The Iron Pillar of Delhi is a nearly 24-ft. iron pillar that is located in the Quwwat-ul Mosque. It weighs more than 6 tons and is made of 98% wrought iron. It is thought that the Iron Pillar of Delhi was crafted using forge welding. The pillar is ornate, but hardly awe-inspiring, unless one knows just how long and mysterious the history of it is.
The Quwwat-ul Mosque dates back to 1192. It stands around the Iron Pillar in ruins, giving away its great age. The mosque is a relic of an Islamic India, long-standing, but not long past. The Iron Pillar dates back even further than the ruined Islamic building, which surrounds it, but the iron pillar gives away nothing of its age on first glance. It was forged 1,600 years ago (sometime in the 300s) and moved to Delhi roughly 1,000 years ago, before the mosque was built. An iron pillar that old should have fallen to dust and blown away with the breeze long before now. Nonetheless, the Hindu-made pillar stands strong above the Islamic ruins that seem as though they will fall to dust long before it does.
According to a popular translation of the Brahmi script upon the Iron Pillar of Delhi, the pillar was made for a king (presumably of the Gupta period, given the era of its creation). It was also made to honor one of the most important Hindu gods – Vishnu. Which Gupta king the Iron Pillar was made for is not made clear by the inscription. However, it is widely believed that the king to which the inscription refers is Chandragupta Vikramaditya.
The purpose of the Iron Pillar of Delhi is one of its many mysteries. Some say it was a flagstaff made for the king mentioned in the inscription. Others say it was a sundial at its original home in Madhya Pradesh. Why it is no longer in Madhya Pradesh is yet another mystery. There is no evidence of who moved the pillar 1,000 years ago, how it was moved or even why it was moved. All we can say for certain about this aspect of the history of the pillar is that the mysterious Iron Pillar has been part of the Delhi landscape for a very long time.
The biggest and most talked about mystery regarding the Iron Pillar of Delhi is how it has gone seemingly untarnished for this long. There is much said about the amazing pillar that does not rust. This is not entirely accurate. It is certainly in unbelievable condition for its age. However, it is not without rust. There is a small amount of rust beginning to appear on the pillar. This does not make the pillar’s condition any less mysterious. As mentioned above, it should not even exist anymore. So, how does it withstand the years? Answering that question is not easy.
One of the main catalysts for rust is humidity and Delhi is not very humid. This could be one of the factors in the natural preservation of the Iron Pillar of Delhi. Other possibilities include the skill of the men who made the pillar, the quality of the materials used (unlikely) and fortuitous conditions that caused a protective layer to appear on the pillar. Many sources cite a protective layer of something called “misawite” as the reason for the Iron Pillar’s condition. However, the term misawite seems to appear only in conversation about the Iron Pillar, so it is hard to test the veracity of those claims.
Like so many other mysterious objects, the Iron Pillar is not giving up its secrets easily and some, sadly, may be lost to time forever. Someone may have erased the answers to the Iron Pillar’s mysteries from the pages of history hundreds of years ago, never knowing that people would eventually forget. War or a natural disaster could have claimed the pages of history necessary to explain this strange artifact or the pages simply never existed. Alternatively, the information is still out there waiting to be discovered, through analysis of the pillar itself or rummaging through India’s rich history.
Story continues below !
In the Qutb complex of Delhi stands one of the most curious metal objects in the world - the so called “Iron Pillar of Delhi”, which does not seem to rust, despite being over a thousand years old. The height of the pillar, from the top of its capital to the bottom of its base is 7.2 metres, of which 1.1 metre is underground. The base rests on a grid of iron bars soldered with lead into the upper layer of the dressed stone pavement. The pillar's lower diameter is 420 mm (17 in), and its upper diameter 306 mm (12.0 in). It is estimated to weigh more than six tons.”
While several inscriptions are found on the pillar, the oldest one is a six-line three stanza Sanskrit inscription in verse form. As the name Chandra is mentioned in the third verse, scholars have been able to date the making of the pillar to the reign of Chandragupta II Vikramaditya (375-415 A.D.), a Gupta king. Although it stands in Delhi today, how this pillar got there, and its original location is still a subject of scholarly discussion.
One theory suggests that from its original location, the pillar was moved and erected in the main temple at the fortress city of Lal Kot at Dhilli (modern Delhi) when it was developed by the Tomar king, Anangapala II, in A.D. 1050. This is based on an inscription found on the pillar itself. In A.D. 1191, Anangapala’s grandson, Prithiviraj Chauhan, was defeated by the slave army commander of Muhammad Ghori of Ghazni, Qutb-ud-din Aibak, and Lal Kot fell into the hands of the invading Muslim army. In order to commemorate his victory, Aibak erected a mosque, called the Quwwat-ul-Islam (Might of Islam), in Lal Kot. This mosque was built on the base of a temple, albeit not the one where the pillar was erected. Using archaeological evidence, and facts based on temple architecture, it has been proposed that the pillar was moved from the Tomar temple to its present location in front of the mosque in the Qutb Complex.
As mentioned earlier, one of the most interesting qualities of this pillar is its resistance to corrosion. Several theories have been put forward to explain this phenomenon. These theories fall into two main categories – material factors (favoured by Indian investigators), and environmental factors (favoured by foreign investigators).
One of these theories, the “Mixed Potential Theory” suggests that there is a co-relation between the processing, structure, and properties of the pillar’s iron. Based on scientific analysis, it has been shown that these three factors work together to form a protective passive layer of rust on the Iron Pillar of Delhi. As a result, the pillar does not undergo further corrosion, and appears to have not rusted over a thousand year.
Nevertheless, this ability to resist corrosion is not unique to the Iron Pillar of Delhi. Research has shown that other large ancient Indian objects have a similar property. These include the iron pillars at Dhar, Mandu, Mount Abu, Kodochadri Hill, and iron cannons. Hence, it may be said that the ancient Indian iron-workers were highly skilled at forging iron objects. In a report published in the journal Current Science, R. Balasubramaniam of the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur, stated that the pillar is "a living testimony to the skill of metallurgists of ancient India"
The quality of the iron used in the pillar is exceptionally pure and the detail at the top of the pillar demonstrates the skill of the craftsmen.
One final thought regarding the Iron Pillar of Delhi: What man can make, man can also destroy. In 1997, a fence was erected around the pillar as a response to the damage caused by visitors. According to a popular belief, it is considered good luck if one could stand with one’s back to the pillar and make one’s hands meet behind it. Consequently, the protective passive layer of rust on the surface of the iron would have been inadvertently removed by visitors over time, leading to significant wear and visible discoloration on the lower portion of the pillar. It would be a great shame indeed if such monuments that reflect mankind’s ingenuity fall victim not to the ravages of time, but to the actions of man himself.
The skill and the technology possessed by ancient Indians may not be agreed by present day 'secular' historians, but the truth cannot be suppressed for long. The Iron Pillar standing tall at Mehrauli, Delhi is stands proof of how advanced science was in ancient India. The pillar which has not rusted for the past 1600 years has been found to be the handiwork of a great Vishnu Bhakth namely Chandragupta II Vikramaditya. The inscriptions on the pillar are in Sanskrit and refer to the mighty king. Inspite of all these evidences, school children will still continue to be taught that it was the Mughals who were responsible for the pillar. Yes, the Mughals were responsible for stealing the pillar from its original place!
It is arguable that Indian scientists and technologists were producing high-quality corrosion-resistant iron and steel as early as 400 AD. There is considerable evidence of the ingenuity of ancient India’s metallurgists in the form of permanent installations, museum exhibits and pillars installed in places of worship across the country. The most famous of these – one which has defied and confounded students and professors of metallurgy in India and abroad — is the 32 ft high pillar of rust-free iron sited contiguous to the 239 ft tall red sand stone in Qutb Minar (constructed by Qutb-ud-Din Aibak in 1199 AD to commemorate the victory of Mohammud Ghori over the Rajputs in 1192). And the wonder of this metallurgical marvel is that it has not rusted or succumbed to atmospheric corrosion despite being unprotected against the elements for over 1600 years. During the past two centuries since the existence of this wonder pillar was brought to public attention by British archaeologist James Prinsep in 1817, over 250 books have been written on this subject. The first systematic research was done by British metallurgist Sir Robert Hodfield in 1912, and since then several scientists from across the world have researched, presented papers and written books on the pillar.
“The iron pillar in Delhi fascinates scientists all over the world, due to its excellent resistance to atmospheric corrosion. This is an attempt to explain the story behind the pillar in a very simple manner, so that a lay reader can appreciate the history, science and technology of the iron pillar. In addition the artistic merit of the pillar is highlighted …It is sincerely hoped that the imagination, especially of the young readers, will be fired by the facts and ideas presented in this book,” writes Balasubramaniam.
The Story of the Delhi Iron Pillar traces the history of this metallurgical wonder and recounts that it was engineered in Udayagiri. The author reveals that the iron pillar was originally installed atop a hill near Udayagiri in the hinterland of Madhya Pradesh during the reign of Chandragupta II Vikramaditya (374-413 AD) of the Gupta dynasty. The original site of the pillar was the exact location where the imaginary line that is the tropic of cancer crosses India from where one can observe the sun rising in the east and setting in the west on spring and autumn equinox days. However in 1234 King Iltutmish (1210-36 AD) the third sultan of Delhi’s slave dynasty captured Udaygiri and transported the pillar to Delhi as part of his victory booty.
That the Delhi iron pillar is indeed an engineering marvel was conceded by the president of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, London. The incumbent professor of materials and metallurgical engineering at IIT-Kanpur, Balasubramaniam also unravels the mystery of the amazing durability of Delhi’s iron pillar. According to him unnamed engineers of that era used the film forming quality of phosphoric acid to create a thin protective layer of ‘misawite’, a compound of iron, oxygen and hydrogen to prevent rusting and corrosion. This protective film encapsulated the pillar within three years after its erection and has been growing imperceptibly since. Today 1,600 years later, the film is of a thickness of one-twentieth of a millimeter.