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Tomb of Shah Rukn-e-Alam (built 1320 to 1324) in Multan, Pakistan
The Buland Darwaza gateway to Fatehpur Sikri, built b Akbar in 1601

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.[1]

The types and forms of large buildings required by Muslim elites, with mosques and tombs much the most common, were very different from those previously built in India. The exteriors of both were very often topped by large domes, and made extensive use of arches. Both of these features were hardly used in Hindu temple architecture and other native Indian styles. Both types of building essentially consisted of a single large space under a high dome, and completely avoided the figurative sculpture so important to Hindu temples.[2]

Islamic buildings initially had to adapt the skills of a workforce trained in earlier Indian traditions to their own designs. Unlike most of the Islamic world, where brick tended to predominate, India had highly skilled builders very well used to producing stone masonry of extremely high quality.[3] As well as the main style developed in Delhi and later Mughal centres, a variety of regional styles grew up, especially where there were local Muslim rulers. By the Mughal period, generally agreed to represent the peak of the style, aspects of Islamic style began to influence architecture made for Hindus, with even temples using scalloped arches, and later domes. This was especially the case in palace architecture.

Indo-Islamic architecture has left influences on modern Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi architecture, and was the main influence on the so-called Indo-Saracenic Revival architecture introduced in the last century of the British Raj. Both secular and religious buildings are influenced by Indo-Islamic architecture. The style includes influences from Indian, Islamic, Persian, Central Asian, Arabic and Ottoman Turkish architecture.


Architecture of the Delhi SultanateEdit

The Qutb Minar (left, begun c. 1200) next to the Alai Darwaza gatehouse (1311); Qutb Complex in Delhi

The best-preserved example of a mosque from the days of the infancy of Islam in South Asia is the ruined mosque at Banbhore in Sindh, Pakistan, from the year 727, from which only the plan can be deduced.[4]

The start of the Delhi Sultanate in 1206 under Qutb al-Din Aibak introduced a large Islamic state to India, using Central Asian styles.[5] The important Qutb Complex in Delhi was begun under Muhammad of Ghor, by 1199, and continued under Qutb al-Din Aibak and later sultans. The Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque, now a ruin, was the first structure. Like other early Islamic buildings it re-used elements such as columns from destroyed Hindu and Jain temples, including one on the same site whose platform was reused. The style was Iranian, but the arches were still corbelled in the traditional Indian way.[6]

Beside it is the extremely tall Qutb Minar, a minaret or victory column, whose original four stages reach 73 meters (with a final stage added later). Its closest comparator is the 62-metre all-brick Minaret of Jam in Afghanistan, of around 1190, a decade or so before the probable start of the Delhi tower.[7] The surfaces of both are elaborately decorated with inscriptions and geometric patterns; in Delhi the shaft is fluted with "superb stalactite bracketing under the balconies" at the top of each stage.[8] The Tomb of Iltutmish was added by 1236; its dome, the squinches again corbelled, is now missing, and the intricate carving has been described as having an "angular harshness", from carvers working in an unfamiliar tradition.[9] Other elements were added to the complex over the next two centuries.

Another very early mosque, begun in the 1190s, is the Adhai Din Ka Jhonpra in Ajmer, Rajasthan, built for the same Delhi rulers, again with corbelled arches and domes. Here Hindu temple columns (and possibly some new ones) are piled up in threes to achieve extra height. Both mosques had large detached screens with pointed corbelled arches added in front of them, probably under Iltutmish a couple of decades later. In these the central arch is taller, in imitation of an iwan. At Ajmer the smaller screen arches are tentatively cusped, for the first time in India.[10]

Tomb of Ghiyath al-Din Tughluq (d. 1325), Delhi

By around 1300 true domes and arches with voussoirs were being built; the ruined Tomb of Balban (d. 1287) in Delhi may be the earliest survival.[11] The Alai Darwaza gatehouse at the Qutb complex, from 1311, still shows a cautious approach to the new technology, with very thick walls and a shallow dome, only visible from a certain distance or height. Bold contrasting colours of masonry, with red sandstone and white marble, introduce what was to become a common feature of Indo-Islamic architecture, substituting for the polychrome tiles used in Persia and Central Asia. The pointed arches come together slightly at their base, giving a mild horseshoe arch effect, and their internal edges are not cusped but lined with conventionalized "spearhead" projections, possibly representing lotus buds. Jali, stone openwork screens, are introduced here; they already had been long used in temples.[12]

Tughlaq architectureEdit

The tomb of Shah Rukn-e-Alam (built 1320 to 1324) in Multan, Pakistan is a large octagonal brick-built mausoleum with polychrome glazed decoration that remains much closer to the styles of Iran and Afghanistan. Timber is also used internally. This was the earliest major monument of the (Tughluq or) Tughlaq dynasty (1320–1413), built during the initial huge expansion of its territory, which could not be maintained. It was built for a Sufi saint rather than sultan, and most of the many Tughlaq tombs are much less exuberant. The tomb of the founder of the dynasty, Ghiyath al-Din Tughluq (d. 1325) is more austere, but impressive; like a Hindu temple, it is topped with a small amalaka and a round finial like a kalasha. Unlike the earlier buildings mentioned above, it completely lacks carved texts, and sits in a compound with high walls and battlements. Both these tombs have external walls sloping slightly inwards, by 25° in the Delhi tomb, like many fortifications including the ruined Tughlaqabad Fort opposite the tomb, intended as the new capital.[13]

The Tughlaqs had a corps of government architects and builders, and in this and other roles employed many Hindus. They left many buildings, and a standardized dynastic style.[14] The third sultan, Firuz Shah (r. 1351-88) is said to have designed buildings himself, and was the longest ruler and greatest builder of the dynasty. His Firoz Shah Palace Complex (started 1354) at Hisar, Haryana is a ruin, but parts are in fair condition.[15] Some buildings from his reign take forms that had been rare or unknown in Islamic buildings.[16] He was buried in the large Hauz Khas Complex in Delhi, with many other buildings from his period and the later Sultanate, including several small domed pavilions supported only by columns.[17]

By this time Islamic architecture in India had adopted some features of earlier Indian architecture, such as the use of a high plinth,[18] and often mouldings around its edges, as well as columns and brackets and hypostyle halls.[19] After the death of Firoz the Tughlaqs declined, and the following Delhi dynasties were weak. Most of the monumental buildings constructed were tombs. The architecture of other regional Muslim states was often more impressive.[20]

Regional Muslim states before the MughalsEdit

Arches in the main mosque at Gulbarga, 1367

Many regional styles were mainly developed during the Mughal period. The most significant pre-Mughal developments are covered here.

Bahmani and Deccan SultanatesEdit

The Bahmani Sultanate in the Deccan broke away from the Tughlaqs in 1347, and ruled from Gulbarga, Karnataka and then Bidar until overrun by the Mughals in 1527. The main mosque (1367) in the large Gulbarga Fort or citadel is unusual in having no courtyard. There are a total of 75 domes, all small and shallow and small except for a large one above the mihrab and four lesser ones at the corners. The large interior has a central hypostyle space, and wide aisles with "transverse" arches springing from unusually low down (illustrated). This distinctive feature is found in other Bahmanid buildings, and probably reflects Iranian influence, which is seen in other features such as a four-iwan plan and glazed tiles, some actually imported from Iran, used elsewhere. The architect of the mosque is said to have been Persian.[21]

Some later Bahminid royal tombs are double, with two units of the usual rectangle-with-dome form combined, one for the ruler and the other for his family,[22] as at the Haft Dombad ("Seven Domes") group of royal tombs outside Gulbarga. The Mahmud Gawan Madrasa (begun 1460s) is a large ruined madrasa "of wholly Iranian design" in Bidar founded by a chief minister, with parts decorated in glazed tiles imported by sea from Iran.[23] Outside the city the Ashtur tombs are a group of eight large domed royal tombs. These have domes which are slightly pulled in at the base,[24] looking forward to the onion domes of Mughal architecture.


Choto Sona Mosque (around 1500)

The Bengal Sultanate (1352–1576) normally used brick, as pre-Islamic buildings had done. Stone had to be imported to most of Bengal, whereas clay for bricks is plentiful. But stone was used for columns and prominent details, often re-used from Hindu or Buddhist temples.[25] The Eklakhi Mausoleum at Pandua, Malda or Adina, is often taken to be the earliest surviving Islamic building in Bengal, although there is a small mosque at Molla Simla, Hooghly district, that is probably from 1375, earlier than the mausoleum. The Eklakhi Mausoleum is large and has several features that were to become common in the Bengal style, including a slightly curved cornice, large round decorative buttresses and decoration in carved terracotta brick.[26] These features are also seen in the Choto Sona Mosque (around 1500), which is in stone, unusually for Bengal, but shares the style and mixes domes and a curving "paddy" roof based on village house roofs made of vegetable thatch. Such roofs feature even more strongly in later Bengal Hindu temple architecture, with types such as the do-chala, jor-bangla, and char-chala.[27]

Other buildings in the style are the Nine Dome Mosque and the Sixty Dome Mosque (completed 1459) and several other buildings in the Mosque City of Bagerhat, an abandoned city in Bangladesh that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. These show other distinctive features, such as a multiplicity of doors and mihrabs; the Sixty Dome Mosque has 26 doors (11 at the front, 7 on each side, and one in the rear). These increased the light and ventilation.

The ruined Adina Mosque (1374–75) is very large, which is unusual in Bengal, with a barrel vaulted central hall flanked by hypostyle areas. It is said to be the largest mosque in the sub-continent. The heavy rainfall in Bengal necessitated large roofed spaces, and the nine-domed mosque, which allowed a large area to be covered, was more popular there than anywhere else.[28] After the Muslim absorption of Bengal was complete, some local features continued, especially in smaller buildings, but the Mughals used their usual style in imperial commissions.


Two 14th-century partly wooden mosques in Gilgit-Baltistan, the Pakistani part of Kashmir, are the Chaqchan Mosque in Khaplu (1370) and the Amburiq Mosque in Shigar. Both have stone-built cores with elaborately carved wooden exterior galleries, at Amburiq on two levels, in an adaptation of traditional local styles.

Mughal ArchitectureEdit

Humayun's Tomb, Delhi, the first fully developed Mughal imperial tomb, 1569-70

The Mughal Empire, an Islamic empire that lasted in India from 1526 to 1857 left a mark on Indian architecture that was a mix of Islamic, Persian, Turkish, Arabic, Central Asian and native Indian architecture. A major aspect of Mughal architecture is the symmetrical nature of buildings and courtyards. Akbar, who ruled in the 16th century, made major contributions to Mughal architecture. He systematically designed forts and towns in similar symmetrical styles that blended Indian styles with outside influences. The gate of a fort Akbar designed at Agra exhibits the Assyrian gryphon, Indian elephants, and birds.[29]

During the Mughal era design elements of Islamic-Persian architecture were fused with and often produced playful forms of the Hindustani art. Lahore, occasional residence of Mughal rulers, exhibits a multiplicity of important buildings from the empire, among them the Badshahi mosque (built 1673-1674), the fortress of Lahore (16th and 17th centuries) with the famous Alamgiri Gate, the colourful, the Wazir Khan Mosque,[30] (1634-1635) as well as numerous other mosques and mausoleums. Also the Shahjahan Mosque of Thatta in Sindh originates from the epoch of the Mughals. However, it exhibits partially different stylistic characteristics. Singularly, the innumerable Chaukhandi tombs are of eastern influence. Although constructed between 16th and 18th centuries, they do not possess any similarity to Mughal architecture. The stonemason works show rather typical Sindhi workmanship, probably from before Islamic times. The building activity of the Mughals came close to succumbing by the late 18th century. Afterwards hardly any special native architectural projects were undertaken.

By this time versions of Mughal style had been widely adopted by the rulers of the princely states and other wealthy people of all religions for their palaces and, where appropriate, tombs. Hindu patrons often mixed aspects of Hindu temple architecture and traditional Hindu palace architecture with Mughal elements and, later, European ones.

Major examples of Mughal architecture include:

Taj MahalEdit

The Taj Mahal in Agra.

The most well known example of Mughal architecture is the Taj Mahal. It was built for the wife of Shah Jahan, who died in 1631. The main ideas and themes of garden tombs had already been explored by earlier Mughal emperors, and this was the culmination of all those previous works into a national landmark. The 171 meter white tomb rises above a reflecting pool.

Red FortEdit

The Red Fort in Delhi is also an important example of Mughal Architecture. It was built during the zenith of the Mughal Empire under Shah Jahan. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2007. As one of the largest forts in India, it served as the official residence of the emperor for nearly 200 years.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Yale, 164-165
  2. ^ Harle, 421, 425; Yale, 165; Blair & Bloom, 149
  3. ^ Harle, 424; Yale, 165
  4. ^ Port of Banbhore, UNESCO Tentative list; Yale, 28-29
  5. ^ Harle, 423-424
  6. ^ Yale, 164-165; Harle, 423-424; Blair & Bloom, 149
  7. ^ Also two huge minarets at Ghazni.
  8. ^ Yale, 164; Harle, 424 (quoted); Blair & Bloom, 149
  9. ^ Yale, 164 (quoted); Harle, 425
  10. ^ Blair & Bloom, 149-150; Harle, 425
  11. ^ Harle, 425
  12. ^ Blair & Bloom, 151
  13. ^ Blair & Bloom, 151-156; Harle, 425-426
  14. ^ Blair & Bloom, 151
  15. ^ Blair & Bloom, 154; Harle, 425
  16. ^ Blair & Bloom, 154-156
  17. ^ Blair & Bloom, 154-156; Harle, 425
  18. ^ Blair & Bloom, 149
  19. ^ Blair & Bloom, 156
  20. ^ Harle, 426; Blair & Bloom, 156
  21. ^ Blair & Bloom, 156; Harle, 433
  22. ^ Harle, 433
  23. ^ Harle, 433
  24. ^ Harle, 433
  25. ^ Hasan, 34-35
  26. ^ Hasan, 36-37; Harle, 428
  27. ^ Hasan, 23-25
  28. ^ Hasan, 35-36, 39
  29. ^ Lewis, Bernard. The World of Islam. Thames and Hudson, Ltd. p. 306. ISBN 0-500-27624-2.
  30. ^ Simon Ross Valentine. 'Islam and the Ahmadiyya Jama'at: History, Belief, Practice Hurst Publishers, 2008 ISBN 1850659168 p 63
  1. ^ After the Byzantine Hagia Sophia.


  • Blair, Sheila, and Bloom, Jonathan M., The Art and Architecture of Islam, 1250-1800, 1995, Yale University Press Pelican History of Art, ISBN 0300064659
  • Harle, J.C., The Art and Architecture of the Indian Subcontinent, 2nd edn. 1994, Yale University Press Pelican History of Art, ISBN 0300062176
  • Hasan, Perween, Sultans and Mosques: The Early Muslim Architecture of Bangladesh, 2007, I.B.Tauris, ISBN 1845113810, 9781845113810, google books
  • "Yale":Richard Ettinghausen, Oleg Grabar and Marilyn Jenkins-Madina, 2001, Islamic Art and Architecture: 650-1250, Yale University Press, ISBN 9780300088694

External linksEdit