Rambles and recollections of an Indian official!
Major-General Sir W. H. Sleeman, K.C.B.
The Old City of Delhi
On the 21st we went on eight miles to the Kutb Mīnār, across the range of sandstone hills, which rise to the height of about two hundred feet, and run north and south. The rocks are for the most part naked, but here and there the soil between them is covered with famished grass, and a few stunted shrubs; anything more unprepossessing can hardly be conceived than the aspect of these hills, which seem to serve no other purpose than to store up heat for the people of the great city of Delhi.
We passed through a cut in this range of hills, made apparently by the stream of the river Jumna at some remote period, and about one hundred yards wide at the entrance. This cut is crossed by an enormous stone wall running north and south, and intended to shut in the waters, and form a lake in the opening beyond it. Along the brow of the precipice, overlooking the northern end of the wall, is the stupendous fort of Tughlakābād, built by the Emperor Tughlak the First of the sandstones of the range of hills on which it stands, cut into enormous square blocks.
On the brow of the opposite side of the precipice, overlooking the southern end of the wall, stands the fort of Muhammadābād, built by this Emperor's son and successor, Muhammad, and resembling in all things that built by his father.
These fortresses overlooked the lake, with the old city of Delhi spread out on the opposite side of it to the west. There is a third fortress upon an isolated hill, east of the great barrier wall, said to have been built in honour of his master by the Emperor Tughlak's barber.
The Emperor's tomb stands upon an isolated rock in the middle of the once lake, now plain, about a mile to the west of the barrier wall. The rock is connected with the western extremity of the northern fortress by a causeway of twenty- five arches, and about one hundred and fifty yards long.
This is a fine tomb, and contains in a square centre room the remains of the Emperor Tughlak, his wife, and his son. The tomb is built of red sandstone, and surmounted by a dome of white marble. The three graves inside are built of brick covered with stucco work. The outer sides of the tomb slope slightly inwards from the base, in the form of a pyramid; but the inner walls are, of course, perpendicular.
The impression left on the mind after going over these stupendous fortifications is that the arts which contribute to the comforts and elegancies of life must have been in a very rude state when they were raised. Domestic architecture must have been wretched in the extreme.
The buildings are all of stone, and almost all without cement, and seem to have been raised by giants, and for giants, whose arms were against everybody, and everybody's arm against them. This was indeed the state of the Pathān sovereigns in India—they were the creatures of their armies; and their armies were also employed against the people, who feared and detested them all.
The Emperor Tughlak, on his return at the head of the army, which he had led into Bengal to chastise some rebellious subjects, was met at Afghānpur by his eldest son, Jūnā, whom he had left in the government of the capital. The prince had in three days raised here a palace of wood for a grand entertainment to do honour to his father's return; and when the Emperor signified his wish to retire, all the courtiers rushed out before him to be in attendance, and among the rest, Jūnā himself.
Five attendants only remained when the Emperor rose from his seat, and at that moment the building fell in and crushed them and their master. Jūnā had been sent at the head of an army into the Deccan, where he collected immense wealth from the plunder of the palaces of princes and the temples of their priests, the only places in which much wealth was to be found in those days. This wealth he tried to conceal from his father, whose death he probably thus contrived, that he might the sooner have the free enjoyment of it with unlimited power.
Only thirty years before, Alā-ud-dīn, returning in the same manner at the head of an army from the Deccan loaded with wealth, murdered the Emperor Fīrōz the Second, the father of his wife, and ascended the throne. Jūnā ascended the throne under the name of Muhammad the Third; and, after the remains of his father had been deposited in the tomb I have described, he passed in great pomp and splendour from the fortress of Tughlakābād, which his father had just then completed, to the city in which the Mīnār stands, with elephants before and behind loaded with gold and silver coins, which were scattered among the crowd, who everywhere hailed him with shouts of joy. The roads were covered with flowers, the houses adorned with the richest stuffs, and the streets resounded with music.
He was a man of great learning, and a great patron of learned men; he was a great founder of churches, had prayers read in them at the prescribed times, and always went to prayers five times a day himself. He was rigidly temperate himself in his habits, and discouraged all intemperance in others. These things secured him panegyrists throughout the empire during the twenty-seven years that he reigned over it, though perhaps he was the most detestable tyrant that ever filled a throne.
He would take his armies out over the most populous and peaceful districts, and hunt down the innocent and unoffending people like wild beasts, and bring home their heads by thousands to hang them on the city gates for his mere amusement. He twice made the whole people of the city of Delhi emigrate with him to Daulatābād in Southern India, which he wished to make the capital, from some foolish fancy; and during the whole of his reign gave evident signs of being in an unsound state of mind.
There was at the time of his father's death a saint at Delhi named Nizāmuddīn Aulia, or the Saint, who was supposed by supernatural means to have driven from Delhi one night in a panic a large army of Moghals under Tarmasharīn, who invaded India from Transoxiana in 1303, and laid close siege to the city of Delhi, in which the Emperor Alā-ud-dīn was shut up without troops to defend himself, his armies being engaged in Southern India.
It is very likely that he did strike this army with a panic by getting some of their leaders assassinated in one night. He was supposed to have the 'dast ul ghaib', or supernatural purse' [literally, 'invisible hand'], as his private expenditure is said to have been more lavish even than that of the Emperor himself, while he had no ostensible source of income whatever.
The Emperor was either jealous of his influence and display, or suspected him of dark crimes, and threatened to humble him when he returned to Delhi. As he approached the city, the friends of the saint, knowing the resolute spirit of the Emperor, urged him to quit the capital, as he had been often heard to say, 'Let me but reach Delhi, and this proud priest shall be humbled'.
The only reply that the saint would ever deign to give from the time the imperial army left Bengal, till it was within one stage of the capital, was 'Dihlī dūr ast'; 'Delhi is still far off'.
This is now become a proverb over the East equivalent to our 'There is many a slip between the cup and the lip'.
It is probable that the saint had some understanding with the son in his plans for the murder of his father; it is possible that his numerous wandering disciples may in reality have been murderers and robbers, and that he could at any time have procured through them the assassination of the Emperor.
The Muhammadan Thugs, or assassins of India, certainly looked upon him as one of the great founders of their system, and used to make pilgrimages to his tomb as such; and, as he came originally from Persia, and is considered by his greatest admirers to have been in his youth a robber, it is not impossible that he may have been originally one of the 'assassins', or disciples of the 'old man of the mountains', and that he may have set up the system of Thuggee in India and derived a great portion of his income from it.
Emperors now prostrate themselves, and aspire to have their bones placed near it [scil. the tomb]. While wandering about the ruins, I remarked to one of the learned men of the place who attended us that it was singular Tughlak's buildings should be so rude compared with those of Iltutmish, who had reigned more than eighty years before him.
'Not at all singular,' said he, 'was he not under the curse of the holy saint Nizām-ud-dīn?'
'And what had the Emperor done to merit the holy man's curse?'
'He had taken by force to employ upon his palaces several of the masons whom the holy man was employing upon a church,' said he.
The Kutb Mīnār was, I think, more beyond my expectations than the Tāj; first, because I had heard less of it; and secondly, because it stands as it were alone in India—there is absolutely no other tower in this Indian empire of ours.
Large pillars have been cut out of single stones, and raised in different parts of India to commemorate the conquests of Hindoo princes, whose names no one was able to discover for several centuries, till an unpretending English gentleman of surprising talents and industry, Mr. James Prinsep, lately brought them to light by mastering the obsolete characters in which they and their deeds had been inscribed upon them.
These pillars would, however, be utterly insignificant were they composed of many stones. The knowledge that they are cut out of single stones, brought from a distant mountain, and raised by the united efforts of multitudes when the mechanical arts were in a rude state, makes us still view them with admiration. But the single majesty of this Mīnār of Kutb-ud-dīn, so grandly conceived, so beautifully proportioned, so chastely embellished, and so exquisitely finished, fills the mind of the spectator with emotions of wonder and delight; without any such aid, he feels that it is among the towers of the earth what the Tāj is among the tombs—something unique of its kind that must ever stand alone in his recollections.
It is said to have taken forty-four years in building, and formed the left of two 'mīnārs' of a mosque. The other 'mīnār' was never raised, but this has been preserved and repaired by the liberality of the British Government.
It is only 242 feet high, and 106 feet in circumference at the base. It is circular, and fluted vertically into twenty-seven semicircular and angular divisions. There are four balconies, supported upon large stone brackets, and surrounded with battlements of richly cut stone, to enable people to walk round the tower with safety. The first is ninety feet from the base, the second fifty feet further up, the third forty further; and the fourth twenty-four feet above the third.
Up to the third balcony, the tower is built of fine, but somewhat ferruginous sandstone, whose surface has become red from exposure to the oxygen of the atmosphere. Up to the first balcony, the flutings are alternately semicircular and angular; in the second story they are all semicircular, and in the third all angular.
From the third balcony to the top, the building is composed chiefly of white marble; and the surface is without the deep flutings. Around the first story there are five horizontal belts of passages from the Korān, engraved in bold relief, and in the Kufic character. In the second story there are four, and in the third three. The ascent is by a spiral staircase within, of three hundred and eighty steps; and there are passages from this staircase to the balconies, with others here and there for the admission of light and air.
A foolish notion has prevailed among some people, over-fond of paradox, that this tower is in reality a Hindoo building, and not, as commonly supposed, a Muhammadan one. Never was paradox supported upon more frail, I might say absurd, foundations.
They are these: 1st, that there is only one Mīnār, whereas there ought to have been two—had the unfinished one been intended as the second, it would not have been, as it really is, larger than the first; 2nd, that other Mīnārs seen in the present day either do not slope inward from the base up at all, or do not slope so much as this.
I tried to trace the origin of this paradox, and I think I found it in a silly old 'munshī' (clerk) in the service of the Emperor. He told me that he believed it was built by a former Hindoo prince for his daughter, who wished to worship the rising sun, and view the waters of the Jumna from the top of it every morning.
There is no other Hindoo building like, or of the same kind as this; the ribbons or belts of passages from the Korān are all in relief; and had they not been originally inserted as they are, the whole surface of the building must have been cut down to throw them out in bold relief.
The slope is the peculiar characteristic of all the architecture of the Pathāns, by whom the church to which this tower belongs was built. Nearly all the arches of the church are still standing in a more or less perfect state, and all correspond in design, proportion, and execution to the tower.