Qutub Minar and its monuments

Alai Darwaza

Context: The initial stage of restoration efforts for the Alai Darwaza (at Qutub Minar complex) will be undertaken by the Archaeological Survey of India.

Alai Darwaza

Alai Darwaza
  • Originally, Qutb-ud-din Aibak commissioned the construction of a mosque, later partly expanded by Shamsuddin Altamash (Iltutmish).
  • Alauddin Khilji had grand plans for the Qutub complex, aiming to enlarge the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque and erect four gateways leading to it.
  • However, his vision was left incomplete as he passed away after the completion of the first gateway, known as the Alai Darwaza, in 1311 AD. This 13th-century structure continues to stand as a remarkable architectural achievement.
  • According to the Archaeological Survey of India’s website, the Alai Darwaza holds historical significance as the first building to incorporate Islamic construction and ornamentation principles.
  • Notably, it represents a pivotal moment in Indian architecture, being the inaugural instance of red sandstone and white marble used in conjunction.
  • Additionally, it is considered one of the earliest examples of a true dome constructed according to arcuate (curved or arched) architectural principles. 
  • Its incorporation of local motifs, such as lotus buds adorning its entrances, further adds to its cultural significance.
  • The plinth on each side is intricately adorned with floral and geometric designs in both white marble and red sandstone, creating a stunning polychromatic effect.
  • Despite being a single-story structure, its exterior creates the illusion of a double-story building.
  • The domed gateway is adorned with inscriptions in Naskh script, latticed stone screens, and showcases the exceptional craftsmanship of the Turkish artisans responsible for its construction.
  • The Qutub Minar Complex:
  • The Qutb Minar complex comprises a collection of historical monuments and buildings dating back to the Delhi Sultanate era, located in Mehrauli, Delhi, India.
  • In addition to the prominent Qutb Minar and the Quwwat-ul Islam Mosque, the complex encompasses other notable structures, including the Alai Darwaza gate, the Alai Minar, and the Iron pillar.
  • Within the complex, one can also find the tombs of Iltutmish, Alauddin Khalji, and Imam Zamin.

Qutub Minar

Qutub Minar
  • The Qutb Minar takes inspiration from the Minaret of Jam in Afghanistan and serves as a significant example of early Afghan architecture, eventually influencing the development of Indo-Islamic Architecture.
  • It holds the distinction of being the tallest minaret worldwide constructed from bricks. Its design encompasses five distinctive storeys, each featuring a projecting balcony.
  • Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with the surrounding monuments.
  • Initially constructed as a Victory Tower to commemorate Muhammad Ghori’s triumph over the Rajput king, Prithviraj Chauhan, in 1192 AD, the Qutb Minar was initiated by Qutb-ud-din Aibak, who later became the first Sultan of the Mamluk dynasty.
  • The minaret’s construction marked the onset of Muslim rule in India. Fashioned from red sandstone and marble, Aibak could only complete the first storey.
  • The subsequent three floors were added by his son-in-law and successor, Iltutmish.
  • In 1368 AD, the Minar was struck by lightning, which caused the removal of its top storey. Firoz Shah Tughlaq, a later Sultan of Delhi (1351 to 1388), replaced the missing section with the current two floors. He adorned it with white marble and sandstone, contributing to its distinctive appearance, as seen in the lower three storeys.
  • The Minar reflects a progression in time with inscriptions displayed in bold and cursive Thuluth script of calligraphy, distinguished by thicker strokes at the top compared to the earlier Kufic script during the initial construction.
  • Historical records reveal further repairs conducted by Sultan Sikander Lodi in 1503, following another lightning strike.
  • In 2004, seismic monitors were installed on the Minar, and subsequent seismic activity, such as the 2005 Delhi earthquake, indicated no substantial damage. This resilience has been attributed to the use of lime mortar and rubble masonry, which absorb tremors. 

Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque

Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque
  • The construction of the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque commenced in 1193 CE under the patronage of Qutb-ud-din Aibak, marking his victory over the Rajputs.
  • This mosque holds the distinction of being the first mosque built in Delhi following the Islamic conquest of India.
  • Aibak, aiming to establish the prominence of Islam in the newly conquered territory, chose the heart of the captured Rajput citadel of Qila Rai Pithora as the site for this mosque.
  • The architectural style and design of the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque bear similarities to the Adhai-din-ka Jhonpra or Ajmer Mosque in Ajmer, Rajasthan, also constructed by Aibak during the same period.
  • The side arches are smaller in size, and the screen is adorned with religious texts and floral patterns.
  • The mosque’s construction followed a Corbel style rather than a scientific one, evident in the variations in the arch patterns.
  • The entrances to the courtyard incorporate ornate mandap domes from temples, with their pillars extensively used throughout the structure, including the sanctuary beyond the tall arched screens.
  • Iltutmish, Qutbuddin’s successor, expanded the original prayer hall screen by adding three more arches.
  • As the Mamluk empire stabilized during Iltutmish’s reign, he could replace most of the conscripted Hindu masons with Muslim artisans, resulting in stylistically more Islamic arches.

Iron pillar in the Qutb Complex

Iron pillar in the Qutb Complex
  • The iron pillar stands as one of the most remarkable metallurgical wonders globally. 
  • Originally, it was erected by Chandragupta II Vikramaditya (375–414 AD) in front of a Vishnu Temple complex at Udayagiri around 402 AD.
  • Subsequently, during the 10th century CE, it was relocated from Udayagiri to its current location by Anangpal.
  • Anangpal’s intention was to incorporate this pillar into a Vishnu Temple that was constructed at its present site.
  • The pillar boasts an inscription in Sanskrit, written in the Brahmi script dating back to the 4th century AD. This inscription reveals that the pillar was originally set up as a Vishnudhvaja, on a hill known as Vishnupada.

Alai Minar

Alai Minar
  • Alauddin Khalji initiated the construction of the Alai Minar following his expansion of the Quwwat ul-Islam Mosque, which had been built before 1300 AD.
  • He envisioned this tower to be twice as tall as the Qutb Minar, proportionate to the enlarged mosque.
  • However, the construction of the Alai Minar came to an abrupt halt shortly after Alauddin’s demise in 1316 and was never resumed by his successors from the Khalji Dynasty.
  • Today, only the first storey of the Alai Minar remains, a massive rubble masonry core that was evidently intended to be clad with dressed stone at a later stage.

Previous Year Question (2018)

Q1. With reference to the cultural history of India, consider the following statements:

1.White marble was used in making Buland Darwaza and Khankah at Fatehpur Sikri.

2.Red sandstone and marble were used in making Bara Imambara and Rumi Darwaza at Lucknow.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a) 1 only

(b) 2 only

(c) Both 1 and 2

(d) Neither 1 nor 2

Answer: (d)

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