Desecration near Qutb Minar

7. Qutbuddin And 27 Mandirs

Reporting on the monuments of  Delhi in 1871 AD, J.D. Beglar of the Archeological Survey of India, had an interesting theory after he explored the Quwwatul Islam mosque which is situated next to the Qutb Minar, ASI Report 1871/72. In his own words:

it remains only to add a suggestion that the unsightly layer of irregular stones that cover up the courtyard be removed; it will then be possible to state definitely whether or not a central grand temple existed. From examples elsewhere, I am sanguine that traces of a central shrine will be found on careful examination.

The legendary world traveller Ibn Batuta was categorical about the mosque being a conversion from a cluster of temples. On the site of the mosque, he wrote, there was a butkhana or a house of idols. After the conquest of Delhi, it was turned into a mosque. Even today one cannot fail to notice the image of Ganesh on the rear plinth of the mosque.
Proximity induces apathy rather like familiarity breeding contempt! Countless people visit Qutb Minar each year. But how many of them remember having seem the mosque next door, Quwwatul Islam? The story of this mosque is told on the tablet displayed on the spot by the Archaeological Survey of India. It is a story of how 27 temples were desecrated and how their rubble was used to build a mosque in their place. It was to announce to the regional populace that the Raja was gone and the Sultan had taken over.
In those days, there were no means of communication other than the beating of drums which could not reach very far beyond a village. On the other hand. a popular temple was a place of pilgrimage, several times a year. The devotees would suddenly discover that the sanctum of their beloved avataar had been broken into pieces and rebuilt with something that, in their eyes, was devastatingly offensive. Most often the old stones and statues that earlier adorned the temple walls could be recognised. For, they had been used in building the mosque. This viewpoint has limited validity.
The desecration had its vicarious side. For, there is no record or mention any-where that the idol of the presiding deity of the mandir was removed and handed over to the priest for taking away to another temple. In fact, in many cases, there were gleeful references to how the idol was destroyed and its broken pieces were buried under the entrance of the mosque. So that they would be routinely stepped on by those who came visiting for their ibadat.
The desecration at Mehrauli was probably the first perpetrated by Muhammad Ghauri. It is situated next to the famous Qutb Minar. The masjid was named after its builder, Qutbuddin Aibak, as Quwwatul Islam, which, translated into English, means the Might of Islam. The name itself is arrogant; for a place Worship it is even more so.
The mosque was located at the citadel which came to be known as Qila Rai Pithora. The conversion began soon after the second Battle of Tarain, in 1192 AD, wherein Muhammad Ghauri defeated and killed Prithviraj Chauhan. It might be recalled that in the first battle of Tarain, it was Prithviraj who had defeated Ghauri and did not kill him, but let him go. Kshama veerasya bhushanam or forgiveness beholds a hero is what the then ruler of  Delhi must have had in mind.
Let us quote the version given in the Oxford History of Islam: 

The immense Congregational mosque in Delhi known as Quwwat al-Islam (Might of Islam) was one of the first built in India. Begun in 1191, the mosque stands on the site of a pre-lslamic temple whose ruins were incorporated in the structure. The tall iron pillar in the courtyard, originally dedicated to the Indian god Vishnu around 400, was re-erected as a trophy to symbolize Islam’s triumph over Hinduism.

Many centuries earlier, Alexander of Macedon had defeated King Porus in 326 BC on the banks of the Jhelum and promptly made him his ally. Ghauri, evidently, had a killer instinct, so lauded in the West, as necessary for victory. Anyway, to kill or not to kill is the privilege of the victor. But monumental humiliation cannot be the doing of any one except a coward.

The Quwwatul mosoue was converted from 27 Hindu and Jain temples that were destroyed. It is a monument to a people’s humiliation. If it were not so, all the statuettes that still adorn the pillars in the mosque need not have been so blatantly displayed. Even after 800 years, they are, as it were, alive for the conquered to see. And not only for the conquered but for all their successors who would ever visit this mosque.Surely, it is un-Islamic to have anything to do with images. Portraits and statues are haraam and yet Quwwatul Islam has displayed them. If Aibak had been even slightly considerate, not just towards the conquered, but even towards his own religion, he would have covered the figurines with lime and sand.

However, when one reads what Sir Syed Ahmed Khan of Aligarh fame proudly wrote about the destruction of 27 temples, one’s impression of Islam gets shaken. What he wrote is best read in his original words, (from his Urdu book, Asar-us-Sanadid, translated by Prof. Khaleeq Anjum, Delhi in 1990, Volume I):

Quwwatal-Islam Masjid’d Din Sam alias Shihabu ‘d-Din Ghauri, conquered Delhi in AH 587 corresponding to AD 1191 corresponding to 1248 Bikarmi, this idol-house (of Rai Pithora) was converted into a mosque.The idol was taken out of the temple. Some of the images sculptured on walls or doors or pillars were effaced completely, some were defaced. But the structure of the idol-house kep standing as before.

Material from twenty-seven temples, which were worth five crore and forty lakh of Dilwals, were used in the mosque, and an inscription giving the date of conquer and his own name was installed on the eastem gate. .

When Malwah and Ujjain were conquered by Sultan Shamsu ‘d-Din in AH 631 corresponding to AD 1233, then the idol-house of Mahakal was demolished and its idols as well as the statues of Raja Bikramajit were brought to Delhi, they were strewn in front of the door of the mosque.

The relish with which the founder of Aligarh Muslim University appears to have written this, is indeed surprising. At that time, the capital of India was still in Calcutta. Had it been transferred to Delhi, his pleasure might perhaps have been greater. For, the Raisina Hill from where India is governed, is only a few miles from Mehrauli where this monument to Hindu humiliation still stands.