The chasm separating India from the Islamic epicentre is so vast that Islamic architecture there was influenced by the flourishing art that had already been established in India for centuries. However, the exceptional racial diversity of the Indian subcontinent makes it a peculiar part of the world. Religious civilisation expanded and gave Indian art a powerful and original style.
Early Muslim conquests date back to 712. Following the invasion of its northwestern frontier, India was, from a political perspective, made of only divided, unorganised and fragile states. As in Africa, Muslim conquests were characterised by successive invasions by tribes with diverse origins and culminated in the founding of well-organised empires imposed on the subjugated native people. Upon subduing the Indus Valley Civilisation, the conquerors ran into the Aravalli Range, which pushed them to the Ganges. Consecutive capitals spread from east to west, and even the ascendancy of the Great Mughals barely went beyond the Nermada River.
The first Muslim kingdom was that of Turkish Ghaznavids, founded around the end of the 10th century, with a capital in Ghazni. It spanned the Punjab, Multan, Gujarat and Kashmir regions right to the Ganges. Following the destruction of Ghazni in 1152, Delhi became the capital of Ghurids from Afghanistan. It in turn was sacked by Tamerlane in 1398, during his futile conquest of India. Babur (1483-1530) finally set up a powerful empire from the ruins of the last Muslim kingdom of India. It was thus under the dynasty of the “Great Mughals” that a particular style, dominated by Persian forms, was introduced to Northern India. Consequently, Islam took a lot of time to take root in India, and the conquest was never completed.
As a matter of fact, Muhammad’s religion found a far less fertile ground there than in Africa or western Asia, where Judaism and Christianity had conditioned the people to monotheism. Home to a spirited religion and a long-standing religious civilisation, Persia had already mounted a stronger resistance, and quickly adopted the schism of the Shiites. In India, only the inhabitants of the northwestern border, people with Persian ancestry, willingly embraced the new religious propaganda. Everywhere else, Semitic genius was ignored and considered foreign.
The solid establishment of Islam required the violence of a military conquest, and, importantly, the sustainable establishment of a powerful Muslim empire that was much more organised than that of Asian and Western caliphates and India’s early Muslim states. Babur and his successors, the Great Mughals, introduced into their method of government a remarkable unity of purpose, sense of authority and administration. They developed an entirely new language, Hindustani, which was imposed by the administration.
Therefore, Muslim architecture in India can be divided into two distinct periods: the periods prior and subsequent to the formation of this great Mughal Empire. During the first period, the conquerors used local architects and methods and were delighted to introduce some new forms, such as the pointed arch in façades. The influence of the Jaina style on the monuments of this era is what makes them unique.
Visible in Indian Islamic architecture are structural woodworking traditions, procedures relating to piling, corbelling, the formation of horizontal lintels and pillars made by juxtaposing vertical baulks. Vaults were rather a series of stacked up ceilings laid out like concave structures. Local artists used their methods, ornamentation and traditions in serving their new masters; however, radical Muslim puritanism suppressed the statuary, disposing of countless figurines.
Since Persia had previously had close relations with India, the second period, under the Great Mughals, has distinct elements of Persian influence throughout its artistic style. The style of the imposing monuments the Indian Muslims left behind is so strikingly similar to the Islamic architecture of Persia that it might be considered a variety of the Persian school…
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