Qutub Minar or Sun Tower? Explaining the latest controversy surrounding the heritage site


The towering Qutub Minar in Delhi is once again in the news — and for all the wrong reasons.

Over the weekend, reports emerged that the Ministry of Culture had ordered the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to conduct excavation and iconography of idols at the Qutub Minar complex.

However, on Sunday, Union Culture Minister GK Reddy clarified that no such decision had been taken yet.

The news about the Qutub Minar, a UNESCO World Heritage Site situated in the Mehrauli area of South Delhi, comes in the middle of the Gyanvapi Masjid case, and the Taj Mahal row in Uttar Pradesh.

We examine what prompted this new round of controversy, the reasons and what’s next in this saga.

History of the Qutub Minar

The story of the Qutub Minar is as diverse and layered as India’s history and culture.

Qutub Minar is known as Delhi’s enduring symbol and is considered the tallest stone tower in India, rising 238 feet. Surrounded by other monuments in middle of lush green compound, this UNESCO World Heritage Site attracts around three million visitors annually.

History states that the Qutub Minar was built in the beginning of the 13th century by Quṭb al-Din Aibak and completed by his successor, Iltutmish.

Damaged by lightning and earthquakes in the 14th and 15th centuries, the tower was rebuilt and repaired by local rulers at the time. In the early 16th century, the Lodi ruler Sikandar undertook more-extensive restoration while expanding its top two tiers.

The Qutub Minar stands tall at a height of 72.5 metres or 237.8 feet, with 379 steps, and a base diameter of 14.3 metres or 46.9 feet, tapering to 2.75 metres or nine feet at the top. It is built of red and buff sandstone and it has five storeys and four balconies. It stands on a plinth of approximately two feet from the ground.

Qutub Minar was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1993. The complex is under the protection of the Archaeological Survey of India.

The latest dispute

The newest chapter in the Qutub Minar controversy stems from the claim made by a former ASI officer that Qutub Minar was built by Raja Vikramaditya and not by Qutb al-Din Aibak as history books have taught us.

Former ASI regional director Dharamveer Sharma had earlier told India Today that the Qutub Minar was actually a “sun tower” built by Chandragupta Vikramaditya of the Gupta Empire in the 5th Century.

“It isn’t the Qutub Minar but a sun tower (observatory tower). It was constructed in the 5th century by Raja Vikramaditya, not by Qutb al-Din Aibak. I have a lot of evidence regarding this,” he was quoted as saying.

In the same report, he added, “There is a 25-inch tilt in the tower of the Qutb Minar. It is because it was made to observe the sun and hence, on 21 June, between the shifting of the solstice, the shadow will not fall on that area for at least half an hour. This is science and archaeological fact.”

Following these claims, Culture Secretary Govind Mohan visited the monument on Saturday. It was then reported that the ASI had been ordered to dig-in “to know the facts”.

The Qutub complex lies at the site of Delhi's oldest fortified city, Lal Kot. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Mehrauli area of South Delhi. AFP

Past controversies over Qutub Minar

The monument has found itself in controversy quite a number of times over its origin and the true builder of it.

Back in April, it was reported that the National Museums Authority (NMA) had asked the ASI to remove two Ganesh idols from the Qutub complex and find a ‘respectable’ place for them at the National Museum.

The controversy also reached the judiciary with a Delhi court ordering that no action be taken and that the idols at the complex remain there till the next hearing of the case.

This isn’t the only controversy surrounding the World Heritage Site. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) raised eyebrows when they claimed that the 73-metre-high structure was a ‘Vishnu Stambh’ before some of its portions was reconstructed by a Muslim ruler.

VHP national spokesperson Vinod Bansal claimed that the historical structure was built on a temple of lord Vishnu constructed during the times of a Hindu ruler.

“When the Muslim ruler came, some of its portions were reconstructed with the materials obtained after demolishing 27 Hindu-Jain temples, and renamed as Quwwatu’l-Islam (Might of Islam),” Bansal claimed, speaking to PTI.

“It was actually a Vishnu Stambh built on a Vishnu temple. They (Muslim rulers) did not build it. Our (Hindu) rulers built it,” he claimed.

Two weeks ago, members of a right-wing group had recited the Hanuman Chalisa outside the Qutub Minar complex and staged a protest demanding that the iconic monument here be renamed ‘Vishnu Stambha’. At least 30 demonstrators had been detained.

International working president of the United Hindu Front, Bhagwan Goyal, claimed that the Qutub Minar is the ‘Vishnu Stambha’, which was built by the “great king Vikramaditya”.

With inputs from agencies

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Qutub Minar or Sun Tower? Explaining the latest controversy surrounding the heritage site
Qutub Minar or Sun Tower? Explaining the latest controversy surrounding the heritage site
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