In this article we will discuss about progress in the field of architecture during the Sultanate period in India.
Fine arts, primarily architecture, made progress during the period of the Delhi Sultanate. Islam objects to painting, music and dance. Therefore, the art of painting could not progress during this period. However, as Sultans of Delhi and rulers of provincial dynasties were fond of both music and dance, these certainly progressed. Yet, architecture remained at the top in the progress of different fine arts.
The architecture of the period of the Sultanate can be divided into three categories for the sake of convenience. First is the Delhi or the Imperial style of architecture which grew under the patronage of Sultans of Delhi. It includes all those buildings which were constructed by different Sultans. The other is provincial style of architecture which grew under the patronage of provincial ruling dynasties which were mostly Muslims.
The Imperial style, of course, influenced the style of provincial architecture, yet the provincial arts had their own different characteristics which assigned them different places. The third- Hindu architecture which mostly developed under Hindu kings of Rajasthan and the Vijayanagara empire.
Hindu architecture was also influenced by the Imperial style. The Hindus had already a well-developed style of their own prior to the coming of the Muslims in India. Therefore, features of their past style continued to be the governing factors of their style of architecture.
However, the distinction between these three styles of architecture is only for the sake of convenience of understanding. Otherwise, the period witnessed the growth of that style of architecture which, as a whole, can be called the Indo-Islamic architecture or the Indian architecture influenced by the Islamic art of architecture. This style of architecture was neither purely Islamic nor purely Hindu.
It was, rather, influenced by both the styles and therefore, fairly deserves to be called the Indian architecture of the period of the Sultanate. Iran and India had come into contact with each other much earlier and had influenced the architecture of each other. The Iranians, whatever they learnt from the Indian style, matured it and gave it a perfect Iranian style.
The Turks were influenced by that Iranian style of architecture and when they settled down in India they maintained its characteristics which were borrowed from the Indians to a certain extent. That is why one of the Christian Popes wrote- “India has proposed and Persia disposed, but what India gave, she received back in a new form that enabled her to pass to fresh architectural triumphs.”
The Indians had developed a remarkable combination of beauty and strength in their architecture. The Iranians had accepted it and the Turk-Afghan rulers of the Sultanate introduced it again in India. However, Islamic architecture was influenced not only by Persians but also by the architectural styles of Mesopotamia, Central Asia, Egypt, North Africa, South-east Europe, Afghanistan, etc., as well.
The Islamic architecture grew as a result of all these influences and when the Turks came to India they carried all these influences to India and developed that style of architecture which has been called the Indo-Islamic architecture.
Several other factors also contributed towards the formation of this Indo- Islamic architecture. The Turk-Afghan rulers desired to give that shape to their buildings which existed in Iran and Central Asia. But their buildings could not be exact copies of those buildings because of several factors.
Firstly, they had to employ Indian craftsmen who had their own ideas about the form and method of construction. Secondly, during early period of their rule, the Muslims used materials of destroyed Hindu temples, palaces, etc., in the construction of their buildings or simply converted them to suit their purposes. Thirdly, both the Hindu and the Islamic architecture were inherently decorative though, of course, their form of decoration differed.
While the Hindus decorated their buildings with images of different gods and goddesses, the Muslims decorated them with parallel, rectangular, square or triangular lines, stones of different colours or teachings of Koran inscribed mostly in Persian script.
Thus, architectural style of both were ornamental. Therefore, Hindu style of architecture largely influenced Islamic style because of these unavoidable factors and gave birth to that mixed style which has been called the Indo-Islamic architecture.
Historians have differed as to how much the Indo-Islamic architecture owed to the Hindu architecture and how much to the Islamic architecture. Havell remarked that the influence of Hindu architecture is abundantly clear in medieval architecture while Fergusson, Smith and Elphinstone opined that the influence of Hindu architecture on Muslim architecture was negligible.
However, John Marshall seems more near the truth when he remarked- “Indo-Islamic architecture derives its character from both sources though not always in an equal degree.” Therefore, it can be expressed that the Muslim architecture which was already the result of synthesis of several styles of architecture including that of India absorbed many ideals and methods of Hindu architecture in India though the synthesis between the two differed from place to place.
Muslim architecture was influenced by Hindu architecture only to some extent at Delhi and its vicinity while in distant provinces Hindu architecture contributed more to the Muslim architecture. At Jaunpur, Bengal, Gujrat, Kashmir and the Deccan the Hindu architecture definitely played a larger role than the Muslim architecture. However, it is certain that the synthesis between the two architectural styles evolved that architecture which we call Indo-Islamic architecture.
The Muslims added characteristics of speciousness, massiveness and width to the Hindu architecture. They introduced mehrab or arch, dome and minar in the indigenous architecture while the design of the Kalash at the top of a Hindu temple was adopted by the Muslims by placing a dome on the top of their buildings.
Besides, the Hindu-scheme of ornamentation was applied by the Muslims to decorate their arches or mehrabs. Many times the historic inscriptions and verses of the Quran in decorative and graceful letters were engraved on the gates of the building for the same purpose.
The Muslims adopted the Hindu techniques to make the structures more strong, stable and graceful and also the proportional massing of structures and their different parts. Thus, and in many other ways, the synthesis between the Hindu and the Muslim architecture took place in India.
1. Delhi of Imperial Style:
Qutb-ud-din Aibak constructed the Qutb-ul-Islam 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 the site of a destroyed college of Sanskrit. Therefore, both these mosques have the imprint of both the Hindu and the Muslim art. Sultan Iltutmish and Ala-ud-din Khalji added further to the Quwat-ul-lslam mosque.
The construction of Qutb Minar was originally planned by Aibak but it was completed by Iltutmish. The planning of Qutb 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.
Iltutmish 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 Firuz Tughluq who replaced it by two smaller one and raised its height to 234 feet.
Qutb Minar is an impressive building and Fergusson regarded it ‘as the most perfect example of a tower known to exist anywhere in the world.’ Besides completing the Qutb Minar, Iltutmish constructed a tomb on the grave of his eldest son, known as Sultan-Ghari, nearly three miles away from the Qutb Minar.
He also built a single compact chamber near the Qutb Minar which was probably, the tomb on his own grave and, also, Hauz-i-Shamsi, Shamsi-ldgah, the Jami Masjid at Badaun and the Atarkin-ka-Darwaza at Nagaur (Jodhpur). He further made additions to Quwat-ul-Islam 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-Islamic architecture. Ala-ud-din Khalji had better economic resources at his command and therefore, constructed beautiful buildings. His buildings were constructed with perfectly Islamic viewpoint and have been regarded as some best examples of Islamic art in India.
He had a plan to build a minor and a big mosque near the Qutb 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 Nizam-ud-din Auliya and the famous Alai Darwaza at the Qutb Minar. His city and the palace has 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 Marshall, ‘the Alai Darwaza is one of the most treasured gems of Islamic architecture.’ Ala-ud-din also constructed a magnificent tank 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 Tughluq 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. Ghiyas-ud- din constructed the new city of Tughluqabad east of the Qutb area, his own tomb and a palace. Ibn Batuta 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 Tughluq constructed the new city of Jahanpanah near the city of old Delhi, the fort of Adilabad and some other buildings at Daultabad. But, all his buildings have been destroyed.
The remains of only two buildings, the Sathpalahbanda and the Bijai-Mandal alone are found. Firuz Tughluq constructed many buildings but all of them were just ordinary and weak. Among his notable buildings were the new city of Firuzabad near the old city of Delhi, the palace-fort known as Kotla Firuz 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 Kali Masjid and the Khirki Masjid in the city of Jahanpanah. A beautiful building known as Lal-Gumbad was constructed by Nasir-ud-din Muhammad Tughluq Shah at the grave of Kabir-ud-din Auliya.
Among the buildings constructed by Lodi and Sayyid Sultans, some notables 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 the Sultans of the Delhi cities, palaces and forts have been destroyed. Only some 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 Qutb Minar and the Alai Darwaza.
2. Provincial Architecture:
The Muslim rulers in provinces also built up palaces, tombs, forts, mosques, etc. in their respective kingdoms. Primarily, the provincial styles drew inspiration from the Delhi style of architecture.
But as the economic resources of provincial rulers were limited, they could not provide that grandeur to their buildings as was provided by the Sultans of Delhi. Besides, the local circumstances also influenced the provincial styles and therefore, the architecture of provinces differed not only from the Imperial style but also from each other.
There are four notable buildings in Multan which were prepared during this period, namely, the shrine of Shah Yusuf-ul-Gardizi, the mausoleum of Bahlul Haqq, the tomb of Shams-ud-din and the tomb of Rukn-i-Alam built up by Ghiyas-ud-din Tughluq. Among them, the tomb of Rukn-i-Alam has been regarded as the best.
The rulers of Bengal failed to maintain a first-rate style of architecture. Mostly bricks were used in the buildings raised in Bengal. Among these buildings, prominent ones are the Adina Masjid built by Sikandar Shah at Pandua, at Eklakhi Mausoleum at Hazarat Pandua, the Gunamant and the Darasbari mosques at Gaur, the Lotan Masjid and the Bari Sona Masjid at Gaur, the Sath (Sixty) Gumbad mosque at Bagerhat (Khulna district), the tomb of Rukn Khan at Debikota, the Qadam Rasul at Gaur built by Nusrat Shah, the Dakhil-Darwaza at Gaur and the tomb of Jalal-ud-din Muhammad at Pandua.
The principal features of the Bengal style of architecture were the use of pointed arches on pillars, Hindu decorative designs and adaptation of Hindu architecture to Islamic art. Yet, the Bengal style of architecture remained inferior to other styles which were adopted in several other provinces.
The rulers of Sharqi dynasty at Jaunpur greatly patronised architecture and some very good buildings were raised during their rule which possessed certain good features of both the Hindu and the Islamic architecture. The salient features of the buildings raised here were square pillars, small galleries and absence of minarets.
Among the buildings which were constructed at Jaunpur when it was under the rule of the Delhi Sultanate, the fort and the palace of Ibrahim Naib Barbak are the most prominent. Among the buildings constructed by the Sharqi rulers, are the Atala Masjid completed by Ibrahim Shah Sharqi, the Jami Masjid built by Husain Shah and the Lal Darwaza mosque which are good specimens of provincial architecture.
The buildings constructed in Malwa closely resembled those which were constructed by the Sultans of Delhi. They are beautiful and have proved lasting as well. The fort of Mandu has been regarded as a beautiful protected city.
The most notable buildings of Mandu are the Jami Masjid, the Hindola Mahal, the Ashrafi Mahal, the tower of victory, the tomb of Sultan Hushang Shah constructed by Sultan Mahmud Khalji, the Jahaz Mahal and palace of Baz Bahadur and his queen Rupmati.
The notable buildings which were constructed earlier are the Kamal Mahal Masjid, Lal Masjid, Dilawar Khan Masjid and the tomb of Malik Mugis at Mandu. The buildings in Malwa have their own distinct style and occupy a respectable place among the architectural styles of provinces during this period.
Gujarat provided the best combination of the Hindu and the Islamic architecture and beautiful buildings were raised there. Dr Saraswati wiites- “Its unique character may best be explained as the product as much of a highly specialised local style as of a different kind of Islamic patronage.” The capital city of Ahmedabad was founded by Sultan Ahmad Shah and certain beautiful buildings were erected there.
Most notable buildings of Gujarat are the Jami Masjid at Cambay, the mosque of Hilal Khan Kazi at Dholka, the Jami mosque and tomb of Ahmad Shah at Ahmedabad, the tombs of Habit Khan and Sayyid Alam, the Tin Darwaza (Triple Gateway), the Rani-Ka-Hujra, the mosque of Dariya Khan and Alif Khan, the Dholka Masjid and the tomb of Shaikh Ahmad Khatri six miles away from Ahmedabad. Fergusson described the Jami mosque of Ahmedabad as ‘one of the most beautiful mosques in the East.’
Besides, Sultan Mahmud Begarha established three new cities and adorned each of them with many splendid buildings. The city of Champaner contains many beautiful buildings and the mosque built up by Mahmud Begarha has been regarded as the best among them. Fergusson regarded it ‘architecturally the finest in Gujarat.’
Certain new features were added to the style of architecture of Gujarat during the rule of Mahmud Begarha. Among the buildings which were constructed during his reign and afterwards are the tombs of Mubarak Sayyid and Sayyid Usman and the Qutuba-ul-Alam.
There was a harmonious blending of the Hindu and the Muslim architecture in Kashmir. The most notable buildings constructed here during this period are the tomb of Mandani, the Jami Masjid at Srinagar and the mosque of Shah Hamadan.
The Bahamani kingdom:
The rulers of the Bahamani kingdom and, then afterwards, the rulers of different states of the Deccan in which the Bahamani kingdom was parcelled 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 Gumbad, the Chand Minar at Daultabad and the college constructed by Mahmud Gawan at Bidar.
3. Hindu Architecture:
The Hindus could maintain their political existence in north India only in Rajasthan and therefore, there alone we find specimens of Hindu architecture.
Of course, the Vijayanagara 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 the buildings and temples of Vijayanagara 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.” Rest of the notable buildings constructed by the Hindus are found only in Rajasthan.
Rana Kumbha of Mewar erected many forts, palaces and other buildings, the best known among them being the fort of Kumbhalgarh and the Kirti Stambha (tower of victory). Part of this pillar is built of red sand-stone and part of it is that of marble. It has been regarded as the most remarkable tower in the country.
There is another beautiful tower at Chittor known as Jain Stambha which is decorated with beautiful carving and lattice work. Many other forts and palaces were built by the Rajput rulers at different places. The forts have existed but most of the palaces have perished.
The Hindus, no doubt, learnt something about the art of construction from the Muslims but kept their architectural style free from their influence. Therefore, their buildings maintained their separate entity and differed from the buildings of the Muslim rulers.
In the South, the rulers of Vijayanagara 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. Different rulers also constructed mandapas over the temples which have been regarded as fine specimens of architecture.
The Kalyana-mandapa at Vellore has been described by Percy Brown to be “The richest and most beautiful structure of its kind.” Similar beautiful mandapas were constructed in the temples of Varadarajasvami and Ekambaranatha at Kanchipuram and in the Jambukesvara temple near Trichinopoly. Thus, the Hindus also helped in the growth of architecture in their own way.
The Muslims mostly constructed tombs, minarets, mosques, palaces and forts while the Hindus mostly constructed temples, forts, palaces, stambhas (pillars), gopurams and mandapas in the temples. Both participated in the enrichment of Indian architecture.
Besides, though no positive efforts were made for the fusion of the Hindu and the Muslim architecture, yet the synthesis took place and gave birth to that style of architecture which has been called the Indo-Islamic architecture in India.