the builders themselves inscribed on the monuments.
Historian and author Rana Safvi told BOOM that there are various theories regarding the builder of the Qutub Minar. Sir Syed attributed the first storey to Prithviraj Chauhan who is believed to have built it for his daughter so that she could view the Yamuna as part of her daily worship.
Safvi explains that the arguments put forward by Syed have been soundly repudiated as the Minar is clearly inspired by the two Ghaznavid minarets of Jam and Siyah Posh in Ghazni, Afghanistan.
"No doubt it was the work of Hindu masons but to be sure, prior to the arrival of the Turks, there was no concept of a minar in India, that could have inspired Prithviraj Chauhan to build the first storey of the minar. As far as such structures go, there was a victory tower in Chittor, but very different in design. Moreover, it was also not possible to see the Yamuna, which was at a distance from the first storey even in those days," Safvi said.
Former ASI officer Sharma who has raised questions on the monument's history believes that the minar (which he calls a sun tower) was constructed in 5th century by Raja Vikramaditya, "I have a lot of evidence regarding this," he had said.
He explains that the minar has 25-inch tilt on the top. "It is because it was made to observe the sun and hence, on June 21, between the shifting of the solstice, the shadow will not fall on that area for at least half an hour. This is science and archaeological fact," he had said.
The Minar itself is the tallest ashlar masonry minar in the world with a height of 72.5 metres or 237.8ft, with 379 steps, and a base diameter of 14.3 metres or 46.9ft, tapering to 2.75 metres or nine feet at the top. It is built of red and buff sandstone and it has five storeys and four balconies. It stands on a plinth of approximately two feet from the ground.
In the book 'The Last Hindu Emperor', author Cynthia Talbot notes that Qutb al-Din Aibak chose the pre-existing fortified site as the base of his Delhi operations. He commemorated his successes on the battlefield with the construction of the lofty Qutub Minar tower.
Safvi, in her book 'Where Stones Speak', quotes Tarikh-e-Mukhtasar, a book by Abdul Fida who calls the Quwaat-ul-Islam mosque as the 'Mazinah of the Juma Masjid of Delhi.
"Don't snatch our livelihoods"
Sitting on a bed under a tree inside the ticket counter compartment of the complex, 38-year-old Gupta, a tourist guide from Delhi was offering his services to the passing tourists.
"I have been working as a guide for two decades and I have read all facts and history about this place. For us, this is only a tourist place and thousands of people who work in and outside the place are making their living from it," he said.
A few hundred meters away from the Minar, Mehrauli is filled with people from various religions living next to each other.
"Hundreds of people come to this market for shopping. We have already faced a lot of hardships because of the pandemic induced lockdown. But this year our business is growing again," said Manoj, a shopkeeper.
He said that for mere political benefits, the claims made by people will only fetch losses. "For God's sake, don't make this (Qutub Minar) an issue and snatch our livelihoods. This can lead to religious hatred and eventually law and order problems. Then, the court can anytime order to lockdown the place like it was sealed a few days ago," said Manoj.
On May 10, a Hindutva group — Hindu United Front — announced that they will recite the Hanuman Chalisa inside the premises of Qutub Minar. They staged a protest outside the minar demanding to rename the monument as "Vishnu Stambha." They claimed that the monument used to be a temple before the minaret was built.
Also Read: 'I Skipped School': How Right Wing Groups Mobilised Qutub Minar Protest
The place was closed for visitors for nearly three hours after the Delhi Police along with CRPF troops sealed all the entry points leading to the minar to stop the protestors from entering the place.
A caretaker who works in the Qutub complex said that people from all communities visit. "No one has ever questioned the history of this place. If we go into history and start digging from Afghanistan to Sri Lanka, we will find thousands of Hindu statues. Will that change anything?" he asked.
"There were both Hindu and Muslim rulers in India and it is obvious there would have been mosques and temples. Should we start demolishing everything then?"
He says that people who visit the Qutub Minar come there for its architecture and the magnificence of it. "They don't see this place as a religious place," he said.
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