The Arab conquest of Sind in the year 712 A.D. and the subsequent advent of the Islamic rule in India towards the end of the 12th century A.D. introduced new elements into the Indian architecture such as the use of shapes, calligraphy, ornamentation using inlay work, and use of coloured marble, painted plaster and glazed tiles.
The early mosques built in Sind in the 8th century by Muslim traders like the ones in the port of Bhadreswar in Gujarat (c.1160) are low trabeated using Indic column orders with iconographical details of half-lotus and bead-and-reel bands, derived from local traditions. Gradually, the typical Islamic architectural form, i.e. ‘arcuate’, having an arch or dome, was adopted as a method of bridging a space. The concept of arch or dome was not the invention of the Muslims; rather it was an innovation and improvisation over the architectural styles of the post-Roman period.
It must be stressed here that, the Islamic elements of architecture had already undergone various phases of experimentation during their development in other countries like Iran, Iraq, Egypt and Syria before these were introduced in India. Unlike most Islamic monuments of these countries, which were largely constructed in brick, plaster and rubble, the Indo-Islamic monuments witnessed the use of cementing agent in the form of mortar for the first time in the construction of buildings in India. The Muslim architects also carefully applied scientific and mechanical formulae in their construction projects, which provided greater flexibility to the architects and builders and also facilitated in obtaining greater strength and stability of the construction materials.
Here, it must be emphasized that the evolution of the Indo-Islamic architecture was facilitated greatly by the knowledge and skill possessed by the Indian craftsmen, who had mastered the art of stonework for centuries and used their experience while constructing Islamic monuments in India. The initial process of adaptation of the new forms with the local tradition is best exemplified by the 12th-13th century monuments, ‘Quwwat ul-Islam Mosque’ in Delhi and the ‘Adhai Din ka Jhompara’ in Ajmer, where the arches are corbelled and not ‘true’ and the domes are low and conical, indicating that the decoration is inspired by elements of the temple architecture.
The Indo-Islamic architecture can be divided into religious and secular. Mosques, tombs, ‘khanqahs’ and ‘madrasas’ are examples of religious architecture, while palaces, forts, gardens and ‘caravanserais’ are examples of secular Islamic architecture.
The mosque or ‘masjid’ is a simplest representation of the Islamic art. The basic plan of a mosque consists of an open courtyard surrounded by a pillared veranda, crowned off with a dome. A ‘mihrab’ is a semicircular niche, which indicates the direction of the ‘qibla’ for prayers. A ‘mimbar’ or pulpit is a small tower-like structure, which stands on the right of the ‘mihrab’, from where the ‘Imam’ or priest delivers his sermons. One or more ‘minarets’ constitute an essential part of a mosque, which are used to give a call for prayers (‘adhan’). The minarets are usually in the form of free standing tall spires with bulbous crowns. The structure of a minaret includes a base, shaft and a gallery. Larger mosques where the faithful assemble for the Friday prayers are referred as the ‘Jama Masjids’.
Tombs introduced an entirely new architectural concept to India. A tomb could range from a simple structure like the Itmad-ud-Daula’s Tomb to a complex structure enveloped in grandeur like the Humayun’s Tomb and the Taj Mahal. The tomb generally consists of solitary compartment known as the ‘huzrah’ in whose centre is the cenotaph or ‘zarih’. The complete structure could be crowned with an elaborate dome. In the underground chamber lies the mortuary or the ‘maqbara’, in which the dead is laid to rest. The entire tomb complex, called ‘rauza’, may be surrounded by a garden or an enclosure. The walls, ceilings, pillars and domes are generally well ornamented and exquisitely carved with floral and geometric patterns as well as verses from the Holy Quran.
Islamic architecture in India can be classified into three sections: Delhi or the Imperial Style (1191 to 1557A.D.); the Provincial style, encompassing the surrounding areas like Jaunpur and the Deccan; and the Mughal Style (1526 to 1707A.D.).