Architecture in the Early Medieval Period

North India

A large number of temples were constructed in north India during the early medieval period. Every king and every powerful feudatory built a temple. The style of temple architecture was known as nagara. A good example of this style is the group of temples at Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh. They were built by the Chandella rulers. The Parsvanatha, the Vishwanath temple and the Kandariya Mahadev temple were constructed in the nagara style. The temples of Orissa – Mukteshwara temples and Lingraja temple at Bhubhaneshwar, the Sun temple at Konark, and the Jagannath temple at Puri are also illustrative of the nagara style.

The Dilwara Temple at Mount Abu (Rajasthan) was built by the rulers of the Solanki Dynasty. There are many temples in this complex. They are built of white marble. The walls of these temples are carved with intricate design. Most of the temples constructed were dedicated to either Vishnu or Shiva. Like temples in south India, these temples also became centres of social and cultural life. They collected revenue from villages and took part in business activities. Some of them, such as the Somnath temple, were very rich.

South India

The Pallavas, Pandyas and the Cholas were the main dynasties of the south at this time. The Pallavas built the Rathas temple and the Shore temple at Mahabalipuram and the Kailasanath temple at Kanchi. The Pandyas constructed temples in the capital city of Madurai. The Chola kings were great temple builders. They built a large number of temples in different parts of their empire. Money obtained through donations was used for the construction and maintenance of temples. The Brihadesvara temple, also called the Rajarajesvara temple, at Tanjore is the finest specimen of temple architecture under the Cholas. It is dedicated to Lord Shiva and was built by Rajaraja Chola in the early eleventh century.

Early Chola temples were built in the Dravidian style. These temples were simple structures. In the later centuries, temples became bigger and grander. The gateway of the temple was called ‘gopuram’. The main shrine or the chief deity’s room was known as garbhagriha. The images of gods and goddesses were kept there. These images were made of stone or bronze. On top of the main shrine was a tall structure called shikhara. Another structure, situated in front of the main shrine, was called the mandapa. It was an audience hall where people gathered for prayers. The Chola temples were more than mere religious centres. They were also political, social, economic, cultural and educational centres. People gathered in temples to discuss important political and social issues. Merchants brought goods from distant places and sold them off from temple complexes. Temples were centres of dance and music as well. Community festivals were celebrated in temple courtyards. Temples also functioned as schools. Temple courtyards were used by priests to teach children.

The Chola temples were extremely rich. Wealthy merchants donated money to temples. This money was used to maintain them. The kings also granted land to temples. The revenue obtained from this land went to the temples. Some temples also participated in overland and overseas trade.

The Sultanate Period

The Turks and the Afghans introduced new styles and techniques of architecture in India. These, when mixed with the existing Indian styles, gave birth to a distinct style of architecture, called the Indo-Islamic style of architecture. Numerous places, mosques, forts, and towers were in this new style. The rulers of the Tughlaq Dyanasty also undertook considerable construction activities, including building three of the seven ancient cities of Delhi. Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq built Tughlaqabad, the third city of Delhi, in 1321-23 A.D. The Tomb of Ghayasuddin Tughlaq, built of red sandstone, is an irregular pentagon in its exterior plan and its design is of pointed or “Tartar” shape and is crowned by a finial resembling the kalasa and amla of a Hindu temple.

Delhi’s fourth city Jahapanah was built by Mohammadbin-Tughlaq in mid- 14th century. Firoz Shah Tughlaq (13511388 A.D.) was undoubtedly the greatest builder among all the rulers of the Tughlaq dynasty. He built Ferozabad, Delhi’s fifth city, in 1354 A.D. The famous Firoz Shah Kotla ground is the only remnant of its past glory. The fortified cities of Jaunpur, Fathabad and Hissar also date to the same period.

His construction works were of a unique simple style characterized by the use of inexpensive materials. The medieval rulers, generally chose new locations for starting new constructions, and very rarely undertook restoration of older buildings. It was only Firoz Shah Tughlaq who took up large scale restoration work and repaired hundreds of monuments including the Qutub Minar which was damaged by lightning in 1369 A.D. The Kali Masjid’, Khairki Masjid’ and the Kalan Masjid’ also belong to this period, the last two being raised on a tahkhana or substructure of arches.

In the 14th century under the Timurid rulers, Islamic architecture underwent a change. The true arch, an idea imported directly from Persia, replaced the narrow horseshoe arch. However, since Indian masons weren’t convinced of its supporting capacity, also began using wooden beams as supports, and eventually the four-centred arch minus the beam support came into vogue. During the Sayyid and the Lodi Dynasties, more than fifty tombs of different sizes were constructed. The Lodis introduced the concept of double domes built one upon the other, leaving some space in between. Two different types of tombs with octagonal and square plans respectively began to be constructed. The Tombs of Mubarak Sayyid, Muhammad Sayyid Sikander Lodi are all of the octagonal type. The square tombs are represented by such monuments as the ‘Bara Khan ka Gumbad’, Chota khan ka Gumbad’, ‘Bara Gumbad’ and Dadi ka Gumbad’, the ‘Tomb of khan’.


The two architectural forms used in the buildings of this period were the true arch and the dome. These two forms dispensed with the need to construct pillars to support the roof. Some buildings also used the minaret.

The Turks added colour to their buildings by using red sandstone. The buildings were decorated with floral and geometric patterns. Verses from the holy Quran were also engraved on some. In many structures, typical Hindu motifs such as the swastika, lotus and bell were used.

Other Monuments

The sultans of Delhi built many monuments. Quitb-ud-din Aibak built the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque in Delhi and the Adhai Din Ka Jhonpra in Ajmer. He also started the construction of the Qutb Minar. It was ultimately completed by Iltutmish.

The Qutb Minar is a masterpiece of Indo-Islamic architecture. It was designed by Hindu craftsman.

It is 240 feet high. Largely made of red sandstone, it also uses white marble. There is a circular stairway to reach the top. The Qutub Minar is considered one of the wonders of the medieval world.

Ala-ud-din Khalji also took a keen interest in building activities. He built the Alai Darwaza in the year 1311. It is made of red sandstone. Calligraphic inscriptions and decorative carvings adorn the structure. The Alai Minar is also attributed to Ala-ud-din.

The provincial style of architecture emerged in different provincial capitals, particularly in Punjab, Bengal, Gujarat, Jaunpur, Malwa, Deccan and Bijapur.

The pandua and adina mosques are the earliest architectural examples in Bengal. The tomb of Akhi Surajuddin, the Kotwali Darwaza, the Dakhil Darwaza and the tomb of Sultan Jalaluddin Mohammad Shah, known as the “eklakhi Tomb,” served as prototypes for the subsequent Islamic architecture of Bengal. The other important buildings of Bengal include ‘Tantipara Masjid’ (1475 A.D.), Chamkatti Masjid (1475 A.D.), Chota Sona Masjid’ (1510 A.D.), and the Qadame- Rasool Masjid’ (1530 A.D.).

Under the Sharqi dynasty, Jaunpur became a great centre of art culture and architectural activity. During the rule of Shamsuddin Ibrahim (1402-1436 A.D.) several palaces, mosques, tombs and other buildindings came up most prominent being ‘Atala Masjid’ built in 1378. Gujarat witnessed significant architectural activity for over 250 years. The early phase of the architecture belonging to the 14 th century is represented by the ‘Baba Farid’s Tomb’ and the ‘Adina Masijid’ at Pathan, Jama Masjid of Bharuch and the ‘Hilal Khan Qazi’s mosque’ in Dholka under the rule of Ahmed Shahi (early 15th century A.D) and Mahmud I Begarha. Ahmedabad emerged as a city full of architectural mast masterpieces which include ‘Sayyid Alam’s mosque’, ‘Teen Darwaza’, ‘Tomb of Ahmed shah’, Ranika-Hujra’, Qutubuddin’s mosque and the ‘Rani Sipri Mosque.’

The cities of Dhar and Mandu of the Malwa province provide examples of distinct architectural elements in the form of polychromatic ornamentation of buildings, which was obtained by the use of coloured stones and marble as well as tiles. The architectural activity took a new turn with the establishment of the capital at Mandu, especially under the rule of Hoshang Shah. Important buildings in Mandu include the Jahaz Mahal (a 120 meter long ‘ship palace’ built by Sultan Ghiyas-uddin-khilji), “Taveli Mahal’, ‘Hindola Mahal’. As mandu or the ‘City of joy’ was associated with the romance of the poet-prince Baz Bahadur and Rani Roopmati, many buildings are devoted to them like ‘Baz Bahadur’s palace and Roopmati’s Pavilion.’

The Deccan architecture is marked by its distinct originality and independent style, unlike the architectural styles of the other provinces which combined both the temple and Islamic architectural features. It derived its elements from the architectural styles of the of Delhi Sultanate and that of the distant Persia. These aspects are best illustrated by the evolution of tombs in the Deccan. The earliest specimen afforded by the tomb of allauddin (14th century) was imitation in toto of the Tughlaq style of Delhi. The tombs of the 15 th century built by the Bahmani rulers of Bidar depict distinct Persian elements dexterously combined with those of the Delhi style. Finally, the tombs of the Qutub shahi dynasties of the 16th and 17th centuries show a fully developed bulbous or “Tartar” dome, indicating its complete evolution by the amalgamation of various differing styles.

The Qutub Shahi and Nizam Shahi dynasties contributed greatly towards the development of the Deccan style of architecture. The best architectural specimen is the Charminar built in 1591 A.D. by Mohammed Quli Qutub Shah. Often called arc de triumph of the East, it is a beautiful structure with four intricately carved minarets built with granite and lime-mortar. The Mecca Masjid, located near the Charminar, is another architectural beauty. The Golconda fort built by Mohammed Quli Qutub Shah in 1525 A.D. was an impregnable fort of great strategic importance to the rulers. The Qutub Shahi tombs a cluster of six magnificent tombs situated a kilometer north of Golconda fort’s Banjara Darwaza. These are built in a unique architectural style which is a mixture of Persian, and pathan and Hindu forms. The tomb of Mohammed Quli Qutub Shah is one of the largest and most imposing of these monuments.

The Adil Shahi dynasty of Bijapur constructed several mosques, tombs and palaces. The development of dome reached its acme during their reign. They also borrowed some elements like the use of symbol of crescent from Ottoman Empire. The most distinct monument of this period is the Gol Gumbaz’ built by Mohammad Adil shah, which is the largest masonry dome in the world. The dome is 51 metres high and has a diameter of 37 metres. The dome is an engineering marvel since it stands unsupported by any pillars.

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