In this article we will discuss about the contribution of Muslim rulers towards architecture and sculpture in Medieval India.

One of the greatest contributions of the Muslim rulers was in the domain of architecture. The spirit of synthesis which manifested itself in various other spheres was best expressed in the field of architecture.

According to Prof. H.K. Sherwani, “Once there was contact between the Perso-Turks and the Hindus, first on the battlefield and then in the bazars of cities, they could not but be impregnated by each other in their culture and their ideals which are so visibly enshriaked in medieval architecture, art and literature.”

For a proper understanding of the architecture of this period, it would be desirable to have an idea about the characteristics of the Muslim architectures as well as the Hindu architectures the Muslim had evolved a architecture which was conditioned by the learning characteristics of Muslim mentality, practical needs of their religion and worship and the geography of their region.


The salient features of the Muslim architecture were massive and exten­sive buildings aspiring domes, tall minarets, lofty portals, open courtyards, huge walls all bereft of sculpture. The Hindus architec­ture on the one hand was characterised by vastness, stability, majesty, magnificence, sublimity, and infinite richness.

The Hindus extensi­vely decorated their buildings with beautiful flowers, leaves and various deities. When these two diverse cultures and architecture came into contact with each other, a new architecture came into existence which has been described as Indo-Muslim architecture. This archi­tecture was quite different from other architectures prevailing in India like these of Jaunpur, Bengal, Bijapur. Gujarat etc.

Factors Responsible for the Blending:

The factors res­ponsible for the blending of the fusion of the two cultures can be summed up as follows:


1. The Muslim rulers who came to India were essentially military adventurers and did not bring any craftsmen or sculptures with them. They had, therefore, to depend on the local craftsmen for the construction of their buildings. The Indian masons who possessed sufficient experience executed these buildings in their own manner and unconsciously introduced Hindu architectural designs in the Muslim buildings.

2. The early Muslim rulers constructed their palaces, mosques and other buildings out of the materials acquired from demolition of Hindu temples and other buildings. A large number of mosques of this period were constructed by destroying certain portions of Hindu temples and making the necessary changes in the buildings according to the Islamic requirements. The Muslim rulers, particularly dismantled the Sikhars and roofs and erected domes and lofty minars.

3. In addition, the spirit of toleration and harmony was also to a large extent responsible for the synthesis of the two architectures.

Difference between Hindu and Muslim Architecture:


For a proper understanding of the Indo-Islamic architecture, which was involved as a result of the synthesis of the Hindu and Islamic architecture, it is desirable to have an idea about these two systems of architecture. The Hindu art was decorative and gorgeous, while the Islamic art was characterised by simplicity.

The Hindu art was decorative which meant that they used rows of pillars and long beams to span the spaces. The Muslim art was arcuate, which means they used arches to bridge the spaces and erected graceful domes. Another outstanding feature of the Hindu architecture was its solidarity and beauty. The Hindu temples had lofty ahikhars.

The Hindu architecture possessed infinite richness and variety of sculp­ture. They conveyed meaning by iconography and carved figures on the buildings. Usually their monuments were enriched with rich idols of divinities.

In short, the Hindi buildings possessed richness of ornaments and variety of moulding. The Muslim build­ings on the other hand were simple and spacious, their walls were plain and smooth faced. As Muslims were iconoclast, they did not represent any figures on the walls for the ornamentation of the walls. They only used colours and other ingenious geometric patterns.

Indo-Islamic Architecture:

Though the Hindu and the Muslim architecture possessed the distinct features of their own, the mingling of the two led to the rise of a new school of architecture sometimes designated as “Indo-Islamic architecture”.

Certain scholars have described it as “Indo Saracenic” or “Pathan”. How­ever, scholars like Sir John Marshall and Dr. R.C. Majumdar hold that the Indo-Islamic art was neither merely a local variety of Islamic art nor a modified art of Hindu architecture.

It represented a blend of Brahmanical, Buddhist and Jain styles with those of western and central Asia and northern African styles which the Muslims brought with them to India. It is very difficult to ascertain how much this architecture owed to the Hindu style and how much to the Islamic system.

The historians have not been able to arrive at any agreed conclusion whether the Hindu art or the Muslim art dominated in this synthesis. While Prof. Havell holds that the Hindu influence was abundant and rich in the medieval art. Ferguson and Smith hold the view that the Hindu influence was negative.

Sir John Marshall has best brought out the influence of the two architectures in these words, “Indo-Islamic architecture derives its character from both sources though not always in equal degree.” He further says that the Muslim art is indebted to Hindu art for its grace and strength.

Delhi style of architecture:

Though in the beginning the Muslim architecture was light and graceful, in course of time it became heavy and solid. The Muslim buildings erected during the times of Qutb-ud-Din Aibak are an example of this type of architec­ture. This style was used in Delhi and in its vicinity and that is why it is also known as “Delhi style of architecture”.

The first famous building built by Qutb-ud-Din was the famous Quwwat-ul- Islam mosque at Qila-i-Rai Pithaura in Delhi, which was completed in 1199 A.D. It was completed on the plinth of Hindu temple out of the materials of 27 Hindu and Jain shrines which were demolished by the invaders.

The major part of this mosque was retained in original with some modification which were ended to make it a “Muslim House of prayer”. The images and carving were either defaced or concealed. Certain Muslim designs and ornaments and calligraphic reproduction from the Quranic texts are other features of this monuments.

The subsequent Sultans made many additions and modifications to this mosque. For example, Iltutmish enlarged the Quadrangle and made it almost double in size. The additions made by him were more Islamic than Indian. Similarly, Ala-ud-Din Khilji added a prayer Chamber to the mosque, and started the construction of a minar, a rival to the Qutab Minar, but could not complete the project due to his death,

Dhai Din Ka Jhompara at Ajmer built by Qutb-ud-Din Aibak in 1200 A.D is another building of this style. It was also built with the material of demolished temples and is more spacious and dignified than Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque at Rai Pithaura, Delhi. This Jhompara was a Sanskrit college and a Jain temple before its conversion.

The legend that it was built in two and half days is a myth and such a magnificent building could not have been built in such a short period. Prof. S.K. Saraswati says, “Magnificent as it was it is a perfect example of mathematical precision and technic call skill; but there are many features in it that sufficiently betray a certain limitation on the part of the designer in respect of imagina­tion as well as of artistic vision; on no account can it be regarded as an artistic triumph.”

Another important building which was originally intended to be a place for Muazzin (to call the faithful to the prayer) and popularly known as Qutab Minar was started by Qutab-ud-Din Aibak on behalf of Mohammad of Ghur.

However, he completed only one storey and the building was completed by Iitutmish. Subsequently, Firoze Tughlaq also made certain modifications. Sikander Lodi is also said to have carried out some repairs in the upper storeys. The Minar is nearly 238 feet high.

Each of the five storeys, “is surmounted by a projecting gallery encircling the tower, supported by large stone brackets, decorated with lovely comb-work, the finish and elabora­tion of which is not surpassed by the base and twenty yards at the top. Inside there is a circular staircase. It is tapering upward in convex fluting, made solid and earthbound by four circular balconies and blunt peak. The Qutab Minar is one of the highest stone towers in the world.”

Some scholars are of the opinion that Qutab Minar is of Hindu origin and the Muslims only re-carved on its outer surface. This view seems to be based on the fact that certain Devnagari inscrip­tions are present on the tower.

It is probable that the stones bearing these inscriptions might have come from certain other Hindu places. Sir John Marshall does not agree with this view and holds that, “the whole conception of the minar and almost every detail of its construction and decoration is essentially Islamic. Towers of this kind are unknown to the Indians, but to the Muhammedans they had long been familiar, whether as ma’zinas attached to mosques or as free standing towers like those at Ghazni”.

Percy Brown says that the Qutab Minar “as a whole is a most impressive conception, the vivid colour of its red sandstone, the changing texture of its fluted storeys with their overlay of inscriptional bands, the contrast between the alternating spaces of plain masonry and rich carving, the shimmer of the shadows under the balconies, all combine to produce an effect of marked vitality.”

According to Will Durant, “The Qutab Minar exemplifies the transition. It was part of a mosque begun at old Delhi by Qutbuddin Aibak; it commemorated the victories of that bloody Sukan over the Hindus, and twenty seven Hindu temples were dismembered to provide material for the mosque and the tower.” It was intended for the muazzin and also it was to serve the purpose of memorial of the conqueror’s triumph.

According to an inscription carved on its surface, this grand tower was raised to cast “the shadow of God over the East and over the West.” Prof Vincent Smith also says, “All things considered, there is no reason to doubt the statement that the Qutab Minar was designed by a Muhammedan architect and built by Hindu craftsmen.”

Another prominent building of this period is the tomb at Mulkapur about three miles from Qutab Minar. This mausoleum of lltutmish’s eldest son, Nasir-ud-Din Mahmud, called Sultan Ghari was built by lltutmish and decoration is dose purely in Hindu style.

Though arches and domes have been used prominently but they seem to have been built on the Hindu corbel principle. Yet another notable building of the early Sultanate period is the tomb of lltut­mish built of red stone.

This is a grey Quartzite. Though this building has certain Hindu decorative features. It is a beautiful example of nearly Persian art. The tomb bears Saracenic, arabesques and Quranic inscriptions and the walls are sumptuously sculptured. It is perhaps the first important monument in which use of squinch arches has been made.

Thus we find that from the times of lltutmish there was a marked increase in the Islamic elements in the construction of buildings. The other important building constructed by lltutmish are Bauz i-Shamsi, Shamri-Idgah and the Jami- Masjid.

There was a comparative lull in the building activities for some time after the death of lltutmish. This was probably due to the political confusion prevailing in the country. The only building which came up during this period was tomb of Balban situated in South East of Qila-i-Rai Pithaura which is now in ruins. The chief significance of this building is that its arches are built on the pattern of radiating voussoirs.