The 1,600 year ‘young’ Iron Pillar of Delhi has defied both age and rust, and is the second most visited monument in the Qutub Minar Complex
In the Qutub Minar complex in New Delhi, besides Qutub Minar there is another tower that inspires as much awe and curiosity. Though much smaller in dimensions and not as beautifully designed as Qutub Minar, the 1600 year old Iron Pillar of Delhi is nothing less than a miracle.
Standing in the courtyard of the Qawwat-ul-Islam Mosque, the Iron Pillar of Delhi has been the focus of attention of metallurgists, engineers, electrochemists, archaeologists and scientists for over 100 years.
Weighing approximately 6 tons or more than 6,000 kilograms, the Iron Pillar of Delhi was installed at its present location around 1233 AD, by the slave-emperor Shams-ud-din Iltutmish, son-in-law of Qutub-ud-din Aibak.
The main reason for the popularity of the Iron Pillar of Delhi and the curiosity it generates is its complete resistance to rust and corrosion. For centuries it has stood in the open, exposed to the Sun, rain, winds, extreme heat and cold, and humans, but it continues to successfully resist all signs of ageing and wear and tear.
Brass or Iron?
For a long, long time it was believed that the Iron Pillar of Delhi was made of brass. In 1876 Dr Percy Brown from Roorkee University carried out a detailed chemical analysis of the material. His results established that the pillar was constructed of nothing but pure iron.
Scientific experiments have shown that there is a protective film on the surface of the Iron Pillar that protects it against atmospheric corrosion and gives it brass-like appearance when viewed from certain directions. The pillar is considered to be one of the best examples of ancient Indian engineering and metallurgical technologies.
Based on inscriptions and archaeological evidence, it has been concluded that the Iron Pillar of Delhi was originally located in Udayagiri, near Vidisha in Madhya Pradesh state of India. It was brought to its current location in the Qawwat-ul-Islam mosque by Shams-ud-din Iltutmish during his invasion of Malwa. There are other theories that suggest that the pillar was brought to Delhi by King Anangapal Tomar and that it was originally located in Mathura in Uttar Pradesh.
1,600 year old messages
One of the several inscriptions on the Iron Pillar of Delhi records the exploits of a king Chandra, who has been identified King Chandragupta II Vikramaditya (375-414 AD). The following is the translation of the original text of the inscription:
‘On whose arm fame was inscribed by the sword, when, in battle in the Vanga territory, he dashed back with his breast the enemies, who, uniting together, came upon (him); by whom crossing the seven mouths of the Sindhu the Vahlikas were conquered in battle; by the breezes of whole valour the southern ocean is still perfumed.’
Dimensions of the Iron Pillar of Delhi
- Total length of Iron Pillar: 7.16 m (23 ft 6 in)
- Diameter at bottom, above ground level: 0.42 m (16.7 in)
- Diameter at top, below the bell capital: 0.30 m (11.85 in)
- Diameter at the topmost bulging portion (underground): 0.48 m (19.09 in)
- Diameter at the base (underground): 0.62 m (24.59 in)
- Topmost square surface of the bell capital: 0.304 m x 0.304 m (1 ft x 1 ft)
- Diameter of the iron cylinder fitted at the top: 0.203 m (8 in)
The stone platform at the base of the Iron Pillar was not part of the original design and was added in 1861. There had been speculation that the Iron Pillar was buried 60 feet below the ground. However it was laid to rest when excavations around 1861 AD revealed that the Iron Pillar of Delhi was buried 2 ft 8 in below ground. On the centenary of Archaeological Survey of India in 1961, the pillar was again excavated and studies conducted on it.
The Mystery of the Bell Capital
The decorative bell capital at the top end of the Iron Pillar presents a marvellous 1600 year old design and consists of seven distinct parts. The bottom-part is a reeded bell structure or an inverted lotus. The next part of the structure is the slanted rod disc. The next three parts consist of rounded disc structures. While the top and bottom discs are semi-rounded, the middle disc, which is also the thickest of the three is completely rounded.
The sixth portion of the bell capital is another plain disc on top of which rests the final structure, which is the box pedestal. It is believed that the purpose of the box pedestal was to serve as a platform for a figure. On the top of the surface of the box pedestal there are grooves and marks, which suggest that there used to be a cylindrical object on the top of the Iron Pillar.