Khalji Dynasty (1290-1320 AD)

Aadab and welcome to the second episode of ‘Saga In Stone’, the saga of Islamic architecture, the story of our yesterday.

Architecture, like any other creative process, is a reflection of the creator’s own persona. His dreams, his hopes, his jealousies, his frustrations - it reflects them all. This has been true of the creators and their enduring creations across time and space. This was true of the Khalji dynasty.

When the Khalji dynasty took over from the slave dynasty, their dream was to stay sultans forever, or at least till the day of Qayamat. And maybe they believed they would. Like so many monarchs before them. And like those so many other monarchs, the Khaljis also failed to fulfil their dream. But the Khaljis left behind their marks on history. A history, that is alive and throbbing in their wishes, as seen through their monuments.

This ugly stump is Alai Minar, Ala-Ud-Din Khalji’s version of the Qutb.

Ala Ud Din, the second Khalji Sultan saw himself as another Alexander. He believed it so deeply that he even had himself inscribed as AlexanderII on his coins. He used to say quite often- “, I’ll go forth, like Alexander, in search of a conquest and subdue the world.” For him, this was another exercise in Megalomania. For Delhi, it was another upstart’s bid for greatness. But a futile one.

Alai Minar was intended to have double the height of Qutb Minar and encased in marble. The construction of this Minar started around 1311 AD, but could never be completed. It ended up only achieving an ultimate height of 80 ft. as against Qutb’s majestic 237 ft. The tradition has it that the marble bought for this Minar was used much later in the Humayun’s tomb.

Alai Minar remains a dream which found its feet but never rose much above the ground
Ala Ud Din was cruel and efficient, ruthless and brilliant. He is considered to be a first great Muslim administrator in India. He strictly kept politics separate from religion. Unlike other Muslim rulers, he did not allow religious heads to interfere into kingship.

Under his rule, Delhi for the first time in history, became the political, economic and cultural centre of India. Poets like Amir Khusro and historians like Al Barani were a part of his court. Though it is indeed surprising that Khusro was part of his court because Khusro was a legendary wine lover and Ala Ud Din, the original prohibitionist. He had banned drinking and sale of liquor in his sultanate.

Alai Minar may not have worked, but Alai Darwaza, built in 1311, immortalized Ala-Ud-Din as a builder.

"… Upon the surface of the stones he engraved verses of the Quran in such manner as could not be done even on wax; ascending so high that you would think the Quran was going up to heaven, and then descending, in another line, so low that you would think it was coming down from heaven."

These were Amir Khusro’s words for Alai Darwaza, one among a proposed series of six gateways. It was either the only one to be completed, or the only one to have survived.
Alai Darwaza once served as the main entrance to the Qutb complex. It opened into the court cloisters of the Quwwat Ul Islam Mosque. According to the inscriptions, this gateway was built in 1311 AD.

The inscriptions praised Ala Ud Din to heavens just like Amir Khusro praised the Quranic inscriptions to heaven.

He is called khudaya gan Salatin I Jahan (the Lord Of the World), Sultan Kamil Adl -o-afr-ahsan (sultan of perfect justice and abundant benevolence), yamin al khilafat (right arm of the caliphate) and Sikandar Ul Alid (Alexender of the age).

Ala-Ud-Din had succeeded his uncle Jalal Ud Din Khalji on the throne. Jalal Ud Din was seventy when he became Sultan. He is projected by contemporary historians and writers as a kindly old man, mild and trusting. He used his Afghan descent to win the loyalties of the discontented nobles, who felt that they had been neglected by earlier sultans
His greatest victory as a Sultan turned into a nightmare that claimed his life.
He sent Ala-ud-din to invade the Yadava city of Devagiri. Alauddin defeated Raja Ramachandran and returned to Delhi with enormous gold and wealth.
Jalal Ud Din came to welcome the prodigy. The prodigy beheaded him.*

Ala-Ud-Din later murdered Rukn Ud Din Ibrahim Shah, the earlier Sultan’s son. He won over the nobles by a lavish distribution of gold that he had plundered. And of course, nothing like loyalty is ever involved as far as politics is concerned. The lure of lucre is much stronger. And the few who resisted it were assassinated.

Ala Ud Din went on to play a seminal role in the shaping of Islamic architecture.

Alai Darwaza marked the beginning of a refinement process of the ‘basic module’ of Islamic architecture -the cube and the hemisphere. The refinement shows both in the structural and decorative techniques. Indian Islamic architecture was taking its first tentative exploratory steps towards greatness.

The sides of the doorway are adorned with pairs of slender rectangular columns. This was an inspiration from the columns in Hindu temples.

Multicolored facades of inlaid stones disappeared for the next two centuries, only to make a comeback in early sixteenth century.

The interiors of the monument are decorated with intricate arabesque designs.

The jaali, signature of Islamic architecture provided controlled illumination and ventilation. A basic requirement for the Islamic architecture, which had to accommodate a large congregation for community prayers. Its form was probably inspired by their rich tradition of calligraphy and appreciation of the finer things in life.

Alai Darwaza set a number of trends in architecture.

The inside surface of the arch in Alai Darwaza ornamented with the so-called ‘spear head fringe’ or ‘garland of buds’. This technique was probably inspired by Jaina Torana. It went on to become a popular technique for softening the stern profile of the pointed arch.

Another pathbreaking feature was the making a two-storeyed building look like a single storeyed one. It made a huge building seem much more accessible, much more heart warming.
In 1303, Ala Ud Din Khalji laid the foundations of Siri, his new capital city, second of the seven famed cities of Delhi. And the first one to be built by Muslims.

These were the times, when Mongolian invasions were becoming a regular feature. To counter them, all the forts on their route were repaired and made stronger. Best of the generals were placed at the frontier provinces. Siri was also surrounded by a huge rubble wall. The round bastions, flame-shaped battlements and loopholes- these were all parts of this surrounding wall.

Later, the Mongols who fought in the army and settled near Delhi at the time of Jalaluddin were mercilessly massacred. In the last Mongol raid, Ala Ud Din’s armies crushed them mercilessly on the banks of River Ravi.

Today, Siri, the city, no longer exists. It was ravaged by latter day emperors to build their own dreams. Delhi’s wont of swallowing up the past in its relentless march ahead continued. Today, only parts of the wall exist here and there, not sure of its place in New Delhi-a successor distant to it by centuries.

The tomb of Ala Ud Din Khalji lies behind Quwwat Ul Islam in the Qutb complex. It is situated along with a Madrasa.

This was the first time that the concept of a combined school-cum-tomb appeared in India. A further symbol of Delhi’s ability to assimilate, integrate, and yet come up with something new and remarkable.

Much of Ala Ud Din’s legendary infamy results from his lust for the Rajput queen Rani Padmini. Padmini was the beautiful wife of Rana Ratan Singh, the king of Chitor. It is said that Alauddin was her passionate suitor. When his advances were rejected, he invaded Chittor. Chittor fell. A victorious Alauddin entered Chittor, only to find the object of her lust burnt to death. Rani Padmini had performed Jauher to escape Ala-Ud-Din.

During his last days Ala Ud Din became a puppet in the hands of his Chief Minister, Malik Kafur. He finally died in January 1316, leaving behind a trail of blood and some monuments to that trail.

The grave of this powerful and ambitious king lies in dilapidated condition, showing that nothing matters in the end. Neither power, nor money. The dust takes back its own.

These structures are too ruined to tell us much about the development of architectural style. However, some of the halls provide an early example of the triangular pendentive as against the then popular squinch system for supporting the roof.

Prince Khizr Khan was a disciple of the great Sufi Nizam Ud Din Auliya, just like his father Ala-Ud-Din. He built a tomb for his peer. But Hazrat Sahib did not concur with his wish. Later, the building was converted into a mosque. This was the Jamat Khana mosque, located just next to the saint’s final resting place.

This mosque marked a major departure from the usual cloisters and courtyard scheme. Here, for the first time, liwan was transformed into one composite columnless rectangular hall.
Right from the days when Prophet Muhammad migrated to Medina and a community of believers who had accepted Islam started praying in the compound of the Holy Prophet’s house, the mosques have had a uniform basic format.

This format is based on the simple setting where these early adherents of Islam prayed - "an enclosed oblong courtyard with huts…along one side wall and a rough portico (the zulla, originally for shade) at one end for the followers. This plan of the Prophet house features in almost all mosques, comprising essentially of an enclosed courtyard, a building at one end for prayer, and arcades on the sides. Jamat Khana mosque was another version of this traditional format. It was built in 1320.

It was also the first mosque without maqsura, the attached screen of arches. It was replaced by a three-arched opening in its east wall. However, it could’ve been a case of ‘necessity is the mother of invention’. The building was not originally intended as a mosque and the two adjoining chambers were added later. By some accounts, they were added in the Tughlaq period. Today, both these chambers function as storehouses for the mosque and dargah. which attracts lakhs of faithful from all religion a living testimony of the Sufi saints legacy - a gift of highest aspiration of Islam as a religion.

By this time, Islam had a place in the Indian way of living. The Indian builders too were getting more comfortable with arches. The span of arches is an indication of this growing level of comfort.

Like most other structures of this era and indeed the entire Islamic era, red sandstone was majorly used in the structure.

The interior design of the mosque closely resembles that of the Alai Darwaza. However, one major difference between the two is that here, the curves of the arches incline to develop a slightly ogee shape at the top. Also, the horseshoe shape of these arches is not as perfect.

The Dargah of Hazrat Nizam Ud Din has undergone regular changes for centuries now.

Today, the original structure has completely vanished, leaving only the later additions.
Sheikh Nizamuddin was born in 1236 AD at Badaun. He became a disciple of Baba Farid Shakarganj, who blessed him with divination. Sheikh Nizamuddin went on to become perhaps the most revered Sufi of India. His influence was unparalleled. Both Ala Ud Din Khalji and Mohmmad Bin Tughlaq respected him a great deal. It is said that he had a premonition of Ala Ud Din’s death in a trance.

The original building built by the saint himself was later repaired and decorated by Firoz Shah Tughlaq. It was a domed chamber with walls composed of pierced screens.
Faridun Khan constructed this later day version in 1562-3 AD.

Shaikh Nizamuddin’s sanctity still calls people from all religions. Even today, thousands of visitors come to him with their prayers. A striking contrast with the extravagant tomb of Mughal emperor Humayun just across the road. Humayun’s tomb, a masterpiece of Mughal architecture, attracts only stray tourist.

In the time-honored traditions of monarchies, dictatorships and indeed democracies, conspiracies and counter conspiracies for succession followed the death of Ala Ud Din Khalji. In four years, all the sons of Ala-Ud-Din were killed or blinded by a Gujrati slave Khusrau Khan. Khusrau Khan took over as Nasir Ud Din Khusrau Shah.

By the time Khalji dynasty ended, the Islamic building traditions were more or less firmly established.

It was now left for the future kings and Sultans to innovate, experiment and consolidate. Next week, we’ll take you to the innovations and experiments of a great builder of a different kind- Firoz Shah Tughlaq. Shabba Khair

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