Thousands of commuters cross the busy Mathura Road every day, but most fail to notice the ancient distance markers, known as kos minars. As you exit from Jasola Apollo Metro station’s gate no 1, one of the kos minars comes to view. Years of urbanisation has now partly obscured it from view. The same is the tale of two other kos minars located in Badarpur.
Minar is a Persian word for tower and many such kos minars were built by Akbar along the Grand Trunk (GT) Road all the way from Agra to Ambala. During the Mauryan empire (3rd century BC), the GT road was the route used by travellers and merchants.
There are three Kos Minars in south Delhi — in Badarpur, Badarpur border (village Tajpul) and Jasola Vihar. These are protected by the state department of archaeology.
According to Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), kos minars were approximately 20 feet high and were used for measuring distances in ‘kos’(measure of distance), each kos being about 3km. These are solid round pillars that stand on a masonry platform built with bricks.
Experts said travellers’ inns and step wells, most of which have disappeared now, were also built close to the kos minars. These minars were also equipped with horses and riders to ensure fast delivery of royal messages.
“The kos minars marked royal routes and were built for travellers. Missing a minar meant losing the way to one’s destination. To come back on the right path, one had to find the Minar first and resume the journey,” said Ajay Kumar, director (projects), INTACH Delhi Chapter.
Heritage experts say chronicler Abul Fazl recorded in Akbarnama that in the year 1575 AD, Akbar issued an order to build a minar at every kos on the route from Agra to Ajmer as pit stops for travellers. Mughal emperors Jahangir and Shah Jahan, following their predecessor’s footsteps, added to the existing network of kos minars. In the north these were extended as far as Peshawar and in the east to Bengal via Kannauj.
‘Minar’ is a Persian word for tower. Many kos minars were built by Mughal emperors along the Grand Trunk (GT) Road, all the way from Agra to Ambala.
Lost in time
Old-timers say earlier these minars were visible from a distance. But that is not the case anymore. The monuments are under threat from the rapid industrialisation. The lackadaisical attitude of authorities, neglect and construction in the Capital have rendered them to obscurity.
“Over a decade ago, there was no Metro and the area around the kos minars was vacant. I remember my son and his friends cycling up to the kos minar in the evenings. Ever since Metro lines came up, the area has become very crowded. Now the minars have lost their charm,” said Ram Kumar Upadhyay, a resident of Aali Village.
The area around the Kos Minar at Jasola Vihar has been turned into parking spot. One of the signboards installed here is partly damaged and vehicles are parked dangerously close to the Minar.