When Islamic culture arrived in India in the 12th century, a mature theory of structural mechanics was introduced into the architectural development of the sub-continent. The pointed arch, the vault, the squinch and the true dome, together with decorative themes based on calligraphy and the arabesque and geometric patterns were utilised. All this merged with the indigenous Hindu styles to bring about a unique development known as Indo-Islamic architecture.
From 1206 Northern India was dominated by a series of independent sultanates centered on Delhi whose consolidation of power was expressed through large scale building projects ranging from mosques and tombs to palaces and forts.
Delhi was the new capital city of India around 1323, under the rule of Sultan Muhammad Tughluq. In order to strengthen his hold on India, the Sultan needed more judges, scholars and administrators.
It was from this Sultan that Ibn Battuta gained employment. In late 1334 Ibn Battuta signed a contract and began working as a qadi (judge). He bestowed the Sultan with gifts and received a generous salary in return. Occasionally he joined the Sultan and other high officials on elaborate hunting expeditions. Ibn Battuta was given another job: to take care of the Qutb al-Din Mubarak mausoleum. He was also responsible to collect debt from villagers but during a disastrous famine that hit North India in 1335 he helped to give charity to the poor.It was also this Sultan who later made Ibn Battuta ambassador to the Mongol court of China – the next great adventure that he would undertake.
Indo-Islamic architecture can be recognized by the extensive use of red sandstone and white marble. Common features were the mixed light and dark masonry, the spearhead decoration of horseshoe-shaped arches and the use of screens carved from stone. Stylized floral and vine patterns and bands of geometric ornament decorate walls and columns and are either carved directly into the marble or inlayed with semi precious stone.
It is in the Mughal period when all these architectural developments reached their full maturity and therefore most of the inspiration for the design of the India Court in the shopping mall was drawn from here.
The tomb of Humayun, with its red stone and white marble trimmings, was used as reference for the exterior of the court complete with its balustrades and pointed arches. The white marble domes and the four corner pavilions are based on those of the Taj Mahal. This combination gives the exterior an unmistakably Indian feel reminiscent of the architectural icons of Islamic India. This design is carried through to the entrance pavilion, which in turn is decorated with intricate floral designs borrowed from the entrance gate of the Taj Mahal complex.
The most magnificent area in the interior of India Court is the Main Court with its colossal dome. It was decided that the court should not be heavy and crowded with detail, but be airy and light in design despite the monumental size of the mall and its columns. For this reason a polished white marble finish was almost exclusively used, decorated with floral carvings in low relief. The Pearl Mosque at the Red Fort in Delhi provided the perfect example and this is also evident in the use of multi-cusped arches and patterned stone-screen windows.
The dome itself was inspired by the one at the Taj Mahal Mosque and the contrasting red colour complements the otherwise monochrome environment. Double columns, like those found at the Fort in Agra support this structure.
On each of the four surrounding walls there is an oriel window box (compare the Hava Mahal Wind Palace) flanked by ornately carved screens resting on lotus style columns similar to the ones in the Amber Fort in India.
The Minor Court is divided into three sections. The front section and the double storied central section are again inspired by the Pearl Mosque. The arches at the entrance are decorated with colourful floral motifs reminding one of the semi-precious stone inlays at the Taj Mahal. The third section features a “balcony” on either side with a series of spear-fringed arches separated by delicate double columns and carved, screen-like balustrades – a style seen in many Palace designs all over India.
The Concourses in India Court are more simplistic in style but retain the design integrity of the Main and Minor Courts. A more colourful yet reserved ensemble is achieved by the use of various materials and textures found in Indo-Islamic architecture. Marble, red stone and stucco wall finishes are complemented by crenellations, stone balustrades, multi-cusped arches and wooden cornices. Overall the feeling of an Indian souk is achieved.
AL-JAZARI’S ELEPHANT CLOCK
A fascinating feature in India Court is the Elephant Clock. This interactive exhibit pays tribute to one of the greatest Muslim inventors of all time: Al-Jazari.Al-Jazari was a 12th century engineer who had a broad knowledge of the technology of his time. He had a special interest in water raising machines and mechanical clocks. Drawing on the work of his predecessors, he designed machines that were not only furthering the science and technology of his time, but were also, in themselves, works of art. All these designs were compiled in his book: “The Book of Ingenious Mechanical Devices”
A perfect example of one of these devices is the Elephant Clock – a clock that works on the principals of water-related mechanics. The one in the Shopping Mall is an accurate re-creation, based on the drawings that he made in his book.
Every hour, wooden carved figures, dragons and phoenixes all come alive and move together in a synchronized fashion – a technological marvel of the medieval world, brought back to life after 800 years!