The following is a replug on World Heritage Day
Despite the city’s wealth of popular and lesser-known monuments, I have explored only a few. Time is one limitation, and the lack of zeal to do things for myself is another. Here too, having a look at Qutub Minar at night was high on my bucket list. Thus when I heard of the “Qutub Minar- Victory Tower’s Saga, A night Walk” organised by INTACH, I knew I had to go.
A history enthusiast could go on telling you about the nature of the walk and mention its hits and misses, but for me, the sight of the Minar in the navy blue early night sky was enough for the heritage walk to be a meaningful experience.
As the clock approached 7, the Qutub complex in Mehrauli became less crowded. The afternoon heat of Spring had dissipated by this hour as we began to feel a little cold amidst red sandstone and marble structures. One cannot tell whether it was the night that shrouded the crowd, or the breeze that masked the din. Regardless, the glory of Qutub Minar doubled up at night and the atmosphere suddenly became more comfortable and pleasant.
We, a random sample of people from Delhi, of different age groups, perhaps united by the love for Delhi and its history lived this experience together. We went behind the true arch, some distance north of Qutub to watch it from there. This Dushyant, the leader of our walk, called the Instagrammer blogger’s dream location to capture the Minar.
Having tried our hands at amateur photography, we moved close to the Minar. As Dushyant puts it, there is a beauty to witnessing Qutub Minar at night. “You can see the contrast of red sandstone and marble much better. Dushyant made us notice the change in the outer surface of the minar from the bottom to the fifth storey- at first, it is circular and angular, thereafter completely circular, then completely angular, and so on. The same is true for the rims of the balconies. These at a distance truly shine like a queen’s crown.
The elder members in the group engaged me on questions about the inside of the Minar. Upon asking, a lady told me that it looks scary on the inside. Until the 80s one was allowed to climb three storeys. Many in the group agree that it was dark with just labyrinthine stairs, with light passing only through cracks and niches.
The brilliance lies also in the fact that the minar perfectly faces the west from each corner. The outer of the minar was inscribed with verses of the Quran. We learnt that Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, founder of Aligarh Muslim University, during his research on Delhi monuments, read every verse which he documented in his books written in 1846.
The 72.5 metre high was started by Qutub-ud-Aibak as a ‘Victory tower’ to commemorate the beginning of the Delhi Sultanate. The name, although thought to be dedicated to Qutub-ud-Aibak who started it, in reality, is dedicated to Khwaja Qutbuddin Bakhtiar Kaki a 13th-century Sufi saint. The emperor of Delhi Iltutmish was an ardent devotee of him.
Apart from Qutub Minar, the heritage walk introduced me to other structures in the complex. The ones that I especially found interesting were Khalji’s half attempt at creating a Minar double the width and height of the Qutub Minar- Allai Minar and the Qubbat-ul-Islam mosque. The mosque was the site where Razia Sultana, Iltutmish’s able daughter and the only women Muslim ruler in South Asia avenged herself. As learnt, Raiza came wearing red clothes that Friday and asserted her merit to rule the kingdom, as against her half brother Firoz Shah. The Allai Darwaza with starry jaalis or windows was also very beautiful.
We ended our walk with Dushyant telling us about the Latin phrase inscribed on Sanderson’s sundial which says “The shadow passes, the light remains.” These lines against the backdrop of the Minar formed a perfect close.
Thereafter, we took a picture against the Minar as a memory. I was happy to be a part of a walk that seemed to offer history and stories in the right measure. Leaving the site, my mind wandered to how it would be to climb to the higher storeys of the Minar and see the view from there. Might be a Burj-Khalifa kind of moment in Delhi. It’s difficult to say.