Art and architecture took a new direction in the Delhi Sultanate period. Fergusson describes it as a combination of Arabic and Indian styles.
According to Sir John Marshall, the genius of both Hindu and Muslim craftsmen blended to achieve a unique genre of art and architecture during this time. It is, however, difficult to ascertain the influences of different civilization in this mixed art form.
Three schools of architecture: In this age there was (1) The Delhi school of art which was a mix of Hindu and Muslim styles (2) The provincial styles which were also a blend of Hindu-Muslim styles (3) The Hindu style, free from Muslim influences.
1. The Delhi architecture: The palaces built by the Delhi Sultans have a few typical features which are not seen elsewhere. Turks preferred plenty of very ornate and intricately designed arches and domes in their palaces. The arches carried Quranic teachings and floral patterns. A layer with lime, sand and water base was used in construction, starting off similar layering in north Indian architecture. Hindu motifs such as lotus, swastika, bells and flowers buds were extensively used by Turks in palace decoration.
Qutubuddin Aibak started work on the Qutub Minar and Iltutmish completed it. Alauddin Khalji built the Alai Darwaza, a wonderful specimen of Indian and Muslim art. Fine patterns and intricate decoration mark this monument. These are characteristics of Khalji art though in the Tughlaq period the trend was different. Tughluq architecture is marked by the city Tughluqabad, founded by Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq, the Adilabad fort and the city of Jahanpana, built by Muhammad bin Tughluq, and the Ferozabad palace and fort built by Firoz Shah Tughlaq. The Sayyids and the Lodis only built mausoleums and tombs.
2. Regional architecture: Provincial rulers were art lovers like the Delhi Sultans and they influenced the flowering of various art forms, such as the Jaunpuri, Gujarati and Gaudiya styles.
The Gujarati architecture of this age bore Hindu influences as well. Muslim rulers retained the style that had existed here before their arrival. The beautiful mosques of Cambay, Dholka and Broach are rich in a mix of Hindu and Islamic styles. Bengal school of architecture used bricks in place of rocks and is unique for wide arches standing on pillars, resembling thatched roofs.
In 1368, Sikander Shah built the Adina Mosque at Pandua, one of the biggest mosques in India. Other noted specimens of Bengal architecture are the Eklakhi mausoleum built in the memory of Jalaluddin Mummad Shah at Pandua, the Choto Sona mosque, Bado Sona mosque and Kadam Rasul at Gaur.
In the Deccan, the Bahamani art bears Indian, Egyptian, Iranian and Turkish influences, the instances being the Jaam-i-Masjid at Gulbarga, Chand Minar at Daulatabad, the Gol Gambuj, which is the mausoleum of Muhammad Adil Shah at Bijapur. The Hindu school too survived despite the rise of the Hindu-Muslim combined style, proofs being the very impressive Rajput and Vijayanagar architecture.
3. The Mughal architecture: Mughal architecture is simply wonderful. We can call it the Indo-Persian school of art. In his short four-year reign, Babur built quite a few palaces and mosques in Agra, Fatehpur Sikri, Dholpur, Gwalior and Kiul.
Sher Shah, too, during his brief rule built monuments, gardens, minars, inns and educational institutions, the Purana Quila in Delhi being the foremost of them. His architectural style is a beautiful blend of Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, Muslim and Persian schools and Sher Shah was easily the pioneer of the harmonious art school in India.
Akbar stands at the helm of Mughal architecture in India, achieving a fine mix of Indian and Persian styles. We must mention the Humayun’s Tomb, Fatehpur Sikri, Dewan-i-Aam, Dewan-i-Khaas, Jami Masjid, Buland Darwaza, Panchmahal and the Jodhabai Palace in this regard. Jahangir completed Akbar’s mausoleum at Sekendra and erected the Tomb of Itimad-ud-daulah, Nurjahan’s father. Mughal architecture peaked at Shah Jahan’s time.
We still like visiting the Dewan-i-Aam, Dewan-i-Khaas, Shish Mahal, Moti Masjid and Jami Masjid at Agra and, of course, the wonderful creation of Taj Mahal which Fergusson describes as “a glorious mausoleum which would inspire even one most dispassionate about art”.