The story of the iron pillar in Delhi that refuses to rust

This iron pillar is often hailed as the greatest example of India’s efficiency in metallurgy since ancient times. Photo: iStock/Rakesh Nayar

Those who visit the historic city of Delhi hardly miss the iconic Qutub Minar and the iron pillar in the same complex that hasn’t rusted yet. Until two decades ago when the authorities built an iron fence around the pillar, the visitors could wrap their hands around it. There was a popular belief that good fortune awaited a person who could wrap their hands around the pillar with their back touching it. The Qutub Minar was built at the beginning of the thirteenth century. Meanwhile, it is assumed that the iron pillar was built seven or eight centuries before that. The iron pillar has surely caught the fascination of history enthusiasts and scientists as it refuses to rust.

This iron pillar is often hailed as the greatest example of India’s efficiency in metallurgy since ancient times. It is believed that the iron pillar was commissioned by Chandragupta II who was popularly known as Vikramadityan, in the fourth century AD. However, historians aren’t sure whether Chandragupta II is  Vikramadityan. There are historical evidences that suggest that the iron pillar was removed at least three times. Interestingly, the original location of the pillar was different. The inscription on the pillar says that it was originally located atop the Vishnupadam hills. The pillar was placed in its current location by the Tomar kings who had ruled Delhi in the eighth and ninth. Incidentally, that was the first time when the pillar was removed.

There are lots of interesting beliefs about the iron pillar. It was believed that the pillar was perched on the head of serpent king Vasuki. The legend says that when a Tomar king uprooted the pillar in order check whether it stands on Vasuki’s head, he found blood stains. This incident was considered the second instance when the pillar was removed from its location. However, the Tomar dynasty was destroyed soon after that.

Another popular belief is that the length of the pillar underground is the same as its length above ground. Noted archaeologist Alexander Cunningham who did lots of excavations in India in the nineteenth century had uprooted the pillar to check whether the ‘rumour’ was true. However, the pillar was just twenty inches long underground. 

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