Published on 10th
The Minars and Minarettes of India
depths so much as it has aspired to the heights. After
all heaven doesn’t reside below. Ambitious amirs
and sultans throughout history looked up to create sky
touching minarets that received the first and last rays
of the sun. No matter what their intentions were – but
benevolence and piety were frequently less important
than glory and consolidation of power.
like the dome, is one of the most immediate and
characteristic features of Islamic architecture. The Arabic
term ‘manara’ literally means place where fire burns. In
pre-Islamic Arab world manaras stood for an elevated place
from where signals of fire or smoke were made. The fire
nexus was soon extinguished to associate the manaras with
signposts, boundary stones, watchtowers and lighthouses
spread throughout North Africa and Central Asia.
or the minar entered the Islamic architectural lexicon a few
decades after the demise of the Prophet Muhammad ('s). During his
lifetime, his Abyssinian slave Bilal used to climb the
highest roof and broadcast the call to prayer. Precisely for
this reason the orthodox communities in Islam detest the
idea of minars being introduced to the mosques. The
Prophet’s mosque at Madina had no such minar and moreover,
it was looked down upon as ostentatious and unnecessary.
certain height, the human voice becomes inaudible and
therefore extremely tall minars for the mosques were
unwelcome. Further it gave rise to invasion of privacy. The
mu’adhdhin (who recites the prayer call) could
overlook people’s homes. Interesting injunctions were
issued in Arab countries, viz except for the mu’adhdhin,
no one else was allowed to ascend the minar and that too
only during the prescribed prayer times; the mu’adhdhins
were required to take an oath that they would refrain from
peeping into neighbouring houses, at times mu’adhdhins
were blind folded and better still blind men were most
preferred for this job.
of Islam were too keen to incorporate the minar as it
offered an ideal platform for reciting the adan (call to
prayer). The minar further served as a clock tower, which
announced the precise time while addressing the adan. During
the month of fasting, Ramadan, a lantern attached to the top
of the minar indicated the time for commencement and
conclusion of day’s fast.
Islamic century witnessed the role of a minar as a bare
essential, the second century introduced refinement and
later its development was varied and influenced by local
masonic traditions. The approach to the structural problem
of erecting a minar dictated the design and dimensions. The
clergy once suggested that minar should not occupy a space,
which could otherwise be used for prayers.
injunction compelled the minars to be erected on the walls
of the entrance facade. Gradually, a variety of minars were
invented circular, octagonal, hexagonal, faceted, spiral or
tapering, single or paired. In fact, they displayed all
possible shapes that tower can possibly assume. The scope of
their utility also witnessed a reasonable expansion. Minars came to be associated with tombs,
minars), hunting towers (shikargahs), punishment pillars (chor minar). etc.
minar originated in the Arab world, the grandest of them all
was however destined for India; the mighty Qutb Minar. It
was begun in 1199 by Qutbuddin Aibek as a supporting minar
to his equally grand Quwwat-ul Mosque. He erected the first
three storeys that are heavily indented with different
styles of fluting. The minar is 27 feet in diameter at the
base which tapers to 9 feet at the summit. Qutbuddin’s
successor, Iltutmish added the fourth storey. The 238 feet
high minar was damaged by earthquakes a number of times.
After one such disaster, Firoz Shah Tughlaq rebuilt the
forth storey and further added a fifth stretch. The
decoration of the minar consists of inscriptional bands on
its body written in bold Tughra characters.
minar there is a spiral staircase of 379 steps leading to
the top. Besides being the earliest minar, it proved to be
the most successful and thereby triggering an explosion of
minars that mushroomed throughout India.
version of the awe inspiring Qutub Minar can be seen (now in
ruins) in the shape of fluted minars flanking the central
arch of Jami Masjid (Arhai-din-ka Jhopra) at Ajmer. Erected
around the same time as Qutub Minar, these minarets proved to
be technically weak in absence of independent foundation and
were therefore abandoned soon after.
The next few
centuries witnessed the development of the gateway minars
that found an ideal expression in Gujarat where it was
firmly rooted in the ground with richly sculptured heavy
buttresses form, which they emerged. Throughout Gujarat, we
find the systematic use of minars and they come in a variety
of shapes and sizes. Unfortunately, most of them (like the
minars of Jami Masjid, Qutbuddin Shah’s Masjid, Malik
Alam’s Masjid, Bibi Achut Kuki’s Masjid, Bibi ki Mashed,
etc.) were damaged due to earthquakes or lightning. However,
two of the most impressive minars can be seen welcoming
visitors close to the railway station of Ahmedabad but there
are no traces of the mosque to which they originally
belonged. In Sayyid Uthman’s mosque at Ahmedabad we find
the earliest example of minar being shifted from the central
facade to the corners. These corner minars are tall (six
storeys) and heavy for the open mosque. It can be contrasted
with the slim pinnacle like minarets with delicate traceries
and carvings in Rani Sipari’s mosque (Ahmedabad). The
Junagarh mausoleum of Nawab Mahabat Khan’s mother includes
a pair of beautiful minars with the spiral staircases
entwining the minar from outside. The best of tall and sleek
minars can be seen among the monuments of Champanir, like
the Jami Masjid, Nagina Masjid, Shihr-ki-Masjid.etc.
Khandesh, Rajputana, Bidar, Bijapur and Golconda developed
their own minars with slight variations. Finally the Mughals
picked up the thread and developed the corner turrets. Their
lofty minars can be seen attached to Delhi’s Jami Masjid,
Agra’s Taj Mahal, tomb of Itamuddaulah to name a few.
the Qutb Minar lies Alai Minar which stands as a mute
witness to the whims and fancies of the Delhi sultans. One
such sultan was Alauddin Khilji in 1311 who wanted to excel
and exceed the height of the mighty Qutb. He had planned a
minar that would dwarf the Qutb Minar by half.
the sultan died leaving his work unfinished and what we see
is just the skeletal remains of what could otherwise have
been most remarkable structure in the world.
Some of the
most interesting and unusual minars are to be seen on the
eastern frontier of medieval India. A late thirteenth
century minar at Chota Pandua in Bengal is a curious five
storeyed minar that soars to 125 feet and tapers gradually
from bottom to top like the Chaubara of Bidar. The minar
presents an uneven outline of the structure constructed of
five successive tiers, each smaller in diameter than the one
below. The diameter at the base measures 60 feet which
diminishes to 15 feet at the top. The minar, entered through
a basalt (post and lintel) doorway, is believed to be a part
of the mosque built by Shah Sufi Sultan.
at Gaur (West Bengal) is another eastern jewel created in
bricks that climb to a height of 84 feet through a spiral
staircase. Standing on a twelve sided plinth (now covered
with earth), the first three polygonal storeys of the minar
share the uniform diameter of 20 feet while the top two
storeys are circular and diminishing in diameter.
Unfortunately, the crowning cupola surmounting the sixth
storey no longer exists. Corresponding to the entrance
doorway, a similar opening is pierced on each storey. The
minar is named after its builder Saifuddin Firoz (1487-90)
the Abyssinian slave who set an unfortunate precedent that
he who kills a king’s murderer acquired the right to the
throne. Firoz Minar, also referred to as Chirag Minar,
served as lamppost like the Mughal tower, Ubb Diwal in
interesting minar in West Bengal is the Neem Serai that
closely resembles the Hiran Minar at Fatehpur Sikri. Both
the minars are studded with elephant tusk like projection
giving rise to various stories. Neem Serai Minar, situated
on a hill overlooking the two rivers (Kalindri and Mahananda)
suggests that it served as a watch tower. The spikes may
have been used to display the rebel heads. The sixteenth
century minar gradually narrows as it reaches the top (now
broken). Hiran Minar is believed to be Akbar’s hunting
tower (shikargah). Another tradition considers it to be the
precise spot where the favourite elephant of the emperor
lies buried. It was a fashion in medieval days to create a
tower for just anything. Jehangir is believed to have
erected a tower over the remains of his favourite antelope.
At Bir, one encounters a minar that is believed to have been
ordered by the Tughlaq emperor to mark the site where he
buried his extracted tooth.
at Daultabad is another 100 feet high motivation that
appears Turkish and can be seen from miles around. The 15th
century circular minar is attached to a small mosque at the
foot of the fortress and is divided into four storeys by
wide balconies on brackets. A spiral staircase inside the
tower leads to the top, which is capped by a dome. Ek Minara
at Raichur closely resembles the Chand Minar except for the
height, which is 65 feet and is divided into two storeys by
were more interested in corner towers and smaller turrets
rather than risking with shaky minarets atop the facade. The
130 feet minars at the corners of Jami Masjid in Delhi are
one of the most illustrative Mughal minars. The builders of
the Taj Mahal borrowed the idea of ‘minars in
mausoleums’ from Salim Shah’s (1545) incomplete tomb at
Sasaram where the minars are seen for the first time in a
funerary monument. Since then most of the tombs were
fashioned with minars and some notable developments can be
seen among the tombs of Itamud Daulah, Akbar and the famous
Taj Mahal. The minars in Bibi Ka Maqbara (1678) at
Aurangabad closely rival those of the Taj and are one of the
last notable architectural creations by the Mughals.
Minar (1593) is one of the earliest surviving monuments of
the Qutab Shahis of Golconda, which served as a model for
their subsequent architectural development. The 186 feet
high Char Minar is decagonal in plan and is divided into
four sections by arched lanterns profusely ornamented with
(1656) in Bijapur is another example of minars being
attached on all four sides. The seven storeyed octagonal
minars are pierced in each of their faces with pointed
arches placed in rectangular panels and crowned by a bulbous
dome with sculptured lotus petals at the base.
One of the
most impressive minars in South India can be seen in
Masjid-i-Ala built by Tipu Sultan
at Seringapatnam in 1786.
These two unusual minars in an otherwise simple mosque are
octagonal and separated by a galleried balcony and crowned
by a masonry dome. The entire minar is broken up by a series
of holes with a few arched openings.
Indian roads and highways were once dotted with Kos Minars
that guided the travellers and most of the European
travelogues mention these secular towers that varied in
height between 11 and 50 feet. Some Europeans like Peter
Mundy (1621-32) and William Finch (1608-11) describe the
numerous skull towers that they encountered during their
sojourn in India. One such tower, popularly called Chor
Minar, dating back to the thirteenth century, can be seen in
Author: Shahid A. Makhfi
Chief Editor: Hj Nurzaynab El-Fatah
Hj S. Abidin
Published Date: 10th
Modification Date: January 11th, 2009/14th Muharram, 1430
Publication ID: 02minarsIndia. The Minars and Minarettes of India
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