The iron pillar

Social ScienceAncient Indian History


Chandragupta II (reigned c. 375–415 CE) built the iron pillar of Delhi, which today stands in the Qutb complex at Mehrauli in Delhi, India, with a height of 7.21 metres (23 feet 8 inches) and a diameter of 41 centimetres (16 inches). The rust-resistant nature of the metals used during construction has made it famous. The three-tonne (6,614- pound) pillar is said to have been built somewhere beyond the Udayagiri Caves and moved to its current location by Anangpal Tomar in the 11th century.

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Description of the Iron Pillar

  • The pillar's height is 7.21 metres (23 feet 8 inches) from top to bottom, with 1.12 metres (3 feet 8 inches) below ground. It has a 306 mm bell design capital (12 in). It is expected to be above three tonnes in weight (6,614 lb).

  • The pillar has piqued the interest of archaeologists and materials scientists due to its exceptional corrosion resistance and has been dubbed a "testimony to the ancient Indian iron smiths' high degree of ability in the mining and processing of iron."

  • An even covering of crystalline iron(III) hydrogen phosphate hydrate forms on the high-phosphorus-content iron, providing corrosion resistance and protecting it from the impacts of the Delhi environment.

Inscriptions on the Iron Pillar

Despite the pillar's prominent location and easy access, a variety of inscriptions of various ages have been found on it, some of which have not been explored in depth.

King Chandra or Chandragupta II's Inscription

The inscription of King Chandragupta II is shown in detail. The earliest inscription on the pillar belongs to a ruler named Chandra (IAST: Candra), who is thought to be the Gupta emperor Chandragupta II.

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The inscription on the iron pillar is 2′9.5′′ x 10.5′′ in size. Because the ancient lettering is carved on corrosion-resistant iron, it has a long shelf life. However, iron seems to have sealed up over certain strokes during the etching process, rendering some of the letters imprecise.

  • It comprises Sanskrit lines written in the shardulvikridita metre.

  • It is written in the Gupta script's eastern variant.

  • The letters range in size from 0.3125′′ to 0.5′′ and are quite similar to the lettering on Samudragupta's Allahabad Pillar inscription.

  • It did, however, have peculiar mtrs (diacritics), comparable to those found in Kumaragupta I's Bilsad inscription.

  • Characters on the Allahabad inscription have more curved edges than those on the Delhi inscription, which have more straight edges. This is attributed to the reason that the Allahabad inscription was carved on softer sandstone, whilst the Delhi inscription was carved on harder stone (iron).

The book has various odd spelling variations from normal Sanskrit, such as -

pranśu instead of praṃśu: the use of dental nasal instead of anusvāra

mūrtyā instead of mūrttyā: omission of the second t

kīrtyā instead of kīrttyā: omission of the second t

śattru instead of śatru (enemy): an extra t


  • William Elliott, an East India Company official, created a replica of the inscription in 1831. In 1834, James Prinsep published a lithograph based on this facsimile in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland.

    However, this etching did not accurately reflect every word of the inscription. T. S. Burt, a British engineer, created an ink imprint of the inscription a few years later. Prinsep enhanced the lithograph and published it in the same magazine in 1838, along with his interpretation of the writing and translating of the content.

  • Bhagwan Lal Indraji recopied the writing on a cloth some decades later. In the Journal of the Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, Bhau Daji Lad released an updated text and translation based on this copy in 1875. The name Chandra was accurately mentioned for the first time in this reading. A scholarly version of the text was published in Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum in 1888 by John Faithfull Fleet.

  • On paleographic criteria, Govardhan Rai Sharma dated the inscription to the first part of the fifth century CE in 1945.

    He noticed that the script was identical to that seen on other Gupta-era inscriptions, such as those found at Bilsad (415 CE), Baigram (449 CE), and Kahanum (449 CE). The characters of the Delhi inscription mirrored those of Chandragupta II's dated inscriptions found at Udayagiri in Madhya Pradesh, according to R. Balasubramaniam in 2005.

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The identification of this king, and consequently the dating of the pillar, has long been a source of controversy. In a book edited by M. C. Joshi released in 1989, the diverse perspectives on the issuer's identity were compiled and studied.

The ruler is now widely regarded as Gupta King Chandragupta II. This conclusion is based on numerous factors as stated below:

  • The inscription's writing and lyrical style hint to a date in the late fourth or early fifth centuries CE: The Gupta period.

  • The inscription portrays the monarch as a Vishnu devotee and chronicles the construction of a Vishnu dhvaja (standard or pillar) atop a hill known as Viupada (hill of Viu's footprint).

    Chandragupta II is often referred to as a Bhagavata in other Gupta inscriptions (devotee of Vishnu). The Gupta Era is also represented by the names of the places listed in the inscription. Dakia Jalanidhi (the Indian Ocean) and Vaga are two examples (the Bengal region).

  • On Chandragupta II's archer-type gold coins, the abbreviated name 'Chandra' is engraved, but his complete name and honors appear in a distinct, circular legend

  • The phrase r Viupada-svm Nryaa (Nryaa, the lord of the famous Viupada) appears on Chandragupta's wife Dhruvadevi's royal seal.

Because the inscription is a glorification and claims that the king has departed the Earth, there is already considerable debate about whether this is posthumous, that is, if King Chandra was alive at the time the record was made.

It was non-posthumous, according to Dasharatha Sharma in 1938. The inscription adds that the monarch's attention is "fixed upon Vishnu with devotion," which, according to B. Chhabra and G. S. Gai, suggests that the king was alive at the time. They believe it was written down when Chandragupta II relinquished his kingdom and retired to Viupada as a vanaprastha (retiree).


Q1. What makes Iron Pillar so unique?

Ans. The rust-resistant nature of the metals that are used in the construction has made it famous. The pillar, which weighs about three tonnes (6,614 kg), is considered to have been created elsewhere, maybe outside Udayagiri Caves, and transported to its current place in the 11th century by Anangpal Tomar.

Q2. Why hasn't the Iron Pillar rusted?

Ans. Because Qutub Minar's iron pillar is constructed of 98 percent wrought iron, it does not rust. The absence of sulphur/magnesium in the iron and the presence of significant concentrations of phosphorus (as much as 1% compared to less than 0.05 % in today's iron) are the key reasons for its endurance.

Q3. What was the purpose of the Iron Pillar's construction?

Ans. It was also built to honour Vishnu, one of the most significant Hindu gods. One of the numerous mysteries surrounding the Delhi Iron Pillar is its function. Some speculate that it was built for the king indicated in the inscription. Others claim it was once a sundial in Madhya Pradesh.

Q4. When was the iron pillar constructed?

Ans. Emperor Chandragupta II (c. 375 - 413/14 CE) of the Gupta dynasty has been recognised as this ruler. Despite being made of 99 percent iron and having been built in the 5th century CE, the Pillar is known for its non-rusted state. It has been standing for roughly 1600 years.

Q5. Where can you find the iron pillar?

Ans. Mehrauli, Delhi, is home to the Iron Pillar. Chandragupta-II of the Gupta dynasty built this pillar.

Updated on 13-Oct-2022 11:19:47