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Medieval India: Did architecture really develop in the Sultanate time period?

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Northwestern India, which became an important part of early Medieval India, was a land with clearly defined territorial divisions each of which was ruled over by autonomous royal Rajputs. At that time, the more popular religious division was restricted to the various manifestations of Hinduism itself. The architectural styles adopted by the several states at the time were remarkably similar, if not identical in every detail. The most common religion was Hinduism, which was followed by Buddhism and Jainism and had all carved out temples to honour their respective kings.

During the 11th century, Maru Gurjara architecture was introduced in Hinduism. It was introduced during the reign of the Chalukya dynasty. It mainly originated from Western states like Gujarat and Rajasthan. After some time Jaina temples used this architecture and made it famous. Art Historians researched and they stated that probably the same carvers were commissioned in the temples of Hinduism and Jainism. Buddhist Vihara continue to be unique as they were constructed during the reign of Mauryas and Kushanas.

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Another architectural style known as Trabeate gained popularity in the late 7th century CE and the widespread adoption that followed quickly made it popular with all Hindu rajas by the end of the 8th century CE. Temples started to be built with a shikhara (conical structure on top). Under the Trabeate style roofs, doors, and windows were made by placing a horizontal beam across two vertical columns. Stone was one of the important components of the Trabeate style. Trabeat was present everywhere during the following five centuries, including temples, palaces, forts, aristocratic homes, royal retreats, and rest areas. However, under the capable leadership of Muhammad Ghori of Ghur, Islam- a relatively new religious order that had been eyeing India for centuries- marched on forward in 1192 CE for an ultimate face-off against Prithviraj Chauhan of the Chahamana dynasty. Finally, they captured the Northwestern part and destroyed the relics which was against their belief.

The Islamic takeover of India was effectively established in 1192 CE. It cannot be said that there was a direct transition to new Architectural styles immediately. Qutabuddin Aibak started building the first Friday Mosque Quwwat ul-Islam. The foundational inscription that was inscribed on the eastern gate, which is currently the major public entry, is the aspect of this structure that has generated debate. According to a statement attributed to Qutbuddin Aibek, 27 Hindu and Jain temples were destroyed in order to construct the congregational mosque. After some time, came a new Architectural style known as the Arcuate style, also known as the Indo-Saracenic style, which replaced the Trabeate pattern at that time. It was first seen in monuments under the Mamluk Sultans. Under the Arcuate style, domes and arches were used. Domes were built on top of the Mosques. The Delhi Sultans never actually commissioned any monument that could compare to the splendour and majesty of the later Mughals, but their buildings do exhibit a variety of architectural features that were previously considered bizarre from the Indian perspective. The Adhai din ka Jhopra in Ajmer, the Qutub Minar in Delhi, and the Quwat-ul-Islam mosque, which was built on the grounds of the Qutub Minar complex, were some notable monuments where the early Mamluk architectural developments can be seen most prominently.

A significant aspect of the architecture under the Mamluks was that it frequently remodelled pre-existing Hindu and Jain temples, but evidence also suggests that the towering Qutub Minar was an original design by the first Sultan Qutbuddin Aibak and was later completed by Iltutmish, his son in law. So we can obviously say that the Mamluk dynasty was important as it laid the foundations of the Indo Islamic architecture.

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But perhaps the most well-known and well-liked aspect of Islamic architecture is its hemispherical dome, which is built atop a monument and gives it a symmetrical appearance as well as strength, durability, and protection. The first example of this can be found in the Alai Darwaza, which was built around the year 1311 CE under the direction of the second Khilji and one of the most powerful rulers to ever rule Delhi, Alauddin Khilji. The Alai Darwaza, the first of its kind to have been built entirely from red sandstone and white marble, is appropriately described as a three-dimensional cube with a hemisphere on top (while it looks to be a cube, the dimensions somewhat differ from one another). The interior features arches, elaborate arabesque calligraphy, and marble latticework for the windows.

It should be noted that Orientalist James Marshall points out that the Tughlaq monuments and tombstones, in addition to using orthodox Turkish architecture, did have Hindu influences in it as well in his book "Cambridge History of India,". Nitin Singhania, in his book "Indian Art and Culture", refers to the time period of the Tughlaq dynasty as the "crisis period." The more common arches and windows were once more replaced with trabeat lintels. While there is no denying the fact that architecture suffered during the Tughlaq reign, tombs made of grey sandstone and some cities, such as Tughlaqabad and Firozabad, were nevertheless given construction orders.

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The only monuments commissioned during the Sayyid dynasty were the tombs of the emperors, his family, and his friends. This dynasty is well known for its disregard for architecture. The Makhdum Sabzwari Mosque, a neglected, unidentified, and 15th-century Timurid edifice is still located on the grounds of Hauz Khas. The absence of any elaborate adornment or complex detailing, as had been done by the Khaljis and the Tughlaqs, was the most intriguing aspect of these monuments. Since it is commonly known that the Lodis had designed specific royal gardens for their recreation, it is possible that the sculptures were abandoned because the Lodi kings were less interested in architectural styles. After Babur's victory at Panipat in 1526 and the subsequent retreat of local ambitions, Indo-Saracenic architecture—if not the Sultanate as a whole—continued to have an impact on Indian cultural practices, but in a grander, more opulent way.


By Souvik Biswas

Souvik Biswas is a Third-year student from Hindu College. Being marked as a bibliophile and cinephile, Souvik states that he hates billionaires and dreams of a casteless and classless society.



Cambridge History of India

Nitin Singhania "Indian Art and Culture 4th edition"

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