Wow! That is what I thought as I rounded a corner and set my eyes on her, she had not changed, she was the same since I saw her some 6 years back. There she stood, towering over everything around her as silent ode to her makers. I hastened my steps, eager to look at her from close quarters and be once again swept off my feet by her sheer grace and beauty.
I was in Delhi as an invitee for the launch of the new Tata Tigor car and the fact that she was at an arm’s length of desire spurred me towards her.
As I came closer to her, she seemed to assume gigantic proportions and soon my puny self was dwarfed by her massive size.
Yes, the Qutub Minar, with a towering height of 240 feet, a width of 47 feet at the base that tapers to 8 feet at the top does look huge when you get close to it. Qutub Minar is probably one of the most iconic and recognisable landmarks of Delhi and India, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site situated in the Mehrauli area of Delhi, India’s capital city.
The Qutub Minar started taking shape sometime in the year 1192 under the aegis of Qutb Al-Din Aibak, a ruler of the Turkic Mamluk dynasty of the Delhi Sultanate. The giant tower that would eventually rise from the earth was to be a commemoration of victory over the erstwhile rulers of the land. However the king’s dream of seeing his victory monument completed faced an early death as he could complete only the first storey before he himself died. It fell on his son-in-law and successor Iltutmish to continue his labour of love. Iltutmish managed to build another 3 storeys. The Qutub Minar as we see it now was finally completed by Firoz Shah Tughlaq in the year 1369.
The Qutub Minar now stands majestically, a structure with 5 storeys, each with a balcony jutting out. Red sandstone has been used in the construction of the first 3 storeys while the top 2 are of marble and sandstone. The design and material used are signs of the changing times in which the tower was constructed. The Qutub Minar stands majestically amidst other structures of the same era. Very near the foot of the Qutub Minar is situated what is supposed to be the first mosque built in India, the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque. There is an iron pillar in the courtyard of the mosque which rises to a height of 7 metres above the ground. Local myth has it that if you can encircle the pillar with your hands while standing with your back to it, your wishes will turn into reality.
Though the Qutub Minar from a distance looks like a plain structure jutting out from the earth, somewhat akin to a giant chimney, a closer look will ensure that you change your mind. The structure is embellished with inscriptions and the balconies supported by decorative brackets provide a tone of beauty. The red sandstone and marble add to the simple beauty of the structure. The lush green lawns and the ruins of old structures that surround the Qutub Minar lend it an aura of intrigue, which seems to thicken as the sun sets and its shadow lengthens.
As I look at the Qutub and try to capture its image from every conceivable angle with my camera, sometimes squatting cross-legged on the cobbled floor and at other times lying prostate on my back, I am struck by another aspect of the Qutub. It is as if a veil has lifted and I see the structure beautiful as ever but with a streak of melancholia, a hint of tragedy.
I look around, and see tourists clicking photos, local couples moving around hand in hand, kids screaming and jumping around as their parents are deep in a domestic discussion. My mind travels at the speed of light to another similar day, many, many years ago, when the Qutub Minar was open to the public and one could climb the narrow staircase to reach the top. It was Friday, the 4th of December, 1981. A group of excited school children, chattering away to glory entered the dark staircase that led to the top of the Qutub Minar. Many of them did not return alive. An electrical failure had resulted in the staircase being enveloped in darkness, which in turn created panic resulting in a stampede.
The entry inside Qutub Minar has been shut since that fateful day.
The sound of a plane, brought me back from the labyrinthine corridors of history in which I was lost. I looked up as a plane flew past the Qutub Minar, quite close, or so it appeared to my benumbed mind. As I continued to stare at the Qutub Minar who somehow now seemed to have acquired the contours of a bewitching beauty with a fatal attraction, I thought of one of the theories of why the Qutub Minar was built. The Qutub Minar was supposedly built to celebrate victory in war. War, of course spelled bloodshed, so the red sandstones that constituted the Qutub Minar was stained by the blood of numerous unknown and unsung warriors. An Inscription in Persian near the Mosque also proclaims that the Mosque was built with the debris obtained by the demolition of 27 places of worship of the erstwhile kingdom which had been defeated.
So the questions that plagued me somehow seemed to mar the beauty of the Qutub Minar.
Was the Qutub Minar a structure stood triumphantly celebrating the destruction of other structures that predated it?
Was not the Qutub Minar in many ways a glorification of war rather than a commemoration of victory?
I made my way away from the Qutub Minar, these thoughts whirring in my mind.
I turned to have one last look at her before she disappeared from sight, I saw her bathed in a the golden glow of the setting sun, a smile seemed light up her face. I could almost hear her say, “I am nothing but sand, stone and marble, whatever I am, it is Man who has given me shape”. “It is the same sand, stone and marble which Man uses to shape structures according to his whims and fancies”. “Sometimes he builds Mausoleums and Temples, and at other times he builds towers and forts”.
I smiled to myself and thought, whatever may be the history behind the Qutub Minar, I was smitten for life by her beauty and would return again and again for a glimpse of her elegantly poised beauty. I was happy to that I had understood the Qutub Minar- The stone structure and the soul within.
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