The Masjid-i-Kutb-ul-Islam [Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque]. General view of the Masjid and colonnade
The Masjid-i-Kutb-ul-Islam [Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque]. General view of the Masjid and colonnade © British Library/Charles Shepherd

THE inscription over the eastern gateway is a record by Kutb-ucl-din, that he took the materials from twenty-seven idolatrous Hindu temples, to build the Great Masjid. According to a calculation by General Cunningham, from twenty to twenty-five temples might have been made from the columns now in situ, so that the assertion may be taken to be probably true.

Besides such as are found near modern Delhi, there are several evidences of the Moslem conquest and of the consequent extension of the Muhammadan religion. The Mosque at Ajmir, like that at the Kutb, was avowedly built of the materials afforded by the local idol temples which had been destroyed by Muhammad Ghori, and bears an epitaph during the reign of the Sultan, translated thus by Colonel Lees:

"(This Masjid was built) during the guardianship of Akbar, the son of Ahmed (by the help of God) the creator, the everlasting, in the month of Zi-Hijjah, 596,"= A.D. 1199.1

In addition to the inscription, above-mentioned, of his name, and the date A.D. 1193, of his victory over the Hindus on the eastern doorway to the Mosque (this is General Cunningham's reading), Kutb-ud-din placed other similar ones upon the exterior surface of the door to the north of the Court, (see plan No. II.) date A.D. 1195,2 and on the Central Arch of the Mosque itself, 1197 (see plan), all of which Mr. Thomas believes to have been executed under his direct auspices.

General Cunningham, in 1862, made an examination of the inscription over the eastern doorway of the Court-yard, and assigns the date of A.D. 1193 to it. This, if correct, coincides with the date of the capture of Delhi, but Mr. Thomas affirms that after the most careful investigation by a competent authority, he is no longer doubtful of the number being 587 A. H., instead of 589, and which is equivalent to A.D. 1191, two years earlier than the period stated by General Cunningham.

The account given in the Asar-us-Sunadid asserts that the present enclosed court and Colonnade surrounding the Iron pillar (see B on plan No. II.) were the original Bhiitkhana of the Rajah Pithora, and the natives still call them the Bhiitkhana, or idol temple. The account runs: "This well-known idol Temple of Rai Pithora was built together with his Fort in the year A.D. 1143, and consisted on all sides of beautiful Halls containing several apartments. It was erected by such master sculptors that it is difficult for the eye to imagine better workmanship. On doors, walls and pillars were carved figures of men and animals and bells hanging by chains, and both sides of the building exist as formerly. Although the images were broken down during the supremacy of the Moslems, an estimate of their pristine beauty may be formed from the present state of the sculptures."

The reasons against the probable truth of this account are to be found in the present arrangement of the stone columns, each of which consists of two pieces placed one above the other, and in many cases the bases and caps are also in separate pieces. With the exception of five columns situated at the south-east corner of the Colonnade, no others have the same complete appearance. These, there can be no doubt, were left intact as their builders the Hindus erected them. On these five columns are engraved masons' marks which correspond, and are identical in shaft and base. On inspecting the other columns I found the masons' marks to be different on the several parts placed one above the other. And this fact convinces me of the eclectic character derived from their mode of erection by the Muhammadans, who made use of such bits of ruins as were found to be suitable one to the other, in respect of the accpiireinent of a certain height. In the corner to the south-east, the pillars are of a plain character like those represented in Photograph IX. which are situated on the north side. This plainness evidently conduced to the comparative correctness with which they were pieced together when used for constructing the Mosque, as the portions so used more likely escaped the destruction and mutilation which were the fate of the ornamented pillars hearing a carving of the hated idolatrous image. An examination of the Photographs V. VI. VII. and VIII. will show how the carved portions of the pillars were pieced together. The upper and lower shafts do not correspond, and, as I have pointed out, it is obvious to anyone that they do not now stand as erected by the Hindus. Again, the enclosing walls round the Colonnade are certainly Muhammadan, being pierced by openings with pointed arches. I have, therefore, no hesitation in assuming that although the present enclosure may occupy the ground on which the Hindu Temples stood, the building as it now exists was erected by Kutb-ud-din in A.D. 1193, and is the so-called Masjid-i-Kutb-ul-Iskim. As a partial corroboration of this I quote the following passage from General Cunningham:—"in February, 1853, I examined very minutely the pillared cloisters of the Great Mosque, and then came to the conclusion that the square about the iron pillar is all made up; the outer walls are not Hindu, the pillars are all made up of pieces of various kinds, the shaft of one kind being placed above that of another for the purpose of obtaining height.3 The general effect is good; but a closer inspection reveals the incongruities of pillars half plain and half decorated, and of others that are thicker above than below."The Masjid. or sanctuary of the Mosque, is situated at the west, and some of the pillars may be seen to the left of the Photograph IV. (see G on plan). This part is very much ruined, and the stone roof has almost entirely fallen in. It measures about 135 feet by 31 feet, and consists of rows of fine Hindu pillars. In front of this is Kutb-ud-din's splendid gateway, containing seven arches, by which the Mosque was entered from the Court. The plain back of the south flank of the gateway may be seen in the Photograph II. The open Court measures 145 feet by 96 feet, and is surrounded on the north, south, and east, by Cloisters composed of rows of pillars—which are still standing in the eastern half of the enclosure—but in the western portion they are nearly all fallen. There were three entrances to the Court, two of which I have alluded to, the largest being to the east (f on plan), and the northern gate (K), which are still standing, and are in a fair state of repair; the gate to the south (J) has disappeared, and the steps outside are the only remnants of this last Gateway.

The Cloister at the east end consists of four rows of pillars, and at the two corners on the south-east and north-east, there is an upper story, or kind of Pavilion, along which are ranged smaller columns supporting a low conical dome. A similar covering rests over the pillars opposite the eastern doorway and over the pillars of the northern entrance. At the north-west corner of the Court there are the remains of a pavilion and a similar one probably existed at the corresponding angle to the south-west. The northern wall is pierced by openings. On one of the outside Lintels (at L) is a piece of Hindu figure carving, one of the few sculptures that escaped destruction by the Muhammadans. I obtained a cast of this curious carving and brought it to the Kensington Museum, where it may be seen.4 There is a second piece of figure carving on one of the inner Lintels of the Colonnade at the north-east corner, of which I also procured a fac-simile. Over the northern doorway and on the interior Lintel is a third piece of Hindu sculpture, it is however partly concealed by a block of stone.5

Several carved panels of animals and figures still remain in the upper portion of the Eastern Pavilions, some of which are in fair order; but with these exceptions the Muhammadans mutilated every representation of the human figure and destroyed every other carved image that existed on the pillars or stonework. The Colonnades on the northern and southern sides consisted of only three rows of pillars, the third being half let into the thickness of the enclosing wall. The curious iron pillar (see V on plan) stands in the ground about thirty-five feet from and opposite to the central archway of the gateways leading into the Masjid.

Several old tombs are scattered about in the enclosure, and on the south-east side Mr. Fergusson says of the Great Mosque: "The roofs and domes are all of ' Jaina ' architecture, so that no trace of the Moorish style is to be seen internally The the ground is strewn with fragments of pillars and broken blocks of carved stonework. pillars are of the same order as those used on Mount Abu, except that those at Delhi are much richer and more elaborate … They belong to the eleventh or twelfth century. … On the roof and less seen parts, the cross-legged figures of the Jaina saints, and other emblems of that religion, may still be detected."

  • 1. Thomas, "Pathan Kings of Delhi," p. 26.
  • 2. This inscription runs:—
    "In the name of the all merciful
    God! God calls those whom he pleases to Paradise,
    And he directs according to his will in the right path.
    "This building was erected by the high command of the Grand Sultan, who commands the respect of the temporal and spiritual Government, Muhammad Sam Nasir, the Prince of Believers, in the year 592 (= 1195, a.d)- This gateway must have been completed in A.D. 1197 as the date is inscribed on the left side of the middle opening of Kutb-ud-din's range of arches.
  • 3. I think that the five Hindu pillars in the south-east coiner indicate the original average height of many of the other pillars used in the temples; at all events, many of the shafts were portions composing pillars and never intended to be used separately. As there appear to have been twenty-seven Hindu temples, there would have been many varieties of heights of shafts.
  • 4. See page 52, § 4.
  • 5. Ibid. § 1.
The Masjid-i-Kutb-ul-Islam [Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque]. Hindu sculptures.
The Masjid-i-Kutb-ul-Islam [Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque]. Hindu sculptures.: Two prints showing details of relief carving from 'an architrave measuring about four feet long by nine inches deep, situated inside the north-east corner of the colonnade.' © British Library/Charles Shepherd

During my stay at the Kutb, I made a very careful examination of all the figure arvings in order to trace, if possible, the Jaina origin of the ornamental stone columns. The plain pillars in the south-east, north, and outer Colonnades are, I think, unquestionably Brahminical. The carved pillars in the Mosque itself, and in the courtyard, are Jain in style, but I could discover no one figure so perfect as to be undoubtedly a Jain emblem; and here I would remark that in the temple of Karkotuk Nag on the banks of the Bandelkhand side of the Jumna, a few miles below Mhow, there are pillars which arc; very similar to the pillars in the Kutb Masjid (Photograph IV.); but it is quite certain that the temple of Karkotuk Nag was erected by the Hindus, and by them dedicated to the god Siva, although the character of the pillars partakes of the so-called Jain style of architecture. It appears to me that of the existing pieces of figure carving at the Kutb, those which are least damaged are Hindu. There are four in which the figures can be traced, but before describing these, it may be as well to explain that the Hindu "Triad" consists of three Gods:—

1.Brahma . .The Creator.
2.Vishnu . .The Preserver.
3.Siva . .The Destroyer.

Brahma was never very much worshipped as a separate divinity, although he is daily invoked in the religious services of the Hindus. With Vishnu and Siva the case is, however, widely different, they are worshipped as heads of almost distinct religions, and various sects ujmold the supreme divinity of each as being paramount and the sole object of adoration: whilst their various incarnations or "Avatars" attract a very large share of veneration.

The most popular and principal objects of native predilection throughout all Hindustan and the outlying countries inhabited by Hindus are to be found in the various incarnations of the god Vishnu who, for the attainment of different results and benefits, assumed the character of nine different god-heads. The number of his elementary incarnations is said to be ten, but the tenth has yet to come. As Vishnu pur ct simple, he was commonly represented as a comely young man of a dark azure colour, and his first out of the ten principal incarnations is that of a fish, a character assumed for the purpose of regaining the possession of the Holy "Vedas," a book supposed to have been borne away by a fiend in a deluge. His second incarnation was that of a boar, and on his tusks he is stated to have raised the world, which had sunk into the depths of the ocean. A third impersonation was that of a tortoise; a fourth that of a man with head and paws like a lion. The fifth was that of a Brahmin dwarf; the sixth was "Parusa Kama," a Brahmin hero; the seventh was Rama Chandra; the eighth Krishna, a hero who delivered the earth from giants. The ninth incarnation was Buddha, a teacher, as is stated by Hindus, of a false religion, but which more probably was a clever device for explaining the Buddhist religion, that formerly had so powerful a sway over the greater portion of India and to which so large a number of Hindus became converted.

1. A piece above and inside the North Gateway; subject, several figures seated.

2. This piece consists of a stone measuring about four feet three inches long by seven inches deep, and is situated above one of the openings between the North Gateway and North-east Angle. See L on plan No. II. and Photograph III. a. The sculpture is somewhat of a primitive character, but appears to have been chiselled by a native sculptor whose power of art delineation was not of a finished character, although possessing the elements of true art feeling and sentiment. In the centre of the carving is a half-open door, which resembles the rude doors commonly to be seen in many native dwellings of the present day. The subject of the sculpture is repeated in the two halves of the stone. A female figure is reclining on a bedstead of a rather classical shape, shaded by a canopy. She is guarded by two sentinels, and beside her on the bed lies a child. There is a slight variation in the grouping in the two compartments. In that to the left a female is seated on a low stool chafing her feet, and three women are carrying two infants towards the half-open door in the centre. In the right compartment there are three women carrying three children, two appear to be engaged in washing them round a "Gharra," (a vessel in common use for holding water) . On the extreme right are two cows and a young calf. The heads of the figures have not all been defaced by the Muhammadans, but have suffered from the natural decay of the stone.

The meaning of this scene is somewhat obscure, but, from the incidents of Krishna's birth, it may perhaps be not improbable that the female figure is intended to represent Dewaki, his mother. The seven children may also be accounted for as representations of the infant Krishna, in the different positions of being suckled, carried and washed. The cows and calf on the extreme right of the carving may be connected with "Ananda," the cowherd, who protected Krishna after his escape from Kansa—the open doorway in the centre of the panel suggests a connection with this escape. In Moor's "Hindu Pantheon" there is a plate (No. 58) representing the miraculous escape of the infant Krishna over the Yamuna, or Jumna, conveyed by his father, Vasudeva (t. e. giver of wealth) and protected by Sesha (or immortality), the guards placed by Kansa over his pregnant sister having failed in their vigilance. Kansa being enraged, ordered all newly-born infants to be slain, but Krishna escaped his various snares: one of which was sending a woman named "Patnia" with a poisoned nipple to nurse him. He was fostered by an honest herdsman named Ananda or "happy," and his amiable wife Yasuda or the "giver of honour," and passed the gay hours of youth, dancing, sporting and piping amongst a multitude of young "Gopas" or cowherds and "Gopias" or milkmaids, from whom he selected nine as favourites. The grouping of the figures bears some resemblance to the birth of Christ in the manger. Krishna was believed to be an incarnation of Vishnu as early as the period of the Chandra Gupta's,1 and whatever similarity the circumstances of his birth may bear to that of Christ, it cannot be said that the Hindus borrowed the traditions of the Christian religion. (I brought back a cast of this carving, which may be seen at the South Kensington Museum.)

3. A carved architrave in the north-east corner of the inner courtyard. Subject, Vishnu lying on a couch, with a lotus rising from his navel and covered by a canopy. Indra on an elephant. Brahma, with three heads, on a goose. Siva on a bull.

4. A piece of stone carving on an architrave measuring about four feet long by nine inches deep, situated inside the north-east corner of the Colonnade. See M on plan No. II. and Photograph III. b. Subject: on the left are two men carrying circular vessels {i.e. "Gharras") in "Banghis," [i.e. slung at both ends of a bamboo, which is carried on the shoulder.] They probably contain milk, for next to them is a female figure engaged in churning milk into butter and she is doing this in the same way as frequently practised in India at the present day. A long bamboo stick with prongs at the end is being twisted in a vessel by means of a leather strap which is passed two or three times round it. The operation is very similar to that practised by sailors in spuming the water out of a mop. The next figure is carrying a vessel on her head, then follows a sentinel holding a stick, and in the centre of the carving is a small building or temple, inside which is a standing figure. Outside this and on the right is another sentinel, with his hand placed over his mouth as if to restrain a burst of laughter. Beyond are four figures seated on low stools round a Rajah and his wife; the latter is being fanned by a female attendant. The party seem to be enjoving a feast, and their fun has no doubt excited the merriment of the sentinel. In most native entertamments butter is very largely used and its preparation in the left compartment is probably in reference to the repast here portrayed. The heads of all the figures are a good deal mutilated, but the remarkable mode of dressing the hair into a sort of "chignon" may be easily traced. It resembles the Buddhist head-dresses in the sculptures on the Gateways of the Sanchi Tope, in Central India, and is very likely an adaptation from them. (A facsimile of this may be seen in the Kensington Museum.) M. De Tassy. in describing the buildings about Delhi and that at the Kutb, adopts, in reference to the latter, the text of Syud Ahmed, and has fallen into the local error of supposing this identical building to have been a Hindu palace and temple previous to the Muhammadan invasion. His description runs as follows:—

"Near the palace of the Rajah Pithora was a large temple, which was very celebrated. At the four corners of this temple were four apartments, and in the centre was a court-yard. There were doors on the north, south, and east, the sacred image being situated to the west. The Palace and Temple were erected in the year 538 of the Hejira (A.D. 1143). The construction is so admirable, and the artists were so clever in the sculpture of the stonework, that it is impossible to conceive anything more perfect. On each stone were engraved such beautiful scrolls of flowers as to outdo description. On all the doors, walls and pillars, were carved figures of idols and bells hanging from chains. At the present time the north and east sides exist us formerly. In conformity with the usage of the Vislmi religion, an iron -pillar2 was erected in the temple and, since the sculptures on the doors and walls represent the Avatar or incarnation of Krishna, (this probablj refers to the carving just described, page 52, ^ 2) figures of Mahadeo, Ganesh and Banuman, it follows thai the temple w;ts dedicated to the religious service of the Vislmi sect of Hinduism. Although at the time of the Muhammadans the statues were destroyed, one can still easily recognise, by the remains, what was intended to be represented.' 3

General Cunningham has stated that, with the; exception of the iron column and one stone pillar in the Colonnade having a Buddhist or a Jaina figure, there is nothing older than the tenth or eleventh century in the Great Mosque or in its neighbourhood.

  • 1. Lassen's "Indische AJterthums Kunde." Vol. ii. p. 1107.
  • 2. It is possible that the iron Lat or pillar may have been worshipped as a Lingam, hut it is an emblem of Siva rather than of Vishnu.
  • 3. M. Garcin de Tassy, "Description des Monuments de Delhi en 1852, d'apiv^ le Tezte Hindustani de Saiyid Ahmad Khan."