Saturday, August 29, 2009

Indo-Islamic architecture

Indo-Islamic architecture describing architectural and decorative elements

The fabulous wealth of India and the genuine religious enthusiasm to spread Islam in India attracted the Arabs initially. Muhammad-bin-Qasim, was the first Arab who conquered Sindh in 712 AD. He however could not consolidate the power of Arabs and was called back to Caliph. After this Mehmood Ghaznavi invaded India seventeen times and plundered its wealth. In 1026 he carried out the infamous attack on the Somnath temple. He was indeed the founder of Turkish wealth and a forerunner to Muhammad Ghauri and Babur. Ghauri invaded and won the second battle against Prithviraj Chauhan in 1192. This conquest led to the eventual establishment of long era of muslim rulers in India beginning with the Slave dynasty in 1206 to the Mughal rulers in 1857.

The conquest gave way to the Islamic thought and the culture that they brought along with. Muslims made an effective and distinct impact on the indigenous way of life and among other expressions of art also lent a distinct personality to the architecture in India. Infact the building of temples and stupas witnessed a downturn and mosques, madrassas and tombs started to be built. Though various Islamic architectural elements reached India the artisans that were mainly of Hindu origin introduced their own traditional decorative and style elements, thus giving rise to a style that came to be known as Indo-Islamic architecture. The Indo-Islamic style was neither strictly Islamic nor strictly Hindu. The architecture of the medieval period can be divided into two main categories. They are the Delhi or the Imperial Style and the Mughal Architecture. The Imperial Style developed under the patronage of the Sultans of Delhi. The Mughal Architecture was a blend of the Islamic Architecture of Central Asia and the Hindu Architecture of India.

The Indian architecture was based on trabeate system containing lintel, pillars and conical corbelled dome. Whereas, the Islamic architecture was on the arcrate system i.e an arched doorway holding the weight of drum and dome by creating squinches in the upper corners of the hall.

The Islamic buildings consists mainly of the masjid (mosque), maqbara(tomb), madrassa(college),minar(minaret) and qila(forts) etc. The factor common to both the temples and mosques was the use of decorative elements. In both the decorative elements were given a high priority, however the contrast was equally striking. The prayer chamber of the mosque was spacious, whereas the shrine of the temple was comparatively small. The mosque was light and open, whereas the temple was dark and closed. The difference between the lay-out of a temple and a mosque is explained by the essential difference between the Hindu and Muslim forms of worship and prayer. A cell to house the image of the deity, garbha-griha, and often small hall or the mandapa in front for the worshippers was regarded adequate for a simple Hindu temple. But the Islamic form of worship, with its emphasis on congregational prayer, requires a spacious courtyard with a large prayer hall, pointing towards Mecca. In the rear wall of the prayer-hall, the centre is occupied by a recess or alcove, called mihrab; and indicates the direction of prayer (quibla). A pulpit (mimber) at its right is meant for the imam who leads the prayer. A tower or minaret, originally intended for the muazzin to call the faithful to the prayer, later assumed a mere architectural character. A gallery or compartment of the prayer hall or some other part was screened off to accommodate the ladies who observed purdah. The main entrance to a mosque is on the east, and the sides are enclosed by cloisters (liwans). A tank is provided for ablutions usually in the courtyard of a mosque.

The practice of the burial of the dead, as distinct from the cremation practised by the Hindus, led to the building of tombs. The essential elements of the tomb are a domed chamber (hujra) with a cenotaph(zarih) in center, a

mihrab in the western wall and the real grave (qabr) in an underground

chamber(maqbara). In larger and more complex tombs, in the case of royal heads etc. there is also a mosque, and well planned garden. The entry to the tomb is from the south, as the dead are buried with their head pointing the northern direction.

The mode, theme or motifs or ornamentation employed in Islamic buildings also made a departure from the earlier vogues. The Hindu style or ornamentation is largely naturalistic showing human and animal forms and the luxuriant vegetation life. As among the Muslims the representation of living beings was taboo by way of decoration or ornamentation, they introduced geometrical and arabesque patterns, ornamental writing and formal representation of plant and floral life.

The Hindu art on one hand has been rhythmic and vibrant whereas the muslim art is characterised by the formal layouts and geometric designs. Calligraphy formed a major element in the decoration of the monument. The ornamental designs in Islamic building were carved in low relief, cut on plaster, painted or inlaid.

The creative monumental activity of the muslims is marked by two phases. In the first phase, the earlier hindu temples were purposefully demolished and the rubble used for construction as is the case of the Quwwat-ul-islam. The later phase was more formal and better planned and was made by the appropriate material, at times shipped from the foreign shores. The first phase of monuments were mainly erected during the Sultanate period and the second phase may be associated with the Mughal period.

Some unique and multifarious architectural elements of the Islamic monuments may be classified as: a) Main gateway(iwan), b) courtyard(sahn), c) water pond(vazu)in the center of the courtyard, d) cloisters or the pillared verandahs used as either madrassas or shelters by the worshippers, e) sanctuary hall (aiywan); a prayer hall having three or five

arched openings (trimukhi or panchmukhi), f) recessed nice or qibla wall (miharb) i.e a blind arch recessed in semi-octagonal wall decorated with Quranic verses, inlay work etc. g) pulpit (member) an elevated stand used by the Imam to announce the namaz h) squinches, architectural device created to convert the upper portion of a square room into an octagonal i) dome or

gumbad indicating the supremancy of the almighty. Mostly the mosques have a single and the tomb double domes. j) arch variously shaped like a horse shoe/ semi-circular, true arches were introduced by the muslims. k) spandrel is upper cornered triangular space on both sides of an arch of the iwan. l) minar or a tower in the mosque for the azan.

Certain decorative elements include a) stalactite or the muqrana style, a honey comb motif, adopted to also fill the space at squinches lending greater support. Created below Qutab minar’s balconies, it is the first evidence of the use of this design in India. b) geometric shapes used as part of the decoration also have symbolic significance. For example a circle represents water, a square represents earth, rectangle the sky, triangle symbolises fire, and moon the wind or vayu, and the star seat of creation or power. c) arabesque, purely Islamic in nature, they are characterised by the interlacing stems and lines. d) calligraphy an art used liberally in inlay and low relief to write inscriptions on the monuments. They are written in various scripts including naskh, taliq,tulluth etc. e) finials or the crowns of the domes. f) purnakalash, a symbol of plenty considered auspicious, by the hindus, has also been adopted by the Mughals. g) Star of David six-pointed star created by combining two triangles, found on spandrels of the arches. h) inverted lotus, yet another hindu and Buddhist symbol adopted by the Mughals, and used both as the inverted as well as in the blooming form. i) chevron or the zig zag pattern is a Persian ornamentation used by the Mughals in india. j) glazed tiles, used both for architectural strength and ornamentation. k) stucco, to smoothen the surface for making incised, low relief of painting work. l) mosaic or pietra dura a complicated and laborious technique it is used in many monuments including Humayun’s tomb, Taj mahal, and tomb of Akbar.

The Sultanate Period:

Post his victory, Muhammad Ghauri deputed Qutub-ud-din Aibak as his governor to look after the affairs of India. Aibak, a slave of Ghauri had captured Meerut in 1192, Delhi in 1193, Gwalior in 1195 and Ajmer in 1196. After Ghauri was assassinated, Qutub-ud-din Aibak declared himself as Sultan of delhi in 1206. Though the formal foundation of Slave Dynasty was laid in 1206, Aibak’s architectural career had begun much earlier in 1193 when he conquered Delhi. To commemorate this decisive victory of Islam over the Hindus, he raised the earliest surviving mosque in India at Delhi; the Quwwat-ul-islam (might of Islam) mosque. Adjoining the mosque is the minar or the tower possibly raised as both the tower of victory and a minar attached to the mosque for the muadhin to call for the prayer (azzan). The minar was completed by Illtutmish, Aibak’s successor and son-in-law, who also enlarged the mosque.

The Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque

The iconoclastic zeal of Aibak led to the destruction and defacing of hindu temples. The site of the mosque is known as the first city of Delhi. Aibak demolished 27 Hindu and Jain temples, and with their carved columns, lintels, ceiling-slabs, and rubble completed the Quwwat-ul-islam in 1198 AD. The massive stone screen with five graceful arches, the central one being the highest, not built on the true arch principle with voussoirs and key-stone, but by corbelling the successive courses (a system known to Indian masons for over 2,000 years) it is a trabeate construction, with lintels holding up the top and the arch only an ornamental false element. The mosque is distinguished by a 212 by 150-foot open rectangular courtyard, which is contained, on three sides, by rows and column pillaged from the temples. The pillars have spogtted joints, and the height of these pillars is 13 feet and 2 ½ feet wide at the bottem. The hindu motifs, like the purnaghata, shalbhanjikas with their faces defiled, bells and garlands, can still be seen on these columns of the mosque.

Figure 1

Depiction of defaced hindu figures

The outer eastern wall of the mosque is 147 feet long, pierced with four windows and in the center there is a 11 feet wide main arched entrance

gateway covering seven steps made of heavy stone blocks leading to the eastern wall. The western side or the Mecca side is dominated by an open cloister or hall (iwan) emphasised by a grandly carved arcade of five pointed arches. To the south-east of the courtyard soars the Qutab Minar. Aibak had employed Hindu artisans and their beautiful detailed stonework is very evident. Around the mosque’s arches and on the decorative bands encircling the minar the craftsmen carved inscriptions from the Koran, in the Naskhi script, interspersed with intertwining floral designs of Indian origin. Thus, developed a new hybrid art form.

Later, a lofty arched screen was erected and the mosque was enlarged by Shamsu'd-Din Iltutmish (AD 1210-35) and Alau'd-Din Khalji. The Iron Pillar, as was in the temple could not be taken out an thus remains there. It bears an inscription in Sanskrit in Brahmi script of fourth century AD, according to which the pillar was set up as a Vishnudhvaja (standard of god Vishnu) on the hill known as Vishnupada in memory of a mighty king named Chandra. A deep socket on the top of the ornate capital indicates that probably an image of Garuda was fixed into it.

Figure 2

Iron pillar and part of the mosque

As per the inscription on a pillar of one of the arches of the screen this mosque was constructed under the supervison of Fazl-bin-Abi’l Maali.

The Alai-Darwaza, the southern gateway of the mosque was built by Allaudin Khilji in 1311 by enlarging the Quwwat-ul-­Islam Mosque's enclosures of colonnades and providing them two gateways. Built of red sandstone it is 17.2 meters square in shape with arched openings on all sides. It is one of the earliest buildings in India to have employed the Islamic principles of arched construction. Characteristic of the times of Khili, this and other buildings are made constructed in the true arch method in the form of a pointed horseshoe, broad dome, recessed arches under the squinch, perforated windows, inscriptional bands and use of red sandstone relieved by marble. The northern arch is circular while the other three like pointed

horseshoes. The interior is profusely carved with geometrical symbols and inscriptions in the Naqsh script. The decorations interspersed with inscriptional band in white marble make for a very pleasing view. It is also perhaps the earliest building the subcontinent to feature the now typical knob on the dome.

Khilji also aspired to build a minar, the Alai Minar, double the length and circumference of the Qutab minar. The construction of the ambitious minar had started within the same complex but could not be completed due to his death.

Figure 3

Delicately carved Mihrab in Iltutmish’s tomb

Just outside the extension of the Quwwat-ul-islam mosque, done by Iltutmish, he built a tomb for himself in 1230 AD. It is a square room of 29 ½ feet, and is towards the north-west of the mosque. The tomb has a plain exterior, though its interior is very delicately and profusely decorated. Infact it almost seems like lace work in stone. The red sandstone of the interiors is decorated with quranic verses and scrolls in various designs in low relief. On the western side are the three beautifully decorated mihrabs. The tomb is carved with inscriptions in Kufi and Nashk characters and geometrical and arabesque pattern in the Saracenic tradition, though several motifs from the hindu culture have also been borrowed. Among these are the wheel, bell-and-chain, tassels, lotus and diamond. Fergusson has described it as “one of the richest examples of Hindu art applied to Muhammadan purposes.”

Figure 4

Squinches in Iltutmish tomb

The Mughal Period

The Mughal period in india maybe dated from 1526 to 1857 AD with Babur being its first ruler. At the end of the first quarter of the sixteenth century the the then sultan of Delhi Ibrahim Lodi was displaced by Babur at Panipat. Babur spent four years consolidating his power but died an untimely death in 1530. He was a man tempered by a sensitivity to scholarly and aesthetic pursuits. His son Humayun became the first true emperor. He ascended the throne in 1530 but was ousted to exile with his wives in 1540, though he returned to power after 15 years. He died within a year in 1556. During his reign he got the Jamali-kamali masjid completed, it was probably the first time that inverted lotus was used here in the Mughal architecture. He also laid and built the foundations of a new city of Delhi, Dinpanah. When Humayun died from falling off a flight of stairs, his first wife Bega Begum commenced his tomb. Unlike most Muslim rulers Humayun had not built his own tomb.

Now a landmark monument, it stands a testimony to the splendour of the Mughal era, and Humanyun’s tomb is a World heritage Site.

Humayun’s Tomb

The construction of the tomb commenced in the year 1565 AD by his first wife Bega Begum aka Haji Begum, nine years after his death. Mirak Mirza Ghiyath, a Persian architect was employed for the purpose. The tomb is a beautiful synthesis of Persian architecture combined with Indian traditions. The Persian features are reflected in arched alcoves, corridors, and the high double dome, and Indian traditions by octagonal kiosks, that gives it a pyramidal profile, and also by such features as the use of beam and lintel in dalans.

It was ironically a woman who set the tone for Mughal architecture. The building inaugurates a sequence of grand Mughal mausolea. This masculine synthesis of design sensibilities probably formed the basic model for the Taj Mahal. Although according to Islam the grave be covered only by earth and be open to sky, the Mughals turned mausoleum making into an art.


Figure 6

Charbagh Pattern

Raised on a vast platform, the tomb proper stands in the centre of a square garden, divided into 4 main parts by causeways in the centre of which ran shallow water-channels. The garden complex is divided mainly into four compartments further being sub-divided into many square parts (a typical example of Mughal char-bagh), with causeways and water channels, and water pavilions at regular intervals.

The tomb complex is enclosed by a high rubble wall; entered through two entrance gateways, one on the west and other on the south. The lofty tower-like gateways are a precursor to the magnificent tomb and adds to its grandeur. The south gate rises to a height of nearly 15.5 metres and consists of a central octagonal hall flanked rectangular rooms. The first floor of the gateway has square and oblong rooms. On the outside, the gate is flanked by screen-walls with arched recesses. Immediately to the west of the south gateway is an enclosure measuring 146 metres by 32 metres, built against the exterior face of the enclosure wall. The building is a low-roofed one with 25 arched entrances and was meant to house the attendants of the royal tomb. A baradari occupies the center of the eastern wall and a bath enclosure (hammam) on that of the northern wall. The hammam stands on a 7 feet high platform, and there is a pond in the middle of the hammam which used to be filled with water from a well which was constructed just out side the enclosure wall. The walls on the either side of the two gateways contained arched cells. The gateways are built of grey stone, ornamented with bands and bosses of red stone interspersed at some places with marble. The building medium in the Humayun’s Tomb is of three kinds of stones, viz., red sandstone, while marble and quartzite. The enclosure walls and the two gateways are constructed of local quartzite with red sandstone dressing and marble inlay. The stairs of platform of the main tomb is also dressed with quartzite.

In the center of the garden is a stone and masonary platform about 5 feet raised from the ground. A 20 feet terrace on this, has 72 alcove arched openings ornamented with white marble bands. In the center of each of the four sides of the terrace, arched doors with stairs lead one to the top of the terrace, at the center of which is located the main tomb. Both the terrace and the platform are paved with sandstone. The main tomb is located below the monument and is approached through a horizontal passage to the east of southern stair. The arched openings of the platform contain many miscellaneous tombs.

The main tomb houses the grave of Humayun and is made of white marble without any inscription and is encompassed by four octagonal chambers at diagonals and arched lobbies on the sides and their openings are closed with perforated screens or jaalis. The chambers houses many tombs of the emperor’s family. The south-eastern room contains three graves of Humayun’s daughters; the south-western room has graves of Bahadur Shah Alam and his wife, whereas the north-eastern room contains the graves of Humayun’s two wives.

Jaali work

The octagonal tomb is surmounted by a double dome supported by squinches. The employment of double dome in a mausoleum is first seen here and this gives the builder the advantage of building an imposing structure of enormous height, tactfully concealing the presence of double domes on the outside. While the exterior height gives an imposing look, the low ceiling of the lower dome gives a proportionate height of the interior features. The pattern of constructing double domes was already prevalent in West Asia during this period which was first introduced in the Humayun’s tomb. The inner of the double dome is made of bricks having blind oblong arches and there are two steeped openings on western and eastern side for ventilation. All Mughal domes were full domes, whereas all previous domes were half-domes or only half semi-circles.

The double dome roofs the central mortuary chamber and this 74 feet high white marbled dome stands on a 25 feet high cylindrical drum sporting black stone medallions. Around the drum at each corner there is a pillared octagonal kiosk (chattri) standing on stepped platform roofing the cornered compartments. A brass finial tops off the dome.

There is a certain rhythmic quality in the whole structure in its symmetrical design and the repetition of the large dome in the similar pavillions with small but similar domes.

The Humayun’s Tomb is also famously associated with the tragic capture of the last of the Mughal Emperors, Bahadur Shah Zafar, along with the three princes Mirza Mughal, Mirza Khizar Sultan and Mirza Abu Bakr by Lieutenant Hodson in 1857. The Mughal Emperor along with the princes was captured by Hodson on 22 September, 1857.

The Humayun’s Tomb complex also houses many other prominent buildings which are examples of architecture of the period preceding and succeeding Humayun. The prominent among them are:

Nai ka Gumbad or Barber’s Tomb
This double-domed square tomb is located at the south-east corner in the garden complex. The tomb is datable to 1590-91, through an inscription found inside. The persons interned in the two graves of this tomb are unknown, however it is said to have been built for the Emperor’s favorite barber.

Nila Gumbad
The monument is located outside the eastern enclosure wall. An impressive tomb of plastered stone covered with a dome of blue tiles led to it being called as Nila Gumbad. Externally octagonal in appearance it is square within and the ceiling is profusely decorated with painted and incised plaster. It is believed to contain the remains of one Fahim Khan, the attendant of Abdur Rahim Khan, who lived during the reign of Jahangir. The attendant died in 1626 A.D.

Consists of a large enclosure adjoining the south-western corner of Humayun’s tomb. It is divided into two quadrangles by a series of cells provided with a gateway in its center.

The sarai or the shelter was built by Haji Begum, the widow of Humayun in 1560-61 to house the three hundred Arab priests, who were said to have been brought with her from her pilgrimage to Mecca. Another version is that the building housed the Persian workers and craftsmen who were actually engaged in building the Humayun’s Tomb.

Afsarwala Mosque
Within the eastern enclosure of the Arab Sarai lies a mosque on a raised platform. Its prayer-chamber is faced by three arched openings, the central bay being roofed by a dome.

Afsarwala Tomb
The tomb is located adjacent to the Afsarwala Mosque, on the same raised platform. It is an octagonal tomb with double dome. The identity of the afsar or the officer who raised these buildings is not known. However one of the marble graves inside the tomb bears an inscription has a date of 1566-67 A.D.

Bu Halima’s Garden
The visitor entering the Humayun Tomb complex first enters into a garden complex, known as the Bu Halima’s garden. Nothing much is known of the lady; the gateway and two very ornamental chattris are all that remains of the garden.

Tomb of Isa Khan
The octagonal tomb of Isa Khan is located to the south-west of the Bu Halima garden. It is an octagonal garden enclosure, with entrance on the north, in the center of which lies the tomb. The central chamber is surrounded by verandahs and each side is pierced by three arches. The sides of the chamber are closed by stone jaalis except for on the western side that contains a mihrab. A three-domed mosque projects outward from the western side of the octagonal enclosure.

An inscription on a red sandstone slab indicated that the tomb is of Masnad Ali Isa Khan, the Chief chamberlain, during the rein of Sher Shah Sur and his son Islam Shah. An inscription over the mihrab mentions the date 1547-48.

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