The Qutb complex, holding the famous five-storeyed Qutub Minar, is a site of monuments and buildings collection situated at Mehrauli in the national capital, Delhi. Also spelt as Qutub, the 72.5 m high Qutub Minar was constructed to commemorate the victory of ruling power over Delhi in 1192 A.D. by Qutbuddin Aibak, the general in Ghazni’s Mohammed Ghori’s army.
Qutbuddin then was the first monarch of the Slave Dynasty. After his demise, the descendants Iltutmish and later Firoz Shah Tughlaq, a Tughlaq Sultan of Delhi in 1368 A.D., Alauddin Khilji, and the British added to the Minar. The Qutub Minar complex had attracted more visitors as compared to the Taj Mahal in 2006, which earned it the fame of the India’s most visited monument in 2006, ahead of the Taj Mahal.
Originally adorned with a complex of 27 Jain shrines, these temples were damaged and their rubble was utilized in building the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque, which is besides the Qutub Minar. The entire complex was built on the debris of Lal Kot Fort built by Tomar Rajput ruler in 739 A.D. and Qila-Rai-Pithora, city of the Rajput king – Prithviraj Chauhan who was killed by the Ghori’s armies in the Second Battle of Tarain. Currently, the complex covering over 100 acres, the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) has developed it as the Mehrauli Archeological Park wherein 40 structures are renovated.
Apart from the Qutub Minar, the other worth visiting structures in the complex are the Alai Darwaza; the Alai Minar; Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque; the Iron Pillar; and the tombs of Iltutmish, Alauddin Khilji, and Imam Zamin enclosed by relics of Jain shrines. Let’s go through these beautiful ornaments of the complex.
The Alai Darwaza (Alai Gate)
The primary domed entrance to the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque from its south; it is the first monument to exhibit the principles of the Islamic architecture in India. Initially, the Slave Dynasty utilized false domes and arches not really representing the Islamic style. This earns the fame to the structure of using true Islamic domes and arches.
Erected in 1311 A.D with the help of Turkish artisans, the red sandstone, inlaid white marble embellishments, inscriptions in Naskh script, and latticed stone screens form the beauty of this structure. The first Khilji Sultan of Delhi, Alauddin Khilji was the historic hero who built this magnificent structure and a court on its east. Among the key buildings in the Delhi sultanate era, sharp arches and lotus buds further augment its beauty.
The Qutub Minar
Part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site including the adjacent monuments, Qutub Minar is known as the Victory Tower to mark the victory against the Rajput king known for its intellect and bravery – Prithviraj Chauhan. It also signified the culmination of the Hindu empires and advent of the Muslim era in India, which ended only after the arrival of the British in the 19th century. The tallest brick minaret on Earth exhibiting both Afghan and indo-Islamic architecture, the monument was based on the Minaret of Jam in Afghanistan.
Comprising of five distinct storeys, each one holds a balcony on muqarnas corbel and shrinks from the diameter of 14.3 m at the base to 2.7 m atop, at a distance of 379 steps. However, Aibak could only build the first storey, which is full of praise to Mohammed Ghori. Aibak’s son-in-law and descendant, Iltutmish, built the other three storeys. After bring smacked by lightning in 1368 A.D. for the first time, its top storey was blown off. Then, Firoz Shah Tughlaq, the later Sultan of Delhi (1351-1388) built the current two floors of white marble and sandstone, a distinct multicolored style in contrast with the lower three storeys. Therefore, the minar exhibits clear deviation of the architectural styles of the Tughlaq era and that of the Aibak’s time.
Interiors inlaid with overlaid cylindrical shafts and exterior with the fluted columns, the exterior is further adorned with thick finishing of red and off-white sandstones enclosed by strips of elaborated sculpting done in Kufic style of Islamic calligraphy. An Arabic inscription on it indicates that it was the place for the muezzin to gather the loyals for namaz (Islamic prayer), as the monument is near the Quwwat Ul Mosque. Inscriptions further inform that the minaret witnessed more repairs in 1503 ordered by Sultan Sikander Lodi after it was again affected by lightning. Another sign of progress in architecture in those times are the inscriptions in a bold and cursive Thuluth script of calligraphy that are set apart from the thick strokes atop.
In 1803, an earthquake damaged the structure with the fall of the cupola atop on the ground. Later in 1829, Major R. Smith of the Royal Engineers reinstated the monument where the Bengali-style chhatri (canopy) replaced the cupola. This actually did not suit and so in 1848, the Governor General; Lord Hardinge ordered to take it to the external lawns of the complex now called as the Smith’s Folly.
Since 1981, only the Qutub archaeological area is allowed to visit after an accident in the minaret. The striking phenomenon is that the seismic monitors on the minar since 2004 showed no signs of damage in the 2005 earthquake due to lime mortar, rubble stonework, and rocky soil that have the capability of grasping the tremors.
Literally meaning the Might of Islam and also called as the Qutb Mosque, Jami Masjid – Friday Mosque, and the Great Mosque of Delhi, this is the first mosque in Delhi built after the advent of the Muslim era in India. Erected by Aibak in 1193 A.D. who was the pioneer of the Mamluk or Slave Dynasty, this is the most ancient exemplary structure exhibiting Ghurids architecture in India. During the period of construction, Aibak was the leader of Muhammad Ghori’s battalion who seized Delhi.
Aibak also ordered to build the Qutub Minar along with the mosque as the ‘Minar of Jami Masjid’ where Qutb means an Axis or Pole of Islam. Its style and design is based on the Adhai-din-ka Jhonpra or Ajmer Mosque at Ajmer in Rajasthan, which was also erected on the orders of Aibak simultaneously by destroying the former temples and a Sanskrit school. The remains of the demolished 27 Jain temples built during Tomars and Prithviraj Chauhan formed the material of construction of the mosque; while certain parts of the temples were still intact. This is evident on a Persian inscription on the inner eastern domed gateway.
Erected on a smoothly elevated courtyard, later additions include the enclosing pillared cloisters by Iltutmish somewhere between 1210 and 1220 A.D. and the stone screen amidst prayer hall and the courtyard in 1196 A.D. The five-corbelled arched screens with Arabic inscriptions, floral motifs, and geometric design welcoming you, the entrance exhibits lavish mandap dome from the temples whose pillars withstand in the entire structure including in the sanctuary beyond the arched screens. These screens once acted as a series of walkway comprising of low-domed ceilings for the devotees.
Additions to the mosque were done even after Aibak when his successor Iltutmish expanded the prayer hall screen by additional three arches of the Muslim style. This time the materials were not the rubbles of the demolished temples, but were true materials to exhibit the Islamic style. The next one in the line to make the additions was Alauddin Khilji who made the Alai Darwaza. The west side of this mosque holds the tomb of Iltutmish built in 1235 A.D.
The Iron Pillar
Situated in the courtyard behind the arched screens of the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque, this pillar with a bell is among the world’s primary marvels. 7.21 m high and carrying six tonnes of weight, Chandragupta II Vikramaditya built this pillar in 402 A.D. at Udayagiri before a Vishnu Temple complex. Later, Iltutmish brought the pillar to its current location somewhere in 1233 A.D.
The weight of the decorative bell being 646 kg and the main body of 5865 kg, there is an inscription in Sanskrit in Brahmi script of 4th century A.D. According to this, the pillar was a Vishnudhvaja, flag of Lord Vishnu (the perpetuator of life) established on the Vishnupada hill as a tribute to Chandragupta II. Atop the pillar is a deep socket that indicates the place of an image of Garuda fixed earlier.
The Tomb of Iltutmish
Iltutmish was the second Sultan of Delhi from 1211 to 1236 A.D. and his tomb was built in his presence in 1235 A.D. The central chamber was adorned with a dome, which had collapsed later indicated by squinches. In the middle of the chamber is the tomb of white marble built on an elevated platform. The front part is decorated with elaborate carving, while the interior west wall is adorned with a prayer place and Mihrab of marble and lush Hindu motives such as bell-and-chain, lotus, and diamond crests.
The Tomb of Imam Zamin
Erected on an elevated courtyard adjacent to the Alai Darwaza, is the tomb of Imam Muhammad Ali or Imam Zamin. A sandstone masterpiece with a dome, its interior is embellished in polished white plaster and detailed jalis or lattice screens in the style of Sikander Lodhi’s architecture. There is an inscription on its eastern entrance that informs about Imam Zamin as a saint from Turkistan who came in India in around 1500 A.D. Built when he was alive, he was buried in this tomb in 1539 A.D.
The Alauddin Khilji’s Tomb and Madarsa
This is an L-shaped structure at the rear of the complex in the southwest direction of the mosque. It houses the Alauddin Khilji’s tomb made in 1316 A.D. and a Madarsa that is an Islamic college; the first one in India of such a unique combination. Both made by Alauddin Khilji, he was the second Sultan of Delhi from 1296 to 1316 A.D. representing the Khilji Dynasty. The middle room holding the tomb is now without the dome and many college rooms are still unbroken.
The Alai Minar
Near to the Khilji’s tomb and towards the north of the mosque, is the incomplete Alai Minar that is a passionate tower to rival the Qutub Minar. Started by Alauddin Khilji after doubling the size of the mosque, he imagined this tower double than the height of the Qutub Minar. This all is evident in the work, Tarikh-i-Alai, of the famous Sufi poet and saint at his time, Amir Khusro who has written about Aladdin’s goal to expand the mosque and build another huge minar.
However, due to his death in 1316 A.D. even before the current storey of 24.5 m was completed, the construction was discarded. None of his successors of Khilji dynasty took up the further construction. The current first storey is a huge rubble masonry.
To be marked as the second tower of victory in his Deccan campaign, Alauddin’s plan was to compete with the Qutub Minar, In case of the mosque, he planned to expand the size by four times with traditional gateways and a great minar (Alai Minar).
Fairs and Festivals at the Complex
The annual three-days ‘Qutub Festival’ drag many visitors in November-December when the musicians and dancers exhibit the cultural heritage of India.
Other nearby Attractions
Tomb of Adham Khan
Lies to the west of the complex. According to the legend, Adham Khan forced the Hindu singer Roopmati to suicide after seizing Mandu in Madhya Pradesh. On his this cruel act, Akbar threw him down from the terrace of the Agra Fort.
These summer palaces are Zafar Mahal, Jahaz Mahal next to Hauz-i-Shamsi Lake, and the tombs of the Mughal kings of Delhi.
These include the Balban’s tomb and Jamali Kamali mosque and tomb.