Indo-Islamic architecture

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Tomb of Shah Rukn-e-Alam (built 1320 to 1324) in Multan, Pakistan

Indo-Islamic architecture is the architecture of the Indian subcontinent produced for Islamic patrons and purposes. Despite an earlier Muslim presence in Sindh in modern Pakistan, its main history begins when Muhammad of Ghor made Delhi a Muslim capital in 1193. Both the Delhi Sultans and the Mughal dynasty that succeeded them came from Central Asia via Afghanistan, and were used to a Central Asian style of Islamic architecture that largely derived from Iran.


  • The final triumph of Indian architecture came under the Moguls. The followers of Mohammed had proved themselves master builders wherever they had carried their arms—at Granada, at Cairo, at Jerusalem, at Baghdad; it was to be expected that this vigorous stock, after establishing itself securely in India, would raise upon the conquered soil mosques as resplendent as Omar’s at Jerusalem, as massive as Hassan’s at Cairo, and as delicate as the Alhambra. It is true that the “Afghan” dynasty used Hindu artisans, copied Hindu themes, and even appropriated the pillars of Hindu temples, for their architectural purposes, and that many mosques were merely Hindu temples rebuilt for Moslem prayer;119 but this natural imitation passed quickly into a style so typically Moorish that one is surprised to find the Taj Mahal in India rather than in Persia, North Africa or Spain.
  • The beautiful Kutb-Minar exemplifies the transition. It was part of a mosque begun at Old Delhi by Kutbu-d Din Aibak; it commemorated the victories of that bloody Sultan over the Hindus, and twenty-seven Hindu temples were dismembered to provide material for the mosque and the tower. After withstanding the elements for seven centuries the great minaret—250 feet high, built of fine red sandstone, perfectly proportioned, and crowned on its topmost stages with white marble—is still one of the masterpieces of Indian technology and art. In general the Sultans of Delhi were too busy with killing to have much time for architecture, and such buildings as they have left us are mostly the tombs that they raised during their own lifetime as reminders that even they would die. The best example of these is the mausoleum of Sher Shah at Sasseram, in Bihar; gigantic, solid, masculine, it was the last stage of the more virile Moorish manner before it softened into the architectural jewelry of the Mogul kings.
  • Aurangzeb was a misfortune for Mogul and Indian art. Dedicated fanatically to an exclusive religion, he saw in art nothing but idolatry and vanity. Already Shah Jehan had prohibited the erection of Hindu temples; Aurangzeb not only continued the ban, but gave so economical a support to Moslem building that it, too, languished under his reign. Indian art followed him to the grave.
    • Will Durant, Our Oriental heritage
  • “Just as later Mughal painting is a harmonious blend of Persian and Indian artistic tradition, so the Indo-Muslim architecture of Delhi and Ajmer is a blend. In the Quwwat al-Islam at Delhi and the Arhai din-ka-Jhopra at Ajmer, existing remains bear unmistakable evidence that they were not merely compilations, but the distinctive, planned works of professional architects…
    • Syed Mahmudul Hasan, Mosque Architecture of Pre-Mughal Bengal, Dacca (Bangladesh), 1979. p. 34
  • “The Muslim invaders were necessarily impressed by Indian architecture and sculpture, expressing as they do foreign religious emotions in terms of images and emblems. What they saw at Delhi, and the other cities of India, which they attacked, was absolutely foreign to them. Yet when they came to raise their own religious buildings, they were not averse to using the spoils of their temples… “The ruthless desecration and makeshift conversion of Indian temples into Mosques has led many scholars to regard Indo-Muslim architecture as nothing more than a local variety of hybrid nature. In point of fact, these early Indian mosques which were compiled from Brahamanical fragments, such as the Deval Masjid at Bodhan near Hyderabad, have no direct bearing on the general development of Mosque architecture in India.” “On the other hand the use of the spoils of non-Muslim ruins was a widely recognised feature in early Muslim architecture…
    • Syed Mahmudul Hasan, Mosque Architecture of Pre-Mughal Bengal, Dacca (Bangladesh), 1979. p. 33
  • “The early formative phase of Indo-Muslim architecture, marked by the adaptation of Hindu, Buddhist or Jaina temples, is illustrated by the oldest Mosques at Delhi, Bengal, Jaunpur, Daulatabad, Patan, etc. In Malwa, also, spoils of Hindu temples were used…
    • Syed Mahmudul Hasan, Mosque Architecture of Pre-Mughal Bengal, Dacca (Bangladesh), 1979. p.43
  • “Although constructed of destroyed Hindu temples, the Mosques at Old Delhi and Ajmer once and for all set the fashion to be followed by later mosques in Muslim India…
    • Syed Mahmudul Hasan, Mosque Architecture of Pre-Mughal Bengal, Dacca (Bangladesh), 1979. p. 38
  • “…Delhi was the source of artistic inspiration for all the later provincial schools of Indo-Muslim architecture. Codrington remarks, ‘At Delhi, the Kutb-ul-Islam marks the beginning of Islamic architecture in India.’ This formative phase of Mosque architecture in India began with the random utilization of temple spoils, Hindu architraves, corbelled ceilings, kumbha pillars with hanging bell-and-chain motifs, which were organised to fulfil the needs of congregational prayer. It is said that the columns of twenty-seven Hindu and Jaina temples were utilized in the great Mosque, at Delhi, rightly called the ‘Might of Islam’. It was built by Qutb-al-Din Aybak in AH 587/AD 1191-92 on an ancient pre-Muslim plinth.
    • Syed Mahmudul Hasan, Mosque Architecture of Pre-Mughal Bengal, Dacca (Bangladesh), 1979. p. 37
  • “…To Iletmish we owe some of the finest Muslim works in India. The Arhai din ka-Jhopra began by Qutab al-Din in AD 1198-99, was also completed by him. Tod had said of it that it was ‘one of the most perfect as well as the most ancient monuments of Hindu architecture’, on the evidence of certain four-armed figures to be seen on the pillars…
    • Syed Mahmudul Hasan, Mosque Architecture of Pre-Mughal Bengal, Dacca (Bangladesh), 1979. p. 38
  • …the very grandeur of the Mogul buildings is oppressive. Europe has its monuments of sun-kings, its Louvres and its Versailles. But they are part of the development of a country’s spirit; they express the refining of a nation’s sensibility; they add to the common, growing stock. In India these endless mosques and rhetorical mausolea, these great palaces speak only of a personal plunder and for a country with an infinite capacity for being plundered. The Mogul owned everything in his dominions; and this is the message of the Mogul architecture. I know only one building in England with this quality of dead-end personal extravagance…the Blenheim. Imagine England as a country of Blenheims, continually built, destroyed and rebuilt over five hundred years, each a gift of the nation and seldom for services rendered…leaving at the end no vigorous nation…no principle beyond that of personal despotism. The Taj Mahal is exquisite…But in India it is a building wastefully without function; it is only a despot’s monument to a woman, not of India, who bore a child every year for fifteen years. It took twenty-two years to build; and the guide will tell you how many millions it cost.
  • Furthermore, we are instructed, when we do come across instances of temple destruction, as in the case of Aurangzeb, we have to be circumspect in inferring what has happened and why.... the early monuments – like the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque in Delhi – had to be built in ‘great haste’, we are instructed...Proclamation of political power, alone! And what about the religion which insists that religious faith is all, that the political cannot be separated from the religious? And the name: the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque, the Might of Islam mosque? Of course, that must be taken to be mere genuflection! And notice: ‘available materials were assembled and incorporated’, they ‘clearly came from Hindu sources’ – may be the materials were just lying about; may be the temples had crumbled on their own earlier; may be the Hindus voluntarily broke their temples and donated the materials? No? After all, there is no proof they didn’t! And so, the word ‘plundered’ is repeatedly put within quotation marks!
    In fact, there is more. The use of such materials – from Hindu temples – for constructing Islamic mosques is part of ‘a process of architectural definition and accommodation by local workmen essential to the further development of a South Asian architecture for Islamic use’. The primary responsibility thus becomes that of those ‘local workmen’ and their ‘accommodation’. Hence, features in the Qutb complex come to ‘demonstrate a creative response by architects and carvers to a new programme’. A mosque that has clearly used materials, including pillars, from Hindu temples, in which undeniably ‘in the fabric of the central dome, a lintel carved with Hindu deities has been turned around so that its images face into the rubble wall’ comes ‘not to fix the rule’. ‘Rather, it stands in contrast to the rapid exploration of collaborative and creative possibilities – architectural, decorative, and synthetic – found in less fortified contexts.’ Conclusions to the contrary have been ‘misevaluations’. We are making the error of ‘seeing salvaged pieces’ – what a good word that, ‘salvaged ’: the pieces were not obtained by breaking down temples; they were lying as rubble and would inevitably have disintegrated with the passage of time; instead they were ‘salvaged ’, and given the honour of becoming part of new, pious buildings – ‘seeing salvaged pieces where healthy collaborative creativity was producing new forms’.
    • Shourie, Arun. Eminent Historians: Their Technology, Their Line, Their Fraud
  • “Like all other provinces of India, the Deccan, also, witnessed the growth of a distinguished school of Muslim architecture. Its early phase is also, characterized by the adaptation of local temples, for the purpose of Muslim congregational prayer, as exemplified by the Deval Mosque of Bodhan in Nizamabad, near Hyderabad, dated AD 1318, which was formerly a Hindu shrine…” ... “‘Next to Satgaon’, writes D.G. Crawford, ‘Pandua is the oldest place of Hughli District-once the capital of a Hindu Raja and is famous as the site of a great victory gained by the Musulmans under Shah Safi over the Hindus in about AD 1340.’ Besides the Mosque and Tomb of Shah Safiuddin, the most outstanding architectural project of great magnitude is the Great Mosque at Chhoto Pandua… O’Malley and M.M. Chakravarti differ from Blockmann in ascribing Buddhist origin to these pillars and maintain that they were probably quarried from a Hindu temple. As put forward by Cunningham, ‘The Mosque stands on a mound once die site of a Hindu temple, the pillars of which now support this mean-looking barn-like Masjid.’ It would be far-fetched to maintain that the Great Mosque at Chhoto Pandua was built on the very foundation of a Hindu temple, like the improvised Tomb of Zafar Khan Ghazi at Tribeni, dated 14th century AD.”
    • Deccan. Chhota Pandua (Bengal). Syed Mahmudul Hasan, Mosque Architecture of Pre-Mughal Bengal, Dacca (Bangladesh), 1979

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