Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Rustless Wonder - Iron Pillar of Delhi

Living testimony to the skilled metallurgists of ancient India - the wonder pillar! 
 Housed inside the the Qutb Complex in Delhi, the iron pillar is a ‘Miracle of Metallurgical Technology’ and has been intriguing many scientists. When I saw this pillar for the first time, it did not appeal to me in any away, until I thoroughly read about it's history and uniqueness. Now I am in awe of this ancient wonder...

Here are some facts about the rustless wonder:
1) It is 7.3 metres tall with 1 meter buried below the ground.

2) Weighing approximately 6.5 tonnes, the diameter is 48 centimetres, tapering to 29 centimetres at the top.

3) It was manufactured by forged welding.

4) The age of the pillar has been stated to be 1600 years !

5) It was constructed by Chandra II Vikramaditya to honor Lord Vishnu

6) This fourth century pillar bears inscription in the Brahmi script (the oldest known Indian script)

7) There is a strong local tradition that it was brought here by Anangpal,the Tomar king who is credited with the founding of Delhi in 1020 A.D.
8) The erection of the pillar is attributed to Anang Pal, dated 1052 A.D., whose name it bears. He was the Tomar king who is credited with the founding of Delhi in 1020 A.D.

A fence was erected around the pillar in 1997, as damage to this treasure was foreseen. It was considered good luck, if one could stand with one’s back to the pillar and make one’s hands meet behind it.

Standing besides the awe-inspiring pillar

Some facts about the pillar’s corrosion resistance are:

1) Metallurgists at IIT, Kanpur have discovered that a thin layer of "misawite", a compound of iron, oxygen and hydrogen, has protected the cast iron pillar from rust.

2) The high phosphorous content is a result of the unique iron-making process practiced by ancient Indians, who reduced iron ore into steel in one step by mixing it with charcoal.

3) It’s unusually good corrosion resistance appears to be due to a high phosphorus content, which together with favorable local weather conditions promotes the formation of a solid protective passivation layer of iron oxides and phosphates, rather than the non-protective, cracked rust layer that develops on most ironwork.

4) The protective film took form within three years after erection of the pillar and has been growing ever so slowly since then. After 1,600 years, the film has grown just one-twentieth of a millimeter thick, according to R. Balasubramaniam of the IIT. In his view, the pillar is "a living testimony to the skill of metallurgists of ancient India"

The story about the pillar’s origins are as follows:*The pillar, with an idol of Garuda at the top, was originally located at a place called Vishnupadagiri (meaning “Vishnu-footprint-hill”), identified as modern Udayagiri, situated in the close vicinity of Besnagar, Vidisha and Sanchi, towns located about 50 kilometres east of Bhopal, in central India. Vishnupadagiri is located on the Tropic of Cancer and, therefore, was a centre of astronomical studies during the Gupta period. The Iron Pillar served an important astronomical function, in its original site; its early morning shadow fell in the direction of the foot of Anantasayain Vishnu (in one of the panels at Udayagiri) only in the time around summer solstice (June 21). The creation and development of the Udayagiri site appears to have been clearly guided by a highly developed astronomical knowledge. Therefore, the Udayagiri site, in general, and the Iron Pillar location in particular, provide firm evidence for the astronomical knowledge in India around 400 CE.

"As rust, sprung from iron, eats itself away when arisen, even so his own deeds lead the transgressor to states of woe…."
-Gautama Buddha

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