Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Iron Pillar

Many legends surround the Iron Pillar in Delhi. Unknown to many, this pillar has been in existence for the past 1600 years, with many scientists trying to decipher its mystery. Several theories later, it was found that flaky rusting and white spots have appeared on the pillar, but due to this very fact, it has remained resistant to massive corrosion.Many believe it’s the climate of Delhi, others give credit to the material used, and yet others point to the way it was forged to be the secret behind its strength. It was subsequently discovered that the pillar was not cast, but painstakingly constructed by a welding process. An important factor in determining corrosion resistance is the presence of ancient massive iron objects in areas with high humidity for significant periods - the iron beams in the Surya temple at Konarak in coastal Orissa and the iron pillar at Mookambika temple at Kollur. It is obvious that ancient Indians produced iron capable of withstanding corrosion, this many believe is due to the high phosphorus content of the iron produced during those times. The pillar stands next to the famous Qutb Minar in the Quwwat ul Islam Mosque courtyard. It has a rectangular courtyard, 43.2 sq metres by 32.9 sq metres, and is enclosed by cloisters erected by Qutb-Ud-Din Aibak, with carved columns said to have belonged to various temples. The construction of the mosque began in 1193 AD by Qutb-Ud-Din Aibak of the Mamluk (or the slave) dynasty and was completed in 1197 AD. A massive stone screen with high five arches was put in front of the prayer hall, giving the building an Islamic character. The screen is carved with borders, inscriptions, geometrical and arabesque designs. The mosque was enlarged by Shansuddin Iltutmish (1211 - 1236 AD) and Alauddin Khalji (1296 - 1316 AD). The screens of these two sultans are carved with purely Islamic motifs with geometric patterns.
Belonging to the fourth-fifth century AD, this metallurgical wonder is 24 feet in height, 16.4 inches in diameter at the bottom, and 6 1/2 tons in weight. It stands in the courtyard of the mosque and has a Sanskrit inscription written in the style of the fourth century Gupta rulers. The inscription says that the pillar was probably a dhvajastambha or flagpole of a Vishnu temple, made at the request of Chandragupta II Vikramditya who ruled between AD 375 and 413. It is said to have been brought to Delhi by the Tomar king Anangpal, somewhere in the 11th century. There is a hole on the top, where there might have been a sculpture of Garuda.
The identity of king Chandra behind the Delhi iron pillar has been addressed. It has been firmly established that the king was Chandragupta II Vikramaditya and numismatic evidence also proves that Chandra was a shorter version of his name. Scientists believe it was made during his lifetime and also that Chandragupta’s religion gives sufficient evidence to support his being Chandra. It is only the name of Vahlika and Vishnupadagiri which have to be proved, although according to archaeological and historical evidence, Udayagiri could be considered as ancient Vishnupadagiri, where the iron pillar was originally erected. But archaeological excavations are necessary to confirm it as the original city of location of the iron pillar.The inscription at the top of the pillar indicates it was King Chandra's monument of victory, while another further down mentions King Anang Pal II of the Chauhan dynasty who ruled in northern India during the late eleventh century. This has led to confusion and a lot of myths that surround this pillar. The mystery of the pillar continues to intrigue, till more evidence can be garnered.


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