I HAVE already mentioned the fact that about 1576 Bengal became a province of Akbar’s empire, and that Gaur ceased about the same time to be a great Muhammadan building centre. It was not, however, until the beginning of the seventeenth century that the bent roofs and cornices characteristic of Bengali architecture began to appear in the buildings of Delhi and in Rajputana. In Akbar’s buildings, so far as I have observed, there are no indications of the Bengali craftsman’s handiwork. The building craft of Rajputana was the creative force in Mogul architecture of Akbar’s reign.

But about the time of Akbar’s accession in 1556 a new Muhammadan building centre developed in the south of the Dekhan, at Bijâpûr, close to the old one at Kulbarga, and in a country in which for many centuries previously, under Hindu rulers, Indian builders had raised many famous shrines and carried out great works of public utility similar to those in the north of India which had extorted admiration from Alberuni and Mahmûd of Ghaznî.

The dynasty of Bijâpûr had been founded in 1490 by a Turk, Yûsuf’Âdil Shah, born in Constantinople. But he and his two successors had followed the usual practice of Musulmân conquerors in India in using Hindu craftsmen and in building mosques and tombs with the materials of the Hindu temples they desecrated or destroyed. It was not until the more tranquil times of ʼAlî Âdil Shah I. (1557-80) that Bijâpûr developed a characteristic building tradition of its own, which was, like all other Indo-Muhammadan architecture, grafted upon the older Buddhist-Hindu traditions but adapted to Muhammadan ritual.

The dynasty lasted until Aurangzîb overthrew it in the middle of the seventeenth century, and during the hundred years dating from ʼAlî Âdil Shah’s accession, the capital of the kingdom was, as Fergusson observes, “adorned with a series of buildings as remarkable as those of any of the Muhammadan capitals of India, hardly excepting even Agra and Delhi, and showing a wonderful originality of design not surpassed by those of such capitals as Jaunpur or Ahmadâbâd, though differing from them in a most marked degree.1 He then, as usual, goes on to account for “the largeness and grandeur which characterised the Bijâpûr style” by the Turkish descent of the dynasty and the employment of Persian officers at the Bijâpûr court.

Neither the history of the time nor the buildings themselves, even when examined academically from the Western standpoint, on a basis of “style,” gives any substantial support to this vague hypothesis. The latter differ very widely in external character and construction from buildings in Turkey or in Persia. From a craftsman’s point of view they are, as regards structure and symbolism, as purely Indian as any buildings of the same class in Gujerat or at Fatehpur-Sîkrî. When the gradual evolution of Indian architecture in the preceding centuries is taken into account, it is wholly unnecessary to go to Persia or Turkey to explain the distinctive characteristics of the Bijâpûr school.

We have already seen that in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries at Kulbarga, close to Bijâpûr and their capital of the Deccan, and farther north at Mandû, the capital of Mâlwâ, the local Indian builders, who had been familiar for long centuries with the so-called “Saracenic” arch as a decorative feature, had, after many experiments, made the free use of it a part of their structural tradition. We have also seen that at Delhi, Agra, and Fatehpur-Sîkrî, in the first half of the sixteenth century, Indian builders had likewise made their own some Persian structural elements, such as the semi-domed portal with its characteristic pendentives. Bijâpûr architecture is the logical development of this new school of Indian builders, placed in a new environment and adapting itself to the South Indian craft tradition. There is not the slightest evidence at Bijâpûr of any new importation of foreign builders or craftsmen, but very strong evidence of the Hindu tradition of Southern India.

Constantinople was of course famous throughout the Muhammadan world for the grandeur of its domes, and it is quite conceivable that Mahmûd of Bijâpûr, mindful of his Turkish ancestry, called upon his Indian builders to emulate the glories of St. Sophia, just as Akbar required his mosque at Fatehpur to be “a duplicate of the Holy Place,” and as Shah Jahân desired that the tomb of Mumtâz Mahall should be without a rival in the world. But the impartial historian should not for such reasons be so ready to bring in foreign creative inspiration on every occasion when Indian builders thus proved their capacity to satisfy the ambition of their rulers. There is not a detail in the buildings of Bijâpûr, structural or decorative, which cannot be explained as the logical sequence of the previous history of a living building craft, born in India, continually accumulating fresh experience by the free exercise of the craftsman’s faculties, and continually adapting itself to changing conditions, social, political, and religious.

It is a most significant fact that every one of the great Muhammadan building centres in India was in close proximity to, or on the very site of, ancient Hindu cities famous for its craftsmen. Muhammadan Delhi and Agra rose upon the ruins of ancient Hindu capitals, and their first Musulmân sovereigns drew builders from the Hindu cities of Mathurâ and Kanauj. Ahmadâbâd lies close to Mudherâ and Dabhoi, and all the famous ancient shrines of Rajputana. Gaur was the historic capital of Bengal before it was captured by the Afghans—a fighting but not a building race. And at every one of these places it will be found that the distinctive characteristics of Muhammadan buildings were mainly determined by the building tradition of the local Hindu or Buddhist craftsmen. Bijâpûr is no exception to the rule.

To understand the buildings of Muhammadan Bijâpûr, the student must first turn to the ruins of Hindu Vijayanagar and realise the political and craft relationship which existed between the two states during the long period when Bijâpûr was only a fortified outpost of no architectural importance. Early in the fourteenth century the rapid advance of the Musulmân power southwards had forced the Hindu dynasties of the Dekhan and Southern India to forget their ancient rivalries and combine against the common foe. The kings of Vijayanagar, then a small principality on the banks of the Tungabhadrâ river, a branch of the Krishnâ, kept the Musulmân armies at bay, and for two centuries afterwards the boundaries of the empire of Vijayanagar, formed by the coalition of the Hindu kingdoms—stretching right across Southern India and joining with those of Orissa on the east coast—presented an impassable barrier to the further progress of Islâm.

But during these two centuries the mutual relationship between Hindu and Musulmân was by no means invariably hostile. The Sultans of Bijâpûr were willing to accept the aid of a Hindu army in waging war against the rival Musulmân dynasty of Ahmadnagar; disgusted though they were when the Hindu soldiers seized the opportunity to pay off old scores by all manner of excesses, “burning and razing buildings, putting their horses in the mosques, and performing their idolatrous worship in the holy places” (Ferishta). On the other hand, before these events, Deva Râja II of Vijayanagar (1419-44), finding that his own army was deficient in cavalry and arches, had taken many Musulmâns into his service, allotted to them jaghirs or grants of land, erected a mosque for their use in his own city, and commanded that no one should molest them in the exercise of their religion.2

A century later this tolerant spirit was emulated by the Muhammadan ruler of Bijâpûr, Ibrâhîm Âdil Shah I. (1534-57), who, like Akbar and most of the great Muhammadan rulers of India, had decided leanings towards Hinduism. He admitted Brahmans into his service, and substituted Mahratti for Persian as the official language of accounts. The foreigners whom he dismissed from his army found service under Râm Râja, the last of the Vijayanagar dynasty, who, like his predecessor, built a mosque for them and ordered the Qurân to be placed before him when the officers came to swear fealty.

At the beginning of the sixteenth century Vijayanagar was at the height of its prosperity, and one of the most splendid cities of the East. It was the great craft centre of the South and the Dekhan, as Gaur and Ahmadâbâd were for Northern and Western India. Paes, the Portuguese traveller, has given a graphic description of it. Climbing a hill from whence he could see a great part of it, the city seemed to him “as large as Rome, and very beautiful to the sight; there are many groves of trees within it, and many conduits of water which flow into the midst of it, and in places there are lakes; and the king has close to his palace a palm-grove and other rich-bearing fruit trees. Below the Moorish quarter is a little river, and on this side are many orchards and gardens with many fruit trees, for the most part mangoes and areca-palms and jack-trees, and also many lime and orange trees, growing so closely to one another that it appears like a thick forest; and there are also white grapes.”3

The people in the city, he said, were countless in number—no troops, horse or foot, could break their way through them, so great was the number of people and elephants. It was the best provided city in the world; stocked with provisions of every kind. At the irrigation works, which supplied the city with water, Paes saw a vast crowd, which he estimated at fifteen to twenty thousand men, “looking like ants,” employed in carrying out extensions or repairs. The palace of the king enclosed a “greater space than all the castle of Lisbon.” There were broad and beautiful streets full of fine houses, in which lived many merchants and craftsmen, with many things to sell; and in the “Moorish” quarter at the end of the city there were many “Moors,” mostly natives of the country, serving in the royal body-guard.

The great temple of Vitthalaswâmi (Pl. LXXXI), one of the most splendid of Hindu shrines, was commenced about the beginning of the sixteenth century, and work on it was apparently continued until the fall of the city in 1565, after the disaster of Talikota. To the Western architectural student the main interest of the vast ruins of this once famous city, stretching over ten square miles, lies in the clear evidence they afford of the craft process by which the Hindu temple became the Muhammadan mosque and Buddhist-Hindu architecture became “Indo-Saracenic.” In the ruins of Hindu Vijayanagar will be found not only the prototypes of Muhammadan Bijâpûr, but illustrations of the process by which the Arab architecture of the seventh, eighth, and following centuries gradually became the style of the pointed arch.

The history of the mutual relations between Hindu and Musulmân is plainly told in the remains of the buildings of the “Moorish” quarter of Vijayanagar. The history of the evolution of the “pointed style” can be traced in the empty niches on the roofs of Hindu temple-pavilions. Pl. LXXXII shows a part of the roof of a pavilion adjoining the Vitthalaswâmi temple, built strictly according to the South Indian-Hindu tradition, which can be traced right back to early Buddhist times, before the Muhammadans came in contact with it. The three larger niches—the shrines from which the images have been removed—give typical examples of the Buddhist-Hindu foliated arch, derived from the conventionalised aura of a Buddhist image. If the elaborate carved scrolls in front of them were broken by a Musulmân iconoclast, or reduced to their simplest form by a Musulmân craftsman, the arches would become the foliated “Saracenic” arches of Mogul buildings at Delhi and Agra, and of Moorish architecture in Africa and Spain.

By a similar process of adaptation the smaller niches would become what Western classifiers have labelled as “stilted Arab” arches, though the type belonged to the craft tradition of India centuries before the advent of the Prophet of Mecca. Again, if the ornamental finials—which are Dravidian or South Indian domes and vaulted roofs in miniature—behind the desecrated shrines are examined critically, it will be seen that the smaller ones are the “bulbous” or lotus domes which first appear in a simplified “Saracenic” form in the minarets of the Jâmi’ Masjid of Bijâpûr, built by ʼAlî Âdil Shah I. after the fall of Vijayanagar; they were used afterwards on a much larger scale in the central domes of mosques and tombs.

In the ruined facade of the building known as Râm Râja’s Treasury (fig. 43) the foliated arch of the Hindu shrine is applied by Hindu craftsmen to purely structural purposes. This is the complete structural basis of the doorways of the mosque at Bijâpûr, the ʼAlî Shahi-Pîr-ki-Masjid (Plate XXXV), and of many other Muhammadan buildings.

Another very interesting building at Vijayanagar is that now known as “the Elephant Stables” (Pl. LXXXIII), which I take to be the mosque built by Dêva Râja II. for his Muhammadan troops. When or why it was converted into stables for elephants is a matter of minor interest. It was most evidently built by South Indian craftsmen, adapting their own temple tradition to the ritual of Islâm. The seven larger domes are the prototypes of the domes of the Jâmi’ Masjid at Bijâpûr, being themselves only modifications of the Buddhist-Hindu types which are seen in their original form in the four intermediate domes. The decoration of the central doorway is precisely similar to that of the later mosque of ʼAlî Âdil Shah.

There are many other buildings at Vijayanagar which show that the Hindu craftsmen, having first adapted their own structural traditions for Muhammadan purposes, proceeded to apply the experience gained in doing so to their own buildings, both secular and religious. Some illustrations of these will be found in Mr. Sewell’s valuable work on the history of the city. The further development of the pointed style in the south of India was taken up by the builders of Bijâpûr.

Nearly all of the characteristics which distinguish the buildings of Bijâpûr from the earlier Hindu-Musulmân schools of Mâlwâ and Kulbarga were derived from the Hindu tradition of Southern India. Those which belong exclusively to Bijâpûr were the result of further experiment after the fall of Vijayanagar. The South Indian builders as soon as they had adopted the arch as a structural expedient began to experiment with it even more boldly than their craft brethren in the north had done. The novelty of it appealed to their craft instinct; they played with it as children play with a new toy. The “largeness and grandeur” of the Bijâpûr style came from this indigenous creative impulse, not from Persia or from Turkey. It is necessary to bear in mind that in the sixteenth century it becomes impossible to draw distinctions between Muhammadan and Hindu buildings on account of the structural use of the arch, or from the use of pendentives or domes of the puritanised types which had been evolved by Indian craftsmen working for Musulmân employers: all of them were used freely in Hindu temples and other buildings which lay within the radius of Muhammadan political influence.

It was not until the overthrow of Vijayanagar in the great battle of Talikota in 1565 that the real architectural history of Bijâpûr begins. Immediately after that event, ʼAlî Âdil Shah I. with his building resources vastly augmented by the spoils of war—which must have included thousands of skilled Hindu craftsmen—set to work to enclose his own capital with fortified walls, and to celebrate his triumph over the infidel by building a Jâmi’ Masjid on a grand scale, in some respects like that of the great mosque at Kulbarga, but with many details repeating those of the great range of buildings at Vijayanagar described above. Nearly all the arches have the Hindu symbolism of the pîpal leaf at the crown. The “bulbous” dome, which appears for the first time on the minarets of an Indian mosque, was also, as I have said, an adaptation of the South Indian Hindu type.

The principal dome, which is 57 feet in diameter, covers the central compartment of the lîwân, a square of 70 feet, and is raised up on a clerestory, which corresponds to the griva or neck of a Dravidian dome, like the domes of Gujerat mosques which are likewise derived from Hindu prototypes. Though the Turkish crescent crowns the finial, the Hindu symbolism expressed both in the latter and in the lotus-flower arrangement of the pendentives proves that Indian builders were the real creators of the mosque. The rest of the lîwân is divided into square compartments in the usual Indian style, and is covered by a terraced roof supported in the same manner as Sidi Sayyid’s mosque at Ahmadâbâd with small domes concealed in the thickness of the roof.

Ibrâhîm II. (1580-1626), the successor of ʼAlî Âdil Shah, was a liberal patron of Hindu culture, especially of music, and fell under a suspicion of taking part in Hindu religious rites. Most of the finest buildings at Bijâpûr belong to his reign. Among the most remarkable are the mausoleum and mosque which bear his name. They were commenced under similar circumstances to the Tâj Mahall at Agra, as a memorial of his favourite daughter Zohra Sultâna and of his Queen Tâj Sultâna. Architecturally there is a close connection between the two groups of buildings, for Ibrâhîm’s mosque and tomb were the first Muhammadan buildings in which the “bulbous” or lotus-leaf type of dome is used on a large scale, as it is in the Tâj Mahall, and as they were nearly contemporaneous they must have been among “the famous buildings of the world” which were discussed by Shah Jahân’s master-builders before the general scheme of Mumtâz Mahall’s tomb was decided.

In the seventeenth century this “bulbous” dome became the characteristic form for mosques and tombs in Northern India; and its first appearance so far south as Bijâpûr is most significant. In the north it was sculptured in the chapterhouses of Ajantâ, but since the eighth or ninth century it had gradually been transformed into the bell-shaped sikhara of Buddhist and Hindu temples. In the temples of the south, however, it had retained its earlier lotus-leaf form, as it does in the present day, only rather obscured by the exuberant sculpture added to it.

We have already seen that in the north the dome of the Hindu stone-built porch, stripped of its symbolic sculpture, became the so-called Pathân dome of Fergusson’s classification. Precisely the same process of adaptation took place at Bijâpûr in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The lotus-leaf dome of the Hindu vimâna was transformed into the “bulbous” dome of the Muhammadan mosque and tomb. All the main “orders” of the Hindu canon were retained: the kalasha and the Mahâ-padma beneath it, and the lotus petals at the springing of the dome. But the rather redundant ornaments were omitted, and attention was concentrated on elegance of contour rather than on richness of sculptured decoration. To this end the lotus petals at the base were emphasised; in the later examples at Golconda and elsewhere the incurving at the base is greatly exaggerated.

The new structural idea in the Bijâpûr domes was the adaptation of the Persian pendentives for repeating internally the Hindu symbolism of the Mahâ-padma under the finial. The development of the Bijâpûr style thus followed the natural course of architectural progress all over the world. The style did not spring ready-made from the brain of a single architect or school of architects, nor was it, like Renaissance architecture in Europe, the conscious imitation of an historic style, but the natural growth of a living building tradition adapting itself to its own environment.

Except for its dome, Ibrâhîm’s mausoleum does not differ much from the usual design of contemporary Muhammadan tombs in Gujerat. The sanctuary is a square of 40 feet, covered by a remarkable coved ceiling,4 constructed with stone ribs and slabs set edge to edge, only supported by iron clamping and the strength of the excellent Indian mortar. Though the flat surface in the centre is a square of 24 feet, the ceiling shows no signs of sagging three centuries after its construction. Above this the walls of the sanctuary are carried up another storey, the lotus-petal pendentives changing the square into a circle to form the base of the dome, as in the Jâmi’ Masjid. A flat roof of purely Hindu construction, supported by a row of massive piers and an external arcade, surround the sanctuary. The four small domes, which, according to the usual Hindu symbolism, should appear in the corners of the roof, are here relegated to the top of the minarets.

The corridor surrounding the sanctuary is illustrated in Pl. LXXXVIII, which will explain better than any verbal description the essentially Hindu character of the wholemausoleum. It will be noticed that the arches between the piers with pipalleaf crowns are not Saracenic either in form or construction, but are simply Hindu brackets pieced together, as in many of the buildings at Fatehpur-Sîkrî, or sometimes cut out of single blocks of stone. Externally the Hindu characteristics are shown prominently in the heavy bracketed cornice and in the design of the minarets and domes.

The mausoleum of Ibrâhîm includes a fine mosque of similar character. Both buildings are placed in a splendid enclosed garden, laid out with fountains and water-courses in Mogul fashion, like the enclosure of the Tâj Mahall.

The Ibrâhîm Rauza was not entirely completed until 1626, and several other important buildings at Bijâpûr belong to the seventeenth century; but it will be more convenient to treat the Bijâpûr school as belonging to the previous century, which really determined its character.

One of the most delightful buildings of the Muhammadan period in India is that known as the Mehtar Mahall, the Sweeper’s Hall. Fergusson, in his erratic way, distinguishing it from the other Bijâpûr buildings which he calls pure “Indo-Saracenic,” describes it as belonging to a “mixed Hindu and Muhammadan style.” It is not in any way more “mixed” than the Tâj Mahall, but is a perfectly harmonious blend of all the structural and decorative elements which South Indian builders of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were using.

The legend which accounts for its name declares that Ibrâhîm Shah I., being afflicted by a dreadful malady which his physicians were unable to cure, took the advice of an astrologer, who, hoping to profit by the occasion, told him that on the morning of a certain day he should give a great sum of money to the first person he saw. Unfortunately for the canny soothsayer, the king on the appointed day rose at an unusually early hour, and the expected fortune fell to a sweeper in the palace courtyard, who piously devoted it to building the finest mosque which money could build. Most of it was lavished on this beautiful entrance gateway. The tradition is wrong in its date, for the building is certainly one of the later ones of the Bijâpûr school—it probably belongs to the latter part of the reign of the second Ibrâhîm, or the early seventeenth century.

It contains three stories, the floors of the first and second being constructed in the same way as the roof of the sanctuary in Ibrâhîm’s tomb. In plan it is a square of 24 feet, and the height to the top of the minarets is 66 feet.

The reign of Ibrâhîm II.’s son and successor Mahmûd ʼÂdil Shâh (1626-56) brought Bijâpûr first into alliance and later on into conflict with the Moguls. Shah Jahân’s troops ravaged the kingdom up to the gates of Bijâpûr, and Mahmûd only obtained peace by paying an annual tribute to Delhi. These circumstances account for the close connection between the design of the Tâj Mahall and that of Ibrâhîm’s Rauza, which was completed about the same time as the foundations of the former were laid.

The chiefbuilding of Mahmûd’s reign was his mausoleum, the famous Gol Gumbaz, which was commenced, according to custom, in the lifetime of the monarch whose memorial it was to be. Ibrâhîm had surpassed his predecessors in the lavish decoration he had bestowed upon his monument. Mahmûd determined to perpetuate his own name by building the greatest dome in the world, and his master-builders gratified his desire; for though in diameter it is exceeded by the Pantheon at Rome, the dome of Mahmûd’s tomb, as Fergusson states, “covers more ground clear of support than any dome or vaulted roof in the world,” while it is of more difficult construction, being placed upon a square hall instead of on a circular drum.”

The principle of construction employed in the Bijâpûr domes has been already explained. The vast hall which the dome covers is 135 feet 5 inches square at the floor level; the dome itself has an internal diameter of 124 feet 5 inches, and was originally gilt outside. The traditional Hindu symbolism of the panch-ratna, as in Ibrâhîm’s tomb, is maintained by the five domes—i.e. the colossal central one, and the four in miniature on the corner towers which serve as buttresses. The finials of all of them and the pîpal-leaf arches are evidence of the Indian master-builders’ handiwork and inspiration.

Taking Mahmûd’s tomb by itself as a specimen of archæological “style,” it is easy to mistake it for a Saracenic building belonging to the Arabian or Persian tradition. But considering it in due relation to its own historical context and local environment, it is evidently as much Indian as the stûpas of Asoka or the temples of Vijayanagar.

Most of the buildings of Bijâpûr are faced by and largely constructed of stone—a local basaltic trap which takes a high polish. But, as in other parts of India, there are many equally beautiful buildings in which the brickwork is only covered with an exceedingly fine white plaster, the working of which has developed into a fine art in India. On account of the heavy monsoon rains and the luxuriant growth of parasitic vegetation, it is generally necessary in India to protect brickwork with some kind of facing. In Bengal terra-cotta, glazed or unglazed, was largely used. In Rajputana and other provinces in the north the abundant supply of sandstone, which could easily be cut into slabs, provided an admirable facing material. When stone or terra-cotta was too expensive, an excellent substitute was found in this white plaster. A fine white sand or powdered limestone was used with it; the lime was made in some places from the chips left by the stone-cutters, in others from sea-shells.

The practical uses of this plaster were manifold. It prevented the rain from soaking into the brickwork in the wet season, and in the hot weather it kept the house cool by refracting the sun’s rays. It was so hard and tenacious that it could be used for floors as well as for walls and roofs; the high polish which could be given to it prevented the accumulation of dust.

Plates XXVII and XLV show fine examples of brick and plaster-work. For decorative purposes it could be used as a ground for fresco painting (fresco-buono), gilding, or painted gesso work, or for plain cut and modelled ornament. For these purposes it was frequently applied to buildings faced with stone, and even statuary commonly received a fine coating of it, like the wax finishing which was considered so important by the famous Greek sculptors.

This art of fine plaster-work is still alive in India; but Anglo-Indian architects have brought with them the modern European prejudice against stucco, and a partiality for plain red brickwork without the necessary protection which keeps it dry in the monsoon and cool in the hot season. For interior decoration European fashion demands wall papers and hangings, ten times more insanitary in the tropics than they are in a temperate climate. They are really poor and vulgar substitutes for the exquisite Indian polished plaster, which with discreet fresco or gesso enrichment provides a most elegant and distinguished form of decoration, manifestly superior on sanitary as well as artistic grounds, for it is easily cleaned, repaired, and renewed. In ordinary circumstances it is almost as durable as the building itself.

  • 1. “History of Indian Architecture,” vol. ii. p. 269.
  • 2. “A Forgotten Empire,” Robert Sewell, I.C.S., p. 72.
  • 3. For the full account see Sewell’s “Forgotten Empire,” pp. 236-90.
  • 4. The Hindu prototype is shown in fig. 40 (Dîwân-i-Khâs, Fatehpur-Sîkrî).