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Alai Darwaza - Delhi - Famous Gates
18786    Dibyendu Banerjee    25/04/2018

Alai Darwaza - Delhi

The Khalji or Khilji dynasty, the second dynasty to rule the Delhi Sultanate of India between 1290 and 1320, was founded by Jalal ud din Firuz Khaliji. The Khaliji rulers were of Turko-Afghan heritage and were originally of Turkic origin. The dynasty, ruling large parts of the Indian subcontinent, is infamous for their faithlessness, cruelty and ferocity, conquests of the Hindu rulers of the south and west and for successfully fending off the repeated invasions of the Mongols.

Built by the second Khilji Sultan Alauddin Khilji, in 1311 AD, the Alai Darwaza is the main gateway at the southern end of the Quwwat-Ul-Islam Mosque, located within the Qutb Minar Complex in South Delhi. It is, in fact, an extension to provide an entrance pathway to the courtyard of the Quwwat-Ul-Islam Masjid. It is only one of the four proposed grand gateways, as the other three could never be completed, due to the death of Alauddin in AD 1316. Yet, it is to be admitted that the Alai Darwaza is one of the first buildings in India to be built in true Islamic architectural style, complete with domes, pointed arches and beautiful carvings that added a royal charm to it. The previous Slave dynasty of the Delhi Sultanate, which ruled from1206 to 1290, did not employ true Islamic architectural styles and used false domes and false arches. This makes the Alai Darwaza, the earliest example of the use of arches and true domes in India. With its pointed arches and spearhead of fringes, identified as lotus buds, inscriptions in Naskh script, latticed stone screens, it showcases the remarkable craftsmanship of the Turkish artisans who worked on it and added grace to the Quwwat-Ul-Islam mosque, to which it served as an entrance.

Alai Darwaja
Alai Darwaja
Alai Darwaja

The Alai Darwaza also shows clear influence of the Seljuk art and it is very much evident in the "spearheaded" decoration on the three entrances. After the Mongol invasions in the 12th century AD, the Seljuks had started fleeing Western Asia and had reached Delhi for protection.

All the sides of the Alai Darwaza have an arched opening. The Gate measures 17.2 metre squares with a shallow dome mounted over a huge ornamental octagonal base. The main structure, which is a single hall, is 34' 6" on the inside and 56' 6" on the outside, while the ceiling of the bulging domes is 47' high. The lofty pointed arches of the three doorways on the east, west, and south are horseshoe shaped, which rise above the flanking side bays. The recessed corner arches of the attractive horseshoe forms, act together to support the spherical dome on the top of the square chamber. It is interesting to note that, the earlier attempts of raising and properly fixing the dome on the top of a structure, had been unsuccessful, like the tomb of Iltutmish. In this respect, the dome of the Alai Darwaza, is undoubtedly a notable achievement. The proportionate shape and the overall look of the Alai Darwaza is a pleasing treat for the hungry eyes.

Alai Darwaja
Inscriptions on entrance arch,Alai Darwaja
Alai Darwaja
Floral motives and Arabic calligraphy - Alai Darwaza

All the sides of the Darwaza are ornamented with beautiful carvings of floral and geometric patterns, in both white marble and red sandstone, creating an aesthetically colourful effect. Perforated latticework window screens are set in the recessed windows on both sides of the entrances, to break the monotony of the vertical lines of calligraphic ornamentation. The elegantly created surface decoration with the lace-like interweaving of floral tendrils, which are repeated with a neat symmetry on all the three entrances, is really charming and praise worthy.

The entrance to the north is of an indigenous character, as its arch is semi-circular in shape and the façade is elaborately ornamented in delicate carving and patterns, characteristic of the pre-Turkish days

Alai Darwaja
Interior of Alai Darwaza

The Alai Darwaza, though apparently stands isolated and neglected at the southern end of the Qutab complex, it appears to be an integral and befitting part of the other grand structures around it.

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Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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