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Delhi Sultanate – Literature, Art & Architecture

Evolution of Syncretic Culture

  • The interaction of the Turks with the Indians had its influence in architecture, fine arts and literature.


  • Arch, dome, vaults and use of lime cement, the striking Saracenic features, were introduced in India.
  • The use of marble, red, grey and yellow sandstones added grandeur to the buildings.
  • In the beginning the Sultans converted the existing buildings to suit their needs.
  • Qutb-uddin Aibak’s Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque situated adjacent to Qutb Minar in Delhi and the Adhai din ka Jhopra in Ajmer illustrate these examples.
  • A Hindu temple built over a Jain temple was modified into Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque.
  • Adhai din ka Jhopra was earlier a Jain monastery before being converted as a mosque.
  • With the arrival of artisans from West Asia the arch and dome began to show up with precision and perfection.
  • Gradually local artisans also acquired the skill.
  • The tomb of Balban was adorned with the first true arch and the Alai Darwaza built by Ala-ud-din Khalji as a gateway to the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque is adorned with the first true dome.
  • The palace fortress built by Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq and Muhammad bin Tughlaq in Tughlaqabad, their capital city in Delhi, is remarkable for creating an artificial lake around the fortress by blocking the river Yamuna.
  • The tomb of Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq introduced the system of sloping walls bearing the dome on a raised platform.
  • The buildings of Firuz Tughlaq, especially his pleasure resort, Hauz Khas, combined Indian and Saracenic features in alternate storeys, displaying a sense of integration.

Qutb Minar, originally a 72.5 metre tower when completed by Iltutmish, was increased to 74 metres by the repairs carried out by Firuz Shah Tughlaq. The Minar is facilitated by 379 steps and it is magnificent for the height, balconies projecting out marking the storeys, the gradual sloping of the tower and the angular flutings creating a ribbed effect around the tower.

Sculpture and Painting

  • Orthodox Islamic theology considered decorating the buildings with animal and human figures as un-Islamic.
  • Hence the plastic exuberance of well-carved images found in the pre-Islamic buildings was replaced by floral and geometrical designs.
  • Arabesque, the art of decorating the building with Quranic verses inscribed with calligraphy, emerged to provide splendour to the building.

Music and Dance

  • Music was an area where the syncretic tendencies were clearly visible.
  • Muslims brought their musical instruments like Rabab and Sarangi.
  • Amir Khusrau proclaimed that Indian music had a pre-eminence over all the other music of the world.
  • The Sufi practice of Sama, recitation of love poetry to the accompaniment of music, was instrumental in promotion of music.
  • Pir Bhodan, a Sufi saint, was considered a great musician of the age.
  • Royal patronage for the growth of music was also forthcoming.
  • Firuz Tughlaq evinced interest in music leading to synchronisation by translating an Indian Sanskrit musical work Rag Darpan into Persian.
  • Dancing also received an impetus in the official court.
  • Ziaud-din Barani lists the names of Nusrat Khatun and Mihr Afroz as musician and dancer respectively in the court of Jalaluddin Khalji.


  • Amir Khusrau emerged as a major figure of Persian prose and poetry.
  • Amir Khusrau felt elated to call himself an Indian in his Nu Siphr (‘Nine Skies’).
  • In this work, he praises India’s climate, its languages – notably Sanskrit – its arts, its music, its people, even its animals.
  • The Islamic Sufi saints made a deep literary impact.
  • The Fawai’d-ul-Fawad, a work containing the conversations of Sufi Saint Nizam-ud-din Auliya was compiled by Amir Hassan.
  • A strong school of historical writing emerged with the writings of Zia-ud-din Barani, Shams-ud-din Siraj Afif and Abdul Malik Isami.
  • Zia-ud-din Barani, emerged as a master of Persian prose.
  • Abdul Malik Isami, in his poetic composition of Futuh-us-Salatin, records the history of Muslim rule from Ghaznavid period to Muhammad bin Tughlaq’s reign.
  • Persian literature was enriched by the translation of Sanskrit works.
  • Persian dictionaries with appropriate Hindawi words for Persian words were composed, the most important being Farhang-i-Qawas by Fakhrud-din Qawwas and Miftah-ul-Fuazala by Muhammad Shadiabadi.
  • Tuti Namah, the Book of Parrots, is a collection of Sanskrit stories translated into Persian by Zia Nakshabi.
  • Mahabharata and Rajatarangini were also translated into Persian.
  • Delhi Sultanate did not hamper the progress of Sanskrit Literature.
  • Sanskrit continued to be the language of high intellectual thought.
  • The Sanskrit schools and academies established in different parts of the empire continued to flourish.
  • The classical Sanskrit inscription (Palam Baoli) of 1276 in Delhi claims that due to the benign rule of Sultan Balban god Vishnu sleeps in peace in the ocean of milk without any worries.
  • The influence of Arabic and Persian on Sanskrit literature was felt in the form of translations.
  • Shrivara in his Sanskrit work Kathakautuka included the story of Yusuf and Zulaika as a Sanskrit love lyric.
  • Bhattavatara took Firdausi’s Shah Namah as a model for composing Zainavilas, a history of the rulers of Kashmir.

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