An Italian in India
An Italian in India – Part 4: Islam and Architecture
India is normally considered a mostly Hindu society, and for the most part it’s true. The vast majority of people pledge to the Hindu’s gods, which are numerous and split into different levels. However, Indian society has always been open, throughout the centuries, to new religions. Because of this, and also due to the Mughals’ former rule over several regions, a sizable minority of Muslims can be found in most of the Indian states.
In Delhi, many signs of the past and present glory of such an important group can be found. In Old Delhi stands a huge mosque, which I didn’t have the opportunity to visit. On the opposite side of the capital, I visited the Humayun’s Tomb and the Qutab Minar. Both sites are currently no longer places of worship, however they still display their magnificence.
Humayun’s Tomb is a complex erected by a Mughal ruler’s wife, Hamida Banu Begum, which resembles more a palace than a mausoleum. The area is subdivided between several gardens and buildings. Apart from the Humayun’s mausoleum, which is erected on an octagonal base and lays at the center of an octagonal wall, there is also an enormous mosque and several lower buildings which can be visited, and Persian gardens that span from one side of the complex to the other. Everything seems huge in India!
The buildings are surrounded by gardens in Middle Eastern style, with water features everywhere, which are both wonderful and useful for keeping the place alive. The variety of plants is unique, probably as beautiful as the architecture.
The details carved in the rock are in harmony with the trees; once you reach the top of the structure at the base of the mosque, it is impossible not to be fascinated by the path drawn by the water, the plants and the buildings. A century later, Humayun’s Tomb inspired the construction of the Taj Mahal.
The Qutab Minar is the only building left completely intact of an enormous complex, which once had been an important place for Indian Muslims. Within the area, there were, apart from the places of worship, several tombs, a school situated in a semi-closed garden, and many buildings to accommodate believers in pilgrimage. The Qutab Minar, the tallest minaret I have ever seen, is a leaning tower, which made me recall the Leaning Tower of Pisa, even though it is not made of marble, but instead of characteristic sandstone. The rest of the complex is impressive as well. The columns that once supported a portico now sustain nothing but sky. They are all carved with different details; there aren’t two even remotely similar. What once had been the doors of the mosque are inscribed with passages from the Koran, in typical Muslim style. It’s impossible not to wonder: who was the genius able to think of such a marvelous place? Who were the people able to assemble so many details in a perfect way?
By Alberto Gouthier