Humanities: Gupta Empire and Iron Pillar Essay

Submitted By DrSridhar1
Words: 1199
Pages: 5

Standing at the center of the Quwwatul Mosque the Iron Pillar is one of Delhi's most curious structures. Dating back to 4th century A.D., the pillar bears an inscription which states that it was erected as a flagstaff in honour of the Hindu god, Vishnu, and in the memory of the Gupta King Chandragupta II (375-413). How the pillar moved to its present location remains a mystery. The pillar also highlights ancient India's achievements in metallurgy. The pillar is made of 98 per cent wrought iron and has stood 1,600 years without rusting or decomposing. 7.3 m tall, with one meter below the ground; the diameter is 48 centimeters at the foot, tapering to 29 cm at the top, just below the base of the wonderfully crafted capital; it weighs approximately 6.5 tones, and was manufactured by forged welding. 7.3 m tall, with one meter below the ground; the diameter is 48 centimeters at the foot, tapering to 29 cm at the top, just below the base of the wonderfully crafted capital; it weighs approximately 6.5 tones, and was manufactured by forged welding. Barely anyone from these thronging groups of tourists, however, cares to find out the history of this pillar, or knows that it has been something of a riddle for people—historians, archaeologists, palaeographers, metallurgists, etc—for close to a century and a half. The pillar is now located in Delhi, although one knows almost for certain that it was moved to that place from somewhere in Madhya Pradesh about a thousand years ago. But, somehow, in my own mind, it has come to be associated also with Shimla. For that is where I have been hearing of it mostly of late.
When I was there last year, at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study(IIAS), a series of lectures on the Iron Pillar were being delivered by a visiting scholar, a well-known metallurgist, Prof R. Balasubramaniam of the IIT, Kanpur. This year again, when I was in Shimla, the pillar came up, for the institute had brought out a finely detailed publication based on that series of lectures, under the title, "The Delhi Iron Pillar: New Insights." Like last year, however, a debate about the points made in the book ensued again, for there were, and are, scholars at the institute who hold other opinions on the points raised in the book. Each serious study that appears—and Professor Balasubramaniam's is certainly one—adds to the scholarship on this theme, and extends the field further. But nothing, it seems, is finally settled. Some physical facts about the pillar are reasonably well-established: it is 7.3 metres tall, with one metre below the ground; the diameter is 48 centimetres at the foot, tapering to 29 cm at the top, just below the base of the wonderfully crafted capital; it weighs approximately 6.5 tonnes, and was manufactured by forged welding. But, this said, nearly everything else about the pillar is surrounded by acute controversy: For whom was it made? Exactly when? Where did it originally stand before it was moved to Delhi? What is the true import of the long inscription in Brahmi characters engraved upon it? Who placed the later inscriptions on it, and when? Who had the pillar moved to its present location, and why? What exact processes were followed in forging it into shape at that early a point of time, the 4th/5th century AD? Above all, from the scientists' point of view, what is the secret, the great mystery, behind the fact of its being virtually non-rusting? There seems to be no end to the questions.
Take the case of the Brahmi inscription alone. Readings of this six-line, three-stanza inscription in Sanskrit verse vary considerably, the one most often published being that by Fleet, who translated it in 1888. It speaks, in very poetic terms, of the powerful, all-conquering monarch who had the pillar made: "He on whose arm fame was inscribed by the sword, when in battle in the Vanga countries, he kneaded (and turned) back with (his) breast the enemies who, uniting together, came against him; … he, by the breezes of…