Delhi, 17 February 1893

As many artillery horse teams had been sent from a neighboring town for pulling our wagons I used this fast means of transport to explore the ruins of Delhi and especially the famous Qutb Minar (Tower of Qutab).

The whole surrounding area of Delhi is a city of ruin composed of the ruins of former palaces and other buildings. Hard to grasp is the number of destroyed mosques, temples and living quarters whose traces and foundations are distinctly visible amidst the trees and bushes. It is the ninth city that rose since the Aryan immigration, always out of the ruins of the precedent city as each of the many conquerors first destroyed what had been there and then created a new and more important city in splendor and expansion. Out of the ruins rise rather many still halfway preserved buildings from the time of the Mughals. Mostly mosques, forts, now and then beautiful grave monuments and parts of palaces. Everywhere dome constructions rule and many of the domes are covered with predominantly blue glaze tiles.

The most beautiful among the monuments is the grave of Emperor Humayun (died 1556), a large building which has a dome in the middle and in the corners eight-sided non-equilateral towers. Among the grave stones, the one of Humayun is notable for its simplicity, a white marble kenotaph without inscription. Close to the grave stands another well preserved beautiful mausoleum which according to legend Humayun had had built for his favorite barber.

As far as history is concerned, the place in front of the mausoleum of Humayun is interesting as the last titular Grand Mughal Bahadur had surrendered there to the English during the rebellion of 1857. The death penalty for Bahadur was transformed into lifelong imprisonment in consideration of the advanced age of the last of the Grand Mughals who died in 1862. The two sons of Bahadur who were captured as well were killed during their transfer to Delhi as the officer in charge of the escort decided to shoot them personally with his pistol given that these important prisoners were on the verge of being liberated by the huge crowds surrounding the wagons.

The whole drive of 17 km from Delhi to Qutab Minar is lined with ruins, as mentioned, so that we looked around the whole time and were attracted by new views all the time.

Already from a distance Qutab Minar is greeting us from a small hill. From afar it looks like a giant factory smoke stack. Up close it causes amazement due to its gigantic forms which have survived soundly through so many centuries. The tower in the form of a round pillar is 84 m, the diameter at the base is 14,3 m, at the top only 2,7 m which can be accessed by a stair of 378 steps. The tower is segmented into five parts marked by galleries; the three lower ones, made out of red sandstone are grooved shafts, the upper two are made out of white marble ornamented with simple grooves. The base of the tower seems to be ornamented with chiseled out koran sayings that cover the grooves up to the first gallery.

About the origin and the purpose behind the construction of Qutab Minar multiple opinions exist. According to one version the tower was intended to serve as a mazina (tower of the muezzin) of the nearby but now ruined mosque Kutab-elIslam (»Pole of Faith«). Others proclaim to know that the tower was built at the end of the 12th century by a prince named Rai Pithora, so that his daughter could watch the holy Yamuna river from the top. An explanation which would be a tribute to the fatherly love of the builder. Another tradition says that Qutab Minar was built by the Hindus and later altered by the Muslims. The presence of numerous ruins of Hindu temples around the tower gives credence to the latter hypothesis, even though one has to note that the tower started by king Kutab-ed-din-Aibak (died 1210) was completed by his favorite slave and inheritor to the crown Altamsch.

Near the already mentioned ruins of the Hindu temples one focuses on  a splendid richly decorated gate constructed by  Ala-ed-din (1295 to 1313), once the entrance to the Kutabel-Islam mosque. Remarkable about this gate is the combination of Hindu architecture with the Muslim style in such a manner that the reliefs dating from older Hindu or Jaina temples are inserted into arches and freezes of the Indian-Saracenic style. Here the sentiment for art has surpassed racial hatred!

A strange object is the famous but controversial „iron pillar“ which is almost 7 m tall and apparently a composition of iron, copper, gold and silver but according to Thompson’s view actually made out of wrought iron. The inscription placed at half the the height of the pillar in Sanskrit preserves the name of the victorious raja Dhawa for all eternity who is said to have erected this „arm of his glory“ in the  4th century. Probably the pillar had once borne a Vishnu statue. A second inscription with the name of Anang Pal, the founder of the Tomara dynasty has originated the common tradition that the „iron pillar“ has been created in 1052 by Anang Pal.

I mention too the small grave with splendid ornamentation of Altamsch and the mausoleum of Adam Khan, a high eight-sided building covered by a dome. This Adam Khan, a descendant of the Timurides and one of the most outstanding generals of Akbar is said to have murdered the father-in-law of the Emperor before his eyes and to have been thrown from the terrace of the palace as a punishment for the crime. In consideration of Adam Khan’s service at the conquest of Sarangpur Akbar is said to have motivated him to construct this monument for his cousin who might have been executed too hastily.

We profaned the building by eating breakfast within its walls. Then we marched through the stony and thorny area to hunt. We split into two parties. Prónay, Stockinger and I chose the hill around Qutab Minar, while the other gentlemen followed a local shikari who had a charming tame gazelle with him to attract game.  The advance in these ruins proved difficult because of the sharp stones, the walls and the copious sharp thorns but our perseverance paid off. I bagged several Indian grey partridges (Ortygornis pondiceriana), as well as four painted sand-grouses (Pterocles fasciatus). After a long march, actually a continuous steeple chase over walls and stones, I returned home with our formidable artillery horse teams  to devote my evening to my writing. To this purpose a warming fire was flickering in the chimney while jackals howled outside my window in a strange concert.

Links

  • Location: Dehli, India
  • ANNO – on 17.02.1893 in Austria’s newspapers. Prince Ferdinand of Bulgaria whose upcoming nuptials was noted yesterday, is sick in bed in Vienna and will be confined to the bed during the next days. The crisis in France fills another three columns of text.
  • The k.u.k. Hof-Burgtheater is playing a combination of three small pieces, while the k.u.k. Hof-Operntheater is performing the ballet „Excelsior“.

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