Friday 5 August 2011

The Iron Pillar At New Delhi

The iron pillar of Delhi, located in the Qutub complex, is an important testimony of the history of metallurgy of India. The pillar, almost seven meters or 22 feet high and weighting more than six tons, was supposed to have been created at the times of Chandragupta II Vikramaditya (375-413 AD). It is the remaining piece of a Hindu and Jain temple complex which stood there before being destroyed by Qutub-ud-bin Aybak to build the Qutub Minar and Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque Qutub built around it when he had the mosque constructed.
The pillar is made up of 99.72% wrought iron of pure quality and is a testament of the high level of skill achieved by ancient Indian iron smiths in the extraction and processing of iron. It has attracted the attention of archaeologists and metallurgists as it has withstood corrosion for the last 1600 years despite harsh weather. The pillar appears to have been protected from rust from application of a thin coating of manganese oxide.
As early as the fourth century B.C., Kautilya’s Arthasastra had a section outlining the process for metal extraction and alloying.
Later Sanskrit texts talk about assessing metal purity and describe alloying techniques which were in use and some may have had their origin in the Harappan or Vedic periods.
For instance, there are references in Vedic literature that suggest that copper vessels were coated with tin so as to prevent milk from becoming sour.
By 12th century construction engineers were using iron girders and beams on a scale unknown in any part of the world. The most significant use of iron beams was in the temples at Puri and Konark. The Puri temple contains 239 iron beams and one of the beams in the Konark temple is 35 feet long. All are 99.64% iron and were produced in a similar manner to the Delhi iron pillar.
Who were the iron smiths who had created the iron pillar at Delhi and the iron girders in the temples of Puri and Konark?
Article by : P. N. Santhanagopal
Source: Bhavan's Journal 31 August 2008
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