Qutub Minar is one of the most popular and prominent monuments in India. It is one of the earliest architectural eras of Muslim rule in the country. But now a court will decide whether the temples that were demolished centuries ago in Delhi’s Qutub Minar complex should be restored.
The United Nations World Heritage Site was built in the twelfth century and stands 73 meters (240 feet) high. The red brick building has a total of 379 steps. The Victory Tower was built by the first Sultan of Delhi, Qutbuddin Aibak, after defeating the Hindus in 1192, and was inspired by the Afghan-style minarets. Even after him, three rulers renovated it and its height was extended.
Historian William Dalrymple says that the Qutub Minar, which looked like a telescope in the hilly area of Aravalli Hill, Delhi, was a ‘proud and triumphant statement of arrival’. According to a 1926 note by J.A. Page, a senior official of the Archaeological Survey of India, the fortified complex containing the minaret has a controversial history. The 27 Hindu and Jain temples there were demolished and their wreckage was used to build Delhi’s first mosque on the site. The platform of one of these temples was preserved and integrated into the construction of the mosque.
There is more to this complex than just the Qutub Minar. The complex has a 1,600-year-old 20-foot-tall iron pillar that has withstood all sorts of weather and time disasters for centuries, including five arches and the tomb of one of Delhi’s sultans. The buildings in the complex use Hindu and Muslim paintings. In his note, J.A. Page had said that this monumental building has some of the most important and remarkable relics in the history of Delhi in terms of ‘antiquity and art carving’.
Eight hundred years later, a court in India is now hearing a request to restore the 27 temples that were demolished in the past in this complex. In November, a civil court rejected the petition, saying that India had been ruled by several empires at different times and that mistakes made in the past “could not be the basis for undermining our present and future peace.” Now, the petitioner has challenged this judgment in the High Court and has taken the position that ‘when there was a temple on this place long before the mosque, why can’t it be restored?’ Hari Shankar Jain believes that Hindu deities are still present in this complex.
Archaeologists are still struggling to gather enough evidence before reaching the final conclusions about the location of the complex, which is protected by federal law. “His status cannot be changed or reversed,” he says. But other similar controversies, backed by Hindu nationalist groups, are erupting over mosques built on demolished Hindu places of worship in the cities of Varanasi and Mathura.
Historians say that since the end of the 12th century, Muslim kings, and at least since the 7th century, Hindu kings have looted, rebuilt or destroyed temples under the patronage of enemy kings or rebels. Historian Rana Safavi says that every ruler tried to seal his political power and his imperial power by destroying the greatest religious symbols. It is not that all the temples were destroyed, only those that had political significance were destroyed.
Why was the Qutub Minar built? Rana Safavi says one reason for this may be to use it as a mosque minaret in the complex, which could have been used by the muezzin to call Muslims to prayer. She says another possible reason could be to use it as a military watchtower to monitor enemy movements. However, the most probable reason for its construction seems to be that it was a tower of victory, resembling the towers of Ghazni and influenced by it. The fortified tower has twice been protected from lightning strikes, its fourth floor being damaged in one incident and the Sultan of that time repaired it and replaced its bricks with stones and marble. ۔ And two additional floors were built. And a platform was built on the upper floor. The platform increased its height by 12 feet, but it collapsed in an earthquake. The tower has also survived two major earthquakes.
Today, the Qutb Minar is more than just a historical monument of Delhi, partly because it is part of the memory of many generations of Delhiites.
Rana Safavi still remembers when he first visited here in 1977. “I climbed to its first floor and saw the beautiful countryside of that time,” she says. My older sisters talk about an earlier visit in the 1960s when we went to the top of the tower. The tower, a popular tourist attraction in the city, was closed to visitors in 1981 when a stampede on its narrow staircase killed 45 people, most of them schoolchildren. There were children. The memorial is located in an expensive area of the city, surrounded by restaurants and expensive boutiques.
The restaurants here, in their promotions and bar and rooftop ads on Instagram, consider the picturesque views of this tower to be the best for your next date. One restaurant even called it ‘crazy sexy’ on Instagram. All this is far from the commotion on the streets and in the courtroom. Earlier this month, members of a right-wing Hindu group were detained for protesting and chanting slogans outside the complex.
Last week, petitioner Jane told the court that the collapse of a temple “does not deprive it of its religious significance or sanctity.” He said he had a constitutional right to worship at the Qutub Minar complex. To which the judge remarked, “Gods and goddesses have been living without this worship for the last eight hundred years. Let them be as they are.”
A court decision on the petition is expected in the next few weeks.
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