The Sayyid (1414-1451 AD) and the Lodi Dynasties (1451-1526 AD)

Hello. Welcome to ‘Saga In Stone’, the show on Islamic architecture and the stories told by the monuments this glorius school has left behind. Timur the lame's invasion had shaken the whole country, especially the Sultans of Delhi. A huge blow had been inflicted on the country’s self esteem. So much so that the new monarch on the throne, Khijr Khan, who founded the Sayyid dynasty, did not even take the title of Sultan.

The Sayyids tried their best to rebuild this lost self esteem. In these troubled times, the architectural activity was naturally not on the top of agenda. No royal palaces, fortresses or huge mosques were built.

All they built were a few tombs, a reflection of the difficult and sombre times. But these tombs left their impact on the tombs constructed in the next one hundred years.
This is an ordinary looking, non descript tomb in Delhi’s Kotla Mubarakpur area. It functioned as a cowshed till sometime back.

It is the tomb of the second Sayyid sultan, Mubarak Shah. An imperial resting place in ordinary surroundings. He was in the process of building an ambitious city ‘Mubarakabad’. But three months into construction, he was slayed by his nobles. At the time of his murder, he was supervising the progress of a building.

Today, this tomb is the only tell-tale sign of this ‘could have been great’ king. Though, his grave has not been identified with full certainty.

This tomb originally stood on a stone-paved chabutara or platform, surrounded by an octagonal enclosure. Today both the platform as well as the enclosure walls have disappeared without any trace.

After Khane jahan Telangani’s tomb, Mubarak Shah’s tomb was the second octagonal tomb in Delhi. One reason of the preponderance of the octagonal form in this era was probably bacause of its association with the plan of the sacred Dome of the Rock at Jerusalem.*
The tomb is entered through a doorway on the south; the six other openings have been filled in with sandstone grills, while the western side is closed with a mihrab or arch.

The dome is crowned by an octagonal chhatri or kiosk made of red sandstone. This addition of a kiosk on top of the dome was a first for any Islamic building, and the highlight of this building.

The tomb of Mubarak Shah's successor Muhammad Shah did not suffer the ignominy of his uncle’s tomb. His tomb is situated in the lush green Lodi Gardens, well maintained and accepted as one of the best specimens of its kind. The only ignoble fate they share is that like Mubarak Shah, Muhammad Shah's grave has not been identified with full certainty.
This octagonal tomb looks like a replica of Mubarak Shah's tomb. But it has its distinctive features. A perfect symmetry between the lower and the upper parts has been achieved in this monument. The height of the main dome and pillared kiosks on the sides has been raised. Both the angles of the drum and the angles of the sides of the verandah have been provided with finials.

Mubarak Shah’s successor, Ala Ud Din Alam Shah apparently built this tomb in 1455 AD.
At the each corner of the verandah, a sloping buttress has been used to strengthen each corner of the octagon.

This sloping buttress along with the lotus motif crowning the dome considerably influenced the architectural style of the subsequent period.

A chhajja supported by heavy stone brackets runs above the arches. It was reconstructed in 1913-14 after the old one had fallen.

The Sayyid dynasty proved to be one of the weakest ever on the Delhi throne. It ended after thirty-seven years of indifferent rule , It gave way to the Lodis, another dynasty that were great mausoleum builders . Some of their best buildings are located in that neighbourhood of Lodi architecture- Lodi Gardens, known as Bagh-I-Hud in the medieval times and lady Willingdon park in the British times. One of these is this- the tomb of Sikandar Lodi, the second king of the Lodi dynasty. He ruled for twenty eight years.

The tomb of Sikandar Lodi is situated within a spacious walled enclosure with an ornamental gateway on the southern side. This enclosure brings a refreshing change from the earlier fortified tombs.

But the tomb chamber itself is much inspired by the Sayyid tombs. The same ocatgonal tomb with roughly the same features.

Today the tomb presents a lonely picture. Even the lovers hankering after privacy in the Lodi gardens have abandoned it.

Sikandar Lodi was the son of Bahlul Lodi who took over the Delhi sultanate from Alam Shah in one of history’s rare bloodless coups. Alam Shah, whose name means lord of the word, was a weak and ineffectual king. His sultanate was often ridiculed as:

Az Dilli ta Palam

(the kingdom of the king of the universe extends from Delhi to Palam)

After the coup, Alam Shah fled to Badaun, leaving the throne bare for the Lodis.
Sikandar Lodi was the most illustrious of Lodi kings. He controlled the Ganga Valley to the point of its synthesis with the sea near Bengal.

Though not visible from outside, a new feature in the construction of the dome introduced here was the 'Double Dome' system.
Until now, the dome was single. It was constructed of one thickness from bottom to top. Here, it had two parts – an inner dome and an outer dome with a hollow space between the two.

Buildings of substantial height necessitated the placing of a dome on a lofty drum. With a single dome, the interior became disproportionately high as compared to its width. The technique of double dome removed this defect. This technique caught on, and became a regular feature of tomb architecture of this era and the next one.

Sikandar Lodi later moved his capital to a new town, a town which went to become the greatest site of Indo-islamic architecture under the Mughals- the city of Agra. But those times were still far off. Indo Islamic architecture had a lot of milestones still to cover.
The square-plan tombs of this period were remarkable for their strength and dignity. Though obviously inspired by the Khalji and Tughlaq buildings, they represented a new and distinctive type by themselves.

Situated in Lodi Gardens itself is another tomb- Sheesh Gumbad, or glazed dome. It draws its name from the blue glazed tiles decorating its exteriors. A great number of tombs were built in this era. Apart from the royal family, who have been the traditional tomb builders, a lot of tombs were built by the nobles The reason for this lies in both the sociological as well as the political situation prevailing in the times.

The Lodi’s were a tribe from Afghanistan, the first Afghan descendants to rule Delhi. Among most Afghani tribes, the king is not the ultimate monarch but more of a comrade, a first among equals. Till this time tombs were built primarily for the royalty and the saints, but with the increased importance of the nobility in an afghani regime, the tombs began to be built for the nobles as well. Hence, although there were only 3 Lodi kings, more than a hundred large tombs were constructed in the Lodi regime in Delhi alone.

The most notable architectural element of these tombs was the huge dome. It stood out to such a degree that in local parlance, most of these tombs were known as gumbad which means dome. Bade khan ka Gumbad, Chote Khan ka Gumbad, Baghe-I-Alam ka Gumbad, Dadi ka Gumbad, Poti Ka Gumbad, the list of these tombs is huge, just like some of these tombs.

Who rests in Sheesh Gumbad is not known.

Though Sheesh Gumbad does not have much to distinguish from other tombs of this era, its usage of the blue glazed tiles make it noticeable and attractive. These tiles were one of the stylistic innovations made in the Lodi era. They were largely imported from Persia.

Bada Gumbad, built in 1494, is shaped like a tomb. However, since there is no grave inside, and a mosque adjoins it, it is believed to be a gateway. Cummingham, founder of archaeology in India compared it with Alai Darwaza. Architectural resemblance also exists with both being single storey chambers but using the double storey façade.

Bada Gumbad was built by Abu Amjad, a nobleman in the court of Sikandar Lodi.
Bada Gumbad stands on a platform furnished with arched recesses. Each of its sides has an arched opening consisting of an outer enclosing arch and a corbelled doorway.

The dome springs form a 16-sided drum. It is crowned with a lotus-shaped base of the finial though the finial is no longer extant. Domes have been an inseperable part of Islamic architectural tradition due to great significance attached to the Dome of the Rock at Jerusalem*which marks the spot where, according to tradition, the Holy Prophet embarked upon Meraj, his journey to heaven in his mortal body.

Lodis also built a few mosques. Though not as pathbreaking as their tombs, some of their mosques were interesting specimen of their architecture. Bara Gumbad mosque, adjoining the Bara Gumbad is one such mosque.

The Bada Gumbad masjid is a modestly sized building. But it is an important link between the sultanate mosque architecture and Mughal mosque architecture. It is faced with a five arched opening.

Topped with lotus cresting, their central upper portions are alternately shaped into angular and circular flutes. The influence of the late Tughlaq style is clearly at work here.

The tapering minarets are a bit of both Tughlaq style and the octagonal towers of the early Mughal period.

The treatment of its five arches in the front wall is striking. These arches are too wide for their height.

The domes are of an increased size. The balconied windows in the northern and southern walls are also impressive.

A structure, said to be a guesthouse, exists just opposite the mosque.

Moth Ki Masjid is another important mosque of this era. It is said that this mosque epitomises all that is best in Lodi architecture.

Moth Ki Masjid was built by a Lodi minister, Miyan Bhoiya.

It is said that one day as Sultan Sikandar Lodi was leaving the Jami Mosque after the Friday prayers, he saw a grain of moth or lintel lying its courtyard. He picked it up and gave to his Minister Miyan Bhoiya. The Minister sowed that moth in the orchid attached to his house. The plant that grew from it yielded more than two hundred grains. These grains were multiplied continually by this practice for several years, until from their produce he acquired a large sum of money which went into making this mosque.

Moth Ki Masjid is the largest mosque of that age. The five arches in the front wall of its prayer-hall are well shaped. There is an emphasis on the central arch enclosed by a high and deeply recessed arch of red stone.

The double-storied round turrets with arched openings on the back corners provide the otherwise simple mosque with a lot of style.

Sikandar Shah's son Ibrahim Lodi was the third and the last of the Lodi rulers. The fate of this king as well as that of Delhi Sultanates was sealed at the historic battle of Panipat on 20 April 1526. Babur, a young invader from Kabul, defeated him.

The rule of sultanates may have come to an end, but they had already succeeded in merging the Islamic culture with the Hindu culture. The Hindustani culture, an amalgamation of the two was taking shape. This culture later on developed into the culture of today’s India
By this time, the Hindu elite had adopted the purdha system and their language began to be written in Arabic script. The beauty of Urdu was beginning to take shape.

The stage was set for a new era of Indian history and architecture to begin.
However, even in the era of hegemony of Delhi Sultanate, there were other schools of Indo Islamic architecture, which produced extremely exciting work in cohesion with the local influences.

We will take a look at one of the best of these regional schools- the Bengal school, in our next episode. Till then, Khuda Hafiz.

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