Delhi is a city of cities. Several rulers established different cities in different era in this region… different names, different design ethos and diverse history. In this blog series we will try to explore the history and grandeur of the seven cities of Delhi. Earlier on this blog we have explored Tughlaqabad the third city and Shahjahanabad (Area that contains Red fort and Jami Masjid) – the seventh city. Today we will deep dive into 8th century to know more about the first city of Delhi – Lal Kot. Tomar rulers built this rubble wall with red sandstone in the eighth century, which was later expanded by the Chauhans and renamed Qila Rai Pithora. Qila is Farsi word and locally the fort was called Durg Rai Pithora. Today the ruins of this fort can be found in Mehrauli, Saket, Qutb complex and Vasant Kunj area.
Tomar king Anangpal first established his capital in 731 CE in Delhi, the last Tomar ruler Anangpal II built the rubble was around this city. Later Chauhans defeated Tomars to take control of the fort and Gadh Rai Pithora was built by expanding the Lal Kot.
One needs to go to Sanjay Van reserved forest to see the ruins of Lal Kot. Best visited in the morning because there are many joggers in the area.. later it gets deserted. One must be careful about insect bites and snakes… Full pants and shoes are a must. I think the wall is about 15 feet high and 20 feet wide. One can walk on the wall and catch a glimpse of the Qutb minar visible on the horizon. The largest stone tower in India built by Qutubuddin Aibak – the first ruler in the Mamluk dynasty.
The Mamluks did not immediately build any new city. They destroyed existing monuments and buildings in the area and recycled the material to build whatever they needed. Prithviraj Chauhan was defeated in 1192CE by Muizuddin Ibn Sam or Ghuri Mohammed and left his confidante slave Qutubuddin Aibak to administer the newly annexed area. After Muizuddin’s death in 1206CE Aibak declared himself a Sultan and Mamluk dynasty or slave dynasty was established. This area remained important till Allauddin Khilji established Siri Fort – the second city of Delhi in 1303 CE.
Qutub minar is a metro station now… battery operated Rickshaws bring you to the complex in just Rs. 10… We see a beautiful arched door as we enter but it belongs to a mughal era and it is a later addition. We enter the court of a beautiful perhaps one of the oldest mosques in India – Quwwat-Ul-Islam masjid. Almost 27 Jain-Hindu temples were demolished by Ghurid army and the material recovered after these demolitions was used to build the might of Islam. Interestingly one can see an eclectic mix of Shaiva/ Vaishnav/ Jain iconography in the courtyard. At some places human figures have been disfigured.
The conqueror destroyed the images of god and idol worship as per the custom and a grand mosque was built for the worshippers of one god – Hasan Nizami, Aibak’s court writer (Reference p.52 World heritage Series Qutub Minar, ASI
The symmetry and rhythm of the colonnade is attractive. Sun rays coming in different angles interact with the columns and create shadows. Then we proceed to the screens built by Aibak and Iltutmish. These two were constructed in two different eras and in two different styles. They tell us a lot about the evolution of Indo-Islamic architecture.
Aibak’s screen shows the work of Hindu artisans working under the supervision of Islamic designers. The serpentine pattern is Hindu and the floral blossoming is distinctly Islamic. Koranic verses have been calligraphed in a simple script pattern.
The Iltutmish screen is more richly decorated and very prominently Islamic in patterns. It contains Kufic and Tughra styled calligraphy and Saracenic work that can be found from India to Spain. IT is claimed that pure arch was brought to India by Islamic architects. Earlier Indian arches were corbelled arches. Earlier on this blog we have explored the Mehrauli archaeological park – home to Balban’s tomb where the first true arch in India was built. Many historians have disputed this claim and it would be interesting to see the other side. Iltutmish and Khilji expanded the mosque and even the Qutub minar now came inside the boundary of the mosque.
We can see a black Iron pillar in front of the Aibak’s screen. This was built for a Vishnu temple in the 4th century CE and perhaps Garuda was perched on the pillar. Gupta styled script on the pillar describes that it was created for Vishnupada in the reign of King Chandra Gupta the second. Anangpal Tomar brought this pillar from somewhere else because no other relic from the same era can be found in the Qutb complex. Even after several centuries the Iron pillar remains free from rusting. According to a test done by Sir Robert Hadfield about 99.72% of the pillar is pure iron. J Page says in his book that tests have proven that it was forged by a very advanced metallurgical process.
A few researchers feel that this pillar was brought from Udaygiri near Vidisha in present day Madhya Pradesh. I wonder what must have come to Allauddin Khilji’s ambitious mind that this pillar belonged to a victorious King..
Near Ghazni in Afghanistan there are minarets similar to the Qutb Minar. In Western Afghanistan minaret of Jam was built 10 years before Qutb minar and this perhaps inspired Qutubuddin Aibak to build his version of the victory tower. For some scholars the Minaret of Jam stood for the Ghuri victory of Ghazanvids and for some it commemorated Muizuddin’s victory over Prithviraj.
The Qutub Minar is more than 70 meters in height and visible clearly on the horizon in South Delhi. the construction started by Aibak in 1199 CE and it was completed during Allauddin Khilji’s reign. Khilji tried to build a minaret twice in height compared to the Qutub minar by barely over 24 meters in height the project was abandoned after Khilji’s death.
There are rich decorations on all the three stages of Qutub minar… especially the balconies made by Stalactite vaulting (known as Moracade or Muqarna in Arabic) The tower was struck by lightening three times and it was repeatedly repaired by Firoz Shah Tughlaq and Lodi rulers as well … who perhaps added element of marble to the red sandstone and buff monument.
We can see Naksh calligraphy on the Minar. Earlier Firoz Tughlaq built a cuppola on the top of the minar which was damaged during 1803CE earthquake. Major Smith was sanctioned Rs. 17000/- to replace the cuppola with new design. He built a Bengal chhatri styled cuppola which looked out of place on an Indo-Saracenic tower. Lord Hardinge later removed this and kept it in the garden.
Under deep blue sky opened up due to a collapsed dome we can see the grave of Iltutmish with rich, ornate motifs on the walls and squinch styled arches. While the design largely is Arabesque, we can see some Hindu motifs too.
Another important tomb here is the tomb of Allaudin Khilji. Though the main dome has collapsed we can see domes made by pendentive method on the Madarasa.. a style used in several monuments in India here on. Experts believe that Seljuq artisans designed the Maqbara of Allauddin Khilji. These artisans moved to India in the 15th century when the Seljuq dynasty collapsed…. looking for work in a relatively stable country like India.
Imam Zamin’s tomb is another important building of the complex. This cleric was perhaps an important office holder at the mosque and had come from Turkey. We can see beautiful stucco work in this monument. Beautiful mix of red and white.
Ala-I-Darwaja is beyond verbal description. Islamic geometry and free flowing Hindu motifs define this monument.
There is a lot to explore beyond Mughal era monuments … the first city of Lal Kot and Qutb Minar are a fine example of collaboration. In the next blog we will explore the Sher Gadh or Purana Qila. … keep watching this space.