Qutub Minar and Smith’s Folly ~ An Architectural Disaster
Qutub Minar and Smith’s Folly
An Architectural Disaster
It is said that lightning never strikes a place twice, but tall structure like the Qutub Minar have always been exceptions. There are several records of the tower being struck by lightning and other natural calamities have taken its toll on the highest stone tower in the world. But the string of disaster has left the minar unscathed except for a slight tilt, some two feet of the perpendicular.
The first recorded lightning strike on the Qutub Minar happened in 1368, when a lightning strike severely damaged the top storey of the Qutub Minar. Sultan Firoz Shah Tughluq replaced the fallen storey with with two floors and crowned it with a cupola. The restoration also introduced white marble into the otherwise red and buff sandstone.
Sikandar Lodi also carried out some repairs on the Qutub Minar in 1503 but the nature and extent of damage is not recorded.
The next major damage happed during the earthquake of 1803. Although much lesser in magnitude than the 1368 lightning the damage was significant enough to destroy Firoz Shah’s cupola permanently.
Faced with an incomplete Minar, the then British Governor-General of India , Lord Wellesly authorized Major Robert Smith, the hitherto respected builder of the St.James’ Church, Delhi, to carry out the necessary repairs. These works were completed in 1828 at the not-insignificant sum of Rs. 17,000 of the time.
Only, Major Smith had exceeded his brief by re-inventing what he had been asked to re-create. He had replaced an Indo-Islamic cupola with a Bengali style chatthri! The glorious tower of Islamic dominance had been capped with a Hindu cupola!
The prospect was so ridiculous and the cupola so out of place, that Lord Hardinge eventually had it taken down in 1848 and placed it on the outer lawns of the Qutub Complex, where it still lies, like an impure, adulterated crown that has fallen off the Minar’s head. It has been called Smith’s Folly ever since.
- World Heritage Series: Qutb Minar & Adjoining Monuments (Archeological Survey of India)
- The story of Smith’s Folly
List of blog post on Delhi