Volume 69 Number 1, September 2017
Delhi’s Qutb Complex: The Minar, Mosque and Mehrauli
|Specifications:||160 pages, 130 illustrations|
|Dimensions:||305 x 241 mm|
This book presents a geographical, chronological and cultural narrative of the famous Qutb complex in Delhi and its surrounding area, Mehrauli. It examines the initial growth of this area from its founding about 1060 by the Rajput Tomars near the temple of Yogmaya, its likely takeover by the Chauhans and then its establishment as a Muslim headquarters under the Ghurids of Afghanistan and their successors, the independent sultans of Delhi. Besides the celebrated Qutb Minar—the world’s tallest brick/stone constructed minaret—included in the complex are Delhi’s first mosque, an early tomb and school, as well as a magnificent arched stone screen in front of the original mosque.
The mosque complex did not exist in isolation, for it was part of a larger palace complex and town in whose midst the Sufi saint, Qutb al-Din Bakhtiyar Kaki, established his residence and teaching quarters, attracting followers both during his life and after his death. Even as the successors to Delhi’s early sultans built new headquarters at other sites, building activity at the Qutb complex and in the surrounding town of Mehrauli continued. By the middle of the 19th century, Mehrauli accommodated not only the last Mughal’s summer palace but also the country estate of the British Resident, who had transformed a Mughal tomb into his home. The final days of the Raj were played out here, when in 1948 Mahatma Gandhi undertook a fast-unto-death at the dargah of Bakhtiyar Kaki to end violence against Muslims. Over the centuries, this part of Delhi has seen the establishment of Hindu, Jain, Sikh, Christian and Buddhist centres of worship as well.
The issues addressed in this book range from the motivations and inspirations behind the construction of the various monuments, the use of spolia, the messages of the inscriptions and graffiti and the political aspirations of the patrons, down to the status of the monuments today. Supported by a rich selection of photographs, the engaging text brings alive this significant piece of India’s heritage and history.
Catherine B. Asher is Professor in the Department of Art History at the University of Minnesota, and teaches a wide range of courses on South Asian and Islamic art and culture. Well known for her work on the Mughal dynasty (1526–1858), she is increasingly working on the patronage of its successors and predecessors, both Muslim and non-Muslim, from 1200 to the present. Asher’s books include Architecture of Mughal India (1992), Perceptions of South Asia’s Visual Past (1994) and India before Europe (2006; co-authored with Cynthia Talbot).
Growth of a Complex
In the Vicinity of the Qutb, 1236−87
Just before the Mughals
Just before Modern Times
From the War of Independence to Independence Achieved
Catherine B. Asher traces the history of the Qutb Complex site, starting with the Tomars, who shifted their capital to Mehrauli in 1060, to the establishment of the Ghurid headquarters in Delhi. While the UNESCO World Heritage Site sign only acknowledges the Qutb Minar and its immediate monuments, Asher examines the important structures nearby that formed the urban environment in which the Qutb is situated.
The chapter probes the origins of the earliest of the buildings at the Qutb complex, their patrons and their ambitions. Among the monuments discussed are Qutb al-Din Aibak’s congregational mosque and screen, the first phase of the Qutb Minar, the Gupta iron pillar and Iltutmish’s tomb.
Following the death of Bakhtiyar Kaki, the saint’s teaching quarters were transformed into the Qutb Sahib Dargah, which remains an important spiritual centre even today. The period saw much political turmoil until the reign of Ghiyas al-Din Balban. The next Delhi sultan of note, Ala al-Din Khalji’s contributions to the complex include the unfinished Alai Minar and the Alai Darwaza. Also discussed are the Hauz-i Shamsi and tombs beyond the Qutb complex, including the grave of Haji Rozbih and the sites of Baba Farid’s austerities.
The chapter looks at the impact of the Qutb from the 13th through 17th centuries, even though no large-scale construction was carried out at the complex and its surrounding areas for almost 300 years. The contributions of the Tughluqs, Lodis and the Mughals to the architectural landscape of Delhi are covered here.
Mehrauli in the 17th century remained a choice locale for intellectuals, Sufis and poets. Catherine Asher writes about the construction of tombs and the continuing significance of dargahs in the area. With the coming of the British, the Mughals remained the titular rulers of Delhi, until the First War of Independence in 1857.
The Qutb complex remains an unfolding, ever-changing and expanding site. This chapter notes the Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, Christian and secular structures in and around the complex, and their relationship to the site. It also traces the influence the Qutb Minar has had on other structures in India and Pakistan.