Indo-Islamic architecture


Indo-Islamic architecture begins with the Ghurid occupation of India at the close of the 12 century A.D. The Muslims having inherited a wealth of varied designs from Sassanian and Byzantine empires and being naturally endowed with good taste for buildings, never failed to adapt to their own requirements the indigenous architecture of almost every foreign country that they conquered.


The most important factors common to both forms of architecture, especially in respect of mosques and temples, were that to both styles, ornamental decoration was very vital and that the open court in many cases was surrounded by colonnades. But 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 halls 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, pointed towards Mecca, as its western end that is, to the West of India. In the rear wall of the prayer-hall, the centre is occupied by a recess or alcove, calledmihrab; 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.


You would have observed that this style of construction incorporated not only certain new modes and principles but reflected also the religious and social needs of the Muslims. The Muslim style of construction was based on arches, vaults and domes, on columns and pyramidal towers or slender spires, called trabeate.


In the Hindu style of construction spaces were spanned corbels, held together by making courses project, each further than the one below, so that the open span was gradually reduced to a size which could be covered with a single slab or brick. Although there exists some evidence to suggest that the true arch may have been known in India earlier, it is the Muslims who are believed to have brought the principle of building a true arch so as to hold up the roof or ceiling or a top part of a structure, the bricks or stones laid to reproduce a curve, held together by the key-stone on the top of the rise. In many cases even if the true arch was familiar to indigenous architects in ancient times, it was re-introduced by the Muslims.


The result was that flat lintels or corbelled ceilings were replaced by arches or vaults, and the pyramidal roof or spire by the dome. The necessity of raising a round dome over a square construction introduced multiplication of sides and angles by providing squinches so that a base with many sides usually 16, could be obtained to raise a circular drum for the dome. A sunshade or balcony was laid on cantilever brackets fixed into the projection from the walls, which introduced the chajja (caves or sunshade). The practice of the burial of the dead, as distinct from the cremation practised by the Hindus, chamber, a mihrab in the western wall and the real grave (qabr) in an underground chamber. 


In larger and more complex tombs, there is also a mosque, and well planned garden. 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. In short the contribution of the Muslims to Indo-Muslim architecture is profound and no less interesting. Among the architectural features introduced by them mention may be made of arches, domes, minars and minarets, the pendentive, squinch arch, half domed double portals, kiosks (chhatris) and the use of concrete as a factor of construction. They also introduced gilding and painting in varied colours and designs. 


Muslim decorative elements are usually of the nature of embroidery. Even though lime was known and to certain extent used in construction work in India fairly early, mud was generally used for brick work and large blocks of stones were laid one on top of the other and held by means of iron clamps. 



The Muslims, like the Romans, were also responsible for making extensive use of concrete and lime mortar as an important factor of construction and incidentally used lime as plaster and a base for decoration which was incised into it and held enamel work on tiles.