The architecture of India that dates back to the 16th and 17th Century often amazes those who visit the country in the present time. There are several cities, towns and even villages that have and preserve mega structures whose wonder not only lie in their size but also in the architectural works and the history that lies behind the walls. Indeed, while recording his expedition into studying The Taj Mahal, Ebba Koch (2005:Pp129) indicates that he was overwhelmed by its perfection, splendor and sheer size, and further notes that he was not in this as a scholar, but several other scholars in archeology had the same reaction as his to that building and most of these buildings around India.
This paper will take a general approach to the buildings within India and expound on the Indo-Islamic architecture that is evident on these buildings around India and the multidimensional functions that these buildings have. Two towns and their architecture will however form the basis of the reference of the paper, Delhi (Shahjahanabad) and Agra (Akbarabad) since they tend to posses most of the characteristics that embody the 16th and 17th Century architecture and buildings. Most of the ancient buildings in India have become more of monuments that are studied for the details that went into their construction, the politics they display, the message on social class of the occupants, the governance system, the historical functions in the past like burial sites for the royalties and even the interaction of religions at that given time. The buildings essentially carry the age old history of a community, the values of the people and the foundation of the societies hence most of them are revered by the communities to whom they belong and some treated as holy monuments or grounds with spiritual connection and meaning.
Many Indian cities, just like Agra, have the history of Islamic occupation at some time in history. In Agra, there were Muslim dynasties and in as much as there were no written texts about the architecture, there were outstanding features of the Muslim influence on the Indian buildings in terms of their architecture (Ebba Koch (2005:Pp137). This therefore meant there were some disctict features that were associated with the buildings that had the influence of the Muslim in their architectural structures. There were several common features that were noted in many buildings that were and still are found in Agra in buildings like the Taj Mahal and in Delhi's buildings like Shahjahanabad. First there was a shared sense of strict geometry using the grid system. The buildings also had a perfect symmetrical planning with an emphasis on bilateral symmetry along a central axis. There were triadic divisions that were bound together. There was also the hierarchical grading of material, forms as well as color. This hierarchical use of white and red sandstone is said to be clearest presentation of the link that Agra has with the pre-Islamic India and also represented the social stratification. In the 8th Century the white-colored stones were recommended for Brahmin buildings who were the highest of the class and the red stones for the warrior caste. The other characteristic was the uniformity of the shapes that was ordered by the hierarchical accents. In this instance, the pillars that were surrounded by paired columns on both sides were used in the residence of the royalties in the society, while the other areas like the galleries had only one column without pillars. The buildings also had sensuous attention to the finer details. The other aspect was the selective use of naturalism in the buildings with the most naturalistic decor being used in the chief buildings of the complexes. The other aspect is the sophisticated symbolism in the architecture with areas like the central dome being some of the most sophisticated pieces. All these were qualities that were common among the mansions that were meant to house the royal families.
There were cities in North India that were predominantly known as the Islamic Cities and those that were known as the Indian cities. However, there are Indian cities that correspond to the traditional Islamic cities, one of them being Shahjahanabad, though still with prominent features that distinguish it as an Indian city too. It is worth noting that Old Delhi was under Mogul Shah Jahan who reigned between 1628 to 1658 and he is the one who founded and planned this city. The Mogul rulers of that time were well-known for their love of beauty and extensive creativity in all aspects. One of the features that this city shares with the traditional Islamic cities is the centrally located Friday worship mosques, here called Jama Masjid. This city also had bazaars that were demarcated according to the socioeconomic class as was common among the Islamic cities in the Middle East. This city also had city walls and the citadel as was a common feature in the Islamic cities predominantly found in the Middle East even to date. This city also had the intra-urban quarters where the living quarters were mixed up with the shops. The city also had homesteads that had courtyards that were enclosed, yet another feature of the Islamic cities, these were meant to give maximum privacy to the home owners. This city apparently remained the same until the 1857 rebellion that saw the British burn down the Red Fort and demolished most living quarters, burning down buildings that were at least five hundred yards of the fort, this demolished the harmony of the original plan that the city had in a permanent way (Eckhart Ehlers & Thomas Krafft, 2003). The landscape of the city was changed due to the colonial experience that defaced the city and the expensive and detailed architecture that was well organized in a manner that served the purpose of the people living therein like the enclosed courtyards, supported the economy of the city like the shops being situated among the residential areas as well as served to indicate the economic status of the people depending on where they were located in the Bazaar.
The other city that holds a lot of history of the region as mentioned hitherto is Agra which is believed to have emerged in the medieval Indian times from a random decision that was taken by the Lodi Sultan Sikandar Shah of Delhi in 1506 to have a city built mat that point. There are no founded reasons why the Sultan decided to build the city where he had it built. Some scholars have pointed that the region was geographically significant in relation to where Rajput was, and yet others point out that it was due to the love of the Indian rulers to build monuments that would be used to remember them, and in this case the Sultan chose to build a city. These are the geopolitical reasons that have emerged about the location of the city. The geopolitical reasons however do not comprehensively explain the reasons behind the establishment of Agra in this region hence the sound explanation is based on the potential of the region to produce agriculturally hence generating income for the region in the pre-industrial times. With two rivers running on either sides of the city and several tributaries, there were several canals constructed around the city hence an indication of extensive cultivation in the region. This generation of income for the smaller cities like Agra, was not just an economic activity of the individual city, but was a show of independence and diversion of power from the central government in Delhi and at times these smaller cities emerged as independent political entities (K. K. Trivedi, 1994:Pp150). Agra was also established to help centralize power and political control in the Ganga-Yamuna region. Agra was therefore established as one of the…