The Iron Pillar of Delhi

In the southern district of New Delhi is the famed Iron Pillar, generally believed to date from the fourth century A.D., but said by some scholars to be over four thousand years old. It was built as a memorial to a king named Chandra. It is a solid shaft of iron sixteen inches in diameter and twentythree feet high. It has attracted the attention of both archaeologists and metallurgists, as it has withstood corrosion for over 1600 years in the open air. The pillar defies explanation, not only for not having rusted, but because it is apparently made of 98% pure wrought iron, and is a testament to the high level of skill achieved by ancient Indian ironsmiths, which can only be produced today in tiny quantities by electrolysis. The technique used to cast such a gigantic, solid iron pillar is also a mystery, as it would be difficult to construct another of this size even today.

The pillar—seven meters (23 feet) high and weighing more than six tons—is said to have been fashioned at the time of Chandragupta II Vikramaditya (375–413), though other authorities give dates as early as 912 BCE, initially stood in the centre of a Jain temple complex housing twenty-seven temples that were destroyed by Qutb-ud-din Aybak, and their material was used in building the Qutub Minar and Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque. Made up of 98% pure wrought iron, it is 7.21m (23 feet 8 inches) high, with 93 cm (36.6 inches) buried below the present floor level, and has a diameter of 41 cm (16 inches) at the bottom which tapers towards the upper end. The pillar was manufactured by forge welding. The temperatures required to form such a pillar by forge welding could only have been achieved by the combustion of coal.

The mystery of the use of iron in Asia especially in India is one that largely baffles modern metallurgists. It is assumed that these countries developed iron and other metallurgical skills after the west, but the evidence points otherwise. Nikolass van der Merwe gives the orthodox view: “Spreading east from the Mediterranean, iron was diffused throughout most of Asia before the Christian era. By 1100 B.C. it was in use in Persia, from where it spread to Pakistan and India. The date of the arrival of iron in India is still a matter of some dispute; until recently, iron was assumed to have reached Northern India around 500 B.C., where it appears at the sites of Taxila, Histinapura, and Ahichatra in association with the distinctive ‘Northern Black Polished’ pottery type.

To add to the evidence that ancient India had highly advanced smelting works, the monthly Motilal Banarsidass Newsletter from New Delhi, India reported in its July 1998 edition that findings by the State Archaeology Department after excavations in Sonebhadra district, Lucknow, India, may revolutionize history as regards to the antiquity of iron. The department has unearthed iron artifacts dated between 1200—1300 B.C. at the Raja Nal Ka Tila site in the Karmanasa river valley of north Sonebhadra. Said the newsletter, “Radio carbon dating of one of the samples done by the Birbal Sahani Institute of Palaeobotany has established that it belongs to 1300 B.C., taking the antiquity of iron at least 400 years back, even by conservative estimates. This date of iron is one of the earliest in the Indian subcontinent.” And, these are conservative estimates indeed. There is considerable evidence that mining and iron working have gone on long before 1300 B.C.

The pillar bears a Sanskrit inscription in Brahmi script which states that it was erected as a standard in honour of Lord Vishnu. It also praises the valor and qualities of a king referred to simply as Chandra, who has been identified with the Gupta King Chandragupta II Vikramaditya (375-413). The inscription reads (in the translation given in the tablets erected by Pandit Banke Rai in 1903):

Sanskrit Inscription

“He, on whose arm fame was inscribed by the sword, when, in battle in the Vanga countries (Bengal), he kneaded (and turned) back with (his) breast the enemies who, uniting together, came against (him);-he, by whom, having crossed in warfare the seven mouths of the (river) Sindhu, the Vahlikas were conquered;-he, by the breezes of whose prowess the southern ocean is even still perfumed;- (Line 3.)-He, the remnant of the great zeal of whose energy, which utterly destroyed (his) enemies, like (the remnant of the great glowing heat) of a burned-out fire in a great forest, even now leaves not the earth; though he, the king, as if wearied, has quit this earth, and has gone to the other world, moving in (bodily) from to the land (of paradise) won by (the merit of his) actions, (but) remaining on (this) earth by (the memory of his) fame;- (L. 5.)-By him, the king,-who attained sole supreme sovereignty in the world, acquired by his own arm and (enjoyed) for a very long time; (and) who, having the name of Chandra, carried a beauty of countenance like (the beauty of) the full-moon,-having in faith fixed his mind upon (the god) Vishnu, this lofty standard of the divine Vishnu was set up on the hill (called) Vishnupada.”

In a report published in the journal Current Science, R. Balasubramaniam of the IIT Kanpur try to explains how the pillar's resistance to corrosion is due to a passive protective film at the iron-rust interface. The presence of second phase particles (slag and unreduced iron oxides) in the microstructure of the iron, that of high amounts of phosphorus in the metal, and the alternate wetting and drying existing under atmospheric conditions, are the three main factors in the three-stages formation of that protective passive film.

Lepidocrocite and goethite are the first amorphous iron oxyhydroxides that appear upon oxidation of iron. High corrosion rates are initially observed. Then an essential chemical reaction intervenes: slag and unreduced iron oxides (second phase particles) in the iron microstructure alter the polarization characteristics and enrich the metal–scale interface with P, thus indirectly promoting passivation of the iron (cessation of rusting activity). The second phase particles act as a cathode, and the metal itself serves as anode, for a mini-galvanic corrosion reaction during environment exposure. Part of the initial iron oxyhydroxides is also transformed into magnetite, which somewhat slows down the process of corrosion.

But the ongoing reduction of lepidocrocite, and the diffusion of oxygen and complementary corrosion through the cracks and pores in the rust, should still contribute to the corrosion mechanism from atmospheric conditions. In fact the pillar has never rusted for centuries.

The pillar stands as mute testimony to the highly advanced scientific knowledge that was known in antiquity, and not duplicated until recent times. Yet still, there is no satisfactory explanation as to why the pillar has never rusted. A fence was erected around the pillar in 1997 in response to damage caused by visitors. There is a popular tradition that it was considered good luck if you could stand with your back to the pillar and make your hands meet behind it.

Sources :
Atlantis Rising Magazine volume 26 : “The Metals of the Gods – The Ancients Were Not Strangers to Sophisticated Sciences of Metallurgy” by David Hatcher Childress;
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_pillar_of_Delhi

Pics sources :
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:QtubIronPillar.JPG;
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:India-Qutb-Iron.jpg
The Iron Pillar of Delhi The Iron Pillar of Delhi Reviewed by Tripzibit on 07:06 Rating: 5

5 comments:

  1. Fascinating! And the inscription is quite beautiful...

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  2. Did you know that the enclosure is a very recent one... Earlier it stood open. It is said that if you lean back on the pillar, put your hands back and try to hug it backwards, and if your hands touch you can make a wish and it will come true. so millions of people have queued up to do the same over the last 100 years.

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  3. The Pillar is an inscription and not the 'memorial'.. Inscription speaks about Qutub Minar's truth..

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  4. Pillar was used only for immortalizing the inscription and was not the 'memorial' it talked about. A memorial of such a commendable victory (of Chandra) can not be such a small pillar. Victory Memorial stands just before this Iron Inscription...

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  5. (@ashutoshdeexit) Thank you for your explanation, really helpful

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