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Meghna Paul Mar 20 2014

What is the history of the Qutub Complex?

Kanika Nevatia Mar 20 2014
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The Qutub Complex comes with a grand history starting with a precision that is only possible in textbooks. 1192 is chosen as the landmark year in which, with Prithviraj Chauhan‘s defeat at the hands of Muhammad Ghauri, ‘Islamic rule’ in India began. Ghauri, an Afghan, wanted to avoid the spread of family feuds to his newly conquered territories, and put his Turkish slave-promoted-to-general Qutubuddin Aibak (instead of his royal Ghauri relatives) in charge at Delhi. Interestingly, the Rajput accounts of the time speak of the conquerors not in terms of their religion but of their ethnicity, as Turks (‘Turushka’), and, irrespective of a shared religion, the conquerors fought bitterly over power on ethnic grounds over centuries to come.


Photo of Qutub Complex (by Planemad)

The presence of three such dynasties — Slave, Khilji and Tughlaq — can be seen in this complex itself. When Aibak and fellow Turks set out to rule at Delhi, there was no mosque available. They may well have been in a hurry to proclaim the victory of Islam but they must have been in a hurry to have a place to pray in. However, the army contained no artisans, while the local craftsmen had no idea of mosque design. So they took the simple option of dismantling the existing ‘infidel’ Hindu and Jain temples in the area and using their parts for the mosque. And that is why walking into the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque, the oldest mosque in India (1192-98), is such an unsettling experience. You enter a courtyard surrounded by more than a hundred richly carved pillars, with the most un-mosque-like voluptuous gods on all sides, and just a west-facing prayer wall to do the religious needful.


Photo of Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque (by Abhijeet Rane)

The star attraction of the Qutb complex is, of course, the Qutb Minar (1200-1210) itself, started by Aibak but finished by Iltutmish. Note how the minar becomes narrower as it goes up, thus decreasing the load on the lowest storeys, and adding to the illusion of extra height. The two topmost storeys, which stand out for being made of marble instead of red stone, were added later by Feroze Shah Tughlaq.


Photo of Iltutmush's Tomb (by BazaNews)

Iltutmish’s Tomb (1235) stands at a corner of his extended mosque. Walk into this deceptively simple building, and the lace-like tracery of Quranic injunctions on all sides takes your breath away. Look up and you see the sky because the dome covering the tomb collapsed long ago — and herein lies another story. The dome was a feature of Islamic architecture being introduced to India for the first time. Local artisans had never made a round dome sit on a square room and this tomb is a case of a failure of their early attempt to do so. But the dome was achieved. An example can be seen in the Qutb complex itself, in Allauddin Khilji’s Alai Darwaza (1311), built as the southernate of yet another huge extension to Aibak’s mosque.


Photo of Tomb of Alauddin Khilji (by steveks)

A tale of further architectural development is conveniently narrated at the Alai Darwaza because right next to it stands the Tomb of Imam Zamim (late 15th century), a functionary at the mosque. Note the increased use of marble in this tomb, how intricately the red sandstone jaalis are carved in it, and how its dome rises gracefully above the tomb, as opposed to pressing down on it as in the Khilji building.



Photo of Tomb of Imam Zamim (by Arun)

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