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Introduction

The Tughlaks ruled northern India from Delhi for about a hundred years, from the early 14th to the early 15th centuries. The first three sultans of this dynasty were exceptionally energetic and capable (though sometimes controversial) individuals. In addition to their military and political accomplishments, these rulers also left behind a unique architectural legacy. They built forts, palaces, and tombs throughout their capital Delhi while their governors replicated the easily-identifiable style in religious and military buildings across the country. During my travels in the subcontinent, I have come across Tughlak buildings in some unexpected places very far from Delhi.

Multan

The tomb of Shah Rukn-e-Alam is said to have been built by Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlak for himself during the days of his governorship (under Ala-ud-din Khilji) of Depalpur. The date of its construction is uncertain but it is likely to have been completed around 1320 when Ghiyas-ud-din moved to Delhi. The mausoleum was later given by his son, Muhammad, to the followers of Shah Rukn-e-Alam, a renowned Sufi saint of Multan, and grandson and successor of Shaikh Baha-Al-Din Zakariya.

Built on a mound, this magnificent structure and its huge dome can be seen for miles around, from whichever side the city is approached. The mausoleum, built entirely of red brick, has the trademark thick, sloping walls that characterise Tughlak architecture. The lower walls here form a high octagon whose corners are marked by round and tapering buttresses. Above this, on the second story is a smaller octagonal structure, leaving a narrow, uncovered walkway on the second level. Surmounting this structure is a massive, hemispherical dome.

The whole of the exterior is elaborately ornamented with glazed tile panels, string-courses and battlements. Colors used are dark blue, azure, and white, contrasted with the deep red of the finely polished bricks. In the 1970s the mausoleum was thoroughly repaired and renovated. The entire glittering glazed interior is the result of new tiles and brickwork done by the Kashigars of Multan.

Delhi

When Ghiyas-ud-Din Tughlak moved to Delhi as the first ruler of the Tughlak dynasty he embarked on an energetic building programme. In his short reign of five years he commissioned a new fortified citadel, Tughlakabad, the third of Delhi's seven historical cities which he filled with a royal palace and magnificent gateways.

The buildings are now in ruins and all that remains well-preserved today is his own tomb, a magnificent structure, standing within a separate fortified compound. The tomb itself looks like a fortress with its thick, sloping walls surmounted by crenellations. The compound it is placed within has arcaded walls with fortress-like parapets.

The major contribution of Muhammad Tughlak, the son and successor of Ghiyas-ud-Din, was the fourth city of Delhi, fortified walls named Jahan-Pannah or the World Refuge. Within this city he built a double storied bridge of seven spans named Sath Pul, and a victory pavilion, the Bijai Mandal. In 1340, the city was deserted when Muhammad moved his capital to Daulatabad in the Deccan, a move which would come to deeply impact the politics and architecture of the region.

Firoz Shah Tughlak revived Tughlak architecture in Delhi with a flourish and built extensively during his long reign. He expanded the Ferozshah Kotla into the fifth city of Delhi and also built three other forts in the cities of Jaunpur, Fathabad, and Hissar. He also built several mosques including the Khirki Masjid and the Begum-puri mosque at Jahanpanah, Kali Masjid, the mosque in the Dargah of Shah Alam at Timurpuri and the Kalan Masjid at Shahjahanabad.

The immense Khirki Masjid with its monumental entrance was Firuz Shah's greatest architectural achievement. The small rectangular mosque has a prayer courtyard that is surrounded by a two-storied cloister that has magnificent arches surmounted by a roof with small, hemispherical domes. Arched windows on the second storey have intricate jali patterns.

Bagerhat

This small town in southern Bangladesh that has several Islamic monuments from the 15th century. Most of these buildings are attributed to Khan Jahan Ali, a Tughlak nobleman who came to Bengal just after Timur's sack of Delhi in 1398. He acquired this forested region as a jagir from the sultans of Delhi and Bengal, established a fortified town, and then launched an energetic building programme. The resultant architecture is an unusual blend of Tughlak and Bengali styles.

The Shaith Gombuz mosque is the earliest building here, a massive structure standing in a large enclosure defined by a low wall. and entered through an large eastern gateway embellished by terracotta decoration. The mosque itself is heavy, almost fort-like in construction with the thick sloping walls and bastion-like tapering corner towers that clearly derive from Tughlak style. The slightly curved roof has rows of simple, hemispherical domes, except the domes on the central aisle which are unexpectedly, in the Bengali charchala style.

The walls of this mosque are severe compared to later Khan Jahani buildings in the area. The parapet has only a single moulding with a line of rotated squares and the walls are left completely unadorned. Only the entrance arches have terracotta roundels and rows of ornamentation above the enclosing rectangular frame. The main east entrance arches are distinguished by additional roundels placed outside the rectangular frame.

The late 15th century Singar Mosque lies a short distance south of the Shaith Gombuj. Its large, single dome is impressive for its size and symmetry. The east wall seen here has a gently curving cornice and three entrance arches, of which the central arch both wider and higher than the others. Each arch is framed in a narrow rectangle that contains mouldings and rows of simple terracotta decoration at the top. The parapet is also simple with a row of small recessed arches at the top and a jali frieze below, separated by a projection. This design wraps around the circular corner bastions which has horizontal bands of ornamental mouldings.

The architecture of the Noi Gombuz or nine-domed mosque is more ornate indicating a later date, more influenced by Bengali architectural traditions. The wide parapet is more noticeably curved and embellished with a row of squares between high mouldings. The three entrance arches on the east wall (seen here) have wide rectangular frames. In the central arch, which is slightly higher and wider, this frame forms a pierced screen. The area above each arch is divided into two panels, probably intended for calligraphy blocks (now missing). Similarly elaborate entrances mark the north and south walls. The corner minarets are less heavy and more ornate now, with five moldings, and a triple moulding at the base.

Warangal

Warangal fort was strengthened and reconstructed in Islamic style after the Tughlaks defeated the last Kakatiya ruler and occupied the site. Although the gateways and pavilions of the fortress itself are Islamic, the ruins within the fort are mostly remnants of Kakatiya temples and palaces, including the famous Kakatiya portals near the Swayambhu temple area.

The one exception is the Khush Mahal, a rectangular hall said to be built over the site of a Kakatiya palace. It may have been used as an audience hall by Shitab Khan, the 16th century Qutb Shahi governor of Warangal but was probably built during the 14th century Tughlak occupation of the fort. Its sharply sloping walls are easily identifiable as Tughlak. The long east and west walls of the building have a projecting parapet and six high arches framed by narrow rectangles.

These high arched windows admit light to the interior. A wide entrance arch on the north wall leads to a single spacious schamber inside with small storage rooms on each side. Transverse arches span the high ceiling. Broken fragments from the Svayambhu enclosure and Jain temples are placed inside the hall and near the north entrance.

London, 2011

A modified version of this essay was published at Go Places!


Tomb of Shah Rukn Alam, Multan



Tomb of Ghiyas ud-din Tughlak, Delhi



Shaith Gombuz Mosque, Bagerhat



Singar Masjid, Bagerhat



Khush Mahal, Warangal

Photos and Text © Amit Guha Feedback