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Imprints of Stone

Jose Pereira

By B.M. Pande
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2006, pp. 95, price not stated.


In the 21st century Muslims no longer rule lands peopled by a majority of non-Muslims, but that was not the case before the 18th century. Wherever Muslims reigned, it was not unusual for them to assert the presence of their religion, Islam, by spectacular monuments, such as domes and towers, particularly the latter. Two such lands are Spain and north India, each having a monumental tower, both contemporaries — the Giralda at Seville in Spain (1184-1198) and the Qutb Minar in north India (1199 –c. 1369). The former may be aptly characterized as the queen of Muslim towers, and the latter the king.   Pande’s book is the definitive treatise on that regal structure, and promises to remain so for the foreseeable future; it supplants the book of J. A. Page on the Qutb Minar, published in 1938, as the authoritative treatise on the subject. Page’s own researches developed from those of the indefatigable Alexander Cunningham, undertaken in the 1860s and 1870s. The Qutb’s aesthetic qualities were noted by the first historian of Indian architecture, James Fergusson.   Pande’s book is logically structured, starting with the pivotal monument of the Mehrauli region, the ruined Might of Islam mosque and its minaret the Qutb tower, and then moving outwards to cover the entire region. After a brief Introduction that presents a conspectus of the monuments to be discussed, and a chapter that outlines the monuments’ ‘Archaeological and Historical Background’ (Chapter 1), the author proceeds to a description of the ‘Monuments – the Qutb complex’ (Chapter 2). The Muslims introduced the arch to a country accustomed to erect only trabeate or corbelled structures. The architects of the mosque preserved the arcuate appearance of its façade but constructed the arches in the manner of corbels. The mosque was begun in 1192 and completed in 1198. 1192 was a fateful year, when the last Hindu king of the central region of the Indo-Gangetic plain, Prith-viraja II, was defeated by Muhammad Ghori at Tarain. In that same year Ghori’s slave, Qutbuddin Aibak captured Delhi; the infidels were overcome by the “might of Islam” and had to be reminded of the fact – by a lofty tower. While his master was still alive, in 1199, Aibak laid the foundations of the “tower of victory,” a minaret from which the call to prayer could be proclaimed. The architects of the minaret were aware of its triumphal func-tion: an inscription of the time of Alauddin (r. 1296...

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