Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Architecture in Medieval India

A. Delhi Sultanate

Architecture is the art and design of building as an expression of particular culture. And the main goal of Islamic art is to express the beauty as an aspect of God through structures, patterns, designs, decoration and various techniques. The spirit of Islamic architecture is determined and conditioned by the concept of God in Islam, which is monotheistic, as Dr. Tara Chand said, “It must be a symbol of transcendent majesty of vast spaciousness, sublimity and purity”.

These feelings are realized in the mosque, whose pointed arch, aspiring dome, tall minaret, lofty portals, pillared naves and aisles, clear-cut outlines, adorned with surface decoration of conventional arabesque, interlaced geometrical patterns, and beautiful calligraphic inscriptions, symmetrical exterior and spacious interior, fulfill all the aspirations and longings of a devout Muslim’s soul.

In India, the clash of the two divergent mentalities –Hindu and Muslim- and their culture resulted in the creation of a new culture. Hindu and Muslim elements coalesced to form a new type of architecture. The building erected by Musalmans were not purely Muslim-Syro-Egyptian, Persian or Central Asian, nor were the Hindu buildings purely Hindu. Rejecting the general tendency to relate Indian Muslim architecture with the architecture of the Muslim world on the one hand and with Buddhist and Hindu architecture on the other hand to prove that it is a synthesis, Muhammad Mujeeb stated, “Architecture is the field in which the Indian Muslim mind has operated with complete freedom, and revealed itself most fully”. In fact, this architecture is above all things positively Indian Muslim, with its own ‘personality’, its own expression.

In Indian Muslim architecture our interest centers around the mosques and the mausoleum. Though palaces, towers, gateways, and civic structure also have great aesthetic and architectural value, but only the mosques and mausoleums were preserved. This is due to, as in Rizvi’s words, “Mainly out of religious sentiment”.

In Delhi, the Quwwatul Islam mosque was the first of it’s kind to be built, begun immediately after Delhi’s conquest in 1192 on the order of Qutbuddin Aybak. It was built out of the materials of temples. This involved erecting the edifice on pillars with the help of supporting brackets and spanning the roof with horizontal beams. The plinth of one of the original Hindu temples was converted into courtyard, and a new plinth was constructed. This was enclosed by pillared cloisters, three bays deep on the east and two bays on the north and south. The original short temple pillars were placed one above the other to achieve the desired height. All the arches in the screen were corbelled out like the ogees in the Buddhist rock-cut caves. The calligraphy of Quranic verses dominates the sinuous tendrils. Curling leaves and geometric traceries of the arabesque were also present.

In the south-east corner of the mosque, Aybak built the world famous minaret of red sandstone known as Qutb Minar. It was designed on the pattern of Iranian minarets, with round and triangular spurs connected by balconies. The bottom storey, consisting of alternately rounded and angular flutes. Some three meters from the plinth, the looped bell and garland and the lotus borders of the ancient Hindu tradition have been carved. The first storey leads up to a bracketed gallery, supported by a stalactite of the honeycomb work commonly used in Islamic pendentives. The second, third and fourth storeys were built by Iltutmish. The fourth storey was struck by lightning in 1370, then it was replaced with two more storeys by Sultan Firuz Tughlug. The first three are constructed of grey quartzite faced with red sandstone, while the fourth and fifth are built of red sandstone faced largely with marble. This last stage raised the mosque’s height to 72.59 meters.

Qutbuddin also built a mosque in Ajmer called Arha’i Din ka Jhopra. And his successor Iltutmish added a maqsurah to that mosque. Iltutmish also built a mosque at Badayun along with an Idgah and a tank, and a lofty gateway at Nagori. But his mausoleum is most important, for its inner surface is completely covered with inscriptions, in the Hindu tradition of avoiding empty spaces. He built the tomb of his son, Nasiruddin which has a touch of the fortress in its external while inside it is all gracefulness and peace.

By the time of Alauddin Khilji, Indian Muslim architecture had come under the influence of Saljuk techniques and styles. Of this, the Ala’I Darwazah of the Qutub mosque is the most beautiful. The gateway is a cubical structure of 15.25 meters each side, covered by a flate dome. The three large pointed horseshoe arches supporting the dome are of dressed stone. The adaptation of different styles in the Ala”I Darwaza has in no way undermined the proportion and harmony of the structure.

During the reign of the Tughlugs, ornamentation was replaced by lineaments and masses. The angled walls of Ghiyasuddin Tughlugs tomb inspired by the Perso-Arabian traditions of Multan tombs. There are monuments of the Tughlug period, which presented variations, departures and experiments. Mosques like the Khirki and Kalan Masjid are distinguished by their lofty plinths and fortress-like appearance, the Madrasa of Firuz Tughlug is the combination of Hindu columns, arch and lintel arcades and kiosks is most striking, the palace-fort of Firuz, known as the Kotla Firuz Shah, set the pattern for the palaces of later days, the tomb of Khan-I-Jahan Tilingani has interesting structural features, its outer enclosure contains the usual Tughlug strong walls and towers but it iss on an octagonal plan instead of usual square. The precursor of Khan-I-Jahan’s tomb was Shaikh Ruknuddin’s tomb in Multan.

B. Mughal Architecture

The buildings of the Mughal period reflected not only techniques of architecture and the wealth of the state but ideas of personality, the love of poetry, gardens, flowers and flowing waters. The great Mughal builders, Akbar and Shah Jahan, translated into stone the refinement, elegance and strength of their empire.

The first Mughal monument of significance is the tomb of the emperor Humayun, built by his widow, Haji Begum. The tomb is the central feature of a large enclosed formal garden, with channels for running water. The large, the bulbous dome, the arrangement of rooms and corridors were definitely Persian. But the use of marble for ornamentation was absolutely Indian Muslim.

Akbar’s buildings are almost entirely in red sandstone, relieved occasionally through marble inlay, such as the interior of the Jami’ Masjid Fatehpur Sikri and the gateway to his mausoleum at Sinkandra. Akbar’s architectural activity began with the palace fort at Agra. The Jahangiri Mahal represents the adaptation of a Hindu style of architecture to the Muslim style of living. The Delhi gate, gives an impression of refined strength and solidity from outside, and of openness and cultured dignity from within. Fatehpur Sikri was another work of Akbar, consists the Diwan-I-Am, the Diwan-I-Khas, the apartments of queens, pavilions for relaxation, courtyards, quarters for offices and officials and also a mosque, where a hundred thousand men could prayed there at the same time.

Akbar’s mausoleum was built in Jahangir’s time, but Jahangir’s interests were painting and garden architecture. “Verinag” and “Chashma-Shahi” are gardens built by Jahangir beautifully around spring. Apart from Akbar’s tomb, the only monument of significance from this period is I’timaduddaulah’s mausoleum on the left bank of the Jumna. Jahangir’s own tomb, like I’timaduddulah’s and Akbar’s tombs, have no dome, only minarates and ornamentation are apparent.

With the reign of Shah Jahan began a phase of architectural activity distinguished by an intelligent and discerning regard for tradition and an innovation. The use of marble, which could be obtained adequately in Rajasthan was common. Shah Jahan did not think the red sandstone structures good enough for the imperial palace when marble and money were available. He replaced structures and added new ones in the palace fort of Agra. The Diwan-I-Am was rebuilt with inlay of black marble. His most praiseworthy contribution to the buildings of the Agra fort was the Moti Masjid, which presents the ideal of balance, gracefulness and purity.

The Taj Mahal, built by Shah Jahan to a degree that the whole world would gaze at it in awe and wonder, was the tomb of his beloved queen, Mumtaz Mahal. It stands on the bank of the Jumna in an enclosure the size of which harmonies fully, we could say musically, with the proportions of mausoleum. As we pass the monumental gateway, we face a square garden with a long pool in its center in which the Taj is constantly reflected. The mausoleum is in a high terrace balanced by a mosque in the west and a “Mihman Khana” in the east.

Shah Jahan constructed a new city, mosque and palace fort at Delhi to be called after him Shahjahanabad. The Red Fort at Delhi is an oblong, 3100 feet length and 1650 feet broad, enclosed by lofty wall of red sandstone. Its public entrance called Lahori Gate. The Jami’ Masjid of Delhi represents the consummation of mosque architecture. It is the largest mosque in India, and has been built on such a lofty plinth that its domes and minarates dominate the city. Architecturally it is above criticism and in its own way an expression of perfection. Jami’ Masjid at Agra, built by Shah Jahan in honor of his daughter Jahan Ara is only half size of Jami’ Masjid of Delhi.

With the end of Shah Jahan’s rule, the creative impulse of Indian Muslim architecture was exhausted. Wazir Khan’s mosque at Lahore was an experiment in the use of brick and tiles. The Badshahi mosque in the Red Fort at Delhi, built by Aurangzeb has an atmosphere of intimacy but no outstanding architectural merit. Safdarjung’s tomb, built in the middle of the eighteenth century, though following the traditional pattern, lacks the harmony.
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The Origin and Growth of Urdu Language

The origin of the Urdu language is obscure. Various theories have been given to explain it. Muhammad Husain Azad maintains that Brij Bhasha, a dialect of Western Hindi, is the basic language. After the conquest of Delhi by the Muslims, the Persian element was grafted which resulted to the existence of Urdu language.

Mahmud Sherani, on the contrary, holds that the Urdu language originated in the first contact of the Muslims and Hindus after the conquest and incorporation of the Punjab and Sind In the Empire of Mahmud of Ghazni. In his book Punjab men Urdu, he has discussed the structure and morphology of the Urdu language and has shown grammatical affinity which it has with the Punjabi language. After the occupation of Delhi by the Ghoris, the Punjabi Muslims and Hindus, who had already become familiar with the Persian language migrated to Delhi in order to run the administration of the new government. This exodus of people on a large scale from Lahore to Delhi influenced the Khari Bholi or the Hindi spoken in Delhi and its neighbourhood. In course of time the Punjabi words and idioms became interwoven in the Hindi of Delhi and thus a new language came into being.

The third theory has been recently propounded by Dr. Masud Husain of the Aligarh Muslim University. He said that the basic language spoken in Delhi at the time of Muslim conquest was Hariani. When Persian was grafted on Hariani, it resulted in the creation of the Urdu language. He has discussed the grammatical structures of Hariani and Urdu and has based his conclusion on a comparative study of the two languages.

It seems fairly clear that after the Ghori conquest of Delhi, Persian and Punjabi words got interwoven with the language which was spoken there, which was a mixture of Khari Bholi, Brij, Rajasthani, and Hariani. Languages do not originate overnight. It must have taken at least a century to give shape to the new common language of Delhi which has been called “Hindawi” or “Dahlavi” by Amir Khusrau. Later Abul Fazl also called it the Dahlavi language. Amir Khusrau used “Dahlavi” or “Hindavi” medium in his compositions which he has mentioned in the introduction of his “Ghurratu Kamal”.

From the very beginning when Delhi became a great center of the Sufis, they employed the Hindavi language for preaching their message. They found Hindavi to be the most suitable medium for conveying their messages to the masses. Baba Farid feely used Hindavi words in his conversation with his disciples. Some Hindavi utterances have been preserved by Mir Khurd in the Siyarul Auliya. In Fawaidul Fuad, Shaikh Nizamuddin also used Hindavi language in his conversation with his disciple.

In the development of early Urdu or Hindavi, the Bhagat poets have also played an important role. The language used by Namdeo, Kabir, Pipa and Ravidas is hardly different from the one used by the Sufis. As both the Bhagats and the sufis aimed atreaching the people, they employed the all-India medium available, the Hindavi, which have been familiar all over the country.

After the advent of the Mughals on the stage of Indian history, the Hindavi language acquired greater flexibility and range. Persian words and phrases came into vogue freely. The Hindavi of this period was known as the Rekhta, or the Hindustani and later as urdu. Perfect amity and tolerance between Hindus and Muslims tended to foster the Rekhta or Urdu, which represented the principle of unity in diversity, so marked a feature of Indian life at its best.

During Akbar’s reign, translations were made from Sanskrit into Persian and Hindus and Muslims came very close to each other. Akbar’s intimate relation with the Rajputs indirectly helped the development of Urdu. Raja Todar Mal ordered all government officials to acquire profiency in Persian as a condition for promotion. This indirectly led to the propagation of Urdu all over the country and finally to its standardization in the time of Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb, when the synthetic character of Urdu (Rekhta) acquired a complete form and greater content and power.

The famous poets of this period who wrote in Urdu were Chandar Bhan Brahman, Mu’izzuddin, Ja’far, Mirza Kashmir and Mirza Bedil. Shamsuddin Wali is regarded as the founder of modern Urdu poetry. He freely used the Persian izafat and tarkib. Wali was followed by Abru, Arzu, Hatim and others at Delhi who standardized Urdu prosody.

The Urdu language was enriched from generation to generation, mainly through accumulated wisdom, techniques and cultural traditions. Through its medium the different sections of Indian society found the way to perfect comprehension of one another.
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Thursday, November 17, 2005

Bhakti Movement

The word “Bhakti” is derived from Sanskrit language, Bhaj, means devotion, intense personal attachment to God; in Hindu philosophy and thought, Bhakti is one of the ways to reach God; also the name of an important religious and social movement in medieval India that propagated Bhakti. Some time in medieval India, a religious movement broke out that emphasized on the devotion to God, as sole means of salvation, collectively known as the Bhakti Movement.

At the time of the arrival of the Musalmans in India, Hindu society, comprising the followers of Saivism, Vaishnavism and the cult of Sakti was divided between those who worshipped images, performed prescribed rites and offered sacrifices, and intellectuals, who had no faith in path of action (Karma-marga). To them, attainment of salvation was possible only through the path of knowledge (Jnana-marga). It was in these circumstances that the movement of Bhakti, devotion blended with love of God, found a favorable atmosphere.

According to Barth and Senart, Bhakti is not at all specifically Semitic. It is a sentiment everywhere diffused. It came naturally in India when devotion turned to a single personal God. The traditions by which it is inspired belong to Aryan as much as to Semitic thought. After all, during the time of the arrival of Islam in India, as Yusuf Husain stated, “The religious point of view of the Hindus, though always based on old foundations, became considerably modified”. Although stress on Bhakti can be found in much earlier texts, such as the Shvetashvatara Upanishad and the Bhagavat Gita, it seems that the Bhakti propounded in these texts is radically different from the later developments. In both these texts, Bhakti is presented as a form of yoga, in which one contemplates God as part of a controlled and disciplined practice.

Yusuf Husain divided the movement of Bhakti into two periods. The first was from the time of the Bhagavat Gita to the thirteenth century, the time when Islam penetrated into the interior of India. The second period extends from the thirteenth century to the sixteenth century, an epoch of profound intellectual fermentation, the result of the contact between Islam and Hinduism.

Bhakti movement left very profound impact on the life and culture of Indians in the subsequent centuries. Numerous religions like Sikhism, and cults like Vaishnvism born then are alive today. The following are some of the important saints and teachers of the Bhakti movement.

Ramanuja. He gave a philosophic basis to the teachings of Vaisnavism. He wrote commentaries on Brahmasutras, Bhagavat Gita, and the Upanishad, expounded Visishtadvaita or qualified monism and established the Unity of God, possessing attributes. Being an orthodox Hindu, he performs all the rites enjoined and never preached any heterodox doctrine, implying disavowal of the authority of the Vedas and of Brahmanic traditions. The important thing to him is meditation on God.

His followers very scrupulously observed the rites of the past and the rule of the caste. His teachings confined to the higher section of Hindu society. The Sudras had no access to their order. Only the Brahmin could be initiated.

Basava. He is the saint of Karnataka, preached equality to all and taught the way to reach God through one’s vocation. His followers constitute the Lingayat or the Veerashaiva cult. His poems were known as the Vachanas, which preached devotion to lord Shiva as the means of salvation.

Madhva(1238-1319). He broke completely with the Upanishadic doctrine of unity of God and the human soul. He taught “Dvaita” dualism.

Ramananda(1400-1470 AD). He was a disciple of Ramanuja. He worshipped lord Rama and taught perfect love for God and human brotherhood. He founded his school and renounced the rigidity of Hindu rituals. His disciples adopted the name of Avadhutas, the detached, for they regarded themselves as free from all sorts of religious and social customs.

But Ramananda did not go far enough. Though he taught human brotherhood whatever their religion and caste might be, but he was not prepared to make a complete departure from the past traditions, for he did not recognize the right of a Sudra to read the Vedas. He did not go for social equality. He enjoined strict segregation and perfect privacy in the matter of food. Among his dozen disciples there were a Muslim weaver, Kabir, a currier and a barber.

Kabir (1440-1518 AD). A disciple of Ramananda, believed in formless God. He was the first to reconcile Hinduism and Islam. He preached a religious system strictly monotheistic, taught the absolute abolition of the caste, and cast doubt upon the authority of the Vedas and other sacred books. The followers of this school were heretics. Not believing in religious authority. It sought to understand Islam and even to establish a syncretic system appropriate to the life of the people of India.

Although brought up in a Muslim family, Kabir found the means to initiate himself into the sacred texts of the Hindus. He appears to have been influenced by Gosain Ashtananda, a Hindu saint of Benaras. Later he became the disciple of Ramananda. He continued the practice of Bhakti towards Rama, whom he did not consider to be different from Allah of the Muslims. He adored Him as the Supreme Being, the savior of the world and the personification of all goodness. He had no desire to attach himself to any organized religion, nor did he try to make any new religion or philosophical system. All he did was to popularize the ideas of Bhakti, as summarized in the “Bijak”, the book, which holds authority on all that concerns Kabir.

Guru Nanak Dev (1469-1538 AD). He was the founder of Sikhism. He worshiped one God, preached against idol worship and caste system and denied the Hindu rites. The teaching of Guru Nanak was inspired by Kabirpanthis and Muslim saints. The “Janam Sakhi”, Nanak’s book, contains the account of many interviews he had had with the Sufis of his time; among them were Shah Bu Ali Qalandar of Panipat, Sheikh Ibrahim and Mian Mitha.

Nanak believed in God as the omnipotent reality, but maintained that the human could attain union with God through love and devotion and not by knowledge of ceremonial observance. He taught the oneness of God and brotherhood of man, and considered ritual as useless.

The sacred book of the Sikhs, the followers of Guru Nanak is the “Adi Granth”, in which “Janam Sakhi” forms the part of it. Adi Granth was compiled at the time of Guru Arjun, fifty years after the death of Guru Nanak. Afterwards, Guru Tegh Bahadur incorporated the writings of the Gurus before himself to Adi Granth and formed the “Guru Granth Sahib”. The later Sikhs behave with the Guru Granth as a lived Guru.

Dadu Dayal (1544-1603 AD). He was a disciple of Kabir, who supports Hindu-Muslim unity. His followers were known as Dadu Panthis.

Chaitanya was a devotee of lord Krishna, the founder of Vaishnavism in Bengal and popularized Kirtan.

Mirabai was a devotee of lord Krishna, composed a number of songs and poems in honor of Krishna.

Tulsidas depicted Rama as the incarnation. He wrote “Ramcharitmanas”.

Tukaram was a devotee of Vithal, founded the Varhan sect. His teachings are contained in Abhangas. He was a contemporary of Maratha king Shivaji.

Ram Das is the author of “Dasabodh”. His teachings inspired Shivaji to establish an independent kingdom in Maharashtra.
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