Read this article to learn about the cultural life, its literature and architecture during the Sultanate Period!
System of Education and Its Motivation:
Sanskrit continued to be a vehicle for higher thought and a medium for literature during the period under review.
In fact, the production of works in Sanskrit in different branches was immense and perhaps greater than in the preceding period.
The speed with which the ideas of philosophers were widely disseminated and discussed in different parts of the country showed the important role which Sanskrit continued to play during the period.
There was a network of specialized schools and academies in different parts of the country, including areas under Muslim domination. These schools and academies were not interfered with and continued to flourish.
In fact, many of them took advantages of the introduction of paper to reproduce and disseminate older texts. Apart from Sanskrit, regional languages were also used as the medium of education and motivation, mostly in south India. Amir Khusrau had noted the existence of regional languages and remarked: “These languages have from ancient times applied in every way to the common purposes of life.”
The Turks who came to India were deeply influenced by the Persian language which had become the literary and administrative language of Central Asia from the tenth century onwards. From the beginning, the Turks adopted Persian as the language of literature and administration in the country. Thus, Lahore emerged as the first centre for the cultivation of the Persian language.
In course of time, digests of the Islamic law were prepared in Persian with the help of Indian scholars. The most well- known of these were prepared in the reign of Firuz Tughlaq. There was a resurgence of the Persian language in Iran and Central Asia from the tenth century onwards and some of the greatest poets of the Persian language, such as Firdausi and Sadi, lived and composed their works between the tenth and fourteenth centuries.
Although the works of only a few of these early writers of Persian in India have survived, we find in the writings of some of them, such as Masud Sad Salman, a sense of attachment and love for Lahore. However, the most notable Persian writer of the period was Amir Khusrau. Born in 1252 at Patiali (near Badayun in western Uttar Pradesh), Amir Khusrau took pride in being an Indian. Khusrau wrote a large number of poetical works, including historical romances.
He experimented with all the poetical forms and created a new style of Persian which came to be called the sabaq-i-hindi or the style of India. Apart from poetry, a strong school of history writing in Persian developed in India during the period. The most famous historians of this period were Ziauddin Barani, Afif and Isami.
Zia Nakhshabi (d. 1350) was the first to translate into Persian Sanskrit stories which were related by a parrot to a woman whose husband had gone on a journey. The book Tuti Nama (Book of the Parrot), written in the time of Muhammad Tughlaq, proved very popular and was translated from Persian into Turkish and into many European languages as well.
He also translated the old Indian treatise on sexology, the Kok Shastra, into Persian. Later, in the time of Firuz Shah, Sanskrit books on medicine and music were translated into Persian. Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin of Kashmir had the famous historical work Rajatarangini and the Mahabharata translated into Persian. Sanskrit works on medicine and music were also translated into Persian at his instance.
This period produced greater works in Sanskrit rather than the previous periods. Following the great Sankara, works in the field of Advaita philosophy by Ramanuja, Madhava, Vallabha, etc., continued to be written in Sanskrit, some of the oldest available text of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata belong to the period from the eleventh or twelfth century onwards.
A large number of commentaries and digests on the Hindu law (Dharmashastras) were prepared between the twelfth and the sixteenth century. The great Mitakshara of Vijnaneshwar, which forms one of the two principal Hindu schools of law, cannot be placed earlier than the twelfth century.
Another famous commentator was Chandeshwar of Bihar who lived in the fourteenth century. Most of the works were produced in the south, followed by Bengal, Mithila and western India under the patronage of Hindu rulers.
The Jains, too, contributed to the growth of Sanskrit. Hemachandra Suri was the most eminent of these. Oddly enough, these work largely” ignored the presence of the Muslims in the country. Little attempt was made to translate Islamic works or Persian literature into Sanskrit. Possibly, the only exception was the translation of the love story of Yusuf and Zulaikha written by the famous Persian poet, Jami.
Literary works of the regional languages were also produced during this period. Many of the languages, such as Hindi, Bengali and Marathi, trace their origin back to the eight century or so. Some others, such as Tamil, were much older.
The rise to maturity of many of these languages and their uses as means for literary works may be considered a striking feature of the medieval period. There were many reasons for this. Perhaps, with the loss of prestige by the brahmanas, Sanskrit also lost some of its prestige. The use of the common language by the Bhakti saints was, undoubtedly, an important factor for the rise of these languages.
In fact, in many part of the country, these early saints fashioned these languages for literary purposes. It seems that in many regional kingdoms of the pre-Turkish period, regional languages, such as Tamil, Kanada, Marathi, etc., were used for administrative purposes, in addition to Sanskrit. This must have been continued under the Turkish rule, for we hear of Hindi-knowing revenue accountants appointed in the Delhi Sultanate.
Later, when the Delhi Sultana broke up local languages, in addition to Persian, continued to be used for administrative purposes in many of the regional kingdoms. Thus, literature in Telugu developed in south India under the patronage of the Vijayanagara rulers. Marathi was one of the administrative languages in the Bahamani kingdom, and later, at the court of Bijapur.
In course of time, when these languages had reached a certain stage of development, some of the Muslim kings gave them patronage for literary purposes also. For example, Nusrat Shah of Bengal had the Mahabharata and the Ramayana translated into Bengali, Maladhar Basu also translated the Bhagavata into Bengali under his patronage. His patronage of Bengali poets has been mentioned earlier.
The use of Bhakti poems in Hindi by the Sufi saints in their musical gatherings has been mentioned before. In Jaunpur, the Sufi saints, such as Malik Muhammad Jaisi, wrote in Hindi and put forward Sufi concepts in a form which could be easily understood by the common man. They popularized many Persian forms, such as the masnavi.
During this period, trends towards mutual understanding and integration are to be found in the fields of fine arts, particularly music. When the Turks came to India, they inherited the rich Arab tradition of music which had been further developed in Iran and Central Asia. They brought with them a number of new musical instruments, such as the rabab and sarangi, and new musical modes and regulations.
Indian music and Indian musicians at the court of the Caliphs at Baghdad had possibly influenced the development of music there. However, systematic contact between the two began in India under the Sultanate. We have already referred to Amir Khusrau who was given the title of nayakor master of both the theory and practices of music, introduced many Perso-Arabic airs (ragas), such as aiman, ghora, sanam, etc.
He is credited with having invented the sitar, though we have no evidence of it. The tabla which is also attributed to him seems, however, to have developed during the late seventeenth or early eighteenth century.
The process of integration in the field of music continued under Firuz. The Indian classical work Ragadarpan was translated into Persian during this reign. Musical gatherings spread from the abodes of the Sufis to the palaces of the nobles. Sultan Husain Sharqi, the ruler of Jaunpur, was a great patron of music.
The Sufi saint, Pir Bodhan, is supposed to have been the second great musician of the age. Another regional kingdom where music was highly cultivated was the kingdom of Gwalior. Raja Man Singh of Gwalior was a great music lover.
The work Man Kautuhal in which all the new musical modes introduced by the Muslims were included was prepared under his aegis. We do not know at what time the musical modes in north India began to differ from those in the south. But there is little doubt that the differentiation was largely due to the incorporation of Perso-Arabic modes, airs and scales. A distinctive style of music, influenced in considerable measure by Persian music, developed in the kingdom of Kashmir.
After the conquest of Jaunpur, Sikandar Lodi followed its tradition of patronizing music on a lavish scale — a tradition which was adopted by the great Mughals later on.
Architectural Development of the North and South India:
The Sultans of Bengal adorned their capitals, Pandua and Gaur, with the magnificent buildings. These had a style of their own, distinct from the style which had developed in Delhi. The materials used were both stones and bricks.
Ahmad Shah I, the real founder of the kingdom of Gujarat was a great builder and beautified the town with many magnificent palaces and bazaars, mosques and madarsas. He drew on the rich architectural traditions of the Jains of Gujarat to devise a style of building which was markedly different from Delhi. Some of its features are slender turrets, exquisite stone-carving and highly ornate brackets.
The Jama Masjid in Ahmedabad and the Tin Darwaza are fine examples of the style of architecture during his time. Another Sultan Mahmud Begarha founded at the foot of the hill a new town called Mustafabad. He built many lofty buildings there and asked all his nobles to do the same.
Thus, it became the second capital of Gujarat. He constructed a new town called Muhammadabad near Champaner. He laid out many fine gardens there and made it his principal place of residence. In Champanagar, the building which attracts attention is the Jama Masjid. It has a covered courtyard and many Jain principles of architecture have been used in it. The stone work in the other buildings constructed during this period is so fine that it can only be compared to the work of goldsmiths.
The rulers of Malwa constructed a large number of buildings, the ruins of which are still impressive. Unlike the Gujarat style of architecture, the Mandu architecture was massive and was made to look even more so by using a very lofty plinth for the buildings. The large-scale use of coloured and glazed tiles provided variety to the buildings. The best known among them are Jama Masjid, the Hindola Mahal and the Jahaz Mahal.
The ruins of Rana Kumbha’s palace and the Victory Tower (Kiriti Stambha) which he built at Chittor show that he was an enthusiastic builder as well. He dug several lakes and reservoirs for irrigation purposes. Some of the temples built during his period show that the art of stone-cutting, sculpture, etc. were still at a high level.
The Sharqi Sultans fixed their capital at Jaunpur (in eastern Uttar Pradesh) which they beautified with magnificent palaces, mosques and mausoleums. Only a few of these mosques and mausoleums survive now. They show that the Sharqi Sultans did not just copy the Delhi style of architecture, they created a magnificent style of their own marked by lofty gates and huge arches.
Zainul Abidin, the great Sultan of Kashmir, developed agriculture by making large numbers of dams, canals and bridges. He was an enthusiastic builder, his greatest engineering achievement being Zaina Lanka — the artificial island in the Woolur Lake on which he built his palace and a mosque.
The Bahamani Kingdom:
The rulers of the Bahamani kingdom and, then afterwards, the ruler of different states of the Deccan in which the Bahamani kingdom was percelled out, also constructed splendid buildings within their territories.
Their buildings also represent a fair synthesis of the Hindu and Islamic architecture. The most notable buildings among them are the mosques at Bidar and Gulbarga, the tomb of Muhammad Adil Shah, known as the Gol Gumbaz, the Chand Minarat Daultabad and the college constructed by Mahmud Gawan at Bidar.
The Vijayanagar Empire which was established in the south later on revived the glory of the Hindus and beautiful architectural edifices were raised by their rulers within the territory of their empire but the battle of Talikota doomed their fate and most of buildings and temples of Vijayanagar were destroyed by the Muslims. However, one among those which were left is the Vitthala temple which was constructed by Krishnadeva Raya. It is a beautiful temple about which Fergusson wrote: “the finest building of its kind in southern India.”
In the South, the rulers of Vijayanagar further elaborated the art of constructing gopurams (gateways of temples). Tall and massive gopurams were constructed at the temples of the south during this period.
Others in South:
Different rulers also constructed mandapas over the temples which have been regarded as a fine specimen of architecture. The Kalyana-mandpa at Vellore has been described by Percy Brown to be the “The richest and most beautiful structure of its kind”. Similar beautiful mandapas were constructed in the temples of Varadarajaswami and Ekambaranatha at Kanchipuram and in the Jamhukeswara temple near Trichinopoly.
Qutubuddin Aibak constructed the Quwat-ul-lslam mosque at Delhi and another mosque at Ajmer called the Dhai Din Ka Jhonpra. The first was raised at the site of a destroyed temple and the other at a site of a destroyed college of Sanskrit.
Therefore, both these mosques have the imprint of both the Hindu and Muslim art. Sultan lltutmish and Alauddin Khilji added further to be Quwat-ul-lslam mosque. The construction of Qutub Minar was originally planned by Aibak but it was completed by lltutmish.
The planning of Qutub Minar was purely Islamic as it was originally intended to serve as a place for the muazzin to call Muslims to prayer though, afterwards, it became famous as a tower of victory, lltutmish constructed its four storeys and it rose to a height of 225 feet. But, its fourth storey was damaged by lightning during the reign of Furuz Tughlaq who replaced it by two smaller ones and raised its height to 243 feet.
Qutub Minar is an impressive building and Fergussion regarded it ‘as the most perfect example of a tower known to exist anywhere in the world’. Besides completing the Qutab Minar, lltutmish constructed a tomb on the grave of his eldest son, known as Sultan-Ghori, nearly three miles aways from the Qutub-Minar.
He also constructed a chamber near the Qutub Mnarwhich was, probably, the tomb on his own grave and also, Hauz-i-Shamsi-ldgah, the Jami Masjid at Badaun and the Atar kin-ka-Darwaza at Nagur (Jodhpur). He further made additions to Quwat-ul-lslam and Dhai-din Ka Jhonpra.
Balban built his own tomb and the Red palace at Delhi. His own tomb, though in a dilapidated condition now, marked a notable landmark in the development of Indo-lslamic architecture. Alauddin Khilji had better economic resources at his command and therefore, constructed beautiful buildings. His buildings were constructed with perfectly Islamic view-point and have been regarded as some best examples of Islamic art in India.
He had a plan to build a minar and a big mosque near the Qutub Minar which he could not pursue because of his death. Yet, he found the city of Siri, built a palace of thousands of pillars within it, Jamait Khan Mosque at the shrine of Nizamuddin Auliya and the famous Alai Darwaza at the Qutub Minar: He also built a single compact chamber near the Qutub Minar.
His city and the palace had been destroyed but the Jamait Khan mosque and the Alai Darwaza still exist which have been regarded as beautiful specimens of Islamic art. According to Marshal, ‘the Alai Darwaza is one of the most treasured gems of Islamic architecture.’ Alauddin also constructed a magnificent tank covering an area of nearly 70 acres, known as Hauz-i-Alai or Hauz-i-Khas near his newly constructed city of Siri in the vicinity of the old city of Delhi.
The Tughlaq-Sultans did not construct beautiful buildings. Probably, the primary cause of it was their economic difficulties. Besides they were puritanical in their taste and therefore, avoided ornamentation in their buildings. Ghiyasuddin constructed the new city of Tughlaqabad east of the Qutub area, his own tomb and a palace.
Ibn battuta wrote about his palace that ‘it was constructed of golden bricks which, when the sun rose, shone so dazzlingly that no one could gaze at it steadily’. However, now his palace and the city stand destroyed while his tomb constructed of red stone gives the impression of a small strong fort but lacks splendour.
Muhammad Tuglaq constructed the new city of Jahanpanah near the city of old Delhi, the fort of Adilabad and a few other buildings at Daulatabad. But, all his buildings have been destroyed.
The remains of only two buildings, the Sathpalah bund and the Bijai Mandal alone are found. Firoz Tughluq constructed many buildings but all of them were just ordinary and weak. Among his notable buildings was the new city of Firuzabad near the old city of Delhi, the palace-fort known as Kotla Firoz Shah within it, a college and his own tomb near Hauz-i-Khas. During his time a noble at the court, Khan-i-Jahan Jauna Shah constructed the tomb of his father, Tilangani, the Kaii Masjid and the Khirki Masjid in the city of Jahanpanah.
A beautiful building known as Lai-Gumbad was constructed by Nasiruddin Muhammad Tughlaq Shah at the grave of Kabir-ud-din Auliya. Among the buildings constructed by Lodi and Sayyid Sultans a few notable are the tombs of Mubarak Shah Sayyid, Muhammad Shah Sayyid and Sikandar Lodi and a mosque known as Moth-ki-Masjid by the prime minister of Sikandar Lodi at Delhi.
Among buildings raised by Sultan of the Delhi Sultanate cities, palaces and forts have been destroyed. Only a few tombs, mosques and minars have existed so far. The buildings which are left, of course are not marvellous, yet fairly good specimens of early Indo-Islamic architecture in India and the best among them are the Qutub Minar and the Alai-Darwaza.