Why Has This 1600 Year Old Pillar in India Never Rusted?
The forging of the Iron Pillar of Delhi 1600 years ago in India was so advanced that it has been impervious to rust and would be hard to mimic even with today’s technology.
Architecture and engineering have been dynamic and evolutionary processes, building on innovations in carpentry, stonework and metalwork for millennia. These processes have been well-documented allowing for the ability to glean useful information and develop better contemporary iterations. But one small, mysterious gap in this history raises some questions – a lone-standing pillar in India.
The Iron Pillar of Delhi
In front of a mosque in an area of Delhi, known as the Qutub complex, stands a wrought iron pillar surrounded by a small white fence. The iron pillar of Delhi, though unassuming at first glance, is roughly 1,600 years old and shows no signs of weathering. And while it does stand inland in an arid part of India, it has withstood monsoons – about a thousand of them.
The pillar is thought to have been built during the reign of Chandragupta II, and is 24 feet tall weighing roughly 13,000 pounds. But those numbers are even more astounding when you learn that it was constructed in central India, nearly 500 miles away from its current location, making its method of transport a mystery itself.
For a while the greater perplexity surrounding the pillar concerned its composition and what kept it so preserved. Some of those questions have been answered by examination of the process used in casting it and the thin protective layer enveloping the post known in ancient India as ‘misawite.’ This layer consists of a compound of iron, oxygen and hydrogen and is 1/20 of a millimeter thick. Some believe that this layer was simply an accident, and therefore the reason why it is the only one of its kind that has withstood weathering. But others attribute it to highly-advanced ironsmiths with an unparalleled level of knowledge, and the scientist who has carried out the most well-known examination of the pillar believes it to be intentional.
Today there is a fence around the iron pillar of Delhi to protect it from human touch which in fact has caused it to show some signs of damage. Before the fence was erected, standing with one’s back to the pillar and touching your hands behind it was thought of as lucky or auspicious.
Decoding Sacred Architecture
The combination of this sheath and a slightly different method of metallurgy in crafting the pillar, compared to modern methods, is thought to be the reason it has sustained for so long. Typically limestone is used in the extraction of iron, whereas this ancient Indian technique utilized charcoal. Other differing factors include a high level phosphorus in the protective film while also being completely devoid of magnesium and sulfur. But why was this process never continued?
Despite the pillar itself being preserved, the technology used in its creation was not. The anachronistic knowledge used in casting iron during this period could hardly be mimicked today. There’s even evidence that it was hit at close range by a cannonball which merely put a dent in it. But one characteristic of the pillar that gives some insight into its mystery is an inscription written in Sanskrit referencing a royal known as Chandra, who most believe to be a reference to Chandragupta II.
The Gupta Dynasty
The Gupta Dynasty in India was marked by significant advancements and achievements in science, technology, literature and astronomy. They developed the game of chess as well as some of the most famous pieces of literature and drama in Indian history. It was known as India’s Golden Age. Indian scholars during this era understood that the Earth is round and rotates around the sun. They were in tune with cosmic cycles, having awareness of eclipses and other astronomical events
Chandragupta II, also known as Vikramaditya, was one of the most notable rulers of the dynasty who embraced Buddhism and Jainism. This lead to an incorporation of iconography from multiple religions in Indian artwork of that era. He was given the name, and was known for his courage and benevolence. The inscription in the pillar that led to the discovery of its original location turned out to be a place of significant astronomical interest at the time. The pillar itself may have been an astrological tool, like a sundial used to measure the equinoxes.
There are other pillars throughout India that stand alone and are of a similar, massive proportion to the one in Delhi, although they differ in provenance and do show weathering. In fact, some are starting to deteriorate significantly to the point of irreparable damage.
The Ashoka pillars were constructed by Ashoka, a ruler of India whose military conquests proved to become a spiritual and moral dilemma for him. He converted to Buddhism and erected these pillars all over India, but only 19 remain. They were built around 250 BC and were as tall as 50 feet weighing up to 50 tons, significantly larger than the non-corroded iron pillar of Delhi. Ashoka’s pyramids were made of sandstone as opposed to iron. Each pillar was etched with edicts pertaining to Buddhism and were topped with carvings of lotus flowers and different animals. These pillars were also transported hundreds of miles, despite their massive weight and size.
Ashoka used the pillars to reach out to different cultures around the world and declare his apology for his violent military conquests that killed hundreds of thousands. Inscriptions in the pillars are written not only in Sanskrit, but also in Aramaic and Greek. Ashoka placed his pillars along trade routes to maximize the number of people who could see them.
Pillars were clearly an important architectural form of ancient India. And while Ashoka’s pillars stand as the remnants of a rulers remorse and religious repentance, the rust-free iron pillar of Delhi is enshrouded in a protective sheath of misawite and mystery. What happened to the technology that has kept the pillar intact for so long and why aren’t there other pillars like it?
Emerald Tablet 101: The Birth of Alchemy
“As above; so below. As within; so without. As with the universe; so with the soul.” ~ Hermes Trismegistus
The story of the Emerald Tablet reads like the syllabus for an ancient civilization college course, with Egyptian pharaohs, Greek conquerors and philosophers, and travels through long-gone countries. While no one in the modern world has seen it, accounts of the Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus describe a slab of brilliant, crystalline green stone covered with bas-relief Phoenician text. Some believe the tablet holds the secrets of the universe.
Considered the original source of hermeticism, gnosticism, Western alchemy and science, the tablet is inseparable from the elusive Hermes Trismegistus, an ancient philosopher, healer and sage. References to Trismegistus can be found in Renaissance, Christian, Islamic, Roman and Greek literature.
No one knows what became of the original tablet — what remains are translations and translations of translations, along with a historic timeline punctuated with disconnects and gaps. The tablet appears and disappears across the ancient world, before and after the birth of Christ, with periods of revival, including the Italian Renaissance.
Dennis William Hauck, author of the classic “The Emerald Tablet,” wrote, “One of the most mysterious documents ever put before the eyes of man, the Emerald Tablet has been described as everything from a succinct summary of Neoplatonic philosophy to an extraterrestrial artifact or a gift from Atlantis.” The tablet’s premise that “All is One,” and that direct experience of the Divine is possible through meditation and psychological exercise, became the foundations of Freemasonry, and later Theosophy and esoteric schools including The Golden Dawn.