The Invincible Iron Pillar of Delhi

After his defeat of Nasir Al-Din Mahmud Tughluq, Sultan of Delhi, Tamerlane sacked the city and set his men loose to plunder at will. Tamerlane himself reports that the Delhi was burned to the ground and most of its inhabitants taken as slaves. In the distance, to the southwest, Timur would have been able to see the 300-foot tall minaret of he Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque. Of course the mosque, along with all other Islamic temples and households were spared. Tamerlane’s emirs directed their soldiers’ violence toward the majority Hindu population. However, housed in this vast temple was an ancient Hindu relic erected by a long lost civilization. The Sultans of Delhi built their magnificent mosque around the icon, paying it no mind. It had survived countless invasions from foreign armies no less destructive than Tamurlane’s. It had witnessed the city of Delhi be destroyed and rebuilt and destroyed again. It had stood for a thousand exposed to the elements, its temple having long ago crumbled around it, and it would stand for a thousand more untarnished. This was the invincible Iron Pillar of Delhi, the principal dial to the solar calendar of the ancient Gupta civilization. This metal column was first erected in the 4th century AD, positioned perfectly at the Tropic of Cancer. At noon on the day of the summer solstice the pillar cast no shadow. Over the centuries, the Hindu began to identify the pillar as having divine significance and moved it to a special temple outside of Delhi where it stands today and has always stood as the city’s single most enduring symbol.

Examples of Roman iron working originating from the same era as the Pillar are today either crumbling artifacts or have rusted away completely. The Gupta alchemists forged the Iron Pillar so that it would resist corrosion almost perfectly. The iron alloy of which it is composed has a high phosphorus content which has caused a crystalline layer to form over the pillar’s exterior which protects the iron from oxidization. Modern-day metallurgists are not certain how the alloy would have been made. The belief throughout most of history was simply that the pillar was magical.

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