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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.


Indo-Islamic architecture encompasses a wide range of styles from various backgrounds that helped shape the architecture of the Indian subcontinent from the advent of Islam in the Indian subcontinent around the 7th century. It has left influences on modern Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi architecture. Both secular and religious buildings are influenced by Indo-Islamic architecture which exhibit Indian, Islamic, Persian, Central Asian, Arabic and Ottoman Turkish influences, many of which themselves were influenced by Indian architecture through the spread of Indian culture before the advent of Islam.

Indo-Islamic architecture can be categorized into three broad classes, consisting of monuments built by the Delhi Sultans, the Mughals and the regional emperors.

Categories of Styles

Indo-Islamic architecture can be categorized into three broad classes, consisting of monuments built by the Delhi Sultans, the Mughals and the regional emperors.

Architectural Influences

The Mughal Empire, an Islamic empire that lasted in India from 1526 to 1764 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. The major examples of Mughal Architecture are:

  1. Tombs, such as Taj Mahal, Akbar’s Tomb and Humayun’s Tomb
  2. Forts, such as Red Fort, Lahore Fort, Agra Fort and Lalbagh Fort
  3. Mosques, such as Jama Masjid and Badshahi Masjid


The exterior decorations of the buildings include calligraphy, abstract forms, verses from the Koran, and vegetable motifs, executed in paint, stucco, carvings, and pietra dura work.

The interior decorations also feature inlay work of precious and semi-precious gemstones. Muslim tradition forbids elaborate decoration of graves. However, the inner tombs of the rulers featured cenotaphs, or false tombs, that are richly decorated with inlays of semi-precious stones forming vines and flowers and surrounded by jali screens, or latticed screens with ornamental patterns constructed through the use of calligraphy and geometry.

Material for Construction

Humayun’s Tomb was the first Indian building to use the Persian double dome, with an outer layer supporting a white marble exterior—a material not seen in earlier Mughal architecture—and the inner layer giving shape to the cavernous interior volume.

At Agra, the tomb of Itmad-ud-Daula, completed in 1628, was built entirely of white marble and decorated in elaborate pietra dura mosaic, an inlay technique of using cut and fitted, highly polished colored stones to create images.

During Aurangzeb’s reign (1658–1707), brick and rubble with stucco ornamentation replaced squared stone and marble as the building materials of choice.


The Agra fort is a UNESCO world heritage site in Agra, Uttar Pradesh . The major part of Agra fort was built by Akbar during 1565 to 1574. The architecture of the fort clearly indicates the free adoption of the Rajput planning and construction. Some of the important buildings in the fort are Jahangiri Mahal built for Jahangir and his family, the Moti Masjid, and Mena Bazaars. The Jahangir Mahal is an impressive structure and has a courtyard surrounded by double-storeyed halls and rooms.

The whole of the Golkonda Fort complex and its surrounding spreads across 11 km of total area, and discovering its every nook is an arduous task. Divided into four district forts, the architectural valour still gleams in each of the apartments, halls, temples, mosques, and even stables.

The Gwalior fort spreads out over an area of 3 square km, surrounded by concrete walls of sandstone. The Gwalior fort encloses three temples, six palaces and numerous water tanks. At a point of time Gwalior fort was regarded as North and Central India’s most invincible fortress. The fort was built by Raja Man Singh Tomar in the 15th century. The Teli-ka-Mandir is the most famous of all the temples of the Gwalior fort. This temple was built in the Dravidian style shrine and is notable for its generously sculpted exterior. The Saas-Bahu Temples (two pillared temples which stand next to each other, one larger than the other) are also fascinating. Other significant palaces within the Gwalior Fort include the Karan Palace, the Jahangir Mahal, the Shah Jahan Mahal and the Gujri Mahal (built by Man Singh for his favorite queen, Mrignayani).


Qutub Minar or Qutb Minar, a 73 m  high tower made of red sandstone and marble is not only the highest brick minaret in the world but also one of the most famous historical landmarks of India. The construction of this tower of victory was started by the founder of the Mamluk Dynasty in Delhi, Qutb ud-Din Aibak and completed by his successor and son-in-law Iltutmish.

Chand Minar is at Daulatabad. It was built in the Turkish style in 1435 by Ala-ud-din Bahmani to celebrate his occupation of the fort. This minaret is an outstanding example of Islamic art.
This 30-metre high tower is divided into four storeys. It has 24 chambers and a small mosque at its base. It is covered with the Persian blue tiles that make the Chand Minar outstanding.  Path passes bastions; studded gates, a drawbridge and the Chini Mahal, where Abdul Hasan Tana Shah, the last King of Golconda, was imprisoned in 1687 for 13 years are the important attractions of the tomb. There is also a 6.6m long ‘Kila Shikan’ (Fort Breaker) iron cannon on the bastion.


The Mughal kings were excessively self-important. Their tombs are set in gardens. Respected as shrines they survive in good condition and are the places most deserving the appellation ‘Mughal Gardens. Babur was buried in his Agra garden (believed to be the Ram Bagh) though his body was moved to the Bagh-e Babur in Kabul.

Humayun (1508-1556) is buried in a tomb garden in Delhi. Akbar (1542-1605) is uried in a tomb garden at Sikandra, outside Agra. Jahangir (1569-1627) was buried in a tomb garden at Shahdara, outside Lahore.

Shah Jahan (1592-1666) was buried beside his wife in the Taj Mahal, Agra. The last years of his life were spent as his son’s prisoner, in Agra Fort.

Aurangzeb (1618-1707) was buried in a simple tomb with no mausoleum, at Khuldabad, outside Daulatabad.


Uniformly square in design and built around a large open courtyard, the sarais had smalls rooms built into their outer wall for people to rest the night in. There was a mosque to pray at as well as food and drink for both the people and their animals. To top it all, the Emperors and provincial governors ensured the presence of a strong garrison at the sarais to protect merchants from brigand attacks

Sarai Amanat Khan was built when the Mughal economy was booming and the architectural glory of Agra, Delhi and Lahore, when taken together was unsurpassed in Asia at that point. The sarai has a direct link with the building which occupies the central position in that glory, the Taj Mahal. Amanat Khan was the legendary calligrapher of the Taj. His work – elegant in form and precise in design – continues to amaze millions of visitors to India’s premier heritage site. History is full of ironies and the sarai is the site of one of the more bitter ones.

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