An Ancient Landmark
Barring the pre-Sultanate monuments of Kutch District, this is the earliest extant mosque in India and consists of a rectangular court, 43.2m by 33m, enclosed by cloisters, erected with the carved columns and other architectural members of twenty-seven Hindu and Jain temples demolished by Qutub-ud-Din Aibak, as recorded by him in his own inscription on the main eastern entrance.
Qutub-ud-Din calls the mosque as Jama Masjid and states that on the original erection of each of the demolished temples a sum of twenty lakhs of coins had been spent. Later it came to be called the Quwwatu'l-Islam, meaning the 'might of Islam' mosque.
The Exquisite Architecture
The western portion of its courtyard occupies the original site of one of the demolished temples. At the two ends of its eastern cloisters, an intermediate storey was raised to provide compartments for the ladies. An iron pillar from a Vishnu temple of the fourth century which had been earlier set up here probably by Anangpal, stands in front of the prayer-hall.
The mosque was begun in 1192, immediately after the capture of Delhi by Qutub-ud-Din, and completed in 1198. Later, a massive stone screen was erected in front of the prayer-hall, consisting of a central arch, 6.7m wide and 16m high, with two similar but smaller arches on either side, all ogee-shaped. Except for the apex, where the few stones are laid in the manner of voussoirs, the construction of the arches is corbelled.
The screen is beautifully carved with borders of inscriptions and geometrical and arabesque designs, but the hand of craftsmen used to Hindu motifs is clearly perceptible in the naturalistic representation of serpentine tendrils and undulating leaves of its scroll work and even in the fine characters of the Koranic inscriptions.
Rejuvenation Of A Monument
The mosque was enlarged by two later rulers. Shamsu'd-Din Iltutmish (1211-36), son-in-law and successor of Qutub-ud-Din, doubled the size of the mosque in 1230 by extending its colonnades and prayer hall outside the original enclosure, as a result the Qutub Minar now fell within the mosque-enclosure.
The arches of Iltutmish's screen are still principally corbelled, although their arabesque ornamentation with the inscriptions standing out prominently is Saracenic in feeling, as distinct from the mixed decoration of Qutub-ud-Din Aibak's screen.
Ala-ud-Din Khalji (1296-1316) again extended the mosque substantially by enlarging the enclosure. He provided two gateways on the longer eastern side and one each on the north and south, the last one known as Ala-i-Darwaza and still extant in entirety. In fact, he doubled the area of the mosque, and also commenced the construction of another minar, intended to be twice the size of Qutub-ud-Din's minar, although it remained incomplete.
It is the first example of a building employing wholly Islamic principles of construction, including the true arch. In the mosque compound is the small but pretty tomb of Imam Zamim, who was the Imam (head priest) of the mosque during Sikander Lodi's (1488-1517) reign.