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The Fascinating Secrets of a 1600-Year-Old Pillar in Delhi


Technology Manager, Poet, History Maniac. Also, a prolific writer on varied topics as diverse as relationships, creativity to technology

The Iron Pillar of Delhi as it is called has never rusted for the past 1600 years

The Iron Pillar of Delhi as it is called has never rusted for the past 1600 years

how has such a piece of ancient artistry remained rust-free for so long?

That is the first question any visitor gets in her mind when she visits the Qutub complex that also houses the Qutub Minar – which is among Delhi’s best-known architectural wonders.

And at first glance, the iron pillar appears is very unassuming, just like the hundreds of ancient pillars created across the length and breadth of India by its’s ancient kings. This six-tonne, seven-meter-tall (24-foot-tall) iron pillar sits on a grid of iron bar that has been soldered into the top layer of a stone pavement. The diameter of the pillar is wider at the base than at the top, and the entire weight is estimated at more than six tons.

And the pillar contains inscriptions written in Brahmi script referring to King Chandragupta II of the Gupta empire who reigned from circa 375 to 415 CE. The texts appear to praise the king for his glorious victories in battles. Nothing strange about it as countless such inscriptions are written in multiple stone pillars across India.

It is only when you look closer, you see the difference.

The iron pillar has no rust in it, and it has stayed rust-free for more than 1600 years fighting the extreme weather and pollution of Delhi. Yes, some people believe that phosphorus was added while making the pillar, so it does not rust. But then phosphorus was only discovered in 1669 by Hamburg merchant Henning Brand, while the pillar was built about 1200 years before that.

So did the ancient know about metallurgical techniques far advanced than we are made to believe?

Nobody has an answer to this question yet and the pillar has been included among the Out-of-Place Artefacts (OOPArts) – a term applied to ancient objects from around the world that show technological advancement beyond the time when they were built.

The story of Delhi’s iron pillar

The pillar stands among the ruins of the Quwwat-ul Mosque that was created in 1192. It is believed to be forged 1,600 years ago and moved to Delhi roughly 1,000 years ago before the mosque was built.

According to inscriptions itched on the pillar, it was built by Chandragupta II in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh where it was established in the front courtyard of a Vishnu temple on top of a small hillock called Vishnupada, in Madhya Pradesh. The inscriptions written in Brahmi script describe the victories of the king in various battles.

“He, the remnant of the great zeal of whose energy, which utterly destroyed (his) enemies, like (the remnant of the great glowing heat) of a burned-out fire in a great forest, even now leaves not the earth; though he, the king, as if wearied, has quit this earth, and has gone to the other world, moving in (bodily) from to the land (of paradise) won by (the merit of his) actions, (but) remaining on (this) earth by (the memory of his) fame.”

These texts are believed to be one of the oldest verses in Indian History. Later on, it is believed that in 1233, Sultan Iltutmish of the Delhi Sultanate moved the pillar to its present location in Delhi.

Many mysteries are surrounding this pillar. The biggest of all is that it has not rusted for the last 1600 years. So, how did it withstand all these years? Answering this question is not easy despite the extensive chemical analysis done on the pillar by various technologists across the world.

Again, the construction of the pillar is another mystery. Chemical testing has shown that the pillar has been constructed by adding several pieces of hot iron on top of each other.

But this technique was believed to have been invented only 200 years ago. How did the ancient metallurgists know about it? And adding to the mystery, the pieces have been added in such a way that no joints are visible. Such perfection is not possible even today with our advanced techniques.

And the most surprising discovery was the phosphorus used in the pillar which scientists believe has resulted in its remaining rust-free. The rusted objects are cleaned with phosphorus because the rust dissolves in it. Again, phosphorus was only discovered only 300 years ago. So, did the people of that time know about the properties of phosphorus?

And lastly why was the pillar moved to Delhi? There appears no logical reasoning behind the move that would have involved significant efforts in labor and cost. Interestingly the Qutub Minar was built exactly 10 times taller than the Iron Pillar. The height of the Iron Pillar is 7.21 m and the height of the Qutub Minar is 72.1m. Was it simply a coincidence or deliberately done?

An ordinary pillar has forced historians, scientists, and archaeologists to search for answers within India’s rich history. As professor R. Balasubramaniam of the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur rightly says.

“The pillar is a living testimony to the skill of metallurgists of ancient India"

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.


Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 02, 2021:

Thanks, Devika. Delhi surely is a quaint mix of the old and the modern with an eclectic mix of different cultures.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on April 02, 2021:

Dehli sounds fun and interesting about the ancient structures.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 02, 2021:

Thanks Vanita

Vanita Thakkar on April 02, 2021:

Nice one. Informative and interesting. Good work. Thanks.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 01, 2021:

Thanks Bill

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on April 01, 2021:

Fascinating read, my friend! Thanks for sharing this history.

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