THE TEMPLES AND TOMBS OF DELHI
Seven ancient ruined cities, representing successive periods and dynasties from 2500 B. C. to 1600 A. D., encumber the plains immediately surrounding the city of Delhi, within a radius of eighteen or twenty miles; and you cannot go in any direction without passing through the ruins of stupendous walls, ancient fortifications and crumbling palaces, temples, mosques and tombs. Tradition makes the original Delhi the political and commercial rival of Babylon, Nineveh, Memphis and Thebes, but the modern town dates from 1638, the commencement of the reign of the famous Mogul Shah Jehan, of whom I have written so much in previous chapters. About eleven miles from the city is a group of splendid ruins, some of the most remarkable in the world, and a celebrated tower known as the Kutab-Minar, one of the most important architectural monuments in India. You reach it by the Great Trunk Road of India, the most notable thoroughfare in the empire, which has been the highway from the mountains and northern provinces to the sacred River Ganges from the beginning of time, and, notwithstanding the construction of railroads, is to-day the great thoroughfare of Asia. If followed it will lead you through Turkestan and Persia to Constantinople and Moscow. Over this road came Tamerlane, the Tartar Napoleon, with his victorious army, and Alexander the Great, and it has been trodden by the feet of successive invaders for twenty or thirty centuries. To-day it leads to the Khyber Pass, the only gateway between India and Afghanistan, where the frontier is guarded by a tremendous force, and no human being is allowed to go either way without permits from the authorities of both governments. Long caravans still cross the desert of middle Asia, enter and leave India through this pass and follow the Grand Trunk Road to the cities of the Ganges. It is always thronged with pilgrims and commerce; with trains of bullock carts, caravans of camels and elephants, and thousands of pedestrians pass every milestone daily. Kipling describes them and the road in "Kim" in more graphic language than flows through my typewriter. In the neighborhood of Delhi the Grand Trunk Road is like the Appian Way of Rome, both sides being lined with the mausoleums of kings, warriors and saints in various stages of decay and dilapidation. And scattered among them are the ruins of the palaces of supplanted dynasties which appeared and vanished, arose and fell, one after another, in smoke and blood; with the clash of steel, the cries of victory and shrieks of despair.
In the center of the court of the ancient mosque of Kutbul Islam, which was originally built for a Hindu temple in the tenth century, stands a wrought-iron column, one of the most curious things in India. It rises 23 feet 8 inches above the ground, and its base, which is bulbous, is riveted to two stone slabs two feet below the surface. Its diameter at the base is 16 feet 4 inches and at the capital is 12 inches. It is a malleable forging of pure iron, without alloy, and 7.66 specific gravity. According to the estimates of engineers, it weighs about six tons, and it is remarkable that the Hindus at that age could forge a bar of iron larger and heavier than was ever forged in Europe until a very recent date. Its history is deeply cut upon its surface in Sanskrit letters. The inscription tells us that it is "The Arm of Fame of Raja Dhava," who subdued a nation named the Vahlikas, "and obtained, with his own arm, undivided sovereignty upon the earth for a long period." No date is given, but the historians fix its erection about the year 319 or 320 A. D. This is the oldest and the most unique of all the many memorials in India, and has been allowed to stand about 1,700 years undisturbed. An old prophecy declared that Hindu sovereigns would rule as long as the column stood, and when the empire was invaded in 1200 and Delhi became the capital of a Mohammedan empire, its conqueror, Kutb-ud-Din (the Pole Star of the Faith), originally a Turkish slave, defied it by allowing the pillar to remain, but he converted the beautiful Hindu temple which surrounded it into a Moslem mosque and ordered his muezzins to proclaim the name of God and His prophet from its roof, and to call the faithful to pray within its walls.
This Hindu temple, which was converted into a mosque, is still unrivaled for its gigantic arches and for the graceful beauty of the tracery which decorated its walls. Even in ruins it is a magnificent structure, and Lord Curzon is to be thanked for directing its partial restoration at government expense. The architectural treasures of India are many, but there are none to spare, and it is gratifying to find officials in authority who appreciate the value of preserving those that remain for the benefit of architectural and historical students. It it a pity that the original Hindu carvings upon the columns cannot be restored. There were originally not less than 1,200 columns, and each was richly ornamented with peculiar Hindu decorative designs. Some of them, in shadowy corners, are still almost perfect, but unfortunately those which are most conspicuous were shamefully defaced by the Mohammedan conquerors, and we must rely upon our imaginations to picture them as they were in their original beauty. The walls of the building are of purplish red standstone, of very fine grain, almost as fine as marble, and age and exposure seem to have hardened it.