The Masjid-i-Kutb-ul-Islam [Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque]. Pillars in the Sanctuary of the Mosque
The Masjid-i-Kutb-ul-Islam [Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque]. Pillars in the Sanctuary of the Mosque © British Library./ Charles Shepherd

THE principal aim of my visit to the Kutb ruins was to obtain facsimiles of the best pillars in the Colonnade. They have a beauty and variety of ornament unequalled, so far as is known, in the whole of the northern part of India, and are some of the best samples of a style of architecture, evidently one suggested by that of the Jams, of which specimens abound in Rajputana and Bandelkhand. In the present instance it would appear that the temples from which the pillars and materials had been taken to build the Mosque were Brahminical. Those emblems of the very few which can be recognised do not readily identify themselves with any of the twenty-four Jain hierarchs; there is, however, some uncertainty as to this.

The pillars shown in the photograph stand in the Masjid, or Mosque, at a place marked G on the plan, and support carved stone architraves; they are arranged at a distance of 6' 5½" from centre to centre; the roof is closed in by slabs of stone placed over the corners of the architraves, the opening in the centre being covered with one large slab, which is carved. The architraves in some places have remains of figure carvings, but, through the innate antipathy of the Muhammadans to figure ornament, all the heads have been knocked off. The column in the foreground is the best specimen of the kind in this portion of the budding and court; the upper bell ornament is singularly elegant and owes its application as a decorative detail to the bells commonly used in all ages in Hindu temples, where they are rung by the officiating Brahmin to summon the people to prayer and to drive away demons and evilthoughts.

The bell has, from the earliest times, been a sacred utensil in Asia; and the Kings of Persia used bells, made of gold, to adorn the fringes of their skirts. Lower down, and in the centre of the shaft, is a broad band of very elaborate foliated sculpture, consisting of ornamental forms so thoroughly conventionalised as to defy their identification with the original foliage which suggested them. The twisted ornament at the bottom is rendered by serpent-like tails springing from human bodies placed at the corners. These tails are intertwined, right and left, with the tails of adjacent figures and are made to terminate in the shape of a snake's head over the figures at each corner.

The pillars have the appearance of having been pieced together and erected in accordance with the intention of the original Hindu design, and most notably were all taken from one temple. The Sanctuary of the Mosque, as pre-eminent in importance, would have been doubtless commenced before the Court and Colonnade, and from the overturned temples of the conquered Hindus the best materials were selected for its construction.

A cast composed of sixteen pieces was made of the pillar in plaster, and had it not been for the use of elastic gelatine moulds, the centre carving would have been an almost endless work, on account of the depth and "under-cut" of the ornament. But by the use of this process the middle band was moulded in two pieces instead of in several hundred pieces, which would have been necessary had the ordinary process of piece moulding in plaster been employed.

The wall to be seen on the left is at the back of the mosque, and faces the great arches of Kutb-ud-din. It appears to have been quite plain, and composed of blocks of from one to two feet broad.