Quwwatu'l Islam Masjid
: Qutub Area, Mehrauli, New Delhi
: Qutub-Ud-Din Aibak
: Shamsu'd-Din Iiltutmish & Ala-Ud-Din Khalij
An Ancient Landmark
Barring the pre-Sultanate monuments of Kutch District, this is the earliest extant mosque in India and consists of a rectangular court, 43.2m by 33m, enclosed by cloisters, erected with the carved columns and other architectural members of twenty-seven Hindu and Jain temples demolished by
Qutub-ud-Din Aibak, as recorded by him in his own inscription on the main eastern entrance. Qutub-ud-Din calls the mosque as Jama Masjid and states that on the original erection of each of the demolished temples a sum of twenty lakhs of coins had been spent. Later it came to be called the Quwwatu'l-Islam, meaning the 'might of Islam' mosque.
The Exquisite Architecture
The western portion of its courtyard occupies the original site of one of the demolished temples. At the two ends of its eastern cloisters, an intermediate storey was raised to provide compartments for the ladies. An iron pillar from a Vishnu temple of the fourth century which had been earlier set up here probably by Anangpal, stands in front of the prayer-hall.
The mosque was begun in 1192, immediately after the capture of Delhi by Qutub-ud-Din, and completed in 1198. Later, a massive stone screen was erected in front of the prayer-hall, consisting of a central arch, 6.7m wide and 16m high, with two similar but smaller arches on either side, all ogee-shaped. Except for the apex, where the few stones are laid in the manner of voussoirs, the construction of the arches is corbelled.
The screen is beautifully carved with borders of inscriptions and geometrical and arabesque designs, but the hand of craftsmen used to Hindu motifs is clearly perceptible in the naturalistic representation of serpentine tendrils and undulating leaves of its scroll work and even in the fine characters of the Koranic inscriptions.
Rejuvenation Of A Monument
The mosque was enlarged by two later rulers. Shamsu'd-Din Iltutmish (1211-36), son-in-law and successor of
Qutub-ud-Din, doubled the size of the mosque in 1230 by extending its colonnades and prayer hall outside the original enclosure, as a result the Qutub Minar now fell within the mosque-enclosure.
The arches of Iltutmish's screen are still principally corbelled, although their arabesque ornamentation with the inscriptions standing out prominently is
Saracenic in feeling, as distinct from the mixed decoration of Qutub-ud-Din Aibak's screen.
Ala-ud-Din Khalji (1296-1316) again extended the mosque substantially by enlarging the enclosure. He provided two gateways on the longer eastern side and one each on the north and south, the last one known as
Ala-i-Darwaza and still extant in entirety. In fact, he doubled the area of the mosque, and also commenced the construction of another minar, intended to be twice the size of
Qutub-ud-Din's minar, although it remained incomplete.
It is the first example of a building employing wholly Islamic principles of construction, including the true arch. In the mosque compound is the small but pretty tomb of Imam Zamim, who was the Imam (head priest) of the mosque during
Sikander Lodi's (1488-1517) reign.
A Must Visit Site
The Quwwat-ul-Islam Masjid can be a bewildering experience for those unfamiliar with its history. On one hand there is the beautiful, curvaceous Islamic calligraphy, the arabesque designs and then there are pillars with clearly pre-Islamic Hindu motifs. The reason is of course quite simple; the pillars were taken from the 27 temples of Qila Rai Pithora, the city of the Rajput king
Prithviraj Chauhan (see history). This in fact has been recorded by
Qutub-ud-din in his inscriptions, who calls it the Jami Masjid (Friday Mosque) in his inscriptions.
The Construction of The Mosque
The mosque was started in 1192 by Qutub-ud-din Aibak, the first ruler of the Slave Dynasty (called so because the founder was once a royal slave). It was finished four years later. However the masjid, much like the
Qutub complex itself, never stopped growing and many subsequent rulers, like
Altamash in 1230 and Alauddin Khalji in 1315, added their own bits to it.
The Exquisite Interiors
As soon as you passing through the entrance (watch out for the steep steps) of the poetically beautiful
Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque the intricately carved temple ceiling catches your eye. In front of you will be the spectacular courtyard of the mosque which is lined by the rows of the profusely adorned pillars talked about earlier on both sides. Hindu motifs, like tasseled ropes, bells, tendrils, cows and leaves, frolic all over the mosque. The very first indication of the Islamic character of the building come from the elegant pointed arches with curvaceous and serpentine calligraphy of texts from Quran in Arabic crowning them, towards the west of the mosque.
A massive stone screen was erected in front of the prayer hall, with a central arch and two similar, though smaller, arches on either side; all of these are shaped like an 'S' (ogee-shaped).
The prayer hall of the mosque stands to the west. It consists of a central arch which is over 6.15m (20ft) high and profusely carved, crowded with exquisite decorations and is one of the earliest and finest examples of the fusion of Hindu and Islamic art.
The Extension of The Structure
Later Qutub-ud-din's son-in-law and successor, Altamash had the request hall screen extended, and added three more arches besides the original five. The variation between the two arches is interesting: the earlier arches are not really the 'true' arch which is such a brand of Islamic structural design,
Altamash's arches were built by workmen from Afghanistan and are stylistically quite distinct. They use Islamic motifs such as geometrical shapes rather than naturalistic designs (which were frowned upon by the Muslim clergy) that Hindus used. Ala-ud-din Khalji extra a courtyard to the
mosquethe entrance to which is the marvelous Alai Darwaza.
In the mosque mix is the small but pretty tomb of Imam Zamim, who was the Imam (head priest) of the mosque all through
Sikander Lodi's (1488-1517) reign.