The Masjid-i-Kutb-ul-Islam [Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque]. View of the Great Arches.
The Masjid-i-Kutb-ul-Islam [Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque]. View of the Great Arches. © British Library./ Charles Shepherd

THE life of Kutb-ud-din, who was the founder of a monarchy of "slave" kings, is typical of the history of the Turki slaves who frequently rose to authority and even sovereignty throughout Asia, and for some period furnished a series of Indian rulers. It would seem that these slaves were often purchased by noblemen and kings for high prices and were prized on account of their animal strength or cleverness, qualities which in many cases raised them far above their social position.

Kutb-ud-din-Aibik was of a brave and virtuous disposition; open and liberal to his friends, courteous and affable to strangers. In the art of war and good government he was inferior to none, nor was he a mean proficient in literature. In his childhood he was brought from Turkistan to Nishapur, and there sold by a merchant to Kazi Fukr-ud-din Bin Abdul Aziz Kufi who, finding that Heaven had endowed him with genius, sent him to school, where he made considerable progress in the Persian and Arabic languages, as well as in science. His patron and master dying suddenly, he was sold as part of the estate by the executors, and having been bought for a considerable sum, was presented for sale to Moiz-ud-din Muhammad Ghori; that Prince purchased him and called him by the familiar name of Aibik, from having his little finger broken. Aibik conducted himself so much to the satisfaction of his new master, that he attracted particular notice and daily gained his confidence and favour. One night, his master having given a grand entertainment at court, ordered a liberal distribution of presents to be made among his servants. Aibik partook of this munificence, but had no sooner retired than he divided his share among his companions. The king hearing of the circumstance asked the cause, and Aibik kissing the earth replied, that all his wants were so amply supplied by his majesty's bounty, that he had no desire of burdening himself with superfluities, provided he retained his sovereign's favour. This answer so pleased the king that he immediately pave him an office near his person and afterwards appointed him master of the horse.1

When Muhammad Ghori conquered the Hindus in A.D. 1193, Kutb-ud-din was appointed commander of the army left in possession of the invaded territory. He laid siege to Delhi and captured that city after much hard fighting and bloodshed. He led the armies of Muhammad Ghori against Jai Chand, King of Benares; and in A.D. 1194 defeated Bhima Deva, of Nahrwala (the capital of Guzerat). Soon after Gola, the son of Rajah Pithora, was attacked by his brother at Ajmir, and Kutb-ud-din's advance to that place drove back the enemy. In A.D. 1202 he captured Kalinjar and plundered it of a great quantity of gold and jewels. In A.D. 1205 he was sent for by Muhammad, the nephew of Muhammad Ghori, to receive the title of King of Delhi. Kutb-ud-din married the daughter of Taj-uddin Yilduz, and towards the end of A.D. 1205 was engaged in driving his father-in-law ' army away from Lahore, which the latter had captured. He pursued him as far as Ghazni. where he was again crowned. The latter part of Kutb-ud-din's life was abandoned to pleasure and he was driven out of Ghazni by Taj-ud-din Yilduz, and was obliged to retire to Lahore. After this he reverted to temperate habits; and in A.D. 1210 was killed by a fall from his horse while playing at hockey on horseback (Chowgan).

When Kutb-ud-din ascended the throne at Lahore as sultan, he was not very prosperous; partly on account of his prodigality, which had earned him the name of "Lak Bakhsh" or "Bestower of Laks" and partly because the great wealth of India had been dissipated by frequent conquests, and all the plunder derived by them taken to Ghazni. He was succeeded by Aram his son in A.D. 1210; but after a short year's reign, the youthful king was deposed by Shams-ud-din Altamsh (then governor of Budaon), who had been the slave of the slave Kutb-ud-din.

The following is the literal translation of Syud Ahmed's account of the building of the Mosque. In the year A.D. 1193, when Kutb-ud-din Aibik, the commander-in-chief of Moiz-ud-din Muhammad (son of Sam alias Sultan Shahab-ud-din Ghori) conquered Delhi, he converted the Butkhana into a masjid, and ejected the idols from it. On the doors, walls and pillars, wherever images were carved, he destroyed thern all, but otherwise spared the carved stonework and on the gate to the east he affixed the date of the victory and his name. Afterwards, when he had conquered Ajmir and the Forts of Ranthora, Nahrwala and Guzerat, he returned to Ghazni and received the orders of Sultan Moiz-ud-din to continue the work of building a mosque in the Butkhana. He therefore returned to Delhi, commenced the large range of gateways and constructed the mosque behind (A.D. 1195).

This magnificent gateway originally consisted of seven pointed archways, but at present there are the remains of only five. The central opening measures twenty-two feet wide and is about forty feet high to the crown of the arch; the side arches measure ten feet wide and are about twenty-five feet to the crown of the arch. The whole surface facing the east is covered with the most elaborate carvings and ornamental inscriptions in Arabic letters. At the back, facing the west and looking towards the mosque, the wall is quite plain. The thickness from back to front is about eight feet, and the stones are all laid in horizontal courses, excepting in the smaller pointed arches at the side, where the upper part has a few voussoirs. Much of the ornament quite differs from that adopted in the surrounding Muhammadan buildings. The lower band of the Minar is, however, an exception, as the sculptured arabesque on it resembles that running up the spaces intervening between the small gateways and up each side of the great gateway. In the Minar ornamentation the pattern is incised, while the main surface is left flat; but on the gateways may be found several bands of scroll-work, which are carved and rounded to produce a foliated effect. These variations of carving and ornamentation tend to show that, at the period of commencing the gates of the Masjid and the Minar, the Hindu builders who were employed were permitted without much restriction to reproduce the style of ornament still to be found in many of the Hindu columns. Later, however, this freedom in decorating buildings was certainly not accorded. This is exemplified in the Minar and tombs, where the details are of a pure Muhammadan type. The flatter ornament, which was afterwards adopted here, appears in the spandrils of the arches, and is essentially Muhammadan in its flavour, it being the early Muhammadan instinct to use geometric patterns or to generalize only from natural forms.

Amidst the ruins of the Masjid, visible in this photograph through the arches, there is nothing to indicate how high the roof abutted over the ranges of the columns against the back of the gateway. There is little doubt that the greater portion of the upper arch was open both at the front and back, and although the building formed a part of the Masjid. it had both in look and intention, somewhat the character of the Triumphal Arch, to account for its appearance in such a place. In order to secure a sample of the Pathan ornament of the middle of the twelfth century, I obtained a cast of a piece of the arabesque and ornamental inscription which encircles the smaller archway on the immediate right of the Great Central Gate, and its situation may be identified on Photograph X., about seven feet from the ground, on .the right hand pier of the Central Arch. This cast, together with the other facsimiles from the buildings, is to be seen at the Kensington Museum. The inscriptions on this range of gateways are: 

I. By Kutb-ud-din, dated A.D. 1197-8.
II. By Shams-ud-din-Altamsh, dated A.H. 629, = A.D. 1231.
III. By Ala-ud-din. dated A.H. 710 = A.D. 1310.

  • 1. Briggs'a "Muhammadan Power in India," vol. i. pp. 189, 1U0.