Indo-Islamic Architecture

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Indo-Islamic Architecture


Indo-Islamic Architecture refers to the art of Indian Architecture that resulted from the cultural intermingling after the advent of Muslim rulers into the Indian sub-continent.

The most important innovation that the Turkish rulers introduced was the use of the arch and the dome on a larger scale. The Arabs had borrowed this from the eastern Roman Empire at Byazantium. The new architectural form, made possible by mortar of a superior kind used geometrical and floral decorative designs which were partly derived from an established tradition of indigenous architecture. The Muslim rulers however, did not decorate their buildings with human and animal figures and filled the panels with inscriptions of Quranic verses.

As the Muslim rulers had to depend on indigenous craftsmen and masons, Hindu motifs like Swastika or Lotus made their way into these buildings as decorative device. The most important example of the early sultanate architecture was the Qutb Minar built during the thirteenth century. This long tower originally was four storeys high. Firuz Tuglaq added a fifth storey. It is said that the construction of this tower was started by Qutb-ud-din Aibak and com­pleted by Iltutmish. Iltutmish was also a great builder of mosques and buildings. Iltutmish’s tomb shows how Hindu and Muslim traditions of architecture mingled to produce impressive structures especially in the intricate carving on the walls combining calligraphy with Indian floral motifs. Alai Darwaja which was built by Alauddin Khilji as an entrance door of the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque beside Qutub Minar had the same decorative lotus carvings on its panels.

In the second half of the thirteenth century master architects from west Asia came to India in large number. With their arrival the con­struction of arches and domes achieved perfection, particularly during the reign of the Tughlaq dynasty. The introduction of high-rise domes was a new feature of this phase. This architectural form was contin­ued by the Lodi rulers, with the use of double domes.

After the collapse of the Delhi Sultanate, the regional Muslim rulers of Bengal, Gujarat, Malwa and the Deccan patronized regional styles of architecture which combined Muslim and Hindu tradition. The mosques and buildings at Gaur in Bengal, at Ahmedabad in Gujarat, at Mandu in Malwa and at Bidar in Karnataka, show the richness of this eclectic building style.

Like the sultans of Delhi, the Mughal emperors also built finely. They were in fact even more famous as builders of forts, palaces and places of worship. Mughal architecture had its real beginning in the reign of Akbar. During the interregnum after Humayun’s flight to Persia, Sher Shah as the ruler of Delhi built the Purana Killa at Delhi. It is a massive structure. The palaces and buildings of Sher Shah however have not survived except the ones he built at Sasaram in Bihar. At Sasaram, Sher Shah built a number of mausoleums, modeled on the octagonal Lodi tombs at Delhi. Of these Sher Shah’s tomb at Sasaram was the most impressive. Based on a high square platform it has a massive structure with an octagonal shape and a massive dome which rises in stages. The dome is covered by a lotus finale. Some features of this building are replicated in the Taj Mahal, the tomb of emperor Shahjahan’s wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Taj Mahal has a wonderful blending of Persian and Indian architecture.

During the reign of Akbar the Indian and Persian traditions were practiced at the same time. Humayun’s tomb at Delhi was an example of Indo-Persian architecture. The double dome which featured first in the tomb of Sikander Lodi had a finer representation in this building. The massive fort that Akbar built at Agra became a model for the subsequent Mughal forts in north India. The most distinctive features of the Agra fort however, were the many edifices of red stones built in a style practiced in Bengal and Gujarat. These were palaces supported by finely carved pillars reminding one of the pillars of the ancient temples. The walls and staircase, by a departure from the standard features of Muslim architecture, were carved with figures of animals and birds besides the usual lotus carvings. Some of these figures were of mythical animals of the Hindu tradition. The buildings at Fatehpur Sikri, close to the Agra fort carry similar features. The bases and columns of the Jodha Bai palace at Fatehpur Sikri were borrowed from the traditional types of temple pillars. The interior of another palace has walls decorated with mural paintings including a carving of Rama being worshiped by Hanuman.

The Indo-Islamic architecture reached its climax with the practice of constructing buildings with marble and other precious stones, Taj Mahal is the most wonderful example. But the architectural idea of the Taj Mahal was rooted in the development of architecture under the Mughals. During Shahjahan‘s reign there were other exam­ples of the perfection that this architecture managed to achieve. The Moti Masjid in the Agra Fort, built entirely in marble and the Jamma Masjid in Delhi in front of the Red Fort built in red sandstone are the two noteworthy examples.

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