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Indo-Islamic Architecture – UPSC


Indo-Islamic architecture in India isn’t just a unique form of Islamic architecture or a separate indigenous style. It’s actually a blend of both Islamic and Indian design and techniques, bringing together the influences from both traditions.

History Behind the Indo-Islamic Architecture

  • Islam spread to Spain and India between the seventh and eighth centuries CE, with various factors contributing to its arrival in India over a span of 600 years.
  • Muslim merchants, traders, holy men, and conquerors played a crucial role in bringing Islam to India.
  • This diverse group contributed to the beginning of large-scale building projects in the early thirteenth century, initiated by the Delhi Sultanate after the Turkish conquest of northern India.
  • One striking aspect of these migrations and conquests was the absorption of local cultures and traditions by Muslims.
  • This integration resulted in a modification of architectural elements, leading to the development of Indo-Saracenic or Indo-Islamic architecture.
  • Indo-Saracenic architecture showcases a blend of styles, reflecting the synthesis of Muslim and local Indian architectural practices.
  • This fusion is evident in the incorporation of various elements from both traditions.
  • Hindus traditionally believed in manifestations of gods in multiple forms, expressing their faith through sculptures and paintings on all surfaces.
  • In contrast, Muslims, restricted from depicting living forms, focused on religious art and architecture featuring arabesque, geometrical patterns, and calligraphy on plaster and stone.
  • Hindus embraced a belief in multiple forms of god, whereas Muslims followed a monotheistic faith with Muhammad as their Prophet.
  • Hindus adorned surfaces with diverse sculptures and paintings as a manifestation of their religious beliefs.
  • Muslims, guided by restrictions on depicting living forms, expressed their art through intricate arabesque, geometrical patterns, and calligraphy.

Characteristics of Indo-Islamic Architecture

Typologies of Structure

  • Over time, various architectural buildings such as mosques for daily prayers, grand Jama Masjids, tombs, dargahs, minars, hammams, beautifully designed gardens, educational madrasas, and traveler accommodations like sarais or caravansarais, along with unique Kos minars, were built, taking into account both religious and everyday needs.
  • Despite the influences from Saracenic, Persian, and Turkish styles, Indo-Islamic structures were strongly shaped by the artistic and decorative styles that were popular in India at the time.

Categories of Styles

Indo-Islamic architecture can be divided into different styles based on historical and regional influences:

  • The Imperial Style (Delhi Sultanate)
  • The Provincial Style (Mandu, Gujarat, Bengal, and Jaunpur)
  • The Mughal Style (Delhi, Agra, and Lahore)
  • The Deccani Style (Bijapur, Golconda)

Decorative Forms

  • People back then created designs on plaster by either carving into it or leaving it plain.
  • They added vibrant colors to some designs.
  • Motifs, like various flowers from the subcontinent and Iran, were either painted or carved into stone.
  • These floral designs were not only on ceilings but also on textiles and carpets.
  • Lotus bud fringes were cleverly used in the arches’ inner curves.
  • Arches varied from plain and squat to high and pointed.
  • Walls featured decorations with trees like cypress and chinar, along with flower vases.
  • In the 14th-16th centuries, tiles adorned walls and domes.
  • High and low relief carvings, as well as intricate jalis, were commonly used for decoration.
  • Tessellation and pietra dura techniques were employed for mosaic-like designs, especially in dado panels.
  • Roofs had a mix of central and smaller domes, chatris, and tiny minarets.

Components of Indo-Islamic Architecture


  • Minars, like the Qutub Minar in Delhi and Chand Minar at Daulatabad Fort, were common in medieval India.
  • They were used for the call to prayer (azaan) but also symbolized the ruler’s power due to their impressive height.


  • Medieval India had grand tombs for rulers and royalty.
  • Examples include the tombs of Ghyasuddin Tughlaq, Humayun, Abdur Rahim Khan-i-Khanan, Akbar, and Itmaduddaula.
  • These tombs often featured Quranic verses and were surrounded by gardens or water bodies, reflecting paradise elements.
  • The expansive and stylized spaces around tombs represented the grandeur and might of the person buried.


  • Sarais were simple square or rectangular structures providing temporary accommodation for travelers, including Indian and foreign visitors, pilgrims, merchants, and traders.
  • They served as public spaces where people from diverse backgrounds interacted, leading to cultural influences and syncretic tendencies.

Structures for Common People

  • In medieval India, various architectural styles merged in public and private spaces for non-royal sections of society.
  • This included domestic buildings, temples, mosques, khanqahs (Sufi saints’ hermitages), dargahs, commemorative gateways, pavilions, and bazaars.
  • The blending of styles, techniques, and decorations reflected a harmonious coexistence in the local culture.

Examples of Indo-Islamic Architecture

The City of Mandu

  • Mandu, situated in Madhya Pradesh, has a rich history marked by continuous habitation by various communities like the Parmara Rajputs, Afghans, and Mughals. Serving as the capital city of the Ghauri Dynasty (1401–1561), established by Hoshang Shah, Mandu gained widespread fame.
  • The city’s architecture reflects the medieval provincial style, with influences from the Imperial Delhi structures. While the provincial style in Mandu is considered closely related to Delhi’s structures, it doesn’t boldly showcase distinct local traditions.
  • Mandu’s Indo-Islamic architectural experience is characterized by the remarkable lightness of the structures. The city features a mix of official and residential-cum-pleasure buildings, including palaces, pavilions, mosques, artificial reservoirs, baolis (stepwells), embattlements, and more, creating a complex and diverse architectural landscape.

Humayun’s Tomb

  • The tomb we’re talking about was constructed back in 1570.
  • This tomb holds a special place in history because it was the first garden-tomb ever built on the Indian subcontinent.
  • The person behind its creation was none other than the great Emperor Akbar, who was the son of Humayun.
  • People also call it the ‘dormitory of the Mughals.’ This is because it’s like a final resting place for more than 150 members of the Mughal family.
  • In 1993, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) acknowledged its importance and declared it a World Heritage Site.

Chand Minar

  • This tower, constructed in the 14th century, stands tall with four distinct levels.
  • Originally adorned with chevron-patterned encaustic tile work and Quranic verses, it now sports a charming peach paint.
  • Despite its appearance resembling an Iranian structure, it’s actually a collaborative effort involving local architects as well as those from Delhi and Iran.

Qutub Minar

  • Height and Structure: The Qutub Minar, constructed in the 13th century, stands tall at 234 feet. It’s a tower that tapers as it goes up and is divided into five storeys.
  • Architectural Features: The minar has a unique blend of shapes – some parts are polygonal, while others are circular. This mix gives it a distinctive appearance.
  • Building Materials: The majority of the minar is made from red and buff sandstone, adding to its striking colors and texture.
  • Decorative Elements: One of the standout features is the highly decorated balconies that adorn the minar. These balconies are not just functional but also serve an aesthetic purpose.
  • Inscriptions and Designs: The minar boasts bands of inscriptions woven with foliated designs. These inscriptions and designs add an intricate and artistic touch to the structure.

Jama Masjid

  • Back in medieval times, the Indian subcontinent was dotted with massive mosques that covered vast areas.
  • Every Friday afternoon, these mosques hosted congregational prayers, bringing together the local community.
  • To conduct the prayer, a minimum of forty Muslim men needed to be present.
  • In those days, each city had just one Jama Masjid, serving as a central hub for both Muslim and non-Muslim residents.
  • These mosques were grand, featuring an open courtyard surrounded by cloisters on three sides and the Qibla Liwan.
  • The mihrab (prayer niche) and mimbar (a platform for the preacher) were situated in this space for the Imam, the person leading the prayers.

Gol Gumbad

  • Location: Gol Gumbad is in Bijapur, Karnataka.
  • Purpose: It’s a grand tomb built by Muhammad Adil Shah for himself, the seventh Sultan of the Adil Shahi Dynasty.
  • Construction: Though it’s incomplete, Gol Gumbad is quite remarkable.
  • Features: The tomb isn’t just a standalone structure. It includes a gateway, a Drum house (Naqqar Khana), a mosque, and a sarai, all surrounded by a large walled garden.
  • Architectural Highlights: The main building is a huge square structure with a circular drum on top, crowned by a majestic dome, standing at over two hundred feet tall.
  • Impressive Dome: Gol Gumbad boasts the second-largest dome globally, making it quite a marvel.
  • Whispering Gallery: Along the drum of the dome, there’s a special feature – a whispering gallery. Here, sounds get amplified and echoed multiple times, adding a unique touch to the structure.

Taj Mahal

  • The Taj Mahal is situated in Agra, and it’s like the superstar of Mughal architecture.
  • Shah Jahan built this beauty in memory of his wife, Arjumand Banu Begam, also known as Mumtaz Mahal. Talk about a grand romantic gesture!
  • The Taj Mahal is like the Mughal architecture encyclopedia. It’s got it all – calligraphy, those fancy pietra-dura works, cool foreshortening techniques, beautiful Charbagh style gardens, and even water features for extra flair.
  • Check out the jaali work, it’s like lace but in stone. Super delicate and intricate. And those marble carvings? They’re not in your face; they’re more of a chill, low relief vibe.

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