Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Architecture in Medieval India

A. Delhi Sultanate

Architecture is the art and design of building as an expression of particular culture. And the main goal of Islamic art is to express the beauty as an aspect of God through structures, patterns, designs, decoration and various techniques. The spirit of Islamic architecture is determined and conditioned by the concept of God in Islam, which is monotheistic, as Dr. Tara Chand said, “It must be a symbol of transcendent majesty of vast spaciousness, sublimity and purity”.

These feelings are realized in the mosque, whose pointed arch, aspiring dome, tall minaret, lofty portals, pillared naves and aisles, clear-cut outlines, adorned with surface decoration of conventional arabesque, interlaced geometrical patterns, and beautiful calligraphic inscriptions, symmetrical exterior and spacious interior, fulfill all the aspirations and longings of a devout Muslim’s soul.

In India, the clash of the two divergent mentalities –Hindu and Muslim- and their culture resulted in the creation of a new culture. Hindu and Muslim elements coalesced to form a new type of architecture. The building erected by Musalmans were not purely Muslim-Syro-Egyptian, Persian or Central Asian, nor were the Hindu buildings purely Hindu. Rejecting the general tendency to relate Indian Muslim architecture with the architecture of the Muslim world on the one hand and with Buddhist and Hindu architecture on the other hand to prove that it is a synthesis, Muhammad Mujeeb stated, “Architecture is the field in which the Indian Muslim mind has operated with complete freedom, and revealed itself most fully”. In fact, this architecture is above all things positively Indian Muslim, with its own ‘personality’, its own expression.

In Indian Muslim architecture our interest centers around the mosques and the mausoleum. Though palaces, towers, gateways, and civic structure also have great aesthetic and architectural value, but only the mosques and mausoleums were preserved. This is due to, as in Rizvi’s words, “Mainly out of religious sentiment”.

In Delhi, the Quwwatul Islam mosque was the first of it’s kind to be built, begun immediately after Delhi’s conquest in 1192 on the order of Qutbuddin Aybak. It was built out of the materials of temples. This involved erecting the edifice on pillars with the help of supporting brackets and spanning the roof with horizontal beams. The plinth of one of the original Hindu temples was converted into courtyard, and a new plinth was constructed. This was enclosed by pillared cloisters, three bays deep on the east and two bays on the north and south. The original short temple pillars were placed one above the other to achieve the desired height. All the arches in the screen were corbelled out like the ogees in the Buddhist rock-cut caves. The calligraphy of Quranic verses dominates the sinuous tendrils. Curling leaves and geometric traceries of the arabesque were also present.

In the south-east corner of the mosque, Aybak built the world famous minaret of red sandstone known as Qutb Minar. It was designed on the pattern of Iranian minarets, with round and triangular spurs connected by balconies. The bottom storey, consisting of alternately rounded and angular flutes. Some three meters from the plinth, the looped bell and garland and the lotus borders of the ancient Hindu tradition have been carved. The first storey leads up to a bracketed gallery, supported by a stalactite of the honeycomb work commonly used in Islamic pendentives. The second, third and fourth storeys were built by Iltutmish. The fourth storey was struck by lightning in 1370, then it was replaced with two more storeys by Sultan Firuz Tughlug. The first three are constructed of grey quartzite faced with red sandstone, while the fourth and fifth are built of red sandstone faced largely with marble. This last stage raised the mosque’s height to 72.59 meters.

Qutbuddin also built a mosque in Ajmer called Arha’i Din ka Jhopra. And his successor Iltutmish added a maqsurah to that mosque. Iltutmish also built a mosque at Badayun along with an Idgah and a tank, and a lofty gateway at Nagori. But his mausoleum is most important, for its inner surface is completely covered with inscriptions, in the Hindu tradition of avoiding empty spaces. He built the tomb of his son, Nasiruddin which has a touch of the fortress in its external while inside it is all gracefulness and peace.

By the time of Alauddin Khilji, Indian Muslim architecture had come under the influence of Saljuk techniques and styles. Of this, the Ala’I Darwazah of the Qutub mosque is the most beautiful. The gateway is a cubical structure of 15.25 meters each side, covered by a flate dome. The three large pointed horseshoe arches supporting the dome are of dressed stone. The adaptation of different styles in the Ala”I Darwaza has in no way undermined the proportion and harmony of the structure.

During the reign of the Tughlugs, ornamentation was replaced by lineaments and masses. The angled walls of Ghiyasuddin Tughlugs tomb inspired by the Perso-Arabian traditions of Multan tombs. There are monuments of the Tughlug period, which presented variations, departures and experiments. Mosques like the Khirki and Kalan Masjid are distinguished by their lofty plinths and fortress-like appearance, the Madrasa of Firuz Tughlug is the combination of Hindu columns, arch and lintel arcades and kiosks is most striking, the palace-fort of Firuz, known as the Kotla Firuz Shah, set the pattern for the palaces of later days, the tomb of Khan-I-Jahan Tilingani has interesting structural features, its outer enclosure contains the usual Tughlug strong walls and towers but it iss on an octagonal plan instead of usual square. The precursor of Khan-I-Jahan’s tomb was Shaikh Ruknuddin’s tomb in Multan.

B. Mughal Architecture

The buildings of the Mughal period reflected not only techniques of architecture and the wealth of the state but ideas of personality, the love of poetry, gardens, flowers and flowing waters. The great Mughal builders, Akbar and Shah Jahan, translated into stone the refinement, elegance and strength of their empire.

The first Mughal monument of significance is the tomb of the emperor Humayun, built by his widow, Haji Begum. The tomb is the central feature of a large enclosed formal garden, with channels for running water. The large, the bulbous dome, the arrangement of rooms and corridors were definitely Persian. But the use of marble for ornamentation was absolutely Indian Muslim.

Akbar’s buildings are almost entirely in red sandstone, relieved occasionally through marble inlay, such as the interior of the Jami’ Masjid Fatehpur Sikri and the gateway to his mausoleum at Sinkandra. Akbar’s architectural activity began with the palace fort at Agra. The Jahangiri Mahal represents the adaptation of a Hindu style of architecture to the Muslim style of living. The Delhi gate, gives an impression of refined strength and solidity from outside, and of openness and cultured dignity from within. Fatehpur Sikri was another work of Akbar, consists the Diwan-I-Am, the Diwan-I-Khas, the apartments of queens, pavilions for relaxation, courtyards, quarters for offices and officials and also a mosque, where a hundred thousand men could prayed there at the same time.

Akbar’s mausoleum was built in Jahangir’s time, but Jahangir’s interests were painting and garden architecture. “Verinag” and “Chashma-Shahi” are gardens built by Jahangir beautifully around spring. Apart from Akbar’s tomb, the only monument of significance from this period is I’timaduddaulah’s mausoleum on the left bank of the Jumna. Jahangir’s own tomb, like I’timaduddulah’s and Akbar’s tombs, have no dome, only minarates and ornamentation are apparent.

With the reign of Shah Jahan began a phase of architectural activity distinguished by an intelligent and discerning regard for tradition and an innovation. The use of marble, which could be obtained adequately in Rajasthan was common. Shah Jahan did not think the red sandstone structures good enough for the imperial palace when marble and money were available. He replaced structures and added new ones in the palace fort of Agra. The Diwan-I-Am was rebuilt with inlay of black marble. His most praiseworthy contribution to the buildings of the Agra fort was the Moti Masjid, which presents the ideal of balance, gracefulness and purity.

The Taj Mahal, built by Shah Jahan to a degree that the whole world would gaze at it in awe and wonder, was the tomb of his beloved queen, Mumtaz Mahal. It stands on the bank of the Jumna in an enclosure the size of which harmonies fully, we could say musically, with the proportions of mausoleum. As we pass the monumental gateway, we face a square garden with a long pool in its center in which the Taj is constantly reflected. The mausoleum is in a high terrace balanced by a mosque in the west and a “Mihman Khana” in the east.

Shah Jahan constructed a new city, mosque and palace fort at Delhi to be called after him Shahjahanabad. The Red Fort at Delhi is an oblong, 3100 feet length and 1650 feet broad, enclosed by lofty wall of red sandstone. Its public entrance called Lahori Gate. The Jami’ Masjid of Delhi represents the consummation of mosque architecture. It is the largest mosque in India, and has been built on such a lofty plinth that its domes and minarates dominate the city. Architecturally it is above criticism and in its own way an expression of perfection. Jami’ Masjid at Agra, built by Shah Jahan in honor of his daughter Jahan Ara is only half size of Jami’ Masjid of Delhi.

With the end of Shah Jahan’s rule, the creative impulse of Indian Muslim architecture was exhausted. Wazir Khan’s mosque at Lahore was an experiment in the use of brick and tiles. The Badshahi mosque in the Red Fort at Delhi, built by Aurangzeb has an atmosphere of intimacy but no outstanding architectural merit. Safdarjung’s tomb, built in the middle of the eighteenth century, though following the traditional pattern, lacks the harmony.


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