In the midst of posh bungalows In Delhi’s Hauz Khas area there is a very strange monument which resembles a lighthouse. The strangeness comes from the fact that there is no sea nearby where a lighthouse is needed.However this seems to have a darker side to itOne has to into the R block of the Hauz Khas residential area, there are two iron gates on the way. Most of the guards in the area will guide you to it, as there are no signage there.Once we go a little nearer the board reads that its a Chor Minar built by Alauddin Khilji (1290-1231 AD)and used to exhibit the severed heads of thieves during his reign. As per the legend it has 225 holes. The purpose of this minaret was to strike terror in the hearts of people. I can well imagine how terrifying it would be to see 225 severed heads staring one from that height. Enough to make every sinner become a saint!
Alauddin Khilji came to the throne of Delhi Sultanate at a time when the Mongol threat was at a high point and Alauddin had to maintain a huge army. He could not therefore afford mismanagement, inflation, cheating and deceit which would prevent him from facing that threat from a position of strength. His what seem barbaric now but were probably the norm in his times were aimed at running a streamlined administration.
The Minar is built of rubble masonry (rough, uncut stones, irregularly set in mortar) and stands in the centre of a platform 30′ square and 7′ height. Each of the 4 sides of the platform has 3 arched recesses. The central one on the east is a doorway which leads to a spiral staircase. Nowadays there is a grilled gate which is kept locked. If you close up you can get the stink of pigeon and bats which inhabit it now.There is a nice little garden with a bench so you can curl up with a good horror story and imagine the shrieks coming from those heads hanging from there.
Catherine Asher in her book on Mughal Architecture mentions Hiran Minar, a hunting tower, in Fatehpur Sikri which she says could have been starting point for subsequent a kos minar ( milestones)
There is another similar tower in Malda which according to her could have been used for hanging of severed heads by Mughal Governor or as a watchtower or as both as well as for hanging the heads of rebels.
Of course all these towers could have been used for something as innocuous as lamps!
These two photographs are from Catherine Asher’s book “The Cambridge History of Indian Architecture of Mughal India.”