Qutb Minar, India's Tower of Glory: Separating Facts From Fiction

The Qutb Complex is a renowned historical site located in Delhi, India. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993 and is currently under the protection of the Archaeological Survey of India. Within the Complex, visitors can find a number of monuments, the most stunning of which is the Qutb Minar. Visiting Qutb Minar and its complex will be an unforgettable experience for anyone who wants to explore India's rich cultural heritage.

Who Built the Qutb Minar?

The minaret of the Jami Masjid (Quwwat-ul-Islam), popularly known as the Qutb Minar is an impressive 5-storey stone tower. It was constructed in stages by three sovereigns in different years during the Delhi Sultanate period: Qutub-ud-din Aibak, Shams-ud-din Iltutmish and Firoz Shah Tughlaq.

Inscribed bands of the first storey contain the titles and names of Muiz-ud-din Muhammad Bin Sam, more commonly known as Muhammad Ghori, his brother Ghias-ud-din Muhammad Bin Sam and "Al amir-al-Isfahsalar ul-Ajall al Kabir" Qutub-ud-din Aibak. 

The first storey or basement was constructed by Qutub-ud-din while he was the viceroy of Delhi from 1193 to 1206, as a dedication to his master Muhammad Ghori, or at his behest.

Fazl ibn Abul Maali was the supervisor of the first storey. He was also the Mutawali of the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque during the reign of Aibak. 

The second, third, and fourth storeys of the Qutub Minar were constructed by Shams-ud-din Iltutmish (r: 1211-1236). Upper portion of the fourth storey was struck by lightening in 1368. Firoz Shah Tughlaq (r: 1351-1388) rebuilt the 4th storey and also added the 5th storey using marble and red sandstone in irregular widths. The original marble cupola, which had seen by Ibn Battuta, was also destroyed in the lightning strike. Firoz Shah replaced it with a cupola made of red granite. 

Sikandar Lodi also did some repairs in the second and fifth storeys of the Minar in 1503. There are also records of Hindu workmen regarding further repairs on the Minar post-1503, though most of these are incomplete.

When Was It Built?

After Prithviraj Chauhan's defeat in the battle of Tarain, Muhammad Ghori captured Delhi and Ajmer, establishing Muslim rule in India. He appointed his commander-in-chief, Qutub-ud-din Aibak, as the viceroy of his Indian possessions, with Delhi as the capital, before returning to Ghazni.

Three Nagari inscriptions on the basement mention the date AD 1199, indicating either the foundation or completion of the structure in that year. During this time, Qutub-ud-din Aibak was the viceroy of Delhi. 

Who Named It Qutb?

In contemporary and near-contemporary Persian and Arabic records, the Minar is known as Minar-i jami, or the Minaret of the Jami Mosque (Quwwat-ul-Islam) of Delhi. 

The first mention of the name 'Cuttub Minar' appears in a 1794 drawing by British engineer Ensign James Blunt. The 1799 painting of the Minar, published in the 'Antiquities of India', was given the same name by the British painter Thomas Daniel. Thus, it was the British who bestowed the iconic structure with its now-famous name.

According to British writers the name of Qutb Minar may have originated from an inscription above the gate of the nearby ruined mosque, which stated that "Qutub-ud-din Aibak, on whom be the mercy of God, constructed this mosque". It is also possible that the minaret was named after Khwaja Qutbuddin Bakhtiar Kaki, who is buried in close proximity.

Why the Qutb Minar Was Built?

Abul Fida, Amir Khusru, Muhammad Aufi and Shihab al-Din al-Umari referred to the Minar as the "mazina" of the Jami Masjid of Delhi. 

Not only was it a muezzin's tower, but it was also a tower of glory. We can find evidence of this in a Nagari inscription: "Malikdin ki kirti stambha".

It was a tower of victory as well, as indicated by the Nagari inscription: "Sri Sultrāna Alavadin Vijayastambha". These Nagari inscriptions were expertly crafted by Hindu artisans, likely served to commemorate Ala-ud-din's victories over the Mongols

Aibak probably constructed the basement as a tower of glory to display Ghori's legacy in India. It was Iltutmish who extended the prayer hall and screen of the mosque to include Qutb Minar within the enclosure as its mazina. Contemporary Persian records, as well as an inscription on the second storey, confirm that during Iltutmish's reign, the Minar served as the mazina.

It is highly unlikely that the muezzin would have climbed the entire height of the Qutb Minar five times a day to make the call to prayer. Furthermore, the sound of the call would have been virtually inaudible from the top of the tower due to its great height. 

However, historical records confirm that the tower was used as a mazina during the reign of Iltutmish. The basement window was used for that purpose.

Why there are Nagari Inscriptions on the Minar?

We can find Nagari records of the various repairs conducted on the Minar, revealing that the craftsmen, masons, and carpenters were all Hindus. Even the names of Muslim Sultans were written in native form, such as Alavadin, Malikdin, Muhammadsahi and Pherojsahi. Among the Hindu artisans were Chunilal, Visnu Kantha, Tulsi, Hira Devidas, Madholal, Badrgu, Sisa son of Hira, Mohana Lala, Nana, Salha, Lola, Lashmana, Harimani Gaveri son of Sahadhair, Chahada Devapala and Dharmu Vanani. 

Hindu Origin:

Some self-proclaimed 'historians' have alleged that the Qutb Minar was originally an observatory, built by either king Samudra Gupta, Chandragupta Vikramaditra or Visaladeva Vigraharaja. Many others claim that the tower was constructed by Prithiviraj Chauhan, so that his daug
hter or wife could stand atop it and take in the view of the Yamuna during her morning prayers. 

The charges against Aibak are many: He demolished the upper three storeys of this 'observatory' and reconstructed it into the present Muslim edifice. Out of fear, he omitted this fact from any of the inscriptions. His atrocities did not end there; he named the tower Qutb after his own name, thus immortalizing his legacy.

In fact, Aibak mentioned the utilization of spoils from 27 temples in the construction of the nearby Masjid in the epigraph mentioned there. If he had demolished a Hindu structure, he would have definitely mentioned it with proud. So why didn't he pull down the entire structure? Was there something that prevent him from doing so when Delhi was under his control?

Proponents of the Hindu origin theory argue that the panels containing the Naskh inscriptions were originally Hindu sculptures that were later defaced and inscribed with Naskh characters. Some of the stones of the nearby mosque may fit this description.

There is ample archeological evidence to prove that the concept of minarets existed in several Muslim countries prior to and during the period in which the Qutb Minar was constructed. Examples of these include the minaret of the mosque of Ibn Tulun in Cairo; Peer-e-Alamdar tower in Damghan; Chihil Dukhtaran minaret in Isfahan; Semnan minaret; Barsian minaret in Isfahan; Sarban minaret in Isfahan; Gar minaret in Isfahan; Sava minaret in Iran; Vabkent minaret in Bukhara; Uzgen minaret in Kyrgyzstan; Kalyan minaret in Bukhara; Kutlug Timur minaret in Turkmenistan.

How Come There is No Inscription Regarding the Founder?

Major Smith's Contribution:
Kootub Minar near Delhi, c.1830-35

The Minar sustained serious damage during the 1803 earthquake, with Firoz Shah's cupola being thrown down. Some of the balustrades were shaken loose and the main entrance doorway collapsed. In 1828, British Engineer Major Smith undertook the repairs at a cost of Rs. 17,000, with an additional charge of more than Rs. 5,000 for clearing the debris around the Minar.

Major Smith was responsible for the Gothic balustrades that now adorn the balconies, as well as the Bengali chattri that crowns the Minar. See the drawing above.

Unfortunately, Major Smith's repairs were met with much criticism. Cunningham noted that the restoration of the entrance doorway, balustrades, and cupola were completely out of sync with the rest of the pillar.

During the repair work, the inscribed slabs over the entrance doorway were put back in the wrong order. [No one has reported that the other side of it has images of Hindu deities]. 

The whole of the entrance doorway was designed by Major Smith himself. Smith noted that, "the former rude and fractured entrance door of the base of the column (minar) was repaired and improved with new mouldings, frieze and repair of the inscription tablet". 

We must thank the British Government for the repair works, as well as the Archeology Department for their renovations over time in 1920, 1944-49, and 1971-72 to fix bulges, cracks, and strengthen the foundation. 

The Bengali chattri built by Major Smith was removed in 1848 by the order of Lord Hardinge, then Governor-General of India. Known as Smith's Folly, this chattri is now placed near the Minar.


Archaeological Survey of India, Vol. 1 By Cunningham Alexander

The World Heritage Complex of the Qutub By R. Balasubramaniam

R Nath - Concept of the Qutub Minar - Islamic Culture Vol 49 (1975)

Y. K. Bukhari - Visnudhvaja or Qutb Minar - Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Vol XLV (1964)

Ved Parkash - The Qutb Minar from Contemporary and Near Contemporary Sources - Proceedings of the Indian History Congress Vol. 26, PART II (1964)

Sengupta, R - The Qutb Minar: Strengthening the Foundations - Purātattva - Volume 10