Indo-Islamic architecture: Salient Features

Islam spread towards India and Europe in the 7th and 8th century. In our country, Islam did not come from the north as is commonly believed. It came through Arab traders to the Malabar region in Kerala, and Muslims flourished as a trading community there. The Moplah community of Kerala traces its origin to the Arabs.

Cheraman Perumal

The first mosque in India was built at Kodungalloor by the Chera King Cheraman Perumal in A.D. 629, within the lifetime of the Mohammad, the Prophet. This is one of the oldest mosques in the world.

Salient Features of Indo-Islamic Architecture

Islam came along with the migration of Muslim merchants, traders, the saints and finally the conquest of Muslim rulers. The early Islamic architectural activity was visible as back as 8th century in some parts such as Sindh and Gujarat, yet the large scale building activity began only in the early 13th century by the Turkish state after the Turkish conquest of north India.

Although Mughal architecture of north India is famous, the fascinating richness of Islamic architectural heritage in other parts of the country is not so well known. India has more beautiful medieval Islamic architectural heritage than any other country. This is a fact which most of us are not aware of.


Islamic architecture is characterised by a few visible symbols. One is the arch, which frames the space; the second symbol is the dome, which looms over the skyscape; and the third is the minaret, which pierces the skies. Minarets were actually symbols in the middle of deserts. They represented fire, which was lit atop them to guide travellers. The dome represents the infinite and also the sky.

Different decorations

Hindus so far conceived manifestations of god everywhere in multiple forms as part of their religious faith whereas a Muslim thought of only one with Muhammad as His Prophet. Hence, Hindus adorned all surfaces with sculptures and paintings. Muslims forbidden to replicate living forms on any surface, developed their religious art and architecture consisting of the arts of arabesque, geometrical patterns and calligraphy on plaster and stone. In spite of the obvious Saracenic, Persian and Turkish influences, Indo-Islamic structures were heavily influenced by prevailing sensibilities of Indian architectural and decorative forms. A lot depended on the availability of materials, limitations of resources and skills and the sense of aesthetics of the patrons.

The New Elements Added by Muslims to Indian Architecture

  • The Indo-Islamic architecture inculcates the elements of Saracenic, Turkish and Arab architecture.
  • The Muslims absorbed many features of local cultures and traditions and combined them with their own architectural practices. So, a mix of many structural techniques, stylised shapes, and surface decorations came about through constant interventions of acceptance, rejection or modification of architectural elements.
  • The first new element added in the Indian architecture was the use of shapes instead of natural forms. This apart, use of calligraphy as inscriptional art was also a new element added to by Muslims.
  • Muslim added the inlay decoration and use of coloured marble, painted plaster and brilliantly glazed tiles.
  • The Dome was a new element added by the Muslims. In contrast to the indigenous Indian architecture which was of the trabeated order i.e. all spaces were spanned by means of horizontal beams, the Islamic architecture was arcuate i.e. an arch or dome was adopted as a method of bridging a space. Here, we have to note that the arch or dome was not an invention of the Muslims but was borrowed and improvised from the architectural styles of the post-Roman period.
  • The Muslims used the cementing agent in the form of mortar / Limestone / Chuna for the first time in the construction of buildings in India.
  • The Indo-Islamic monuments were typical mortar-masonry works formed of dressed stones. It must be emphasized that the development of the Indo-Islamic architecture was greatly facilitated 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.

Different kinds of Buildings

The major buildings include Mosques, Tombs, Dargahs, Minar and Minaret, Hammams, Gardens, Madarasa and Sarais.


Indo-Islamic architecture is conventionally categorised into the following four categories:

  • Imperial Style (Delhi Sultanate)
  • Provincial Style (Mandu, Gujarat, Bengal, and Jaunpur)
  • Mughal Style (Delhi, Agra, and Lahore)
  • Deccani Style (Bijapur, Golconda).

Amongst provincial styles, the architecture of Bengal and Jaunpur is regarded as distinct, while the style of Gujarat was marked with borrowed elements from regional temple traditions such as toranas, lintels in mihrabs, carvings of bell and chain motifs, and carved panels depicting trees, for tombs, mosques and dargahs.

The Building Material

  • One thing is very common in these buildings that the walls are extremely thick and largely constructed of rubble masonary, which was easily available.
  • These walls were then cased over with limestone plaster or dressed stone.
  • A variety of stones were used such as quartzite, sandstone, buff, marble, etc.
  • In some cases, the Polychrome tiles were used to finish the walls.

From the seventeenth century onward, bricks were also used for construction and these imparted greater flexibility to the structures. In this phase there was more reliance on local materials.

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