Located a few km south of Delhi and built in red and buff sandstone, the five storeyed Qutub Minar is the highest tower in India. It is a 239.5 feet (73 m) tall tapering tower with a base diameter of 47 feet (14.3 m), reducing to 9 feet (2.7 m) at the peak and alternating angular and rounded flutings. Constructed as a tower of victory marking the beginning of the Muslim dominion in India, its design is considered to be influenced by the Minaret of Jam, in western Afghanistan.
In early days this surrounding area was known asLalkot. This was the first city among the seven legendary cities around Delhi, developed by King Anangpal, the Tomar ruler in the 8th century and further expanded by King Prithviraj Chauhan III in the 12th century. In 1192, this was conquered by Muhammad Ghori who made Qutubuin Aibak his representative to rule his new dynasty in India. Later, in 1206, when Muhammad Ghori was killed in the course of a battle, Qutubuddin Aibak crowned himself the Sultan of Delhi and founded Mamluk or Slave Dynasty in the country.
The construction of the Qutub Minar was started by Qutubuin Aibak around 1192, to celebrate Muslim dominance in Delhi and it was named after him. However, it is also said that the tower was named after Qutabuddin Bakhtial Kaki, a Sufi saint. Nevertheless, Qutubuin Aibak could finish only the first storey of the tower before his death in 1210. Construction of the tower was later taken over by his successor and son-in-law Iltutmish, who completed a further three storeys. Unfortunately, this historical monument had to face several natural disasters. In 1369, a disastrous lightning hit the top storey of the minaret and knocked it off entirely. That was taken care of by Sultan Firoz Shah Tughlaq, the then ruler of the Sultanate of Delhi, who took charge of its restoration and also constructed two more storeys to the minaret. After that, in 1505, a terrible earthquake again damaged the monument. This time, Sikandar Lodi, the then Sultan of Delhi, repaired the damage. But, that was not the end of the mishaps. On 1st September 1803, a major earthquake seriously damaged the tower and it remained in that sad condition for quite a long time. At last, Robert Smith, a Major of the British Indian Army renovated the tower in 1828 and also installed a pillared cupola over the fifth story, thus creating a sixth storey of the monument. Subsequently, precisely after twenty years, the added cupola was dismantled in 1848, under instructions from the Viscount Hardinge, thethen Governor General of India. Known as ‘Smith’s Folly’, it was reinstalled at ground level to the east of Qutab Minar.
Though the design of the Qutub Minar is said to be basically influenced by the Minaret of Jam in Afghanistan, it was built by Hindus artisans and incorporation of the looped bells, garlands and lotus borders into the carvings clearly evidences the Hindu influence. The flutings at the base of first storey has alternate patterns of angular and circular flutings, the second one is round, while the third storey of the Qutub Minar has angular flutings. All the storeys are surrounded by a projected balcony encircling the tower, supported by stone brackets, which are intricately decorated with honeycomb design. The first three storeys are made of pale red sandstone, separated by flanges. The fourth storey is constructed with marble, while both marble and sandstone is used for the fifth. The flanges, engraved with Quranic texts and decorative designs, are thoroughly constructed with darker red sandstone. The walls of the Qutub Minar are adorned with the verses from the holy Quran and in different sections of the tower, inscriptions in Parso-Arabic and Nagari characters depict the history of its construction and the subsequent restorations and repairs by Firoz Shah Tughluq (1351–89) and Sikandar Lodi(1489–1517). The tall tower has an internal spiral staircase of 379 steps leading to the top.
It is reported that, the tower is tilted a little over 65cm from the vertical, which is considered to be within the safe limits. However, possible rainwater seepage can further weaken the foundation. The tower has been closed to the public since an unfortunate incident on the 4th December 1981, when due to the sudden failure of electricity in the staircase, visitors panicked and nearly 300 to 400 people were stampeded near the exit and 45 were killed in the crush.
The Qutub Minar is the star attraction of the Qutub complex, which include among others theentrance to this tower added by Sher Shah Suri, the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque, the magnificent Alai-Darwaza, the much older and famousIron Pillar, the tombs of Iltutmis, Alauddin Khilji, the dismantled ‘Smith’s Folly’ and the ruins of several earlier Jain and Hindu temples. Apart from that, there is an incomplete tower in the complex, known as the Alai Minar. It was initiated by Alauddin Khilji, who intended to make it twice the height of the Qutub Minar. Unfortunately, the construction of his dream project came to a halt, following his death in 1316.
Qutub Minar, one of the most recognizable landmarks of India, is a magnificent example of Mughal architecture in the country. It is a World Heritage Site and attracts thousands of visitors every year.