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The Mysterious Iron Pillar of Delhi

by Shelly Barclay
iron pillar

The iron pillar in the Qutb complex near Delhi, India.

The Iron Pillar of Delhi is a nearly 24-ft. iron pillar that is located in the Quwwat-ul Mosque. It weighs more than 6 tons and is made of 98% wrought iron. It is thought that the Iron Pillar of Delhi was crafted using forge welding. The pillar is ornate, but hardly awe-inspiring, unless one knows just how long and mysterious the history of it is.

The Quwwat-ul Mosque dates back to 1192. It stands around the Iron Pillar in ruins, giving away its great age. The mosque is a relic of an Islamic India, long-standing, but not long past. The Iron Pillar dates back even further than the ruined Islamic building, which surrounds it, but the iron pillar gives away nothing of its age on first glance. It was forged 1,600 years ago (sometime in the 300s) and moved to Delhi roughly 1,000 years ago, before the mosque was built. An iron pillar that old should have fallen to dust and blown away with the breeze long before now. Nonetheless, the Hindu-made pillar stands strong above the Islamic ruins that seem as though they will fall to dust long before it does.

According to a popular translation of the Brahmi script upon the Iron Pillar of Delhi, the pillar was made for a king (presumably of the Gupta period, given the era of its creation). It was also made to honor one of the most important Hindu gods – Vishnu. Which Gupta king the Iron Pillar was made for is not made clear by the inscription. However, it is widely believed that the king to which the inscription refers is Chandragupta Vikramaditya.

The purpose of the Iron Pillar of Delhi is one of its many mysteries. Some say it was a flagstaff made for the king mentioned in the inscription. Others say it was a sundial at its original home in Madhya Pradesh. Why it is no longer in Madhya Pradesh is yet another mystery. There is no evidence of who moved the pillar 1,000 years ago, how it was moved or even why it was moved.  All we can say for certain about this aspect of the history of the pillar is that the mysterious Iron Pillar has been part of the Delhi landscape for a very long time.

iron pillar

A view of the west gate and iron pillar. Image: Daniel Villafruela [CC BY-SA 3.0]

The biggest and most talked about mystery regarding the Iron Pillar of Delhi is how it has gone seemingly untarnished for this long. There is much said about the amazing pillar that does not rust. This is not entirely accurate. It is certainly in unbelievable condition for its age. However, it is not without rust. There is a small amount of rust beginning to appear on the pillar. This does not make the pillar’s condition any less mysterious. As mentioned above, it should not even exist anymore. So, how does it withstand the years? Answering that question is not easy.

One of the main catalysts for rust is humidity and Delhi is not very humid. This could be one of the factors in the natural preservation of the Iron Pillar of Delhi. Other possibilities include the skill of the men who made the pillar, the quality of the materials used (unlikely) and fortuitous conditions that caused a protective layer to appear on the pillar. Many sources cite a protective layer of something called “misawite” as the reason for the Iron Pillar’s condition. However, the term misawite seems to appear only in conversation about the Iron Pillar, so it is hard to test the veracity of those claims.

Like so many other mysterious objects, the Iron Pillar is not giving up its secrets easily and some, sadly, may be lost to time forever. Someone may have erased the answers to the Iron Pillar’s mysteries from the pages of history hundreds of years ago, never knowing that people would eventually forget. War or a natural disaster could have claimed the pages of history necessary to explain this strange artifact or the pages simply never existed. Alternatively, the information is still out there waiting to be discovered, through analysis of the pillar itself or rummaging through India’s rich history.

Dr. R. Balasubramaniam, The Corrosion Resistant Delhi Iron Pillar.
B.N. Goswamy, Enigma of the Iron Pillar, world-mysteries.com/sar_ironpillar.htm

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