History, India, People, Places
Alai Darwaza – Qutub Minar Complex, Delhi
Storytrails team
NOVEMBER 21, 2020

Inside the Qutub Minar Complex is a very ornate doorway leading to the Qutub Minar - the Alai Darwaza. Did you know that it is believed to be the first true dome built in India? 

First, a quick introduction to the man who built this structure - Alaudin Khilji. You may have heard of him - a heartless human, a ruthless king, an evil fanatic... There are many stories about his terrible doings. Some say these acts were political necessities, and others swear they were the product of a deranged mind. How much of it is true? This short video explores the many facets of Alauddin Khilji’s character.

Indeed, Alauddin was ruthless. But one part of him craved for adulation. He probably recognised that the best way to enjoy long lasting fame and adoration was to commission grand projects. The Hauz-i-Khas reservoir that he constructed supplied water to Delhi long after he died; and the Siri Fort protected Delhi till Sher Shah’s invasion. He constructed a Madrassa (religious school) within the Qutb complex. But perhaps his finest project was the Alai Darwaza (Alauddin’s Gate) in the Qutb complex.


Inside the Qutub complex is the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque (12th century CE), believed to be one of the oldest extant mosques in India. Alauddin decided to construct four impressive gateways, one in each cardinal direction, leading to the mosque. In 1311, he  constructed this  gateway. He died in 1316, before the other gateways could be constructed.

Qutub Minar with Alai Darwaza and Imam Zamin's tomb in front (Image credits: Storytrails team)

What makes the Alai Darwaza special? 

Many scholars believe that the Alai Darwaza is the earliest example of pure classic Islamic architecture in India. Islamic architectural design had already come into India by the late 12th century. However, the Indian craftsmen who actually executed these blueprints, had never seen domes and arches before. So, they improvised with adaptations and interpretations on the fly. What emerged was a fusion style called Indo-Islamic.

Alai Darwaza with Imam Zamin's Tomb (Sourced from Wikimedia commons)

Until the arrival of Islamic rulers, buildings in India usually had flat roofs or a pyramidal structure. So structures were held together by beams and lintels. Islamic builders, on the other hand, had been experimenting with arches from many centuries earlier and domes were common. New buildings that now sprang up in these parts started being topped by graceful circular domes. Some of these early Indo-Islamic structures, like the dome that was atop Iltutmish’s tomb, within the same complex, collapsed after some years. However, the Alai Darwaza was special.  Alauddin brought in veteran Turkic master-craftsmen from Central Asia, and set them to work on this structure. They built true domes and true arches with mathematical precision. The windows were covered with finely worked Jaalis, which are beautiful screens painstakingly carved out of stone to look like lace. And these were surrounded by very ornate calligraphy. Add to this the contrast of red sandstone with white marble, and the result was a stately monument that set a new trend in architecture of that time.

Window at Alai Darwaza (Sourced from Wikimedia commons)
Carvings inside Alai Darwaza (Image credits: Storytrails team)

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