Indo-Muslim Architecture

Namaskar and Welcome to this episode of the Master Builders of India. The architectural genius of these Master Builders reflects the multihued splendour of our cultural heritage. The monuments built by them are not the mere sterile remains of the past, but the living ambassadors of the life and spirit of their times. They tell us stories of love and hatred, of loyalty and deceit and of dreams and realities. Lend me your eyes and your ears, and I will narrate these stories to you.

The story of co-existence of the Hindus and the Muslims on the Indian sub-continent is more than a thousand years old. This long association of the Muslims, who had brought their own traditions with them, was bound to produce far-reaching effects on the cultural, social and religious fabric of the country. Architecture, like other aspects of the country’s cultural life, was no exception.

The permanent association of Islam with India resulted in the evolution of Indo-Islamic style of architecture. It was neither a local variant of the Islamic art, nor a modification of the Hindu art; it was an assimilation of both the styles. With the development of this synthesis, various new elements were added to the architectural fabric of this country. One such element was the Tomb architecture.

The erection of tombs and monuments over the graves of the Muslims is forbidden by the strict laws of Islam. But notwithstanding the orthodox opinion, such structures were a common sight in all the Muslim countries, even before this practice was introduced in India. Indian builders, in turn, carried this building art to the pinnacle of its perfection.
The tomb of Ghiyas ud-Din Tughlaq, the founder of the Tughluq dynasty, is a landmark in Indo-Islamic tomb architecture. It served as a model for later tombs, both in Delhi and elsewhere.

This tomb is situated in an unusual pentagonal fortified enclosure of lofty sloping stone walls. There are five bastions at the five corners of this enclosure.

The walls of the main structure in the centre are faced with red sandstone. Some bands and panels above the base of the arch are of marble. A single dome faced entirely with white marble surmounts the whole structure. The foremost characteristic of the tomb is the sharp slope of its walls.

The architecture of this tomb was massively influenced by the Hindu architecture. A path-breaking feature of the tomb is the heavy stone finial on the apex of the dome that appears like a kalasha of the temple's shikhar. Another characteristic Hindu feature is the use of a lintel placed across the lower part of the arch supported on beams.

Another remarkable example of the tomb architecture is at Mandu, which was the capital of the Sultans of Malwa between the 15th and the 17th centuries. This is the tomb of Sultan Hushang Shah Ghuri.

Hushang Shah Ghuri had commenced the construction of a stately mausoleum as his final resting-place but his destiny prevented him to see its completion. Hushang Shah died in 1435 while the construction was on. He was laid to rest in this unfinished structure, which was completed by his successor Mahmud Khalji in 1440.

The tomb is square in plan and is situated in the centre of the court. It is built over a basement that is 1.83 meter high and is approached from the south by a flight of stairs. The walls rise 9.6 meters high from the platform. The overhanging cornice or the Chajja is supported by elephant shaped brackets of typical Hindu style. The main entrance doorway is double ogee-arch in relief and is flanked by perforated screens set in ogee-arch windows. These screens are remarkable for their geometric designs.

The main architectural attraction of this structure is of course its huge dome. This massive cylindrical dome – with a circumference of 170 ft and a height of 40 ft – seems too large for its square and squat base. It is flanked by a cupola at each corner.

Hoshang Shah's tomb is said to be India's first marble edifice and a fine example of Indo-Islamic architecture.When Shah Jahan decided to build the Taj, he sent his architects to study Hoshang Shah’s mausoleum as part of their preliminary research. On the left pillar of the doorway an inscription records that on 14 December 1659 four architects of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan visited Mandu to pay homage to the building of the tomb.

“The humble beggar Lutfullah, an engineer, the son of Ustad Ahmad architect of Shah Jahan, Khawaja Sadu Rai, Ustad Sheo Ram and Ustad Hamid came on pilgrimage to this tomb and wrote these few words to commemorate it”.

It is noteworthy that Ustad Hamid was associated with the building of Taj Mahal at Agra, which marks the height of perfection in building Mausoleums.

Taj Mahal

Taj is named after Mumtaz Mahal, the beloved wife of Shah Jahan, who died in 1632 at Burhanpur, while delivering her fourteenth child. She was temporarily buried in Zainabadi Gardens at Burhanpur, and later shifted to Agra. This tragic incident, however, was to gift to the world the greatest symbol of love it had ever witnessed.

Over the mortal remains of Mumtaz Mahal, Shah Jahan raised one of the most spectacular buildings of the world - the Immortal Taj Mahal.

The construction of the Taj began in early 1632. Within six years all the structural work, including the facing of its outer surface with marble slabs was completed. Another six years’ toil, of numerous labourers, masons, stone-cutters, sculptors, painters, inlay artisans and calligraphers, saw the completion of this architectural wonder of the modern world.

The plan of this whole conception takes the form of a rectangle aligned north and south and measuring an impressive 2,200 ft by 1,200 ft. Its central area is divided into a square garden measuring 1,100 ft on each side. The entire composition is enclosed within a high boundary wall with broad octagonal pavilions at each corner.

The Taj itself is situated in the centre of a 21 ft. high square marble terrace, which measures 360 ft on each side. This substructure rests on a red sandstone platform, which rises 48 ft. from the river-front. Its solid foundations, with fillings of rubble masonry in between, amply bear out the remarkable engineering skill and perfection of building technique. The marble structure has twin, vaulted staircases on the south, which lead to the terrace.

At the corners of the terrace stand four majestic minarets. These circular white marble minarets rise in three storeys and are crowned by eight-windowed cupolas. Rising to a total height of 156 ft., these minarets taper as the height increases. These minarets add a hitherto unknown dimension to the Indo-Islamic architecture and enhance the elegance of the central structure by mounting it like a jewel.

The central structure is of course the marble mausoleum - called by the Mughal historians as Rauza-i Munawwara, or ‘The Illuminatted Tomb’. It rests on a raised - 3 ft. high - plinth. It is square in plan with each side measuring 210 ft. Its corners are chamfered to convert this square plan into an octagon. The facade on each side contains a huge vaulted arched recess set within a rectangular frame. Each facade is flanked with similar but smaller arched recesses in two storeys on each side. Each section in the facade is well demarked on both sides by attached pilasters which rise above the frieze and are crowned by beautiful pinnacles with lotus buds and finials. The chamfered corners too contain similar twin alcoves set one over the other and flanked on either sides by pilasters rising above the frieze.

A bulbous - guava-shaped - double-dome majestically crowns the Taj. Placed in the centre on a lofty drum, it rises to a total height of 146 ft from the base of the drum to the apex of the finial. Around it, on each corner of the roof, are four graceful marble cupolas resting on a raised plinth of red sandstone. All these cupolas have multiple-arched openings on eight sides and are crowned by a brass finial.

Inside the mausoleum is an octagonal central hall forming the cenotaph chamber: This hall is enclosed by eight two-storeyed compartments - four octagonal rooms at the corners and four rectangular rooms on the sides. All these rooms are connected together by corridors and passages. The four corner rooms at the ground floor are also connected with the central hall by radiating corridors.

The octagonal hall houses the replicas of the tombs of the Emperor and his beloved wife.
The real cenotaphs containing the actual remains of Shah Jahan and his wife are situated in a small vault located immediately under their replicas in the octagonal central chamber above. This vault is reached through steeply descending stairs. Its walls, bereft of any decorations, stand in a sharp contrast with the elegance and grandeur of its upper storey.

Taj is a dream in marble. Tagore described it as a ‘tear on the face of eternity’. It is the greatest architectural achievement of the reign of Shah Jahan or rather of the whole range of Indo-Islamic architecture.

The Indo-Islamic architecture in India can be divided into two broad groups. The first group of buildings were influenced by the religious practices of the followers of Islam. These include mosques and tombs. The second group consisted of memorials, forts and palaces that were built by the Muslim rulers to meet their personal or administrative requirements. As such these buildings were secular in nature. One of the earliest examples of this second group is the Qutub Minar at Delhi, which is today identified with India’s capital city, much the same as the Leaning Tower is associated with Pisa or the Eiffel Tower with Paris.

Qutb Minar

In the year 1199, Qutb ud-Din Aibak, a General of the Afghan invader Muhammad Ghori, laid the foundation of a tower at Delhi to commemorate the victory of his master. This tower was destined to become the highest tower in the contemporary world.

The Qutub Minar, as it stands today, is an architectural marvel. Its main shaft is 234 ft and 1 inch high. At its base it rests on a plinth, which is 2 ft. in height. At the top is another plinth, also 2 ft. high, on which once stood the cupola. This makes the total height of the Minar a staggering 238 ft. and 1 inch.

Qutb ud-Din, however, could complete only the first storey of the Qutub Minar. It is a polygon of 24 facets formed of alternate angular and semi-circular flutes. The shaft is decorated with six ornamental bands of inscriptions. The inscriptions largely consist of Quranic quotations.
Qutb ud-Din did not live to see the completion of this tower. The completion of the Qutub Minar was left to his successor and son in law - Iltutmish. Iltutmish built the second, third and fourth storeys of his father in law's dream-project.

The second and the third storeys added by Iltutmish nearly eight centuries ago, stand today in their full glory. However, the fourth storey was struck by lightening around 1368 AD and was severely damaged. Firoz Shah Tughluq - the Master Builder, promptly repaired the Minar replacing the damaged top storey by two smaller ones.

To maintain the vertical perspective of the Minar, its builders used variable height and diameter for its successive storeys. As the Minar rises, the height of its storeys as well as the girth of its bases is successively reduced. This tapering view has added a new element of grandeur to this awesome structure.

The Minar is hollow from inside and a flight of anti-clockwise stairs, rotating round its central shaft has been provided to reach the top storey.

Qutub Minar is without equal in India, or indeed anywhere else in the Islamic world. In 1993, it was included in the UNESCO's World Heritage sites.

The Master builders of India soon excelled themselves in various nuances of the Indo-Islamic architecture. Their skills were put to the most extensive use by the Mughal emperor Akbar, who built a whole city in about 1571. If you have not already guessed, I am referring to the Fatehpur Sikri.

Fatehpur Sikri

In 1568-69 Akbar, who was heirless, heard of the holy man called Sheikh Salim Chisti. Sheikh Salim Chisti lived an ascetic life in a village called Sikri, 38 km east of Agra. When Akbar visited him, the Sheikh assured him that he would have three sons.

On 30 August 1569, the long-awaited son - the future Jahangir, was born at Sikri. With him was born the idea of a grand city.

The construction of the great city began in 1571 and most of the work was finished within a year. The city was built under the personal supervision of the king. Father Monsorrete, a Jesuit missionary who Fethpur Sikri while the construction was on, writes:

“He even quarried stone himself, alongside the workmen”, and “sometimes put his hands to the other menial tasks.”

Akbar’s respect for the saint certainly knew no bounds.

The city is surrounded by 11 kms of wall in the east west and north sides. The monuments are grouped in two clusters. Situated on the highest place on the ridge, is the khanqah complex. Within this religious compound are masterpieces like Jami Mosque, the tomb of Sheikh Salim Chisti, Badshahi Darwaza which was used for the royal entry and the world famous Buland Darwaza.

Buland Darwaza was built to commemorate the victory of Gujarat in 1572. It is over 150 ft in height. The lofty stepped terrace adds to splendour of the gateway. Besides being a gateway, the Buland Darwaza is a complete structure in itself. It consists of a large hall and smaller apartments.

The second group of monuments lie at a short distance from the khanqah complex.

Jodhabai’s Palace, used by Akbar favourite queen Jodhabai, was the largest building in the Imperial Harem. The architecture of this monument is Hindu in style. The bases, columns, and capitals in the rooms surrounding the courtyard are all carved in the Hindu manner. The splash of colour made by the glazed tiles on the roof of upper rooms is an outstanding feature of this palace.

One of the most remarkable buildings at Fatehpur Sikri is Panch Mahal, which looks like a Buddhist vihar frozen in time. This extraordinary four-storeyed structure is entirely columnar. No two columns on the first floor are alike. One of these columns carries a beautiful version of the Hindu bell-and-chain motif.

An interesting capital presents a vase with three floral sprays on all four sides. They are separated by a stylized and upside-down version. The capitals representing an arch are also attractive.

On the northeast corner of the principal Harem palace stands a structure known as Sunehra Makan, or the ‘Golden House’. The house was splendidly decorated throughout with paintings, which till mid-eighteenth century were still glowing with gold. Hence the name. Another name for this monument is Mariyam ki Kothi as it is believed that Akbar’s mother Maryam Makani used to stay here.

The frescos depicting Lord Rama attended by Hanuman, and Lord Krishna playing the flute in the Mughal attire deserve special notice. The lintels supporting the ceiling of the verandah were inscribed with couplets reputedly written by Faizi.

Birbal’s Mahal is generally associated with the legendary navratna or one of the nine-jewels of Akabr’s court. However, Birbal could not have stayed here, as this palace was an integral part of the Imperial Harem. Most likely it was occupied by Ruqayya Begum and Salima Sultan Begum, two senior queens of Akbar.

This house is remarkable for its elegantly decorated exterior. Its pilasters and brackets deserve special notice. Each pilaster is finely carved with a pleasant geometrical pattern. The bases are of typical Hindu design.

The Imperial Palace known as Daulat Khana, literally meaning ‘Abode of Fortune’, comprises the two-roomed Diwan Khana-i Khas, a beautiful room on the first floor, spacious cloisters on the ground floor, and a square pool in the centre. The Turkish Sultana's house, and a pillared structure of two storeys are also part of it.

Emperor's private room, popularly known as Khwabgah or ‘Sleeping Chamber’ is on the first floor. It was beautifully decorated with now-faded mural decorations. The gold lettered Persian verses praising the building in elegant nasta'liq script adds to the charm of the bedroom of this great emperor. The quiet scenes on the panels of Khwabgah indicate the secret longings of Akbar’s heart.

Anup Talao, or the ‘Peerless Pool’, called Kapur Talao by Father Monserrate and Jahangir, is a very pretty tank. It was completed in 1575, simultaneously with the Ibadat Khana. It was here that Akbar engaged in discussions regarding Islamic law with leading Muslim theologians. It is also said that he filled this tank with golden coins and distributed them to sheikhs and amirs.

Turkish Sultana's Palace, located on the bank of Anup Talao, is a tiny room with a highly ornamented verandah. The representations of flora and fauna are a delight to behold. These also mark a departure from the Islamic traditions. But then, Akbar was too great a man to be constricted by religion.

The house has often been described as a ‘superb jewel casket’. Elaborate carvings on its brackets, friezes and cornice on the caps of the coupled columns, pillars, pilaster piers and carved dado panels make it appear the work of the wood carvers of Kashmir.

This place is popularly known as the Aankh Michauli or ‘Blind Man’s Buff House’ and it is said that here Akbar played hide-and-seek with the women of his harem. But facts indicate that it was the Royal Treasury.

The most noteworthy features of this building are the struts resting on corbels projecting from the walls. The bottom of each strut is shaped into the head of a trunked monster from whose open jaws a raised serpentine scroll emerges. Such beasts are the traditional guards of treasure in Indian legend.

At the southwest corner of the Treasury, stands a small square kiosk. Traditions ascribe this kiosk to an astrologer or a yogi. Extravagant stone brackets are placed in each of four openings. These remarkable decorative elements, known as torana are derived from Jain architecture.

This elegant structure that lies across the courtyard is generally called the Jewel House, or sometimes also the Diwan-i Khas. This structure is apparently double-storeyed in its outward appearance but a single storey structure from inside. Its interior is marked by an amazing capital. A circular arrangement of brackets seeming to branch out infinitely, supports a circular balcony to which little bridges run from each corner of the building.

Daftar Khana, or Record Room is located at southern end of the palace enclosure. It stands on a platform supported on piers and arches. The northern façade is striking; six pairs of tall double columns, with a group of four at either end, sustain rich bracketed capitals. The grouping of the double columns, with their fine brackets, one on the outer and one on the inner aspect produce from a distance a suggestion of arches.

From the Daulat Khana complex, a closed doorway leads to the Diwan Khana-i Aam or the ‘Enclosure for Public Audience’. Here Akbar sat to dispense justice.

The great stone ring at the foot of the colonnade are popularly believed to have been used to tie the elephant, which crushed the condemned to death. This seems unlikely, but important elephants brought as a trophy of victory might have been tied here from time to time.

The Hindu artisans that were employed in constructing this dream city for Akbar, have left their lasting imprint on some of its buildings. These imprints are not merely metaphoric, but real. Fatehpur Sikri has immortalised both, the builder and their master in a single stroke.

The story of the Indo-Islamic architecture ends here, but our journey to explore the architectural wonders of this great land continues. Next time when you visit any historical monument, remember that each of them needs your love, care and respect. It is our solemn duty to pass on this legacy to the posterity, safe and intact. We will meet again next week with another chapter of our monumental glory. Until then Good Bye and Jai Hind.

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