Balban’s Minaret and it’s Inscription

It was during the reign of Sultan Nasiruddin Mahmud (1246-61) that Malik Bahāuddin Balban, (future Sultan Ghiyāsuddin Balban) was made the governor of Koil (modern Aligarh). During Balban’s governorship a minaret was ordered to be erected on which Balban put up his inscription.

The first to describe the minaret was Peter Mundy who visited Koil in 1631 and records it as a “high tower” on “ the topp” of a “round hill” on which the town stood.

Some details of this minaret is got from an anonymous report reproduced by WH Smith in 1874. According to this report the minaret was constructed on a high ground of an erstwhile fort (bālā-i qila’) and was raised on a square base. It was built in stages, two of which survived till its demolition in August 1862 as a result of the Mutiny of 1857. The base was of kankar blocks with a few pieces of sang-i surkh (red sandstone) inserted in between. The first stage was entirely of these kankar blocks while there was the use of burnt bricks in the second.

To the north was the door-way opening on a spiral stair-case which originally led to the top of the column. This staircase was also constructed of kankar blocks, and was lighted by several apertures in the outer wall and a door-way which opened on the cornice, or balcony at the top of the first stage. The lower stage, as per the anonymous report was 54′ high, while the remains of the second were 20′, so that the extreme altitude which was surviving then was 74 ʼ. Further, as per this report, the minaret was tapering with the external circumference at the base of the minaret was 80′. The thickness of the walls at the base at 6ʼ while and at the top of the first stage they were 4 1/2’ only. Immediately where the kankar block staircase terminated there was slung across the stairway, as it were, to form one of the steps, was a Hindu pillar carved and ornamented with mythological figures. This was the only “Hindu” stone the anonymous writer of the Report could discover in the whole pillar. Above it several beams of wood were laid across suggesting to the writer that the architects who built the second stage, as it then stood, were very different persons from those who erected the first, and that the remains of the second stage were of comparative “modern origin”.

Over the doorway was an inscription, in the ornamented Tughra script, which is translated thus:

“This building (was erected) during the reign of the great Sultan, the Master of the necks of nations, Nasīr-ud dunniyā wa-l dīn, the Sultan of Sultāns, Protector of the faithful, the heir to the kingdom of Solomon, the Lord of the Seal in the Empire of the World. Abu Muzaffar Mazaffar Mahmud bin as-Sultan (May Allah perpetuate his kingdom and authority, by the order of the Malik of the World the great exalted blessed Khan, Bahā’u-l haqq wa-l dīn, the Malik of the maliks of the East and China, Balban ush-Shamsi, during the days of his government (May his high qualities endure!), on the 10th of Rajab 652 AH / 26 August 1254 AD”

This inscription after the demolition of the minaret by G Edmondstone, the Lieutenant Governor of the newly established Colonial regime in August 1862, was acquired by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and subsequently put in one of the structures of the MAO College which he opened in 1875.

From 1875-76 till 6th July 2019 this inscription adorned one of the walls of the Reading Room of SS Hall North (Building which once housed the Nizām Museum founded by Sir Syed).

On 6th June 2019 on my request Coordinator of the Museum, and the permission of Professor Tariq Mansoor, the Vice Chancellor AMU, the epigraph was taken out from the wall with the help of a technical team of the Archaeological Survey of India, Agra Circle.

As soon it was removed, it revealed a secret which was unknown to most us: the inscription was carved on the reverse of a buff stone which was originally carved with 10th-11th Century carvings in Jain tradition. It was in fact a central slab of a ceiling carved with a lotus flower surrounded with a frieze of beautiful Jain sculptures.

The panel was set in a thick layer of lime and kankar mortar.

On 26 August 2019, exactly 157 years after it got dislocated from the minaret and 765 years after it was put up by Balban [26 August 1264 as per the inscription itself], the Epigraph joins the other archaeological collections of Sir Syed at the Sir Syed Room at the Musa Dakri Museum, AMU and was formally unveiled by Professor Tariq Mansoor in the presence of such stalwarts like Professor Jamkhedkar, Chairman ICHR, New Delhi, Dr KN Dikshit, Editor Puratatva and Professor Irfan Habib, Padam Bhushan and Professor Emeritus AMU.

I as the then in charge of the Museum and the entire academia thank the Vice Chancellor AMU, Professor Tariq Mansoor for facilitating its shifting to the Museum and making public access to it possible. I am also thankful to Professor Ubaidullah Bokhari, the then Provost SS Hall (North), the entire technical team of ASI Agra Circle, Professor Manvendra Kumar Pundhir, Incharge Archaeology Section AMU and Mr Saleem Ahmad of the Section for all their respective endeavours!

Balban’s Inscription has now joined the Sir Syed Collection and would now be on permanent display there.

Here I append a talk by Professor Syed Jabir Raza on Medieval Epigraphs. At the end is an analysis of Balban’s inscription in Aligarh

Introducing Balban’s inscription

Professor Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi