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Qutb ud Din Aibak, founder of the Delhi Sultanate, started construction of the Qutb Minar’s first storey around 1192. In 1220, Aibak’s successor and son-in-law Shamsuddin Iltutmish completed a further three storeys. In 1369, a lightning strike destroyed the top storey. Firoz Shah Tughlaq replaced the damaged storey, and added one more. Sher Shah Suri also added an entrance to this tower while he was ruling and Humayun was in exile.
Qutb Minar was established along with Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque around 1192 by Qutb-ud-din Aibak, first ruler of the Delhi Sultanate. The mosque complex is one of the earliest that survives in the Indian subcontinent. The minaret is named after Qutb-ud-din Aibak, or Qutbuddin Bakhtiar Kaki, a Sufi saint. Its ground storey was built over the ruins of the Lal Kot, the citadel of Dhillika. Aibak’s successor Iltutmish added three more storeys. Inscriptions record that spoils from 27 Hindu and Jain temples were torn down, and used for its creation. Pillars from the destroyed temples were reused and the original images plastered over. Over time, the plaster has fallen revealing the original Hindu carvings. A photograph of the site, taken by Dr John Murray in 1858, is captioned as Rao Petarah’s Temple.
The Minar is surrounded by several historically significant monuments of Qutb complex. The nearby pillared cupola known as “Smith’s Folly” is a remnant of the tower’s 19th century restoration, which included an ill-advised attempt to add some more stories.
The minar’s topmost storey was damaged by lightning in 1369 and was rebuilt by Firuz Shah Tughlaq, who added another storey. In 1505, an earthquake damaged Qutub Minar; it was repaired by Sikander Lodi. On 1 September 1803, a major earthquake caused serious damage. Major Robert Smith of the British Indian Army renovated the tower in 1828 and installed a pillared cupola over the fifth storey, thus creating a sixth. The cupola was taken down in 1848, under instructions from The Viscount Hardinge, then Governor General of India. It was reinstalled at ground level to the east of Qutb Minar, where it remains. It is known as “Smith’s Folly“.
The transformed tower’s style is patterned on Afghanistan‘s Minaret of Jam, and adapted to local artistic conventions by incorporation of “looped bells and garlands and lotus borders into the carving”. Numerous inscriptions in Parso-Arabic and Nagari characters in different sections of the Qutb Minar reveal the history of its construction, and the later restorations and repairs by Firoz Shah Tughluq (1351–89) and Sikandar Lodi (1489–1517).
The tower has five superposed, tapering storeys. The lowest three comprise fluted cylindrical shafts or columns of pale red sandstone, separated by flanges and by storeyed balconies, carried on Muqarnas corbels. The fourth column is of marble, and is relatively plain. The fifth is of marble and sandstone. The flanges are a darker red sandstone throughout, and are engraved with Quranic texts and decorative elements. The whole tower contains a spiral staircase of 379 steps. At the foot of the tower is the Quwat ul Islam Mosque. The minar tilts just over 65 cm from the vertical, which is considered to be within safe limits, although experts have stated that monitoring is needed in case rainwater seepage further weakens the foundation.
Before 1974, the general public was allowed access to the top of the minaret, via the internal staircase. On 4 December 1981, the staircase lighting failed. Between 400 and 500 visitors stampeded towards the exit, and 47 were killed in the crush and some were injured. Most of these were school children. Since then, the tower has been closed to the public. Since this incident the rules regarding entry has been stringent.
Bollywood actor and director Dev Anand wanted to shoot the song “Dil Ka Bhanwar Kare Pukar” from his film Tere Ghar Ke Samne inside the Minar. However, the cameras in that era were too big to fit inside the tower’s narrow passage, and therefore the song was shot inside a replica of the Qutb Minar
A picture of the minaret is featured on the travel cards and tokens issued by the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation. A recently launched start-up in collaboration with the Archaeological Survey of India has made a 360o walkthrough of Qutb Minar available.
Ministry of Tourism recently gave seven companies the ‘Letters of Intent’ for fourteen monuments under its ‘Adopt a Heritage Scheme.’ These companies will be the future ‘Monument Mitras.’ Qutb Minar has been chosen to part of that list.