The 7.21 meter-high metallurgical curiosity, known as the Iron Pillar weighs more than six tons that initially stood in the center of a Jain temple. Also called the Ashokan Pillar, the Iron Pillar is well-known for its purely metallic composition that was commissioned by Kumara Gupta I of the Gupta Empire. The pillar was transplanted to Delhi during the 10th century (912 BCE). However, based on the analysis of archer-type gold Gupta coins, it was Chandragupta II the Great, one of the most powerful emperors of the Gupta Empire, who erected the pillar. Today, the Iron Pillar majestically stands in the Qutub Complex in New Delhi.
During a mad episode of Qutub-ud-din Aibak, he tore down 27 Jain and Hindu temples to reuse the materials in creating the architectural masterpieces of the Qutub Minar Complex and the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque. The story of its relocation is still considered an enigma. However, records show that it originally stood at Vishnupadagiri which is today known as Udayagiri. The Iron Pillar’s current location in Vigraha Raja was believed by some historians to be installed by the ruling Tomara King Anangpal II in 1052 A.D. Today, the pillar can be found standing at the center of the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque in the Qutub Minar Complex, fenced in by the government as a preservation and safety measure.
The auspicious original location of the Iron Pillar, with a statue of Chakra at the top, is situated on the Tropic of Cancer — the center of astronomical studies during the Gupta Empire era. It served as a sundial in ancient times where the early morning shadows fell in the direction of the foot of Anantasayin Vishnu during the summer solstice (June 21). It then lies as a true manifestation of Gupta India’s knowledge in astronomy.
The Iron Pillar has caught the attention of numerous metallurgists and archeologists, hailing it as a testimony to the superb skills of ancient Indian blacksmiths because of its resilience to corrosion and other natural causes. This impressive preservation may be due to Delhi’s natural environment that provides alternate drying and wetting conditions. It may also be due to the high concentration of phosphorus and iron used to create the structure. It was created using 98% wrought iron through forge welding enhanced with extensive amounts of phosphorus that is used to create steel. The pillar has stood the test of time for an amazingly 1,600 years without any signs of discomposing or rusting.
The six lines and three stanza Sanskrit inscription in Brahmi script honoring the Hindu god, Vishnu, and praising the qualities of Chandragupta Vikramaditya can be found etched on the pillar. Today though, translations of the inscription vary greatly and are still being debated among scholars.
Traditional beliefs have led people to associate the name of the city of Delphi to the Iron Pillar. It is said that if a person stands with his back against the pillar and was able to encircle his or her arms around it, all of his/her wishes will come true. Because of the damage visitors has caused, the government constructed fences surrounding the pillar for protection in 1997. Although visitors won’t be able to experience to wrap their arms around the pillar today, being in the presence of such a magnificent structure is truly magical enough.