Qutb Complex: Rise of the Incomparable Slaves

Who can forget Prithviraj Chauhan, the romantic king of India ruling from the twin capitals of Delhi and Ajmer, who whisked away the daughter of his contemporary king Jaichand of Kannauj right under his watch? He belonged to the Chauhan clan and is the successor of his maternal grandfather Ananga Pal II, the last Tomar king to rule Delhi since mid-10th century. At that time, Jaichand was the king of the eastern neighboring state of Kanauj, ruling from Benares, the capital city. Prithviraj was a great conqueror. He annexed large swaths of land to his kingdom, and many kings, including Jaichand, were envious of him. However, his daughter Sanjukta was in love with Prithviraj. Jaichand, following his daughter’s wish, arranged a marriage ceremony or swayamvara for her; and accordingly, invitations were sent out to all the kings and princes of neighboring kingdoms, except to Prithviraj. Jaichand also erected an ugly clay caricature statue of Prithviraj as a doorman at the swayamvara. But what a surprise it was when the princess, tiptoeing with the garland in her hand, instead of putting it around the neck of one of the eagerly seated kings, garlanded the caricature statue of Prithviraj, and lo and behold, Prithviraj came out of hiding and galloped out his beloved princess.


It is said that from that day, Jaichand schemed against Prithviraj and invited the Afghan king of Ghori to attack Delhi.

No one can vouch what is fact and what is fiction, but the attack did take place: the relatively unknown clan of Ghor in Afghanistan cast his eyes on India, and Shahab-ud-din, or Muhammad of Ghori as he is known popularly in history, descended on Sindh and Multan with his full might. Shahad-ud-din had already attacked and decimated the successors and buildings of another invader, Mahmud of Ghazni, and his majestic city. In India, however, he was strongly repulsed by the king of Gujarat and defeated by Prithviraj Chauhan near the villages of Kurukshetra and Panipat. The defeated invader was made a prisoner, but Prithviraj, known for his charity, released him. Shahad-ud-din returned, and he returned with vengeance. Just a year later, in 1192, he came back with a bigger force, defeated, and slayed Prithviraj, and conquered Delhi. Sanjukta, along with other royal ladies, committed mass suicide by jauhar.


Muhammad’s heart was, however, always into the affairs of Central Asia and Afghanistan, to whose fold he returned in 1193, leaving Delhi in the hands of his Turkish slave Kutb-ud-din Aibak, who continued as Muhammad’s viceroy for 13 years till the death of his master in 1206.

Following the murder of Muhammad, Kutb-ud-din became the independent king of Hindustan. Although the so-called Slave dynasty is considered of Pathan or Afghan origin, it was their Turkish slaves who ruled the country; and while their successors, the Khiljis, Tughluqs, and Sayyids, were all Turkish, only the Lodis were of Afghan origin.

Soon after a mere four years of independent rule, Kutb-ud-din died in 1210 in a polo accident, and his Turkish slave Altamash (Iltutmish) ascended the throne in 1212.


In his short stint, Kutb-ud-din started the construction of Qutb Minar and Jami Masjid, which later came to be known as Quwwat-ul-Islam, right on the stronghold of the Hindu citadel of Tomars and Chauhans in Delhi “to summon prayers so loud that it could reach Misr (i.e., Egypt) and Madain (i.e., Mecca and Medina).

From this time, a new threat descended on the borders of Hindustan, the Mongols, the fiery descendants of Genghis Khan who would regularly strike deep into India from their attack bases of Kabul and Ghazni.


As Amir Khusrau described the Mongols, “the advancing wave of the elephant-bodied hellites, whose number was like ants and locusts, would descend on Hindustan quite regularly like an avenging deluge, forcing inhabitants to flee like leaves dispersed by the wind in autumn.”

After Altamash, his daughter Razia Sultan ascended the throne and proved herself equal to every quality of a prince; however, a woman ruler could hardly be tolerated by Turkish slaves, and she was killed after three years. A series of ineffective rulers came till Sultan Nasir-ud-din managed to rule for 20 long years by delegating the governance to Balban, his father-in-law.

Balban, a Turkish slave of dwarfish features, had been captured and brought to India for sale. When Sultan Altamash was inspecting the slave bazaar and making his choices on whom to buy, he almost ignored the dwarfish slave sitting unnoticed, but Balban pleaded the sultan to buy him, and Altamash soon discovered he had made a good decision. Balban proved himself to be an able general, and after the 20-year rule of Nasir-ud-din, he declared himself as the next sultan and ruled Hindustan for another 22 years.


Balban, called the Iron Man for his cruelty and ruthlessness, was a victim of the onslaught of the Mongols. His favorite son was killed in battlefront fighting the Mongols, and after six months, Balban died of sorrow in 1286.

In the resulting confusion of succession politics, an old, kindly man Jalal-ud-din was made the sultan, establishing the Khilji dynasty to rule Hindustan. He enjoyed a mere six years’ rule from 1290 to 1296 as his son-in-law Ala-ud-din Khilji murdered him in July 1296 to become the only well-remembered sultan of Khilji dynasty.

Tentacles of the Spreading Sultanate:

Ala-ud-din Khilji started his rule with an iron fist by slaying or blinding all the officers of his predecessor.

He erected the Siri Fort by mingling the masonry with the blood and bones of captured Mongols, beating up surviving Mongol prisoners into mortar for the fort, and erecting bastions from thousands of Mongol heads. He sometimes allowed the captured Mongols to settle down in Delhi, calling them “New Muslims.” But once in 1298, when he suspected their motives, he ordered 30,000 of them to be butchered in a single day.


However, in two occasions in 1300 and 1303, the invading Mongols managed to gain entry within Delhi; and in 1303, the sultan and his people had to retire to Siri Fort under a long-drawn seize going on for months.

According to J. D. Beglar but contested by Cunningham, after escaping such a Mongol attack, Ala-ud-din decided to dismantle one portion of the wall of the older Lal Kot citadel and started the construction of a larger boundary encompassing the Qutb complex.

Ananga Pal II’s citadel of Lal Kot (Red Fort) had five gates punctuating a massive fortified wall guarded by a ditch, including the Ranjit gate, Sohan gate, and Bhind gate. Prithviraj Chauhan had expanded the citadel area to cover the city proper, calling it Kila Rai Pithora, of which the most important gate was the Budaon gate toward the Yamuna River.


(Map of Lal Kot & Kila Rai Pithora :Plate 1, Reference #3; Image Courtesy:© A.S.I., New Delhi. This image has been reproduced with the permission of  Archaeological Survey of India, New Delhi)

Amir Khusrau gave an interesting anecdote of Ananga Pal II : Ananga Pal had installed two stone lions at the entrance to his palace, with bells hung from them. Any citizen desirous to get justice  would come and ring the bell, and his case would be heard by the king. Once a crow came flying down and sat on the head of the stone-lion, and pulled the bell-string. The king was alerted, and asked the omen to be interpreted. It was explained to him that brave crows have the habit of sitting on the heads of lions and pick shreds of meat from their teeth, but since the pair of lions at the palace gate were made of stone, how could the crow feed itself? The king was satisfied with the supposedly injustice being done to the brave crow, and arranged some goats to be killed and regularly kept at the stone-lions, so that hungry crows can feed themselves as per their habit.


(Plate 1, Reference #1: Red Area = Mosque built by Kutb-ud-din Aibak; Green Area = built by Altamash; Brown Area = built by Ala-ud-din Khilji. Image Courtesy : © A.S.I., New Delhi. This image has been reproduced with the permission of  Archaeological Survey of India, New Delhi)


(Plate X, Reference #1 : Conjectural Restoration of the Complex. Image Courtesy : © A.S.I., New Delhi. This image has been reproduced with the permission of Archaeological Survey of India, New Delhi)


( Conjectural representation of the Qutb Complex. Image Courtesy : Kanika Singh)

Although Ala-ud-din Khilji started building a larger citadel within the city of Kila Rai Pithora, he could not complete its boundary and the gates. Therefore, much later when Timur’s army attacked Delhi and after exhausting Jahanpanah and Siri, they went after the “infidels” taking shelter in the Jami Masjid of old city. Here, Beglar cites the description of the chronicler to passionately emphasize that Lal Kot’s boundary walls originally did not encompass the Qutb complex, and it was Ala-ud-din who decided to enlarge it, planning  it to include the  Qutb complex. He said, had he been able to complete his enlargement, the residents could have shut the citadel gates and took refugee, but obviously there were no gates since it was incomplete, so they had to take shelter within the Jami Masjid.


Ala-ud-din faced the brunt of the most severe of Mongol invasions, who now looked not only to loot and plunder India but also to conquer and expand their geographic boundary. The quick succession of Mongol invasions in 1297, 1299, 1300, 1303, 1305, 1306, and 1307 saw the triumph of the sultan’s military might; and every time, thousands of Mongols would be captured and brought to be trampled under elephants, their women and children sold off as cheap slaves in the streets of Delhi, and the heads of Mongol soldiers arranged as massive towers and bastions.

As Amir Khusrau described, the royal soldiers of Sultan Ala-ud-din, “making lengthened marches like swift grey-hounds, and raising cries of huzza huzz and khuzza khuzz,” conquered the length and breadth of Hindustan. His pan-India conquests saw military victories against Ranthambhor in 1301, Chittor in 1303, Malwa in 1305, Deogir in 1307 (against King Ramachandra), and Tilang/Arangal in 1310 (against the Kakatiya dynasty of Warangal) where they captured the Warangal Fort that was “made of mud, but was so strong that a spear of steel could not pierce it.” It is said that the Koh-i-noor diamond was ceded to the sultan on his Warangal victory.


Also noteworthy were his conquests to southern tips of India: Ma’bar in 1310 (against the Pandyan dynasty of Tamil Nadu) and Madura in 1311. However, his army could not defeat the Pandyan army but returned with untold loot, including that from the Chidambaram temple.

Ala-ud-din’s attack on Chittor was immortalized in innumerable stories, illustrating the sultan’s fascination with the beautiful queen of Chittor, Rani Padmavati, wife of King Ratan Singh. Ratan Singh’s second queen once asked her parrot,

 “Say beloved parrot, Is anyone in the world as beautiful as me? The parrot recalled the beauty of Padmavati . . . It laughed and looked at the queen.

(Bolhu Sua pyare nahan, more roop koi jag maha?

Sumiri roop Padmavati kera, hasaan Sua, rani mookh hera.)”

On being attacked by the sultan, King Ratan Singh allowed the sultan to have a glimpse of the queen but only on a mirror reflection.

Subsequently, the sultan, fired with the determination to possess her, arrested King Ratan Singh and demanded that the queen be handed over to him. The next day, a train of palanquins arrived at the sultan’s camp. But instead of the supposed womenfolk, fully armed Rajput soldiers jumped out the palanquins and managed to free their king from captivity. The infuriated sultan ordered the army to lay siege to the fort. Faced with the long-drawn siege and dwindling rations, the womenfolk lit a fire and committed mass suicide by jauhar. The king and his followers chose to fight and were annihilated by the sultan’s army.


In between his conquests, Ala-ud-din ordered his army to destroy idol temples wherever they go, including the Somnath temple in 1301 that was rebuilt after its first demolition by Mahmud of Ghazni almost 275 years back and looting of  temples in  deep south, such as temple towns of Chidambaram, and Madurai, termed by Amir Khusrau as the “golden Lanka , whose roof was covered with rubies and emeralds.” Barani recorded that the sultan’s commander Malik Kafur returned to Delhi from his southern expedition with 96,000 man of gold (241 tons), along with countless jewels and precious stones.


The Qutb Complex

The Qutb complex, sitting on the old citadel of Anang Pal’s Lal Kot and Prithviraj Chauhan’s Qila Rai Pithora, represents the architectural oddity of the Turkish sultans’ imagination fuelled by their conquest and wonder of a new land: Muslim in theme, but Hindu in implementation. Together they represent the only group of monuments of the Slave and Khilji dynasties, the mammoth Qutb Minar symbolically declaring the definitive Islamic conquest over a culture represented by the Hindu Iron Pillar standing nearby.


The early Turkish rulers were primarily soldiers who allowed their imagination to take shape with the help of the Hindu craftsmen locally available in India. They tried to erect monuments of Islamic architectural symbolism, namely, the simplicity of the unbroken dome, slender minarets, and simple pointed arches, with the help of Hindu subjects who were proficient in detailed and complex workmanship using leafage, human and animal life, fruits, and flowers. The imagination of the semibarbaric soldiers symbolized by the simple domes was married with the painstaking workmanship of their Hindu subjects represented by richly engraved colonnade columns. The intermingling of styles continued to bring some of the most strikingly beautiful monuments like the Qutb Minar and the Alai Darwaza.

The Tale of Three Towers: Iron Pillar, Qutb Minar & Alai Minar:

Iron Pillar

The 24-feet Iron Pillar is the only pre-Mohammedan monument, forged of pure iron, believed to be erected by the fourth-century king Chandra Gupta II (AD 375–413). The tapering pillar is 7.35 m high, having a base diameter of 41.6 cm slowly tapering to 34 cm at the top. The 1,600-year-old tower stands without a trace of rust even today and is a symbol of advancement in ancient metallurgical sciences. It was erected as a victory tower on the occasion of King Chandragupta defeating an unknown race called Valhikas at the mouth of river Indus. A statue of Garuda stood at its molded pinnacle, representing a Vaishnavite culture of the Guptas.


Per the inscriptions on it, it was relocated by Tomar King Anang Pal in 1052 AD to his citadel of Lal Kot from its original place on top of Vishnupada hills, probably in Bihar.

Thanks to the genius of James Prinsep, the inscriptions on the Iron Pillar reads, “He on whose arm fame was inscribed by the sword . . . having crossed in warfare the seven mouths of the river Sandhu, the Vahlikas were conquered.” It is interpreted that Vahlikha tribe refers to a race that lived somewhere in Baluchistan, and river Sandhu refers to the Indus.


( Translation of Iron Pillar inscription)

How ironic it is, therefore, that the Qutb Minar, the symbol of Afghan victory over Hindustan, is now juxtaposed with the Iron Pillar, the symbol of Hindu conquest over Afghan invaders, spaced out in time by some 900 years but ultimately standing at the same spot under the shadow of each other.

Chemical analysis of the pillar by Sir Robert Hadfield revealed the iron to be 99.72%, and the non-iron composition, including carbon, silicon, sulphur, and phosphorous, together totaled 0.246%. Historians are divided in their opinion on whether the pillar was cast in its present form or was forged.


According to local legends, the name of the city of Delhi is associated with this very pillar.

Per the Rajasthani epic Prithviraj Raso, the Iron Pillar was driven into the hood of the serpent king Vasuki who supports the earth from the underworld, and as long as the pillar is upright at its position, the kingship of Tomar King Anangpal would be secure. However, Anangpal, in an attempt to verify its truth, tried to uproot the pillar that made it lose or “dhilli” from where the name of Delhi originated.


Coincidentally, Anangpal was the last Tomar king to rule Delhi, and he lost his kingdom as to the Chauhan clan.

“Killi to dhilli bhai; Tomar bhaya mat hin.”

( “The pillar has become lose, The Tomar will lose his wish.”

But as per Beglar, here the word Tomar means a contraction of the word tumhara, or “your”. So the meaning translates to : “The pillar has become lose, so your wish will not be fulfilled. “)

In a slight variation of the story, Anangpal wanted to celebrate the birth of his grandson and sought the guidance of the sage Vyasa, who asked him to proceed immediately so that his dynasty will become immovable and its root will strike into the head of the great snake Sheshnag, but the king was not so sure. The sage then took an iron spike, that is, the Iron Pillar, and drove it “60 fingers deep” into the earth. Crimson-red blood of the divine snake poured out, and the sage prophesized that the kingdom of Tomar will become lose or “dhilli” like the iron spike. 

Qutb Minar

There is no other tower in the world like this Tower of Triumph said to be modeled after another victory tower, Minaret of Jam, near Herat in the remote valley of Jam in western Afghanistan, erected by the brother of Muhammad of Ghori.

The Qutb Minar, with its starlike base tapering to a circular top, was commissioned as a victory tower, with four ornamental bands adorning its lowest story, followed by two more stories with two bands each. With a base diameter of 47 feet and top diameter of only 9 feet, the tapering of the tower is so great, that it is said if anyone tries to jump off from its top, he will invariably hit its sides first.


It could also have been used as a minaret for the use of the Muazzen. But even if it was used as a mosque minaret, the cries of the Muazzen from the top of the 72.5 m tower could have hardly been audible to the people below.

The base of the Minar is a 24-sided polygon with each side  measuring 6 feet. Its lowest storey carries the names of Kutb-ud-din and his master, Muhammad of Ghori, and the next three has the name of Altamash. Its five distinct parts are differently laid out: the bottommost level with alternate angular and circular fluting is succeeded by circular, then by angular, the fourth and fifth levels being of plain white marble. Each story of the tower is crowned with a projecting balcony, with richly engraved Koranic scripts and calligraphic bands decorating their undersides.


Originally, only four stories made up the minar. However, when the top floor was struck by lightning, Firoz Shah Tughluq reconstructed the two levels at the top, making five levels in total. The interior casing is of Delhi quartzite stone up to the third level, whereas the fourth and fifth levels are made of red sandstone. On the exterior, the bottom three are of red sandstone with the 2nd floor being of slightly pinkish hue; while the top two floors are of white marble.

It is also often said that the Minar was a Hindu construction which the Muslim invaders altered and completed. However, such a theory is thoroughly dismissed by experts such as Cunningham.

Luckily, the 238-feet tower has been repaired on both the instances when it was stuck by earthquakes :  it was repaired and restored by Firoz Shah Tughluq in the 14th century and Sikandar Lodi in the 15th century.


The Devanagari inscriptions on the third balcony indicate the repair work done by Firuz Shah:

“On Thursday, the 15th day of the dark fortnight of Phalguna in the year Samvat 1425 (i.e. 1369 AD) lighting fell. The (monument) was (then) repaired in the year Samvat 1425. The architects were Nana, Salha, Lola and Lashmana.”

The British, after Lord Lake’s occupation of Delhi in the early 19th century, also undertook its restoration when it was damaged by earthquake in 1803. Major Smith added Gothic-styled stone balustrades to the projecting balconies and a new pavilion with a wooden pagoda at the top, which was taken down in 1848 after much criticism by Viceroy Lord Hardinge.


At present, there are 379 steps in the staircase against the original 360 steps. Firoz Shah’s topmost floor has 37 steps, and Major Smith’s cupola has three steps. There were 21 steps in its top floor before it was stuck down by lightning.


Major Smith began the restoration of the tower in 1828 at the cost of Rs 17,000 that included the square gateway to the tower. After completion, the square gateway was criticized for its “Strawberry Hill Gothic” style; however, J. A. Page defends Smith on the ground that similar square gateways exist in contemporary Cairo and elsewhere. J. A. Page also points out that on top of the restored part, the kanguras, chajjas, and inscriptions are all original.



(Plate XV, Reference #1. Sketch of the Entrance Doorway differentiating the original work replaced in 1828 and the modern repair supplementing it. Image Courtesy : © A.S.I., New Delhi. This image has been reproduced with the permission of  Archaeological Survey of India, New Delhi)

Entry to the inside of the tower is now prohibited, following a stampede and death of school children in the early 1980s when electricity failed. Like its counterpart at Pisa, the tower is continuously tilting with an already-accumulated tilt of 25 inches toward the southwest, resulting from its poor foundation set in loose soil, attracting rainwater seepage directly into its foundation.

Alai Minar

Ala-ud-din extended the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque by increasing the size of the mosque and the courtyard. He also commissioned a huge nine-arched screen at the site of the mosque, erected the exquisite Alai Darwaza, commenced the majestic Alai Minar to outmatch the Qutb Minar, excavated Hauz-Khas, and commissioned the new fort city of Siri.


The Alai Minar, standing on a square platform, was designed to have a gentle spiral slope to ascend the Minar instead of a staircase, and its diameter was designed to be double of the older Minar. Per tradition, the entire majestic tower was to be encased in marble, and the marble building material had already been arranged for the same.


The diameter of the Alai Minar super structure measures 82 feet, with an outer wall of 18 feet, and an inner circular passage of 10 feet width for the spiral slope that is wrapped around a central pillar of 26 feet diameter. (26 + 2*10 + 2*18 = 82 feet). The outer wall is a corrugated 32-sided polygon of 8 feet each, and the Minar stands on a plinth similarly divided like a giant cog-wheel of 32 sides. Its exterior design is difficult to describe, but somewhat similar to the old Roman alphabet M, with the two flayed-out sides and a steep angular depression in the middle.

However, his plan was never completed, and it was abandoned after his death.

Alai Darwaza

Built by Ala-ud-din Khilji, the Alai Darwaza, a cubical gateway of 55-feet side span standing on a high plinth, is situated on the southern side of the enlarged mosque. It is the only complete gateway to the mosque out of the five planned gateways—two on its longish eastern side, one each on the south and north.


According to Fanshawe, its architecture is “the culminating point of Pathan architecture in Delhi: never before, and never after such an ornately decorated tomb has been created by them.” It is the oldest Saracenic dome in India with each wall pierced by a high arch. The arch is of a uniquely pointed horseshoe design. A series of five pointed horse-shoe arches, diminishing in size as they retire inwards, is a majestic show of beauty.


In the whole list of Pathan buildings in Delhi, its peerless beauty is rendered so unique because of the stark contrast of its dome’s plain and wide expanse against the minutely executed carvings on the exterior facade.


Its beauty is playfully accentuated by the use of alternate red sandstone and white marble on its exterior walls, somewhere red dominating the white and somewhere white dominating the red. The sides of the gateway are punctuated by  doors, each flanked by perforated stone windows on both sides, leading into a single chamber topped by a dome. Prominent are the recessed arches with red columns supporting a white arch, followed by white columns supporting a red arch.


However, the square gate to the tomb is the innovation of British restorer Major Smith.

The Majestic Screens

A 53-feet-high arched screen was erected by Kutb-ud-din to mark the western direction to Mecca with exquisite Hindu designs of naturalistic creepers bearing lotus buds and kalash, the Hindu ritualistic urn. The arches of the screen are not true arches, and that might have been the reason of their falling apart over time. Behind the screen structure, the colonnaded structure made from the temple pillars make up a lower height; therefore, a canopy of some sorts or a roof must have covered the space between both the structures, where the worshippers must have been sitting while praying.


The mosque and the screen were later enlarged by Altamash and Khilji by adding newer arches of screens, but the difference in the designs in various stages are unmissable: while Hindu patterns are predominantly prominent in the original structure erected by Kutb-ud-din, the latter additions use only Saracenic geometric patterns.


The original five-arched screen erected by Kutb-ud-din in 1191–1199 AD was supplemented by adding two new three-arched screens on either of its sides by Altamash in 1210–1229 AD.


Altamash maintained the western alignment and increased the courtyard area so that the Qutb Minar now came within the courtyard.


Nothing of such incremental enhancements would please  Ala-ud-din Khilji who planned a massive screen on the right side of the existing structure with nine arches in three sets of three arches each.


His planned extension of the courtyard more than doubled the preexisting courtyard.


Amir Khusrau said of the mammoth screen assembly erected by Ala-ud-din,


“Upon the surface of the stones he engraved verses of Quran in such a manner as could not be done even on wax; ascending so high that you would think the Quran was going up to heaven, and again descending in another line so low that you would think that it was coming down from heaven.” 

Altamash’s Tomb


The oldest tomb in India is the Altamash’s tomb—plain in exteriors, but minutely and ornately designed in its interiors. It is said of the first domed structure with squinched arches that initially, a dome sat on the square building but has collapsed a long time ago. Even the later-day dome reconstructed by Firoz Shah no longer exists. Whether the builders were capable of constructing a perfect dome or not, it is not clear. Now it opens up to the star-studded celestial sphere of the vaulted sky above. A marble cenotaph lies in the middle of the tomb, whereas the actual grave lies sunken underground, the stairs to which are now closed by authorities.


The Quwwat-ul-Islam Masjid

The heart of the complex is the Jami Masjid, later came to be known as the Quwwat-ul-Islam or  ‘Might of Islam’,  built on a rectangular plinth, with cloisters around a central courtyard.

This is the mosque through the arched doors of which,  the first Muslims of Delhi entered into the colonnaded courtyard, also called as Masjid-i-Kutb-ul Islam, or the “Mosque of the Pole Star of Islam”.  It had five majestic arched screens with the central arch of nearly 53 feet in height, and side arches of 24 feet height; opening into a majestic room of 31 feet depth, whose roof was supported on five rows of beautiful Hindu pillars. A courtyard, in the center of which stands the ancient Iron pillar,  is surrounded by a cloisters supported on several rows of finely engraved pillars.


Ibn Batuta wrote, “Before the taking of Delhi it had been a Hindu temple, which the Hindus called Elbut-khana, but after that event it was used as a mosque.”

The inner lintel of the eastern gateway reads in Naskh characters:

“This fort was conquered and this Jami Masjid was built in [the month of] the year 587 (1191–2 AD) by the Amir, the great and glorious commander of the army, (named) Qutub-d-daulatwa-d-din, the Amir-l-umara Aibak Sultani, may God strengthen his helpers. The materials of 27 temples, on each of which 2,000,000 Deliwals had been spent, were used in [the construction of] this mosque. May God the great and glorious have mercy on him who should pray for the faith of the good builder.”

( 1 Deliwal = ~ 1 jittal = ~1/50th of a Rupee. So, cost of each temple = Rs 40,000, or Rs 10,80,000 for 27 temples )

However, it must be seen in a larger context and archaeological insights offered by experts such as Cunningham and others. Demolition of older structures and cities to build newer structures, are not only common but quite the norm in the historical landscape. After capturing the capital of a foreign land, the invaders must have felt the necessity to raise a new monumental presence to declare themselves as new masters, and the old existing structures readily provided the building material to erect new monuments in the shortest possible time.

The founder and the first Director General of the Archaeological Survey of India, known as the “Father of Indian Archaeology”,  Alexander Cunningham and his assistant J.D. Beglar opine that the lower portion of the surrounding walls of the terrace on which the mosque stands was the original platform of the ruined Hindu temple. Beglar excavated the site in 1871 and concluded that the foundation of the central masjid proper is “definitely the original Hindu temple.”


While the pillars standing behind the great arches of screens are considered by them as the undisturbed and unaltered older pillars,  the pillars of the surrounding cloisters around the courtyard are not “undisturbed and unaltered”. They are made by rearranging old temple pillar parts of various heights and stacking them together to achieve a common height upon which the roof of the cloister is raised. Old  faces on the carved pillars are chiseled off or plastered, and sometimes the stone slabs are inverted so that the original figures on them face inward and the Arabesque decorations are inscribed on its front-facing surface by the Hindu architects to make them “less offensive” as per the requirements of their new masters.

Strange looking conical domes of sacked structures are used as they are and are placed on the pillared pavilions, especially at the corners of the cloisters, while their interiors display intricate decorations of  fine carvings. Sivaite, Vaishnavite, and Jaina images appear on the columns and are identified in great detail by Cunningham.

The dimensions of Kutb-ud-din’s Jami Masjid measures 214 ft by 149 ft,    while the area of the original temple plinth was an estimated 124 ft x 149 ft.



Its western wall was four bays deep, whereas its opposite eastern colonnade was three bays deep. The rest of the two northern and southern colonnades were two bays deep and each  three of the non-western  sides were pierced with gateways opening into the courtyard.

( Number of decorated pillars in the court-yard around the iron pillar, as  counted by Cunningham  = 340;

Original number of such pillars, estimated = 450

Average number of pillars in one big Hindu temple = 21.

So, number of temple spoils that must have been used = 450/21 = ~21.5 temples.


Similarly, number of pillars in the interior of the Mosque, as counted by Cunningham  = 35

Original estimated number of such pillars = 76

So, number of temple spoils that must have been required = 76 / 21 = ~3.5

Total = 21.5 + 3.5 = 25 temples, which agrees well with the statement about 27 Hindu and Jain temples being destroyed in Lal Kot and their materials used in the mosque)

Side Note #1: Recondite Geometric Series of the Qutb Minar

J. D. Beglar in Reference #3 proposed a unique theory of an arithmetic-geometrical series that proves to govern the spacing and design of the decorative bands on the tower. Even if it is not correct, the spacing of the bands on the Qutb Minar can not be considered as random, and their mathematical relationship remains unanswered.


( Plate V, Reference #3. Outline Section of the Qutb Minar showing Beglar’s formula. Image Courtesy : © A.S.I., New Delhi. This image has been reproduced with the permission of  Archaeological Survey of India, New Delhi)

Beglar proposes the geometric series as

16’4”, 14’9”, 13’5”;

12’1”, 10’11”, 9’11”;

9’0”, 8’1”, 7’4”;

6’8”, 6’0”, 5’5”.

We know the minar has 4 ornamental bands between the ground level and 1st floor; 2 such bands in 2nd floor; and 2 bands in 3rd floor.

In the series, the first 5 numbers sequentially represent the space between each ornamental band from the next as below

16’4” = height of the bottom of the  1st band from ground

14’9” = distance between top of 1st band and bottom of 2nd band

13’5” = distance between top of 2nd band and bottom of 3rd band

12’1” = distance between top of 4th band and bottom of 3rd band

10’11” = distance between top of 4th floor and bottom of 1st floor

5’5” = width of each band in the 1st floor

Therefore, heights from ground to

1st band bottom = 16’4”

1st band top = 16’4” + 5’5” = 21’9”

2nd band bottom = 21’9”+14’9” = 36’6”

2nd band top = 36’6” + 5’5” = 41’11”

3rd  band bottom = 41’11” + 13’5” = 55’4”

3rd band top = 55’4” + 5’5” = 60’9”

4th band bottom = 60’9” + 12’1” = 72’10”

4th band top = 72’10” + 5’5” = 78’3”

Top of 1st floor = 78’3” + 10’11” +5’5” = 94’7”

After the first floor finishes, he proposes that the 3 numbers beginning with 13’5” sequentially represent the inter-band distances, i.e,

In the 2nd floor:

13’5” = distance between top of 1st floor and bottom of 1st band

12’1” = distance between top of 1st  band and bottom of 2nd  band

10’11” = distance between top of 2nd  band and bottom of 3rd band

Also, 4’5” = width of each band in the 2nd floor

Therefore, in 2nd floor, height from ground of

1st band bottom = 94’7”+13’5” = 108’ 0”

1st band top = 108’0” + 4’5” = 112’5”

2nd band bottom = 112’5” + 12’1” = 124’6”

2nd band top = 124’6” + 4’5” = 128’11”

2nd floor balcony  bottom = 128’ 11” + 10’11” = 139’ 10”

2nd floor top = 139’ 10” + 4’5” = 144’3”

Taking the progression to the 3rd and last floor, where the spacing are governed by the 3 consecutive numbers starting with 12’1” , he arrives another set of theoretical values.

He then undertook actual measurements of these distances and compared side by side with the theoretical values calculated above, and found that both almost matching.

He says, “ The immense amount of thought expended on the structure by its original designer is simply marvelous. The choice of the series alone,  which governs the spacing of the ornamental features of the Minar, must alone have been a work of no ordinary labour..”.

Side Note #2:  Geometric patterns in Saracenic Art :

Since it is forbidden to portray  living things on Islamic monuments,  specially in place of worships,  geometric patterns was a neutral choice for the Islamic architects. Various combinations of simple geometric patterns could result in complicated designs, that brought variety out of mere monotonous repetitions of polygons.



(Plate VIII-Figure 3 showing 14-gon saracenic design; PlateXII – Figure 43 showing Floral Arabesque with decagonal pattern: Reference # 14. Image Courtesy : © A.S.I., New Delhi. This image has been reproduced with the permission of  Archaeological Survey of India, New Delhi)

Broadly, there are 5 types of patterns:

  • Hexagonal Patterns: various combinations of six-pointed stars, and diamond patterns
  • Octagonal Patterns: mainly used in square perforated stone screens, because repetition of the octagon is invariably square


  • Geometrical Arabesques: created by polygons in contact, such as octagons, dodecagons, heptagons, 14-gons, 16-gons, etc.
  • Floral Arabesques: inlaid marble decorations can be made aesthetically more pleasing by replacing straight lines with floral-curvy lines
  • Dome Decorations: for an octagonal room surmounted with a dome, and each side pierced with an arched gate, the triangle of each arch will continue upwards to the center of the dome. In this case, a conical 3-dimensional polygonal pattern such as a decagon can be repeated on the dome interior.

Finally, a brief timeline of the relevant period:

Tomars and before
Tomars ruled Delhi  for 100 years (from AD 1051 to AD 1151)
101 BC ( ? ) Delhi established by Raja Dhillu ( date uncertain)
Either Story #1, or #2 Story 1 # Raja Dhillu killed by Phur, or Porus, King of Kumaon ( date uncertain)
Either Story #1, or #2 Story 2 # Raja Pal, king of Delhi killed by Sukwanti/ Sankhdhwaj, King of Kumaon ( date uncertain)
57 BC Vikramaditya of Ujjain defeats King of  Kumaon from Delhi
Delhi un-populated for 792 years; Vikramaditya’s family ruled from Ujjain; Guptas ( 78 AD to 319 AD ) did not rule from Delhi; it was not the capital of Harsha Vardhan ( 6th C); no mention of Delhi by Chinese travellers Fa Hian & Huen Tsang
736 AD: Delhi re-populated by Tomars, Rajas of Kanauj
736 AD Ananga Pal
754 AD Vasu Deva
773 AD Gangya
794 AD Prithivi Mala
814 AD Jaya Deva
834 AD Nira, or Hira Pal
849 AD Udiraj
875AD Vijaya
897 AD Biksha, or Anek
919 AD Riksha Pal
940 AD Sukh Pal
961 AD Gopal, or Mahipal I, commissioned Mahipalpur lake
979 AD Sallakshana Pal
1005 AD Jaya Pal
Kanauj captured by Mahmud of Ghazni in 1017 AD
Kanauj captured by Raja of Kalanjar in 1021 AD
1021 AD Kunwar Pal, shifted capital from Kanauj to Bari
1051 AD Ananga Pal II, erected Lal Kot ( i.e Red Fort), and made Delhi his capital, commissioned first of the 27 temples, made Ananga Tal lake & Suraj Kund lake; while his kingdom extended to Hansi (north), Agra (south), Alwar/Ajmer (west), the Ganges (east)
Another tradition maps the Tomar kingdom to Sirsa (west), Tomarvati between Alwar & Shekhavati (south-west), Tomargarh between Gwalior and Dholpur (south east)
1081 AD Vijaya Pal
1105 AD Mahipal II
1130 AD Akr Pal
1151 AD Capture of Delhi by Chauhans
Chauhan Kings, ruled Delhi for 41 years ( AD 1151 to AD 1192)
1030 Viryarama
1085 Durlabha III; son of Viryarama
Vigraharaja III; son of Viryarama
Prithviraja I; son of Vigraharaja III
1130 Ajayaraja I; son of Prithviraja I
1150 Arnoraja; son of Ajayaraja I
1151 Vishala Deva / Vigraharaja IV, son of  Arnoraja, conquered Delhi from Tomars; aprox 1151 AD
1166 Prithvibhata; grandson of Arnoraja
Somesvara, son of Arnoraja, marries daughter of Ananga Pal’s daughter
1170 Prithviraja Chauhan II aka Rai Pithora, son of Somesvara, coronated as Delhi’s king at the age of 16; rules for 22 years, extended Lal Kot to Kila Rai Pithora
1192 killed by Muhammad of Ghor
Slave sultans ruled Delhi for almost 100 years ( AD 1192  to AD 1290 )
1206 Kutb-ud-din Aibak, became independent in 1206
1210 Aram
1210 Altamish, ruled for 16 years
1236 Raknu-d-din Firoz I
1236 Princess Razia Sultan, only woman-ruler of Slave dynasty
1240 Muizzu-d-din
1242 Alau-d-din Masud
1246 Nasru-d-din; delegated governance to Balban, ruled for 20 years
1266 Balban; ruled for 22 years
1287 Muizzu-d-din Kaikubad
Khilji sultans ruled Delhi for 30 years ( AD 1290 to AD 1321)
1290 Jalalu-d-din Firoz II
1296 Ruknu-d-din Ibrahim
1296 Ala-ud-din Khilji; ruled for 20 years
1316 Shihabu-d-din
1316 Qutbu-d-din Mubarak
1321  Khusru Khan; murdered by Ghiasuddin Tughluq
Important Tughluq sultans
1321 Ghiasuddin Tughluq
1325 Muhammad-bin Tughluq
1351 Firoz Shah Tughluq
1398 Invasion of Timur
1414 Sayyids come to power



Thanks to Kanika Singh of Delhi Heritage Walks for leading the walk. Thanks  to ASI Office, Janpath, New Delhi for the kind support.


  1. An Historical Memoir on the Qutb : Delhi ; by J.A. Page, Archaeological Survey of India
  2. World Heritage Series: Qutb Minar & Adjoining Monuments; ASI
  3. Cunningham Report for the year 1871-72, ( Volume IV) Delhi, Agra by J.D. Beglar & A.C.L. Carlleyle; Archaeological Survey of India
  4. Cunningham: Four Reports Made During the Years 1862-63-64        ( Volume I ); Archaeological Survey of India
  5. Delhi, Its story and buildings; by H. Sharp
  6. Delhi:14 Historic Walks, by Swapna Liddle
  7. Delhi and its Neighborhood, by Y.D. Sharma, Archaeological Survey of India
  8. The History of India, as told by its own historians (Vol III) by Sir H.M. Elliot & John Dowson.
  9. DK Eyewitness – The Monuments Series: Qutb Minar
  10. Delhi: Its Monuments and History; by Percival Spear
  11. Forgotten Dilli – Portrait of an immortal city; by Sasmita S. Akhtar & Shamim Akhtar
  12. Invasion of Mongols: http://www.indianetzone.com/47/invasion_mongols.htm
  13. Tilting of Qutb Minar: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Qutub-Minar-tilting-due-to-seepage-Experts/articleshow/4023978.cms
  14. The Drawing of Geometric Patterns in Saracenic Art, by E.H. Hankin; Archaeological Survey of India
  15. Aditya Pathak’s video blogs with Delhi Heritage Walks:

2 thoughts on “Qutb Complex: Rise of the Incomparable Slaves

  1. An absolutely impressionable work, which I fully admire!
    I had given two talks about noon markers in front of Parsian mosques, one in the University of the Baleares in Mallorca, the other one in Paris at the French sundial society. For my talk in Paris I had also invited the empress Farah Diba …
    About both talks and my publications about it I had written something in my homepage.


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