History Lessons for Incredible India: The True Meaning of the “Tower of Victory” at Qutub Minar
A history essay delineating the real meaning and civilisational significance of Qutub Minar or The Tower of Victory
The truism that the more things change the more they remain the same has been proven true once again. This time, the tidings come from unexpected…well, observing the trajectory over the last five-plus years, one should say it is entirely along expected lines. Given how the historical-cultural narrative continues to proceed in the mainstream discourse, one can fairly say that secularism has lost governments for two consecutive terms but has largely retained its grip over the Hindu psyche, which is still coming to terms with this multi-headed monster. But that’s a topic for another day.
Nowhere is secularism more pronounced and physically visible than in what is celebrated as India’s cultural heritage. Sure, the Taj Mahal might have been deservedly relegated to its rightful place as a criminally wasteful marble-studded extravagance of a sex-crazed despot. However, in yet another magnificent act of celebrating the glorious deeds of the fanatical supremo of Sanatana vandalism Aurangzeb, the denizens of the ASI decided to spruce up his “coronation site” at Shalimar Bagh last month. Small wonder that the Tourism ministry’s arm, Incredible India tweeted this appalling ignorance of history.
But to put things in perspective, it is a trifle too much to expect the folks running the Incredible India Twitter handle to know any history but those in the know should’ve known better. Or is that too, too much to expect? Mentioning “the tower of victory” with such nonchalance, from an organ of a ministry dedicated to preserving and protecting and telling the truth of our history and heritage expectedly generated widespread outrage on social media. But given the extremely fleeting nature of social media, it is only fitting to narrate the truth of the “tower of victory” here because one hopes that it will have a longer shelf life.
The tower of victory. Qutub Minar. The Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque. Commissioned by the alien Turkic Mulsim invader, the mass-murderer of Hindus and inveterate destroyer of Sanatana temples, Murtis, and other constructions, Qutub-ud-din Aibak. Here’s the story.
“Little Finger” Qutub-ud-din Aibak was born of humble origins in remote Turkistan to Turkic parents. As a boy, he was bought by a slave merchant and sold to a Qazi named Fakhr-ud-din at Nishapur. The Qazi took pity on him and educated him along with his sons in reading the Quran, horse riding and archery. When the Qazi died an untimely death, his sons sold Aibak to a wealthy merchant who in turn sold him to Muhammad of Ghori in the city of Ghazni.
Aibak, literally meaning, “little finger,” quickly earned Muhammad’s favour and climbed up the ranks by the dint of sheer humility and unquestioned obedience. But it was due to his solid performance in the decisive Second Battle of Tarain in 1192 that he attained the status of military supremo in Muhammad’s army. The sultan awarded him the title, Qutub-ud-din, “the Pole Star of the Faithful.” More goodies followed in its wake. Muhammad entrusted all his future conquests in Hindustan to Qutub-ud-din Aibak. He now had absolute freedom and power to take any decision regarding Hindustan.
Qutub-ud-din didn’t disappoint. He established a temporary base at Indraprastha near Delhi. Then he occupied Delhi itself by forcibly ejecting a Chahamana feudatory in early 1193. Meanwhile, Hariraja, the brother of the late great Prithviraja Chahamana, revolted at Ajmer and recaptured it. It was the fulfilment of a collective seething passion to avenge the death of the beloved Prithviraja Chahamana who had fallen not to valour but foul betrayal. However, when Qutub-ud-din marched with a massive force, Hariraja and his army withdrew.
Meanwhile in Delhi, the ejected Chahamana feudatory spotted his chance and reoccupied his former domain. Qutub-ud-din rushed back and laid a siege. It was time to teach a permanent lesson to these stubborn infidels. However, Hariraja was again free to recoup his strength. The Chahamana’s force in Delhi, confident in their superior numbers, charged out with bravado to meet Qutub-ud-din’s siege head on. It was a particularly gruesome and bloody battle. The massacre on both sides was so extraordinary that the “river Jamuna was discoloured with blood.” In the end, the Hindu force lost and retreated into the walls of the garrison, and eventually surrendered after a prolonged siege. The bigoted contemporary chronicler, Hasan Nizami celebrates the victory in glowing turns of phrase.
Delhi irretrievably fell to the alien Turkic invader, an episode that marks a historical presage. Qutub-ud-din made it his capital, the first capital of what would eventually be called the alien Muslim Sultanate in India.
Qutub-ud-din then marched towards Kol(modern Aligarh) after crossing the Jamuna whose exceedingly pure waters “resembled a mirror.” For the longest time, Kol had earned fame as one of the “most celebrated fortresses of Hind.” Its capture would be of strategic importance. Aibak assaulted the citadel repeatedly till it fell and the infidels inside it “who were wise accepted the light of Islam” but those who “stood by their ancient faith were slain with the sword.” His chiefs and nobles burst inside and “carried off much treasures and countless plunder” including one thousand horses.
Then the news reached him there: his sultan, Muhammad of Ghori had decided to return to Hindustan for a fresh wave of devastation whose central purpose was to punish Raja Jayachandra, the king of the Gahadawala Dynasty ruling the Antaravedi country in the Kanauj region. Flourishing commercial centres and sacred pilgrimage spots including Kanyakubja and Kashi were under his control. Qutub-ud-din marched forthwith and received his Master and had the honour of kissing his hands, an act considered to be the “highest of glories.” After this, he submitted an elephant laden with gold, silver, rubies, a hundred horses and all kinds of perfumes.
Next, the sultan and his slave strategized and prepared for the upcoming expedition against the infidel Jayachandra. When the roll call was taken, it amounted to a whopping fifty thousand-strong cavalry, a good chunk of it supplied by Qutub-ud-din. Indeed, Muhammad had wisely not underestimated the prowess and fighting force of Jayachandra.
Aibak led the vanguard with a thousand cavalry and met Jayachandra at Chandawar on the banks of the Yamuna in a vast plain between Etawah and Kanauj. It was an evenly matched contest with neither side relenting. At one point, Jayachandra gained the upper hand forcing the Muslim army to backtrack. Given the copious and confusing historical chronicles of this landmark Battle of Chandawar, the actual details are hazy. However, a common thread emerges with reasonable accuracy. Either Aibak himself or someone in his army fatally shot Jayachandra with an arrow. The Gahadawala King fell down on the ground from his elephant. A familiar scene unfolded in the Hindu army: confusion and chaos erupted. Quite naturally, Qutub-ud-din turned it to his advantage. It was the most opportune moment to purge “the impurities of idolatry” and rid “the country of Hind from vice and superstition.” The words in quotes are perhaps the mildest selections from the descriptions given by the Muslim chroniclers of the wanton orgy of genocide and bloodletting of Hindus that followed. It makes for truly sickening reading. Bestiality was unleashed on an appalling scale—heartless, random massacre, pillage, plunder, destruction, and rapine were carried out as a grand celebration. Hindu temples and shrines and Murtis were broken and burnt and razed to the ground and their accumulated treasures, offered as Naivedya by countless devotees over centuries were looted in one go.
The chroniclers Hasan Nizami and Firishta differ in their descriptions of this ghastly event only in detail and phraseology. Nizami exults at this “distribution of justice” and “repression of idolatry” while Firishta proudly narrates that “the number of infidels slain on just this day” was so staggering that it was long “before the body of” Jayachandra could be found by his friends who had been allowed to search the mountain of corpses.
Muhammad of Ghori was elated but still hungry.
The peerless ancient centre of Sanatana Dharma, the home of every Sanatana sect, path and school, the repose of all the thirty-three crore Deities in the Hindu pantheon, the Maha-Smashana (the Great Graveyard that liberates one from the endless cycle of birth and death) guarded by Mahadeva, the Kotwal himself…was now left wholly defenceless. Kashi. Varanasi. Benares. The city that exuded the radiance of the highest, the deepest, and the most profound yearnings of philosophy and spirituality. A radiance that was couched in the root of its very name: Kashi, from the Sanskrit root, Kash, meaning “light,” “effulgent.” Now, it was prey for the aforementioned “distribution of justice,” a pious act that involved the pitiless destruction of one thousand temples and the construction of an equal number of mosques on the same foundations using the debris of these razed temples. Varanasi’s very first and fiendish brush with the faith of peace and light permanently altered and marred its physical landscape. Needless, the collective wealth of all these temples was added to Muhammad’s unquenchable thirst to plunder this infidel land.
Next, he proceeded unimpeded to the Gahadawala fort at Asni where Jayachandra’s treasury was located, and pillaged it completely. An estimate of the staggering booty that Muhammad obtained during just this expedition is given: (i) Firishita: four thousand camels were loaded with the said spoils (ii) Ibn Asir: fourteen hundred camels loaded with plunder. Before Muhammad finally departed for Ghazni, “the record of his celebrated holy wars had been written in histories and circulated throughout the breadth of” Hindustan.
Fresh troubles had erupted elsewhere for Qutub-ud-din Aibak leaving him no leisure to savour the pious victory and his share of the lavish plunder seized at Varanasi and Asni. The Hindu rulers had merely accepted a military defeat but had not given up. The abhorrent outrages that followed in the wake of each Muslim invasion and attack had etched a permanent hatred in their minds for these despicable Turushkas. Big or small, whenever they found an opening, a weakness, they hit back. Now, it was with Kol and Ajmer. In 1195, just a year later, the Dor Rajputs laid siege to wrest back this famous garrison now under Muslim control. However, the brave endeavor failed miserably, brutally. Hasan Nizami the bigot exults how the Dor Rajputs were akin to “foxes playing with lions,” who were swiftly dispatched to the “fire of hell.” Three bastions were raised “as high as heaven” with the severed heads of these Rajputs signaling a grave warning. Their carcasses “became the food of beasts of prey.” And then, as was customary, the entire land was “was freed from idols and idol worship, and the foundations of infidelity were destroyed.”
Ajmer proved tougher. The still-unsubdued brother of Prithviraja Chahamana, the same Hariraja had not only recouped his strength but had made some smart alliances to harass Aibak. One such alliance was with a Jat chieftain who was marching against Aibak’s Delhi stronghold itself. A measure of the kind of fear his march instilled among the Muslims is given by Hasan Nizami in his typical bigoted style:
Meanwhile, Hariraja had invested the massive fort of Ajmer that rightfully belonged to his deceased brother, a proud inheritance of the Chahamanas. This third rebellion in a space of two years against Muslim occupation was a courageous act of reclamation but in Nizami’s eyes, it was a “standard of perdition…fanned by the flames of idolatry in his heart” and therefore had “delivered the reins of vanity into the hands of Satan, and having conceived the ladders of grandeur in his brain, had become proud."
An incensed Qutub-ud-din left a military detachment to guard Delhi, sped towards Ajmer and blocked the Jat chieftain who gave him a spirited battle but had to retreat all the way back into the fort of Ajmer. Aibak blockaded the fort, locking Hariraja within. The prolonged siege obtained the desired results: finding himself vastly outnumbered and having no escape route, Hariraja voluntarily embraced death by burning himself on the funeral pyre instead of facing the humiliation of surrender and inevitable captivity.
Aibak then barged into one of the most “celebrated forts in Hind” and cut off infidelity and “utterly” ripped out “the foundations of idol-worship.” Nizami praises Qutub-ud-din as “The Blessed Lamp” and gloats how the celebrated Rajas and Ranas rubbed their foreheads on the ground before this lamp. Aibak annexed Ajmer to the Delhi dominions and left behind a Muslim governor.
When Aibak returned to Delhi flushed with these great victories, he decided to commemorate them by building the first ever mosque in the city. But it was not enough to simply build the Quwwat-ul-Islam, the “glory of Islam.” It necessitated an emphatic spectacle and a permanent reminder of what this glory meant in actual practice. Accordingly, Qutub-ud-din Aibak demolished twenty-seven Hindu and Jain temples and used their debris as construction material for the mosque. The Quwwat-ul-Islam is noted for the Qutub Minar, the “tower of victory,” celebrating and stamping the first ever Muslim conquest in the heart of Delhi.
The same applies to the “construction” of the Adhai Din Ka Jhonpra mosque in Ajmer built after razing down the existing Sanskrit College, which had housed a beautiful Saraswati Temple within.
The Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque also earned another distinction. Iltutmish, Qutub-ud-din’s slave and successor, completed the construction of the Qutub Minar. Around 1233-4, he marched to Ujjaini, the beloved city of Mahakavi Kalidasa, and home to the magnificent and sublime Mahakala Temple (or Mahakal) dedicated to Shiva, one of the twelve sacred Jyotirlingas.
Quite naturally, Iltutmish regarded it as one of the great hubs of infidel idolatry. With a savage stroke, he demolished this exquisite temple, a majestic, living proof and a profoundly dignified symbol of the possibilities of what innate devotion and stainless piety could accomplish when it finds unsullied expression in architecture and refined sculpture. A work of three hundred painstaking years and countless generations of dedicated, joyous, backbreaking work, an awe-inspiring system of transmitting generational knowledge, an economic framework and political stability that sustained all this tragically fell to the sword and the pickaxe and the fire of a determined, zealous vandal inspired by Islamic piety. After the pious ravaging was complete, Iltutmish ordered his troops to carry these broken idols and “many other figures” and “brass statues of Vikramaditya and other notable rulers” to Delhi where they were “broken at the door of the great” Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque so that the Faithful could trample upon it.
Tower of victory. Qutub Minar. Incredible India, indeed.
1. Nishapur is now in the Khorasan Razavi Province, Iran.
2. The accurate meaning of the word “Aibak” is disputed. According to some scholars, “Aibak” might also mean the name of a tribe or a town.
3. Taju-l Ma’asir: Hasan Nizami. Quoted in The History of India As Told by Its Own Historians: Vol 3, Elliot and Dawson. p 220
4. Kol was also known as Koil before the 18th Century. Its origins are obscure. A Puranic account narrates that Balarama slew the demon named Kol in this region and with the help of the Ahir people, established peace and order. Another account attributes the establishment of this city to the Dor Rajputs in the fourth century CE. The latter account can reasonably be verified by the ruins of the Dor fort still standing in Aligarh. For fuller details, see: Descriptive and Historical Account of the Aligarh District: Edwin T. Atkinson: Oxford University Press, 1875
5. Taju-l Ma’asir: Hasan Nizami. Quoted in The History of India As Told by Its Own Historians: Vol 2, Elliot and Dawson. p 222
6. Jayachandra is the same Jaichand mentioned in the epic poem, Prithviraj Raso, which blames him for betraying Prithviraja Chahamana. The account is historically inaccurate. However, the name “Jaichand” continues to be synonymous with “traitor.”
7. Taj-ul-Maasir: Hasan Nizami: Quoted in The History of India As Told by Its Own Historians: Vol 2, Elliot and Dawson. p 224
8. “The conqueror entered the city and its vicinity was freed from idols and idol-worship; and in the sanctuaries of the images of the gods, mosques were razed by the worshippers of the one God” -- Taj-ul-Maasir: Hasan Nizami quoted in: Qutab Minar & Adjoining Monuments: Archeological Survey of India, 2002 p 31.
9. The construction of the first storey of the Qutub Minar began some time in 1199.
10. Adhai din ka Jhonpra literally means, “Shed of two-and-half days.” Also known as “Dhai Din ki Masjid.” It was the second mosque to be built in India by the Mamluk Slave kings, the first being the aforementioned Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque in Delhi. For a detailed history of this mosque, see: Ajmer’s Adhai din ka Jhonpra: K.D.L. Khan: Spectrum, The Tribune, September 2, 2007.
The Mahakala temple was since rebuilt and is still renowned for its extraordinary Bhasmarti. However, it is not even a pale shadow of what it had once been.
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