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THE TEMPLES AND TOMBS OF DELHI  

Seven ancient ruined cities, representing successive periods and dynasties from 2500 B. C. to 1600 A. D., encumber the plains immediately surrounding the city of Delhi, within a radius of eighteen or twenty miles; and you cannot go in any direction without passing through the ruins of stupendous walls, ancient fortifications and crumbling palaces, temples, mosques and tombs. Tradition makes the original Delhi the political and commercial rival of Babylon, Nineveh, Memphis and Thebes, but the modern town dates from 1638, the commencement of the reign of the famous Mogul Shah Jehan. About eleven miles from the city is a group of splendid ruins, some of the most remarkable in the world, and a celebrated tower known as the Kutab-Minar, one of the most important architectural monuments in India. You reach it by the Great Trunk Road of India, the most notable thoroughfare in the empire, which has been the highway from the mountains and northern provinces to the sacred River Ganges from the beginning of time. If followed it will lead you through Turkestan and Persia to Constantinople and Moscow. Over this road came Tamerlane, the Tartar Napoleon, with his victorious army, and Alexander the Great, and it has been trodden by the feet of successive invaders for twenty or thirty centuries. Today it leads to the Khyber Pass, the only gateway between India and Afghanistan.  

In the center of the court of the ancient mosque of Kutbul Islam, which was originally built for a Hindu temple in the tenth century, stands a wrought-iron column, one of the most curious things in India. It rises 23 feet 8 inches above the ground, and its base, which is bulbous, is riveted to two stone slabs two feet below the surface. Its diameter at the base is 16 feet 4 inches and at the capital is 12 inches. According to the estimates of engineers, it weighs about six tons, and it is remarkable that the Hindus at that age could forge a bar of iron larger and heavier than was ever forged in Europe up until the end of the 19th century. Its history is deeply cut upon its surface in Sanskrit letters. The inscription tells us that it is "The Arm of Fame of Raja Dhava," who subdued a nation named the Vahlikas, "and obtained, with his own arm, undivided sovereignty upon the earth for a long period." No date is given, but the historians fix its erection about the year 319 or 320 A. D. This is the oldest and the most unique of all the many memorials in India, and has been allowed to stand about 1,700 years undisturbed. An old prophecy declared that Hindu sovereigns would rule as long as the column stood, and when the empire was invaded in 1200 and Delhi became the capital of a Mohammedan empire, its conqueror, Kutb-ud-Din (the Pole Star of the Faith), originally a Turkish slave, defied it by allowing the pillar to remain, but he converted the beautiful Hindu temple which surrounded it into a Moslem mosque and ordered his muezzins to proclaim the name of God and His prophet from its roof, and to call the faithful to pray within its walls.  

This Hindu temple, which was converted into a mosque, is still unrivaled for its gigantic arches and for the graceful beauty of the tracery which decorated its walls. Even in ruins it is a magnificent structure. There were originally not less than 1,200 columns, and each was richly ornamented with peculiar Hindu decorative designs. Some of them, in shadowy corners, are still almost perfect, but unfortunately those which are most conspicuous were shamefully defaced by the Mohammedan conquerors, and we must rely upon our imaginations to picture them as they were in their original beauty. The walls of the building are of purplish red sandstone, of very fine grain, almost as fine as marble, and age and exposure seem to have hardened it.  

In one corner of the court of this great mosque rises the Kutab Minar, a monument and tower of victory. It is supposed to have been originally started by the Hindus and completed by their Mohammedan conquerors. Another tower, called the Alai-Minar, about 500 feet distant, remains unfinished, and rises only eighty-seven feet from the ground. Had it been finished as intended, it would have been 500 feet high, or nearly as lofty as the Washington monument. According to the inscription, it was erected by Ala-din Khiji, who reigned from 1296 to 1316, and remains as it stood at his death. For some reason his successor never tried to complete it.  

About a mile across the plain is another group of still more remarkable sepulchers, about seven or eight miles from Delhi. They are surrounded by a grove of mighty trees, whose boughs overhang a crumbling wall intended to protect them.  

The most notable of the tombs, the "Hall of Sixty-four Pillars," is an exquisite structure of white marble, where rests Azizah Kokal Tash, foster brother of the great Mogul Akbar. He was buried here in 1623, and around him are the graves of his mother and eight of his brothers and sisters. Another tomb of singular purity and beauty is that of Muhammud Shah, who was Mogul from 1719 to 1748--the man whom Nadir Shah, the Persian, conquered and despoiled. By his side lie two of his wives and several of his children. 

The most beautiful of the tombs is that of Amir Khusrau, a poet who died at Delhi in 1315, the author of ninety-eight poems, many of which are still in popular use. He was known as "the Parrot of Hindustan," and enjoyed the confidence and patronage of seven successive Moguls. His fame is immortal.  

In the center of Delhi and on the highest eminence of the city stands the Jumma Musjid, almost unrivaled among mosques. There is nothing elsewhere outside of Constantinople that can compare with it, either in size or splendor, and we are told that 10,000 workmen were employed upon it daily for six years. It was built by Shah Jehan of red sandstone inlaid with white marble; is crowned with three splendid domes of white marble striped with black, and at each angle of the courtyard stands a gigantic minaret composed of alternate stripes of marble and red sandstone. There are three stately portals approached by flights of forty steps, the lowest of which is 140 feet long. Through stately arches you are led into a courtyard 450 feet square, inclosed by splendid arcaded cloisters. In the center of the court is the usual fountain basin, at which the worshipers perform their ablutions, and at the eastern side, facing toward Mecca, at the summit of a flight of marble steps, is the mosque, 260 feet long and 120 feet wide. The central archway is eighty feet high.


 

History of India - Part 1 History of India - Part 2
History of India - Part 3 History of India - Part 4
 
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