Appropriately, the third religious complex we visited–after the Hindu temple and Muslim mosques in part I of this post–brings us to the Qutab Complex–which you could say represents both Hinduism and Islam–but with a whole lot of history in between. You don’t have to look too far back through ancient Delhi histories to understand that this area of Delhi was swapped back and forth between Muslim and Hindu dynasties for centuries. It was the center of power during the 11th to thirteenth century A.D. Today it’s an archaeological site maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India, and the adjacent grounds are spread with numerous old monuments, 40 of which have been restored.
The complex initially housed 27 ancient Hindu and Jain (a sect of Hinduism) temples built during the Gupta Empire (320-225 A.D.) on the ruins of Lal Kot Fort of ancient Delhi. They were later destroyed, in 739 A.D. Their material was used later to construct a mosque next to the Qutab Minar.
This is the brick tower, the world’s tallest brick minar at a little over 327 feet tall with four floors, each with a viewing balcony. It was started in 1193 A.D. by the first Muslim ruler of Delhi to commemorate the victory over the Hindu Rajput king who previously occupied the space. He had completed just the first story before his death.The tower was completed in stages by subsequent rulers and was finally finished in 1368.To those living there at that time, it signaled the beginning of Muslim rule in India in a big way.
In 1980 during our first visit, Hubby and I climbed all the way up to the third tower from the bottom. That’s not possible now because, unfortunately, it became a popular site to commit suicide. From 1996, visitors were allowed to climb only to the first floor balcony. Then, in 1998, an electrical failure cast the circular stairs in total darkness as school children were climbing the minar. The tragic outcome of their field trip that day, as they stampeded over each other in their as panic to flee, resulted in the deaths of 25 children.
I still think the story around this iron pillar (also known as Ashoka Pillar and is thought to be at least 1600 years old) is especially interesting. On our previous visit, it was not fenced off and it was still possible to actually touch it and try wrapping our arms around it with our back towards the pillar. Which we both tried without success. The traditional belief was that if one could accomplished this feat, they would have their wish granted. Looks simple enough, huh? Hubby is a metallurgist by schooling pointed out a metallurgical mystery that as old as the iron pillar is, it has never corroded. Apparently the Indian government became concerned that the corrosive qualities of sweating bodies could be detrimental, hence the fence. I’m glad to know it’s nothing personal.
It’s easy to understand the concern about the minar tower as we encountered hundreds of kids of all ages swarming the grounds that day. These uniformed school girls saw me with the camera and clamored to have their picture taken. No harm I thought as I obliged them. I hadn’t reckoned on teen or pre-teen exuberance as even more groups insisted on taking their turn too. I was only too happy to oblige. The incident did serve to remind me how easily this enthusiasm can turn to panic in a nano-second! I’m glad they closed the tower to climbing, aren’t you?
After I showed each of the groups their pictures in the camera’s viewer, they turned away boisterously to catch up with their leader and classmates. Wouldn’t they be surprised if they somehow stumble onto this site someday and see themselves here?
The second of the Muslim sultan dynasty seized power in Delhi from whoever his rival was in 1294 and decided, in a familiar scenario of one-up-man-ship after his triumphant return, that he would build a second tower adjacent to the Qutab Minar to commemorate his victory. It would be much more grandiose, twice as tall as the Qutab, and serve as a ceremonial entrance with tall gates on either side. Since the sultan died even before the first story was completed, the project was abandoned. The unfinished Alai Minar you see below (behind the trees on the right) as it would have been called, still remains.
Our last temple visit in Delhi was the Bahai Lotus Temple, an architectural wonder in a lotus shape, which is a symbol of purity and tenderness. The central theme of the Bahai faith is that man is one single race, and the day has come for its unification as one global society. Bahais believe that god has set historical forces in motion to break down traditional barriers of race, class, creed, and nation, that will–in time–bring forth a universal civilization. The principal challenge facing humanity, according to them, is accepting the fact of their oneness in order to assist this process. It was opened to people of all religions in 1986 and naturally attracts people from all over the world. In line with us were people in the dress of Muslims and Hindus, Catholic nuns, among others. And yes, we had to remove our shoes before we entered.
That concludes this religious odyssey for a little while anyway. I believe we’re almost ready to leave Delhi and enjoy warmer weather with beaches and palm trees in Goa . . . leading in turn to more churches and temples and mosques.