“Islamic” Architecture is a generic term that broadly refers to monuments promoted and built by Islamic rulers in India’s Islamic empires and kingdoms. Many of these forts, palaces, mosques and tombs were built over the ruins of earlier Indian monuments that were destroyed by invading Islamic conquerors. In many cases, the original structure survived in some form, and only the facades were redone. In other instances sculptural elements were removed and minarets and arched gateways were added to create an “Islamic” aura. Even when older buildings were broken and down and rebuilt, abstract decorative fragments were recycled and reused.

When monuments were built by recent Hindu, Jain or Buddhist converts, several architectural elements that had significant philosophical meaning in the previous tradition were consciously retained. This is particularly evident in Gujarat where  almost every abstract architectural element from the previous Indic tradition was retained – including the “lamp of knowledge”, the  “kamal” or lotus  (which represented purity) and the overflowing “Purnakalasha” –  a symbol for fecundity. Thus, although this archicture is considered “Islamic” it is only nominally so. Not only are its roots and its essence Indian – so too are its vivid details.

Even the dome and the arch are not exactly imports. Domes can be seen on several Indian temples that preceded the Islamic invasions, and the dome on India’s “Islamic” monuments is but an enlargement of the Indian-style dome – a very early example of which can be seen in Sanchi that goes back 2000 years.

Finally, it should be noted that the most creative and attractive “Islamic” architecture in India is actually Sufi architecture. It is the Sufis who served as  the innovative and spiritual face of “Islam” – who could freely integrate and adapt Indic features – especially floral and other naturalistic elements so as to brighten the  cold formality and cliched form of the typical Islamic monument. Just as India’s Sufis moderated the totalitarianism of Quranic literalism, they also brought a touch of color and decorative beauty to monuments that might otherwise have been excessively dour and imposing.

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