India’s Architectural Mash-Up

While most people in India practice Hinduism, Islam is the second-largest religion, making up 13.4% of the population. Visiting the old temples and mosques, palaces and forts, you'll see the intersection of these two ancient cultures reflected in the architecture. This fascinating mash-up of styles and symbols is known as Indo-Islamic architecture.

The key event happened around 800 years ago. That's when Delhi came under Muslim rule for the first time. Then in the early 16th century the Mughals took over and mixed things up even more, combining elements from Islamic, Persian, Ottoman Turkish and Indian architectural styles.

The Jama Masjid of Delhi, completed 1656, includes a courtyard that can hold up to 25,000 worshippers. The onion domes and minarets - a hallmark of mosques and Islamic architecture - have a unique striped design.

Scalloped arches- a Hindu design element - inside the Jama Masjid.

The Hawa Mahal or "Palace of Winds", built in 1799, allowed royal ladies to observe everyday life in the street below without being seen via 953 small latticed windows. Unfortunately, the position of women suffered under Muslim influence. The Purda System was introduced in the Hindu society and women were compelled to live in seclusion and wear veils to cover their faces.

The Agra Red Fort (really a walled palatial city) is an example of Mughal architecture. Mughal ruler Akbar the Great had the fort renovated using red sandstone in 1573. The smooth arches are Islamic; the scalloped arch inlays are Hindu. Akbar tried to foster harmony between Hindus and Muslims, and even attempted to form a new, universal religion focused on peace, unity and tolerance.

Courtyard at Agra Red Fort.

The Jehangiri Mahal at Agra Red Fort has an arched portal with two jharokhas (overhanging enclosed balconies). The primary function of the jharokha was to allow women to see the events outside, but also added to the architectural beauty of buildings.

At Fatehpur Sikri city: The geometric patterns reflect Islamic style; the lotus and floral patterns reflect the Hindu style. 

At Agra Red Fort: Delicate Hindu ornamental design is blended with Islamic stars and arches.

One of my favorites...the Amber Fort/Palace in Jaipur. The present structure was mostly built under the rule of a King named Man Singh from 1590-1614.

The Ganesh Gate at Amber Fort was named after the Hindu god Lord Ganesh who removes all obstacles in life. Note the latticed windows above the gate – again, for the royal ladies to view the activity below.

The Ganesh Gate close up.

Elephants have been worshipped in Hindu culture for centuries and appear often in India's art and architecture. 

At Amber Fort: More scalloped arches (love these!) with lotus detail in the columns.

At Amber Fort: The Kesar Kyari saffron garden with its planted star patterns is made to look like a beautiful, floating Persian carpet.

The Kesar Kyari saffron garden close up.

The famous Sheesh Mahal (Mirror Palace) at Amber Fort was built for the queen, who was not allowed to sleep in open air but loved to see the stars. With just a single candle lit and reflected in all the tiny intricate mirrors, the entire room lights up.

The elegant and majestic Taj Mahal, completed in 1653,  is said to be the finest example of Mughal architecture. 

The dome of Taj Mahal resembles an upside-down closed lotus resting on its petals.

Stone inlays at the Tomb of I'timād-ud-Daulah aka "Baby Taj" incorporate floral, plant, star and geometric motifs.

The ancient temples at Khajuraho were amazing. This newer temple incorporates three different domes representing multiple faiths in the community.