The Coming of Islam and New Architectural Forms

The coming of Islam brought in new architectural forms. The Arab conquest of Sind in the year 712 CE changed the power equations in the Indian sub-continent. Thereafter from the 10th century onwards many raids and sieges were undertaken by newly emerging powerful Turkish rulers of areas in present day Afghanistan and Central Asia. The campaigns of Sultan Mahmud Ghazna from late 10th-11th century, culminated in the Turkish conquest of north India in late 12th century under Sultan Muiz ud-Din Mohammad Ghur and his commanders.

Political conquest, however, did not introduce new architectural forms, associated with the new religion of Islam. Mosques had already been built in Sind in the 8thcentury and Muslim traders had managed to build their places of worship and funerary structures of tombs in the port of Bhadreswar in Gujarat (c.1160). These structures, instead of being arcuate, and hence ‘Muslim’, are low ‘Hindu’ trabeate constructions, using Indic column orders with iconographical details of half-lotus and bead-and-reel bands, derived from local traditions. The label ‘Muslim’ and ‘Islamic’, therefore, needs to be questioned as a distinctive category, right from the start. For, when the forms of arch and dome are used in Hindu/Buddhist/Jain temples or when the beam, lintel or pillars are used in mosques, tombs and palaces of Muslim rulers, these architectural forms are never single monolithic cultural categories and do not belong to one religious community. We have seen this earlier as well. This is because architectural forms are socially rooted at all times and go through a process of adaptation and transformation.

The Delhi Sultans, after the establishment of the Sultanate in 1206, were prolific builders who first introduced the architectural forms of masjids (mosques) and maqbaras (tombs), madrasas (centres of learning), tanks, waterworks and caravanserais (inns) on a large scale under royal patronage. Secular architecture of palaces, citadels underwent modification, while new treatment of spaces was introduced. All this was possible because the Turks introduced the use of lime mortar. Built landscape started changing and turrets of mosques could be seen with temple spires. New forms of ornamentation of calligraphy, geometrical and arabesque patterns came to adorn their buildings of the times. Provincial Sultanates from 14thcentury in different regions as well came up with ingenious mosques and tombs, drawing immensely from local regional traditions. The Mughals, coming to power in 1526 in the subcontinent, further added to the rich architectural heritage and introduced their own innovations in design and ornamentation, in techniques and building types. The introduction of the Persian garden architecture is associated with them.

The initial process of adaption of the new forms with the local tradition is best exemplified in the mosques at Delhi (Quwwat ul-Islam, 12th – 13thcentury) and Ajmer (Adhai Din ka Jhompara, 12th-13thcentury). The arches here are corbelled and not ‘true’, domes are low and conical and the decoration is derived from the temple architecture of the vicinity. The mosques visually represent the ‘symbolic appropriation of land’ by the invaders. However, the structures, at the same time, appropriate and use the past tradition and its visual forms. This is against the backdrop of the historical processes of conquest and interaction of politically antagonistic cultures. Material used in these mosques is both old and new. Hindu artisans under their Muslim patrons seem to have even created new forms and patterns, as evidenced from the visual forms. These mosques actually, represent the beginning of a movement towards unity and fusion of two different architectural traditions of the conqueror and the conquered. What in the end crystallized into a distinctive Indo-Islamic architectural style, the harmonious balance of Islamic traditions of purity of line and form and the indigenous sculptural quality of architecture, is seen in its formative stages in these structures.

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