Construction of Qutub Minar

Amalendu Upadhyaya
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By Justice Markandey Katju

A few days back I went to the Qutub Minar in Delhi and took the pic given below.

justice katju at qutub minar

Thereafter I received this email from a certain Mr Gill :

” Sir,

I am a great fan of yours and also follow you on Facebook.  I have a great curiosity about how Qutub minar must have been constructed.  It couldn’t have been from inside because you have to maintain fineness and accuracy from out side, and since the diameter goes on decreasing, every time you have to check its accuracy.  You did nothave modern and fine instruments and implements during those times. Since its not plastered, there are no signs of scaffolding. Then how was it constructed ? Was it  not scary doing work from outside at such a great height. And it was a period when you did not have cranes or lifts.

Please throw some light on this

GS Gill ”.

Since I have no knowledge of architecture, I forwarded Mr Gill’s email to my niece’s husband Christian Schimert, who is a German, and is a highly qualified and experienced architect living in Vancouver Canada, asking him whether he could answer Mr Gill’s queries.

Christian sent this reply to Mr Gill, copying it to me ( and he has given me permission to mention his name and email id )

Dear Mr. Gill,

We have very good records of how European Cathedrals were built in the 12th and 13th century, which matches the construction period when the Qutb was erected. I do not know too much directly about construction methods of the islamic influenced world at that time period. However, since it was Greek and islamic influenced mathematics and geometry, which enabled the European builders, it can be assumed that some of the construction methods in the islamic world and hence the Mughal Empire were similar too.

Back then they did have cranes built from wood, operated with kind of hamster wheels occupied by some poor workers running in them. These were connected to pulley systems. The cranes sat on top of the walls and were deconstructed and moved up after a section was completed. Often instead of cranes horses or oxen were used to pull on  pulleys too. In India it was most likely done with buffalo. This is probably what they did when building the Qutb. When you look at the outer layers you can see that the sandstone blocks were not too large so manageable. The stones are manufactured on the ground with all its finish, shape and ornaments applied, then as a finished product lifted up and set into place with mortar. The master stonemason needed to draw up the elements, and rigorously plan and organize the sequence of the elements. All stones were numbered with a system of keys, telling the masons at the top where they needed to be placed. Each layer was probably drawn up at a level area, e.g. on the floor of the workshop or its yard, in full scale, with the help of strings, plums and angles. The finished stones were laid out on top of the drawing and loosely fitted together on the ground as a mock-up, kontrolled, numbered and adjusted, before they were installed. The stone carvers had templates providing the subtle angle to be maintained for the narrowing towards the top. For ornaments a model stone was done, where all other carvers could measure from and compare and make copies.

Full height scaffolding to post apply any finish to the exterior facade was therefore not required, since the stones were already pre-finished when installed. There was a work platform with a limited height scaffolding sitting on the top of the growing tower unly, moving up with each layer, together with any cranes and pulleys. Places occupied by wood cantilever beams, If required at all, were later filled in with stones, probably whilst sitting in bosun chairs hanging down from the underside of the work platform. So the scaffolding / work platform was constantly re-built as the tower grew up. Furthermore keep in mind, the stairs were also built at the same time together with the walls as an integrated part, allowing workers to reach the top. The stone steps were interlocking with the wall blocks.”


I hope this answers your questions.

Namaste and kind regards,

Christian Schimert

Dipl.-Ing. Arch. MSc, MARB

West Vancouver, BC Canada


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