Islam started in the oasis towns of the Arabian desert. As it spread eastward, it encountered more and more varied building materials and technologies. These it absorbed, internalised, transformed. When it arrived in India, it found a veritable embarrassment of riches: on one hand, the finest marbles, metals and gems; on the other the most skilful and dedicated of craftsmen.
Both sides gained by the encounter. Islam nurtured in India elements that have enriched our architectural vocabulary for centuries; the arch, the jaali, the dome. Our craftsmen, in turn, honed their skills to a degree of precision and finesse that has never been surpassed, making architecture into a thing of rich and sensuous beauty.
Consider, for instance, the superb use of water in the pavilion near Nilkanta temple at Mandu (15th century). A crystal-clear spring spouting from the rock-face crosses in an inlaid channel the marble floor of a pavilion and cascades down the side of the podium before it comes to a perfect stillness in a square pool. Then the incredible exit: via the delicate spiral (an ancient symbol of movement). Has water ever been displayed in so many variations, in such a small distances, and with such great finesse?