The five-story Qutb (pole or axis) Minar (tower) in Delhi was begun in 1193 by Qutbuddin Aibak, a slave who rose to become a general, and finally the ruler of the Mamluk (Slave) dynasty (ad 1206–46). This massive stone structure was, for many years, the world’s highest single tower. The minar marked Aibak’s victory over the Rajputs, and the start of Muslim rule in India. It took stonemasons and sculptors over 150 years to build, and was finally completed in 1368.
Lalkot is the first of the seven cities of Delhi, established by the Tomar Rajput ruler, Anang Pal, in 1060. The Qutb complex lies in the middle of the eastern part of Lalkot. Building of the Quwwatu'l-Islam (Might of Islam) congregational mosque was begun in 1192 by Qutbu'd-Din Aibak and completed in 1198, using the demolished remains of Hindu temples. It was enlarged by Iltutmish (1211-36) and again by Alauld-Din Khalji (1296-1316).
The Qutb Minar was also begun by Qutbu'd-Din Aibak, in around 1202 and completed by his successor, Muhammad-bin-Sam. It was damaged by lightning in 1326 and again in 1368, and was repaired by the rulers of the day, Muhammad-bin-Tughluq (1325-51) and Firuz Shah Tughluq (1351-88). In 1503 Sikandar Lodi carried out some restoration and enlargement of the upper storeys. The iron pillar in the mosque compound was brought from elsewhere in India. It bears a Sanskrit inscription from the 4th century AD describing the exploits of a ruler named Chandra, believed to be the Gupta King Chandragupta II (375-413). Of the other monuments, the Tomb of Iltutmish was built in 1235 by the ruler himself and Alai Darwaja was built in 1311 by Alauld-Din Khalji, who also began the construction of the Alai Minar.
The Quwwatu'l-Islam mosque consists of a courtyard, cloisters, and a prayer hall. The high arched screen facing the prayer hall was added in the 14th century. The Qutb Minar is a column built from red and buff sandstone blocks rising to a height of 72.5 m, tapering from 2.75 m diameter at the top to 14.32 m at the base, making it the highest stone tower in India. In addition to its traditional use for calling the faithful to prayer, it also has a monumental purpose, since a later Nagari inscription calls it Alauld-Din's 'victory monument' (Vijava-stambha). In its present form it consists of five storeys, the topmost of the original four storeys having been replaced by two storeys during the reign of Firuz Shah Tughluq. Each storey is separated from the next by highly decorated balconies, with pendentives and inscribed bands. The three earlier storeys are each decorated differently, the lowest being of alternating angular and rounded flutings, the second with rounded flutings alone, and the third with angular flutings alone; the same vertical alignment continues, however, through all three storeys. The whole structure was originally surmounted by a cupola, which fell during an earthquake and was replaced by a new cupola in late Mughal style in the early 19th century. This was so incongruous that it was removed in 1848 and now stands on the lawns to the south-east of the minaret.
The Iron Pillar is 7.02 m long, 0.93 m of which is below ground. It is built up of many hundreds of small wrought-iron blooms welded together and is the largest known composite iron object from so early a period. The remarkable lack of corrosion is attributable to the combination of several factors, among them the high corrosion-resistance of wrought iron, the climatic conditions in Delhi, and the likelihood that it was frequently anointed with ghee (melted butter). The deep cavity at the top suggests that it may at one time have been crowned by a Garuda image. The ornate Tomb of Iltutmish is in the north-west corner of the mosque. It consists of a square chamber of red sandstone with the tomb itself in the centre on a raised platform. The lower part of the interior is covered with fine Islamic carvings and arabesques. There is a marble mihrab (prayer niche) in the centre of the interior west wall. The Alai Darwaza, built from red sandstone and elaborately carved, is the southern entrance to the enlarged enclosure of the Qutb complex. The Alai Minar, to the north of the enclosure, is the base of a second minaret which was to overtop the Qutb Minar. It was begun by Alau'd-Din-Khalji, but he died before it reached the first storey and work on the structure was abandoned.
Until the thirteenth century Muslims continued to treat India as a land fit only for periodic plunder, a domain at “war,” rather than in “submission.” However, after 1206—the dawn of the Delhi sultanate, when the first of five Muslim dynasties established dominance over North India—Muslim rule remained an integral part at least of some portion of South Asia, if not its entire length and breadth. The Afghan “Slave” (Mamluk) dynasty lasted less than a century, followed by tougher Turkish Khaljis, who brought the faith of Islam to the Deccan, looting and plundering Devagiri, capital of pastoral Yadavas, worshipers of Krishna. Under Ala-ud-din Muhammad Khalji (r. 1296–1316), the sultanate reached its peak of power, but his sons were unable to consolidate their father’s phenomenal conquests.
The Sultanate Period (1192–1526)
As Ghaznavid power declined, it gave way to the reign of other “slave kings,” which included the dynastic succession of the Ghorids (1192–1290), the Khaljis (1290–1320), and the Tughluqs (1320–1398), culminating in the Lodi (1451–1526) dynasty. The Sultanate period, which lasted from the late twelfth to the early sixteenth centuries, began with the invasion of India by Muiz al-Din Ghori, who was of Turkish origin. Unlike Mahmud of Ghazni, who came to India simply to plunder and loot, Ghori and his descendants aimed to establish political control which manifested itself as the Delhi Sultanate.
The sultanates created a relatively stable political structure during this period, while the ultimate political authority rested with the Turkic sultans who, at least nominally, displayed Islam as their religious as well as political ideology. Among the populace, the religion of Islam meant something different. It was not synonymous with power or political dominance, and mostly grew among the poor. In fact, in the multifaceted social structure that developed in the midst of this complex period, it was generally acknowledged within the Muslim populace that the ulama held a religious authority that could not be subordinated or abrogated by the sultan, be he a local or imperial sultan. Instead, sultans generally attempted to legitimize their rule by acknowledging the authority of local ulama and particularly of Sufi saints.
It should be noted that during this period there was a creative cultural melding of traditions, which resulted in systems of military cooperation strong enough to head off the powerful Mongol advance, agrarian management systems that would survive well into the British colonial period, and an artistic and architectural synthesis so compelling that its creations still draw tourists to India today. Through the medieval period, Muslim intellectuals, Sufis, artisans, and travelers in general were attracted to South Asia from all parts of the Muslim world. This resulted in an administrative system resembling Islamic structures developed in the Muslim caliphates of Iraq and Syria.
The role of the Sufis was central to the growth of Islam, as they were generous in establishing their khanqahs. These centers also served as places for devotional and therapeutic needs. Sufis and religious leaders filled the need for education as well as spiritual fulfillment.
As the Delhi Sultanate became weak at the center, it resulted in the emergence of regional dynasties—in Bengal in the east and Gujarat in the west. The Bahmani kingdom in the south became independent of the Sultanate in 1347 and lasted for almost two hundred years before being split up into four smaller kingdoms. Its rulers, patrons of Sufi saints, also supported a variety of forms of Indo-Islamic art and the spread of Islamic tradition in South India.
In this regional arrangement of political power, Muslim culture developed in collaboration with local linguistic and social norms. This contributed to the increasing diversity of Islamic societies, cultures, and traditions. Muslim rulers and nobles formed alliances based on political and economic interests that went beyond religious and sectarian (Shia-Sunni) affiliation. Hindu kings fought with Turkish rulers, Muslim rebels collaborated with Hindus to secede from the Sultanate’s center, and so on.