Among the many architectural marvels of the world, like the leaning tower of Pisa, the whispering gallery at St Paul’s Cathedral at London or the musical pillars of South India, are the astonishing and historical shaking minarets of Ahmedabad, in Gujarat state, India. The minarets are so unique that if one minaret in shaken, the other sympathetically shakes too!

Barely a kilometre away from the Ahmedabad city railway station is the Sidi Bashir mosque (Muslim equivalent of a temple) famed for its jhulta minars or shaking minarets (tall tower-like structures, either at the entrance gate or on the four corners).

Where are the Shaking Minarets?
Where are the Shaking Minarets? [Illustration by Anup Singh]

Ahmedabad city was founded by Sultan Ahmed Shah I in 1411. The mosque and its minarets were built in 1461 and are popularly called Siddi Bashir’s mosque, after a favourite slave of the Sultan. However, there is no evidence of Siddi Bashir building the minarets and it is very likely that it was built by an architect Malik Sarang, a nobleman in the court of Sultan Mahmud Shah Begada, ruler of a nearby province.

Surprisingly, when the minarets were built, there was no conscious decision made to make it shake! No one even noticed that it shook or leaned at an angle. The first person to notice that the minarets shake was an European Sanskrit scholar, Monier M Williams in the 19th century.

He climbed to the top of one of the minarets and leaned against its wall and found that the minaret started to sway slightly as did the other minaret! Terrified that the tower was going to collapse, he hurriedly got down from the see-sawing minaret!

Each minaret is three storied tall with delicately carved stone balconies around each storey. These minarets are about 21.34 meters (70 feet) high. If either of the minarets is shaken the other too vibrates after a few seconds. The vibrations at the base of the tower multiply and get transmitted through air tunnels between the two towers.

Amazingly, the connecting passageway between the two minarets, however, remains free of any vibration!

This shaking feature was quite common to mosques of Ahmedabad city such as the Jami-Masjid amd Bibi-ki-Masjid, too. The mosque at Raj Bibi once had a pair of shaking minarets. This excited the curiosity of the British, who were then ruling India. So they dismantled one minaret to study the secret of its construction and the mystery behind the swinging effect.

Perhaps they are all on shaky ground here.

However, there is a lot of disagreement over what causes this vibration and only research can throw light on the architectural marvel.

Some say that it is a protection against earthquake damage. But no one has verified this theory. Others like The Archaeological Survey of India says that this medieval engineering feat could possibly be attributed to the use of ‘flexible sandstone’ (a construction material) in the foundation.

There is no proof supporting these theories. The only thing known is that the minarets were not built with the plan that they would be shaken. This occurred over a period of time.

India is one of two countries that boast of this phenomenon. At Isfahan, in Iran, is Menarjonban a historical building located in a village called Karlatan. Here too the minarets sway slightly when leaned upon.