Islam and Architecture Summary Points on Mughal Architecture – focus on relevance of Islam Contents: 1. General summary 2. The significance of Islam 3. The mosque 4. Design and construction 5. Style 6. Mughal style summary diagram General summary: The Mughals were famous for their wealth and splendour – a fact that is reflected in the opulence of their architecture. Most famous Mughal building is the Taj Mahal The most significant buildings are forts, palaces, mosques and tombs. Characteristic architectural features are domes, turrets, arches, sumptuous detailed decoration and latticed stone windows called jalis. The significance of Islam: Mosques and tombs are both related to the Muslim religion, although the Qu’ran makes no prescriptions about the form or arrangement of the mosque. In fact, a Muslim is only required to face Mecca when he prays. Indeed, grandiose tombs common to the Mughals, are strictly forbidden by Islam. According to Muslim law, a grave should be covered with earth and bricks. Grand Islamic tombs often have no doors, suggesting perhaps that their owners wanted to pay “lip service” to the law, whilst evading its true meaning/purpose. The Qu’ran discusses the qibla, or direction of prayer towards Mecca, (westwards in India) and this is usually indicated by the angle of the rear wall of the sanctuary in the mosque. Other than this, the forms of the mosque have grown up through tradition. Allegedly, one tradition which relates the sanctuary to the courtyard is based on a typical Arab house, like those used in Medina by Muhammad himself. NB – the Prophet once described architecture as, “the most unprofitable thing that eats up the wealth of a believer.” Usually, the decoration on ‘Islamic’ buildings is mathematical and geometric in design with sharp, crisp corners. Because Islam forbids any representation of Allah, and restricts images of the human figure considering such art in line with idolatry, religious buildings in particular are decorated with combinations of geometric pattern, calligraphy depicting phrases from the Qu’ran, and arabesque patters. Geometric pattern often plays on the number four, a number which symbolically stands for perfection. Infinitely repeating patterns also are seen to represent the unchanging laws of God. The arabesque, a repeating pattern of foliage, is another popular form of non- figurative representation, and illustrates the beauty of creation and the bounty that can be expected in Paradise for the faithful. The dome, arguably the most prominent feature of Mughal/Islamic/Indian architecture, is a symbolic representation of the vault of heaven. According to Islam, God’s throne in paradise is a gigantic pearl on four pillars through which the rivers of grace run through. The minaret was originally the place where the call to prayer was given by the muezzin, but often was simply ornamental. It becomes increasingly clear that their function is ornamental, when there is more than one, i.e. two, or four (never three) – because of the holiness of the number four. Many of the distinct Mughal elements were initiated by the Mosque design, but later appropriated by mausoleums and even fort, namely the domes, minarets, arches and even the iwans (main façade doorways with an arched entrance). However, as with the Taj Mahal, mosques were often incorporated into the wider complex as well. The Mosque The mosque is a place of worship for Muslims. One feature of the mosque is a courtyard surrounded by arched walkways called arcades. In this courtyard there is often an area where worshippers can wash at an ablutions fountain before praying. The courtyard leads to a roofed area - the main prayer hall. Part of this roof often takes the form of a dome, which represents the heavens. The prayer-hall must have one wall facing Mecca which is called the qibla wall. In the qibla wall is the mihrab, which is the focus point of any mosque, and is a niche in the wall indicating the direction of Mecca. The minbar, or pulpit, is set to the right of the mihrab, and is a staircase which leads to a small platform. It is from here that the imam leads the prayers and delivers the khutba, or lesson. The dikka is a platform, where the muezzins follow the postures of the imam and speak the responses so that the prayer can be repeated to the congregation. The kursi is a stand on which the Qur’an, Islam’s holy book, sits. The minaret is a tower usually directly next to the mosque. From the top the muezzin calls Muslims to prayer. Design and construction: Those responsible for design and construction were largely anonymous, which reflects the low social-status they had. Credit was given to the patron alone. The design process involved a hierarchy of craftsmen with various grades of skill. Craftsmen were often shipped in for their specific skills – even Europeans were employed for their skills for work on the Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal took nearly 20 years to build, with a workforce of 20,000 people. Style: The Mughals did not simply construct Central Asian architecture on Indian soil, (unlike the British who built Western-style buildings, because they were constantly referring back to a ‘parent’ country) Babur invaded India and was never in a position to return to his homeland, so in sense his culture was transplanted. Babur and Humayun had little opportunity to build in their short reign, so it was really Akbar who started the Mughal tradition of building, and he had been distanced from his Timurid heritage by this stage. Mughal style however, is essentially Muslim. Sometimes the emperors imported architects and ideas etc, from Persia although they did rely on India’s craftspeople. The indigenous tradition (i.e. Hindu and Buddhist) was deeply figurative and organic – the polar opposite to Islamic style which was essentially non-figurative and mathematical/geometric. It is possible to observe the development of Mughal architecture in the buildings themselves. The Taj Mahal is recognised world wide as the pinnacle of Indian architecture. Mughal style – summary diagram Indigenous India Colonizing Mughal craftspeople – nation- Organic/figurative Mathematical, non- style figurative style New Mughal style = completely distinct, a sort of Islamic hybrid of these two forms exclusive Mughal India. The popular view that Mughal architecture is Persian in style is not true. Remember that there had been earlier Muslim rulers in India, so that there had already been some Islamic architectural influence. Therefore, not a novel import, but rather a continuation of an already established Indio-Islamic tradition. Whoever was ruler also affected the dominant style. Akbar and Shah Jahan were the two greatest patrons. Akbar was a more forthright encourager of Hindu input. Argument goes that by Shah Jahan’s reign, the fusion of styles from disparate sources has become a proper fusion of styles that could truly be called a “Mughal” style rather than a synthesis Akbar’s style = more robust, whereas by Shah Jahan, had grown much more delicate and refined. One consistent Mughal detail is lavishness – colour, inlaid precious gems etc.
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