Currently hosting the Commonwealth Games, a sports event for the 70-odd nations that comprise the vestiges of the British Empire, Delhi is an intense, seething city of chaos – a sensory overload of bazaars, colourful people, grand monuments and striking contrasts. A melting pot of religions, Delhi is home to some of the richest, and poorest people on Earth – ramshackle constructions sit next to opulent edifices, tired hand-drawn carts are passed by gleaming European luxury cars. Huge British built boulevards compete with narrow aroma-filled laneways. With a rich history of rulers, each left their mark in architecture and grand buildings.
Among the most striking of Delhi’s sites is the Qutub Minar Complex highlighting eight centuries of Islamic rule through the middle ages.
The main feature of this exceptional Islamic complex is the Qutub Minar or victory minaret. Reaching almost 73 metres in height, the soaring five-storey tower is the tallest brick minaret in the world and is seen on signage and advertising all around Delhi. Ironically too tall for calls to prayer, the minaret celebrates the establishment of Islamic rule in Delhi (which lasted until British rule in the 19th century) after victory over the last Hindu king in battle.
It is richly inscribed with ancient Koranic texts and verses that have stood the test of time. Indeed, the tower (and neighbouring mosque) is constructed on the site of a former Hindu site from the remains of 27 temples. Only three metres across at its top and built on rocky foundations, the temple has developed a slight lean though nothing to rival its famous cousin in Pisa.
In a nearby courtyard is a seven metre tall iron pillar that has defied scientific explanation. Bought from another site, the pillar is impossibly pure for its time, the 98% iron purity leaving the pillar completely free from rust despite its 1600 years of exposure to the elements. A legend describes that a person who can reach his arms around the huge pillar while facing outwards will have his wish granted. A simple fence prevents any attempts at modern divine intervention.
While architecturally striking with ornate inscriptions, the remainder of the complex is a slightly rambling collection of monuments, buildings and tombs including India’s oldest mosque. While many reminders of the Hindu faith abound (such as the squared pillars and images of the various Hindu gods), the builders managed to erase many of the Hindu images in the mosques.
The intricately carved tomb of Iltutmish celebrates the man who completed the minaret while the later tomb of Imam Zamin boasts the typical Islamic window screens.
Across from the minaret is a 25 metre roughened foundation to a more ambitious minaret. With plans to tower over the existing minaret, one can only imagine the immense engineering work required for the time. The idea perished with the leader and lays abandoned and worn, though strangely photogenic.
Somehow, the Qutub Minar Complex mirrors Delhi itself. Somewhat chaotic in its layout, the sight is attractive for its intricate carved buildings that have survived the test of time and the mesmerising towering minaret which continues to draw your eyes in wonderment wherever you wander in southern Delhi. What extraordinary times this minaret has overseen, eight centuries of life in one of the world’s most hypnotic cities.
Photo Credit: minaret detail