From the pages of history...

Highlighting Islamic architecture through film

July 26, 2011 09:45 am | Updated 09:51 am IST - NEW DELHI:

SOLAH KAMAN MOSQUE: A unique treasure of the heritage of Islamic architecture.

SOLAH KAMAN MOSQUE: A unique treasure of the heritage of Islamic architecture.

The grandeur of the Mughal Empire was such that their legacy lives on even today in their majestic palaces, tombs and places of worship.

History is replete with the genesis and stories of people behind these architectural marvels, but sadly, public consciousness associates Islamic culture only with North India. Therefore, while the story of love behind the Taj Mahal is well known, the story behind the Cheraman Juma Masjid in Kerala is not. This oldest mosque in India which is said to have been built in the lifetime of the Prophet does not usually feature in the itinerary of the regular tourist. Eminent art historian, film-maker and photographer Benoy Behl, who has travelled across the country documenting its art and cultural heritage with over a hundred documentaries and over 35,000 photographs to his credit, has now taken up the mammoth task of filming and thereby bringing to light the Islamic architecture of India from Kashmir in the North to Kerala in the South and from Tripura in the East to Gujarat in the West.

The first mosque to be built in the North was the Quwwat-ul-islam in 1193 AD. Verses from the Quran feature on the walls which medieval writers describe as so beautiful as to give an appearance of having been written on wax stones.

The reach of the Islamic world had extended to the Deccan in the South and the streets of the Deccan Sultanate which were filled with Turks, Persians, Arabs and Africans had become a hub of Arabic learning and literature.

This region which falls mostly in North Karnataka is home to some of the most beautiful edifices of Islamic architecture. The Gol Gumbaz in Bijapur is the tomb of Sultan Muhammad Adil Shah (1627-1657) and boasts a dome measuring 37.92 metres on the inside, second in size only to the Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome.

The formidable Bidar Fort (14th and 15th Centuries) is encircled by walls measuring 5.5 kilometres and is home to the palace, two mosques, a madarasa, ornamental gardens and hamams.

Mughal architecture in India was a fusion of local and imported building style, techniques and tradition, a mixture of local talent and inspirations from Iran, Arabia, and Central Asia. Humayun's tomb is said to be heavily influenced by the Lodhi and Tuglaq architecture of the 14th and 15th Centuries.

In Kashmir, wood was used extensively in the mosques and tombs, with the architecture heavily influenced by ancient Hindu and Buddhist traditions combined with Persian and Turkistan influences.

Islamic architecture can be seen in every corner of India. The West offers the mostly Islamic heritage site of Champaner in Gujarat and the East boasts of the Nakhoda Masjid in Kolkata. Gedu Mia Ki Masjid in Tripura is the North-East's tribute to Islamic influences. Tamil Nadu is home to Codal Karai Mosque built in 633 AD by Arab traders and ranks among the oldest mosques in the world. Arab influences in Tamil Nadu and Kerala saw the construction of various mosques which are still standing. Most of these structures have been recognised as world heritage monuments and Benoy Behl hopes to bring to the fore India's diverse architectural heritage through his film which has been commissioned by the Public Diplomacy Division of the External Affairs Ministry.

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