Islamic architecture in and around Delhi retained much of the characteristics in both form and detailing of Persian Islam, with only the court at Delhi able to attract and pay the best Muslim architects and artisans from abroad. As one moves away from the main power centre, the regional Islamic satraps – whether governors of the Delhi Sultanate or newly-independent Sultan – patronized an architecture which slowly began to assume a very different identity. This identity was not constant throughout, but varied from place to place, and depended chiefly on :
- the distance from Delhi, which determined the level of dilution of ‘pure’ Islamic principles;
- the economic condition of the regime, responsible for the quality of finished and materials used;
- the local artisans available in the region and their specialization and experience;
- and local Hindu architecture, which served as direct or indirect inspiration for Muslim examples.
If the Qutb Minar merely had sinuous carving which hinted at the Hindu craftsman at work, examples further away from Delhi illustrated both a riot of carving as well as formal aspects directly influenced by Hindu architecture. The main areas that produced a substantial body of architecture and can be said to have evolved a ‘style’ of their own are Gujarat, Punjab, Bengal, Malwa, some parts of south India and Kashmir.
The Muslim rulers of Gujarat produced architecture on as grand a scale as their Hindu and Jain predecessors. As in Delhi, the first building material for the earliest mosques and tombs came from the demolition of temples in the area.
It was with the reign of Ahmed Shah (1411-42), that the city of Ahmedabad was founded.
Some of the most spectacular architectural remains at Ahmedabad are the stepped wells or wavs. More than simply a means of bathing, these wavs were associated with stylistic ritual which spanned back to the time of the Rajputs. Imposing steps lead down to the water table and the vertical exposed walls were treated with rich carving. (Images show Adalaj - an architectural wonder, a seven-storied underground Step well built by Queen Rudabai during the rein of Ahmed Shah.)
The mosques at Ahmedabad show a development from the relatively primitive, with an open façade, to the arcaded screen type prevalent in Delhi, with carved pillars visibly produced by Hindu craftsmen discernible through the arcade. Of the second, arcaded type of mosque, the two most impressive examples are the mosque of Ahmed Shah and the Jami-Masjid.
Ahmed Shah’s mosque has original Hindu pillars behind a simple arcaded façade, the central arch of which is flanked by two rather bloated minarets rising from the ground, almost like pilasters. The form of the minarets, indeed, brings to mind the battlements of Rajput fort rather than the graceful tapering classical Islamic minaret. In the Jami-Masjid, the minarets do not become any more graceful, but their power depends mainly on their massive proportions and the riot of carving on their faces. The base of the minarets is covered by what seems to be almost temple shikharas rising one upon the other, vocabulary extensively used in a classical temple.
Thus while the mosques retain all the design elements of a Islamic prayer hall, in detail they resemble, and are indeed part of, the ethos of Gujarat architecture in the same tradition of the carved temples at Mount Abu.
At a later date, the successors of Ahmed Shah were noted for a number of mortuary complexes or rauzas, consisting chiefly of a tomb and mosque face to face.
A notable example.
A notable example is the rauza of Rani Separi. Here the mosque face is without a screen, and entrance definition is achieved by means of two stubby minarets at each end of the mosque. Carved balconies, the function of which is not clear, project from the south side. Both the mosque and tomb are finely detailed with the by-now familiar carving.
And so, to conclude, we can say that Muslim architecture in Gujarat is characterized mainly by its carving, so unlike classical Islam, and in the manner in which the carving is depicted. Carving here takes on a sinuous, almost sensuous quality, a dream-world of fragrance, gardens and sweet herbs, relaxing the strict dogmas of Islam against decoration and depiction of living form.
Thus Islam in India generated not only an imperial style, but many regional variations, among which that of Gujarat is one of the richest.