You have heard of the famous Qutb Minar, of course, but Chor Minar, huhh? Translated to Hindi, it means ‘Tower of Thieves’, but whatever does that imply?
In posh, green, modern South Delhi, at the center of one of the many traffic roundabouts, stands an innocuous looking tower called the Chor Minar. There’s a small patch of green surrounding it, and in the twilight it is a common sight to find women chatting in the premises and children playing a happy game. I wonder sometimes when I see them, would they breathe as easy if they knew that the very site they were sitting on was once red with the blood of the dead?
About eight hundred years ago, as the thirteenth century gave way to the fourteenth, a ruthless Sultan ruled Delhi. His name was Alauddin Khilji. The great Mongol Emperor Kublai Khan, grandson of the famous Genghis Khan, had died recently, and his kingdom had broken up into independent khanates in Central Asia, eager to extend their own empires. India was a goldmine to them, and the Mongols continued to cause much stress to the Delhi Sultans for a very long time, until eventually one of their descendants –Babur – established the long-lasting Mughal Empire here. But I digress! Back in the early fourteenth century, Alauddin Khilji dealt severely with any potential attack on his kingdom. In fact, he is reputed to have been one of the few rulers anywhere to repeatedly thwart the Mongols.
Alauddin strengthened his fort and created a whole new army to deal with the crisis. He sent soldiers plundering after the Mongols, capturing and beheading anyone they could lay hands on. Rumor has it that these heads were placed in the foundations of the city walls, giving it the name ‘Siri’ derived from the Hindi ‘sir’ meaning ‘head’. Sounds familiar? Yes, this is the same Siri Fort area of South Delhi that now houses the Asiad Games Village complex and the well-known Siri Fort auditorium you see those cultural programs in. (He also did some nice things, such as build the Hauz Khas tank about which we talk here.)
So now that you know a bit about the ruthlessness of the Emperor, you would not be too surprised to learn that the Tower of Thieves was actually a minaret built to hang the heads of thieves, prisoners and other offenders of the State. Look closely at the picture! Do you notice the multiple holes in the structure? There are 225 such holes. Now imagine each hole supporting a spear, on which is impaled a human head. If there were too many heads, the less important ones would simply be piled in a pyramid outside the tower. The full public glare was important to Alauddin, in order to frighten anyone who dared oppose the Emperor. It is said that an entire village of Mongols who had settled in Delhi (in the modern Mongolpuri area) was wiped away to teach the tribe a lesson, and their heads displayed in several such towers around Delhi. Now, would you still want to relax at the pretty green roundabout in the gathering darkness? I wouldn’t.