Standing tall in its red and buff sandstone glory, the Qutub Minar is symbolic of the biggest power shift in Delhi’s history. In the 12th century, Mohammad Ghori ousted the Rajputs and his successor, Qutub-ud-din Aibak laid the foundation for the Delhi Sultanate. This victory reshaped the city’s culture and architecture and this sky-scraping minaret was soon built to commemorate it. Whether it was used as a watchtower, or by the muezzin to summon the faithful to the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque next-door, the Qutub Minar remains one of Delhi’s most treasured monuments, receiving close to three million visitors a year.
It is 72.5 m tall, with a base diameter of 14.3m. It tapers to about 2.7 m at the top.
Some believe it was named after Qutub-uddin Aibak, who started its construction in 1202. Others claim it is named for Qutbud-
din Bakhtiar Kaki, a Sufi saint greatly respected by Aibak’s successor Iltutmish.
The Qutub Minar has gradually developed a tilt of approximately 25 inches southwest.
The Qutub Minar originally had five levels. Firoz Shah Tughlaq added a cupola on top, which was destroyed by an earthquake in 1803. There are 379 steps leading to the top. Each storey has a balcony that encircles the tower. However, because of a fatal stampede in 1981, visitors are not allowed inside anymore.
The outer walls of the structure are inscribed with Arabic and Nagori characters. Some of these are verses from the Quran, while others tell of the tower’s history, and describe the changes and renovations made through the ages.
In the early 13th century, Alauddin Khilji planned to build a tower nearby called the Alai Minar, twice as high as the existing minaret. However, only about 25 m had been constructed, when he died. With nobody else sharing his ambition, the Alai Minar ascended no further.
There is a seven-metre-tall pure iron pillar in the courtyard of the mosque next door to the Qutub Minar. It hasn’t rusted in the slightest, mystifying scientists and metallurgists. Although it has now been cordoned off, it is believed that any wish you make will be fulfilled if you rest your back against the pillar and wrap your arms around it.
Appeared in the December 2012 issue as “Qutub Minar”