Alai Darwaza


Built in : 1311
Built by : Ala-ud-din Khilji
Location : Delhi

The Alai Darwaza is a magnificent gateway built by Ala-ud-din Khilji of the Delhi Sultanate, having exquisite inlaid marble decorations and latticed stone screens. It highlights the remarkable artisanship of Turkish and local artisans who worked on it. The Alai Darwaza was an important part of the project undertaken by Ala-ud-din Khilji in his quest to decorate the Qutab complex.


The Qutab Minar and the various monuments within the Qutab complex, including the Alai Darwaza, belong to the period of the Delhi Sultanate (1191–1526). The Alai Darwaza represents a new style of architecture, popularly referred to as the Indo-Islamic style of architecture. The Indo-Islamic style is neither a local variant of Islamic art, nor a modification of Hindu art, but it is an assimilation of both the styles, though not always in an equal degree. It is so because each region in India has its own form of Indo-Islamic architecture, which varies from place to place and there is no standardization. On the other hand, Islamic art itself was a composite style, which had various Muslims influences—Turkish, Persian, and Arabic.

This assimilation of exotic and indigenous architectural styles was possible due to a variety of factors: the Muslim rulers had to use, in most cases, Indian craftsmen and sculptors who were schooled in their own art traditions. Though both the Indian and Islamic styles have their own distinctive features, some common characteristics made fusion and adaptation easy. Both the styles favor ornamentation and buildings of both styles are marked by the presence of an open court encompassed by chambers or colonnades.


The Qutab Minar, the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque, and the tomb of Iltutmish, which were constructed by different rulers of the Slave dynasty (1193–1290), heralded the birth of Indo-Islamic architecture. Of these monuments, the Qutab Minar is a tower symbolizing the victory of the first Muslim rulers of India over the indigenous people. This fluted tower with floral patterns and Qur’anic inscriptions around in a flowing calligraphic style was the first monument of the Indo-Islamic style of architecture. The Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque was the first mosque to be built in India and is made up of the remnants of 27 Hindu and Jain temples, broken down by the Muslim rulers of the Delhi Sultanate. It is also a representation of Muslim power. The tomb of Iltutmish was the first Islamic tomb to be built in India. As the concept of a domed tomb was new to the indigenous craftsmen, the resultant structural flaws in the building let to the collapse of the dome—the first one to have been built in India. Thus, one can say that the monuments belonging to the Slave dynasty were the first attempt to combine two cultures in the field of architecture.


The Alai Darwaza is a perfect specimen of architecture belonging to the period of the Delhi Sultanate. It was built in 1311, by Ala-ud-din-Khilji, of the Khilji dynasty (which ruled the Delhi Sultanate from AD 1290 to AD 1316). The Alai Darwaza was a part of Ala-ud-din-Khilji’s extension of the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque. It was one of the four grand gateways; the other three could not be completed because of the death of Ala-ud-din in AD 1316.

The main structure of the Alai Darwaza consists of a single hall 34½ feet on the inside and 56½ feet on the outside. The domed ceiling rises to a height of 47 feet. The three doorways on the east, west, and south are lofty pointed arches, in the shape of a horseshoe, which rise above the flanking side bays. The entrance to the north is of an indigenous character, as its arch is semi-circular in shape. The overall outlook and proportions of the Alai Darwaza is pleasing to the eye. The recessed corner arches of the attractive horseshoe forms, supporting a simple spherical dome on top of the square chamber, are an especially happy solution to the perpetual problem of supporting a good dome. It would be well worth noting that the earlier attempts at raising the dome, particularly the tomb of Iltutmish, had been unsuccessful. The dome of the Alai Darwaza, in this respect, is a notable achievement.

The dome was constructed on highly scientific principles. A series of squinches of pointed shape, one recessed within the other, in the upper section of each angle of the hall, changes the square into an octagon, and then the octagon into the circle of the dome with an interweaving sixteen-sided shaft formed by a bracket at each end of the octagon. With use of complex geometric calculations, the load of the dome has been gracefully conveyed to the ground—from the circle to the sixteen-sided shaft, from the latter to the octagon and then onto the four walls of the square chamber.

The plinth on each side is beautifully carved with floral and geometric patterns in both white marble and red sandstone, creating a superb polychrome effect. Perforated latticework window screens (jali) are set in the recessed windows on both sides of the entrances. These marble screens set off the monotony of the vertical lines of calligraphic ornamentation. The most charming aspect of surface decoration is the lace-like interweaving of floral tendrils, repeated with a flawless symmetry on all the three entrances, elegantly designed and perfectly built.

The northern entrance is semi-circular with a shallow trefoil in its outline. The façade is elaborately ornamented in sensuous carving and patterns, characteristic of the pre-Turkish days (the first Muslim rulers of India came from Turkey). The Alai Darwaza also shows the influence of Seljuk art. The Seljuks had started fleeing Western Asia after Mongol invasions in the 12th century AD and had reached Delhi for protection. The ‘spear-headed’ embellishment on the three entrances is of particular importance in this regard. In addition, the surface ornamentation has been done with an eye for lavishness and detail.

Though the Alai Darwaza stands isolated at the southern end of the Qutab complex, with the Qutab Minar behind it, it appears a fitting part of the grand structures of the Delhi Sultanate.


Travelers have to reach the Qutab Minar complex in order to see the Alai Darwaza. They can either take local buses from various points within the city to reach this complex, which is located in the southern part of the city or, alternatively, they can hire auto-rickshaws and taxis for the purpose. There are regular buses from important bus termini like the Inter-State Bus Terminus at Kashmere Gate and Sarai Kale Khan and Connaught Place to this monument. Local guided tours conducted by Delhi Tourism and private operators cover this important monument.