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Incredible India: The Shaking Minarets of Ahmedabad
The Jhulta Minar or Shaking Minerets
Many architectural marvels around world, be it the ancient creations like 'Pyramids of Egypt' or 'The Leaning Tower of Pisa' and many more, have always intrigued even the brightest of the minds. They arouse curiosity to uncover the secrets behind these magnificient creations, especially considering the fact that all this was achieved in absence of all the modern machinery & technology. It was pure labour (man power) and know-how that makes it more and more fascinating. India too has its fair share of ancient marvels that I would like to cover and one such creation is the Jhulta Minar or the Shaking Minarets of Ahmedabad.
The minerets are located about a mile from Ahmedabad railway station of Gujarat state in the vicinity of Siddi Bashir Mosque that dates back to 1452. Though what remains of it is only the minarets and arched central gateway; the body of the building was destroyed in 1753 during the war between the Marathas and Khan of Gujarat Sultanate. Interestingly the Siddi Bashir Mosque was named after a favourite slave of the Sultan ruling that region. However it is believed that it wasn't Siddi Bashir who build the minarets but an architect Malik Sarang, a nobleman in the court of Sultan Mahmud Shah Begada, ruler of a nearby province.
Mystery of the Minarets
There is no specific reason as to why these shaking minarets were built in the city but people believe that they were built so as to avoid damages during earthquakes. Surprisingly, when the minarets were built, there was no conscious decision made to make them shake. In fact no one noticed the minarets shook or leaned at an angle for years. It was only in the 19th century that Monier M Williams, a European Sanskrit scholar first made this observation.
These minarets are about 21.34 meters (70 feet) high. Each minaret is three storied tall with delicately carved stone balconies around each storey. They have left the best of architects and pioneering design engineers intrigued as to why if you apply a little force on its upper arc, the minaret tends to sway. In fact, a minor movement in either of the minaret results in the vibration of the other minaret after a few seconds. Amazingly, the passage between the two minarets remains free from any vibration. The mechanism behind this is still unknown.
Menar Jonban, a historical monument located at Isfahan in central Iran is another ancient marvel of 14th century. Here too the minarets sway slightly when leaned upon.
Research and Theories
This shaking feature was of common occurence to another mosque 'Bibi-ki-Masjid' which once had a pair of shaking minarets. But the British tyrants, who were then ruling India, out of curiosity dismantled one minaret to unlock the secret of its construction and the mystery behind the swinging effect.
The Archaeological Survey of India says that this medieval engineering feat could possibly be attributed to the use of ‘flexible sandstone’ (a construction material) in the foundation.
Lalit Kumar, curator of ld institute of Indology museum claimed that with the help of geologists of ongc, he found that in the kind of sandstone used to build the minarets, feldspar gets dissolved under natural conditions making the sandstone highly porous. Further dissolution leaves large spaces, making the sandstone flexible. This combined with the inner spiral structure leads to the shaking of the minarets.
Yatin Pandya, the man behind the city museum, believed it was merely an accident that the minars are shaking. However he debunked Kumar's theory stating "porous sandstone is used all over the city, but the other structures are not shaking. Neither can the 'porous' element transmit like moisture, nor can vibrations happen because of the porous quality of the sandstone."
V. Nair of archaeological survey of India Ahmedabad believed that one-third of these two slender minarets are connected to the base and the diameter of the minars reduce as it rises from the base to the top. the stones of the minars are joined by lime mortar cushion. Kinetic force in one minar travels from the top to the base through the arches, as a result of which it shakes."
But all these theories lacked substantial research and supporting facts. The only thing so far accepted is that the minarets were not built with the plan that they would be shaken. This occurred over a period of time.
Entry to the shaking minaret is now prohibited for preserving and protecting the heritage as demonstrations of the minarets shaking or vibrating have led to damages to the upper sections of the minar.