The history of Qutb Minar

The victory tower which represents the defeat of the Delhi Sultanate by Muslim invaders

The amazing thing about the tower (which has not unfairly been likened to a bog-standard factory chimney although of course it’s much more significant than that) is the fact it's decorated with calligraphy representing verses from the Holy Koran, and that it has a slight tilt.

In February 2009, the Union minister of tourism and culture, Ambika Soni, reported that the Qutb Minar is tilting at an annual rate of 0.5-3 seconds – it had tilted between 9-11 seconds from 1983 to 2005.

Qutb Minar is located 15km south of New Delhi, and sits above the foundations of Lal Kot, the 'first city of Delhi' founded in the 11th century by the Tomar Rajputs. It was Qutb-ud-din-Aiback's victory tower, celebrating the advent of the Muslim dominance of Delhi and much of the Subcontinent that was to last until 1857.

Qutb-ud-din-Aiback (variously spelt as Qutab or Qutub) was the slave-turned-general who laid the foundation of Minar for the use of the muezzin to give calls for prayer.

The man himself however built only one storey – his successors completed it. A cupola was added in 1368 but it was toppled in 1803 by an earthquake. An Englishman replaced it in 1829 but the replacement was deemed inappropriate and removed. Unfortunately, a stampede during a school trip, which resulted in several deaths, means the tower has been closed for many years.

The tower is in the southern half of the complex. At its base is the first mosque to be built in India, the Quwwat ul-Islam (Might of Islam) Mosque, which Qutb-ud-din-Aiback (hereafter just ‘Qutb’) began building in 1193 but which has been amended several times over the centuries.

An indication of what the Muslims felt about the Hindu religion can be gleaned from the fact the original mosque was built on the foundations of a Hindu temple, and an inscription over the east gate states it was built with materials obtained from demolishing '27 idolatrous temples'.

Qutb played a significant if short role in Delhi’s Muslim history. As a child, he was sold in north-eastern Iran to a chief called Qazi who treated him as a son. After Qazi’s death, Qutb, who was of Turkic ancestry, was sold to a slave merchant and ended up in the employ of the Turkish warlord Muhammad of Ghor (1162-1206).

Qutb rose through the ranks and became so trusted by Muhammad he was given the title ‘Axis of the Faith’ (it isn’t certain which part of Qutb’s name reflects this). After Muhammad defeated the powerful Rajput clan in 1192, he returned home, leaving his generals to complete the conquest. But when Muhammad was assassinated in 1206, Qutb became the autonomous ruler of his former Indian territories, including Delhi.

(A variation on this story has it Qutb’s superior was assassinated, allowing the former slave to become ruler of the Delhi sultanate. Either way, his elevation led to the start of the so-called ‘Slave Dynasty’).

Qutb died in 1210 while playing polo in Lahore; he is said to have become impaled on the pommel of his saddle after his horse fell. He was buried near a bazaar in the city. His son, Aram, died the following year, so Iltutmish, Qutb’s son-in-law and another former slave, became sultan of Delhi.

Qutb Minar may be the most visible reminder of the early Muslim conquest of Delhi, and of Qutb-ud-din-Aiback’s influence on that part of history

Qutb Minar in Delhi, India

A victory tower which celebrates the conquest of Delhi by Muslim invaders

Qutb Minar in DelhiCredit: David StrydomCredit: David Strydom