Islamic Tombs in India (The Iconography and Genesis of Their Design)

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Item Code: IDJ928
Author: Fredrick W. Bunce
Publisher: D. K. Printworld Pvt. Ltd.
Language: English
Edition: 2004
ISBN: 812460245X
Pages: 335 (Illustrated throughout in Black & White)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 11.1" X 8.5"
Weight 1.40 kg
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Book Description

About the Book

The work by an Indological scholar who has studied different architectural traditions of the world covers the architecture and iconography of some 36 Islamic tombs in India spanning a period of over 500 years from c.AD 1230 to 1754. It begins with a brief historical background to the Islamic rule in northern India and a discussion on burial practices and tomb types of the time to further understanding of the underlying concept of construction and functions of the tombs.

Abounding in numerous line drawings of plans and elevations, and figures, it examines the influence of different traditions- Buddhist and Hindu as well as other Asian and African and Mediterranean traditions-on evolution of the form of Islamic tombs. It makes a detailed examination of the Indo-Islamic tombs under consideration: their description, size, plan and elevation including the interior space and application of the mandala patterns over the tomb structures, the techniques of construction, masonry and artisanship employed in them. It explains the place and relevance of each monument in the overall scheme of Indo-Islamic architectural development and growth as well as the importance of each by itself. It delves into the religious, philosophical and mathematical bases of the architecture and its application to tomb building. The research also involves a comparative study of Indo-Islamic tombs vis-à-vis other architectural marvels of the world- Islamic and non-Islamic.

The book will be extremely relevant to scholars and students of Indian, particularly Indo-Islamic, iconography and those interested in Indo-Islamic cultural traditions in general.

About the Author

Fredrick W. Bunce, a Ph.D. a cultural historian of international eminence, is an authority on ancient iconography and Buddhist arts. He has been honoured with prestigious awards/commendations and is listed in who's who in American Art and the International Biographical Dictionary, 1980. He has published the Encyclopaedia of Buddhist Deities (2 vols.), Encyclopaedia of Hindu Deities (3 vols.), Dictionary of Buddhist and Hindu Iconography, Yantra of deities and their Numerological Foundations, Numbers: their Iconographic Consideration in Buddhist and Hindu Practices and Iconography of Architectural Plans. He is currently Professor Emeritus of Art, Indiana State University, Terre Haute, and Indians.


For years, while visiting and then living in Southeast Asia, I had avoided travel to India. My education had made me aware of some of the architectural glories, which that country possessed, but my awareness of the poverty in which millions existed colored my desire to travel to India.

Then, my publisher invited me to New Delhi. The graciousness with which I was treated was beyond what I had ever experienced before. At that time, I was taken around Delhi, New Delhi and then to Agra!

Somehow, the glories of Indian architecture, both Hindu and Islamic, neutralized my reactions to the desperate conditions in which so many people existed. I was not prepared for the incredible beauty of the "Red Fort" (Shahjahanabda) of Delhi or of the "Red Fort" (Akharabad) of Agra. Luckily, I viewed these two marvels before being taken to the famed Taj Mahal, the Tomb of Hazrat Mumtaz-uz-Zamani!

Upon entering through the main gate/pavilion into the chahar-bagh and being confronted with the magnificent mausoleum, I was totally unprepared for my reaction! Tears rolled down my cheeks as I cried at the sheer, unrivaled, transcendental beauty of that place.

Nothing! Nothing, which I had seen before, had affected me in the way that the Taj Mahal had, with the exception of Java's famed Borobudur. The adjectives that are applied to this ensemble are puny in comparison to the actual sight!

I then began to immerse myself into the architecture of Hindu India. What was revealed was, in a word, incompared! I had visited, studied and photographed the Gothic cathedrals in Western Europe and reveled in their beauty. But, upon viewing the many Hindu temples of India, I was struck with what can only be described as "awe". There was also, for me, a kind of mystical aura that surrounded these structures.

Was it because they were new to my ken? Was it because they were vastly different from the architecture in which I had been so long immersed? Was it a composite reaction between the plight of so many Indian peoples and the magnificence of the structures? Or, was it something else? I do not know! I do know that many of the temples and tombs of India rival the best of Europe in their beauty. It is like comparing apples and arranges! Nonetheless, the architecture of this country, of these people is incomparable!

As I have stated, my first contact with Indian architecture wa Indo-Islamic. Besides the three monuments noted above, I also viewed on that first fateful trip the Quwwat-ul-Islam Masjid. Fortuitious! Later I was able to see the Tomb of Humayun as well as the Tomb of Safdar Jang. In these two tombs are literally the "Alpha and Omega" of Mughal tombs.

For years these experiences had resided and nestled deep in my consciousness. It has only been recently that they have come to the fore and asserted them. I have spent the last two decades studying and considering first Buddhist and then Hindu iconography. My concentration on Indo-Islamic is, therefore, a natural progression.

Many works have been devoted to the architecture of India-Buddhist, Hindu and Islamic. These works, predominantly, are of a general nature, either treating the whole - i.e., Buddhist or Hindu or Islamic - or various dynasty and/or areas - e.g., Bijapur, Gujarat, Gupta, Hoysala, etc. To find example of Indo-Islamic tombs, one is forced to consult numerous tomes in order to gain a clear and relatively comprehensive overview of the subject.

Therefore, this brief consideration was undertaken to treat thirty-six tombs from: the Tomb No.36, Delhi, a. 1230 C.E., to the Tomb of Safdarjang, Delhi, c. 1754 C.E. - i.e., a span of a little over five hundred years. My interest is their apparent genesis as well as the iconography inherent in these monuments. Plans are central to this consideration. However, elevations are not to be discounted. In the presentation of the elevations in this study, they are "proportional" - i.e., they are the depiction of major architectural forms and masses - and are not purported to be precise in the presentation of their minor, architectural details. The computer was utilized in the construction of these elevations. The plans, on the other hand, are relatively precise.


Historical Overview

Some three-hundred fifty odd years after the death of Nabi Muhammad (c.570-632), Islam had made its way into the northern regions of India. The Turks, through military slaves, were to establish various reigns until the early Sixteenth Century. Sabuktigin of Ghazni(977-997) established his dynasty in Afganistan, invaded southward to the shore of the Indus River and established the Ghaznavid dynasty in northern India. While the western Ghaznavid succumbed to the Seljuks, the Indian-Afgani part of the kingdom remained. Sabuktigin was followined by his son Mahmud of Ghazni. In 1173 Muhammad of Ghur defeated the Ghaznavids and subdued the northwestern territories as far as Delhi. Qutb-ud-din, a former military slave, a general in Muhammad of Ghur's army occupied Benares and was later to achieve additional notoriety and power.

Muhammad of Ghur was assassinated in 1206 and Qutb-ud-din Aibak was elected as commander in chief and later assumed the title of Sultan of Delhi. He was succeeded by Sultan Iltutmish (c.1206-1290) and lived through the early Mongol invasions of northern India. For a number of years one ruler succeeded another, usually through assassination - a bloody and all too frequently, a normal occurrence in India and other Islamic kingdoms where he law of primogeniture usually did not apply. In 1320 Ghiyas-ud-din Tughluq assumed power. He was followed by his son Muhammad bin Tughluq. The Tughluqs were supplanted by Firuz Shah and he, in turn, was followed by a number of weak sultans. Again the Mongols invaded under the leadership of Timur and the Turkish Sultanate was destroyed forever in India.

In quick succession, Northern India was ruled by various Sayyids and followed by the Lodis. Then, Zahir-al-Din Muhammad Babur, a Chagatai Turk, King of Ferghana (now in Uzbekistan), "the Great Mughal," a descendent of Timur through his father and Chingiz (Ghengis) Khan through his mother, captured Kabul and began to expand his Afghani empire southward. This was the beginning of the great Mughal Empire in India. Humayun succeeded his father, Babur, and was in turn succeeded by Akbar the Great, Akbar the builder, Akbar the conqueror, Akbar the seeker of the Divine, and the Mughal Empire was firmly established and lasted until the British incursions at which time it had weakened from within to the point of near collapse.

Burial Practices

The Mughals followed a practice long established in the Islamic world - i.e., the construction of tombs for the deceased. Within this potentially rich land- i.e., rich in manpower and natural resources - the Mughals elevated tomb building to a leave unmatched aesthetically by any other civilization. Nonetheless, they did not deviate from traditional burial practices. The body of the deceased was ritually washed and wrapped in a white shroud without any adornment whatsoever. Every man, woman and child met his Maker as he entered the world on an equal basis. However, their equal status before Allah did not apply to the tomb in which they were laid.

The body was always laid parallel to the qibla or perpendicular to the direction of Mecca. Iconographically, this allowed the deceased to merely turn onto his or her side to face Mecca. In addition, the body was placed in a 'vault' so that he or she may sit up in order to reply to the Angels of the Grave when they appeared on the night after burial.

Tomb Types

Six tomb types in the Islamic world may be noted by plan- i.e., 1) the canopy tomb which is open on all sides and generally possesses four or eight supporting pillars or piers, 2) a modified canopy tomb in which a qibla wall is established, 3) an enclosed tomb generally square but may also be octagonal with a single entrance, 4) a tomb with a courtyard attached, 5) a tomb to which other tombs are attached creating a single roofed area, and 6) the mashhad or a domed, square area with an ambulatory on three sides.

Five specific Indo-Islamic, general tomb may be identified. They are derived, in part from the six tomb types noted by Hillenbrand. First, the canopy tomb and hereafter referred to as Type A. This tomb type is characterized by an open plan in which the roof and dome, where applicable, is supported by a series of columns or piers. An example is seen in the Sayyid Usman Rauza (pp.78-81).

Second, is an enclosed square with one, three or four entrances and may be surrounded by a covered verandah of one or two aisles ( a qisles wall being the feature of the one and three entranced square tomb) and hereafter referred to as Type B. This type is characterized by solid masonry walls covered by a dome without a surrounding verandah. Generally, it consists of a single storey. An example is seen in the Tomb of Sultan Iltutmish (pp.38-41).

Third, is a square plan with four corner towers or minarets extending at 45 degree beyond the corners of the square, or incorporated as part of a square plan. Generally this type is shown with a qibla and hereafter referred to as Type C. As a rule, this possesses multi-storeys, although there may be a single storey. Example are seen in the Tomb of Sultan Ghari or Tomb of Muhammad Ghaus.

Fourth is an enclosed octagon or an enclosed octagon within an octagonal verandah, a type that enjoyed considerable use from the 14th through the 16th through the 16th Centuries, C.E. This type may be found with one, three, four, seven or eight entrances to the central area and hereafter referred to as Type D. The latter variation - i.e., the octagon with an octagonal verandah - generally is characterized by three open arches on each face of the verandah amounting to twenty-four arches. Example of this type are seen in the Tomb of Shah Rukn-i 'Alam or Tomb of Sher .

Fifth is a combination generally of square and octagon. Particularly, this type is characterized by the employment of a muthamman baghadi, and incorporates the ninefold plan - i.e., the plan in which a central chamber is surrounded by eight smaller chambers or areas, four at the cardinal points and four at the intercardinal points and hereafter referred to as Type E. As a rule, this type possesses multi-storeys and are often set upon a podium and within a chahar-bagh, and is the most developed of the various tomb plans. Examples are seen in the Tomb of Humayun or the Taj Mahal.

The early Indo-Islamic tombs, particularly of the Slave or Mamluk Dynasties tended to be square- e.g., the Tomb of Sultan Ghari, the Tomb of Sultan Iltutmish, the Tomb of Ghiyas-ud-din Tughluq I, etc. However, the Tomb of Khan-i Jihan Tilangani ushered in the octagonal tomb with a verandah. Following this monument, a majority of the mausolea, particularly for rulers of the Sayyid Dynasty, tended to be octagonal. Later, this form was employed for lesser nobles during the Lodi Dynasty and the subsequent Mughal or Timurud Period. With the ascendancy of the Great Mughals - i.e, from Humayun (1530-1556 C.E.) through Shah Jahan (1628-1666), the Great Timuruds, tombs of monumental proportions appeared. Most of these tombs were based upon the square, or a variation with the square as the base - e.g., the Tomb of Akbar, the Tomb of Jahangir, the Gol Gumbaz, the Tomb of Jahan Begum, the Tomb of Safdar Jang, etc.


This study will, therefore, consider those Islamic tombs of India from the Slave or Mamluk Dynasty -i.e., the Tomb of Sultan Ghari - to the last of the important Mughal tombs - i.e., the Tomb of Safdar Jang - and the genesis of their design, or plan. Emphasis will be placed upon the use and type of internal space, the derivation of the plan(s), the application of design principles inherent in both Islamic and Hindu faiths in India, and a consideration of possible iconographic implications.


The plan is the starting point, therefore, each plan will be the axis of this consideration. The plans were constructed via computer and are relatively exact in their proportions and dimensions. Nonetheless, the elevations are not without their importance as they are outgrowths of the plan.


The elevations herein supplied are proportional renderings of the various masses and salient details of each tomb. They are not 'scale drawings' in the strict sense. Nonetheless, they do follow the major masses accurately. In addition, it was observed that a number of the elevations horizontal forms fell within the confines of a Deshiya Mandala. Therefore, this mandala was applied to all elevations as a standard elevation proportion. The twelve pada may have special numerological significance. It is known that both Buddhist and Hindu placed great faith in the belief and the science of numerology - so to does the Islamic world. Twelve is an auspicious, cosmic number which comprehends all numbers lowers than itself. It is associated with the circle (12x30=360degree), the number of daylight hours, number of signs in the Zodiac and the number of months in a year.


Although the tombs are Islamic, the ancient influence of Buddhist and Hindu preexistent forms and such treatises as the Manasara and Mayamata were ingrained in the sthapati who were often employed by the sultans and emperors. Two mandala were especially applicable in the history of Buddhist and Hindu structures, especially temples - i.e., the Manduka Mandala and the Paramashayika Mandala. The Manduka Mandala is construced of sixty-four pada (eight ranks of eight) while the Paramashayika Mandala consists of eighty-one pada (nine ranks of nine). It is seen that either the Manduka Mandala or the Paramashayika Mandala are often applicable to the square plans of these Indo-Islamic tombs. Similarly, the circular Manduka Mandala is seen as applicable, especially to the octagonal mausolea.


List of Plates vii
List of Figures xi
Abbreviations xix
Preface xxi
Introduction xxv
Tombs xxv
The Genesis of form 1
Tomb No. 36, Delhi 30
Tomb of Sultan Ghari 34
Tomb of Sultan Iltutmish 38
Tomb of Sheikh Rukn-i ' Alam 42
Tomb of Ghiyas-ud-din Tughluq I 46
Tomb of Khan-i Jihan Tilangani 52
Tomb of Firuz Shah Tughluq 56
Tomb of Jalau-ud-din Mohammad Shah (Eklakhi) 60
Tomb of Mubarak Shah Sayyid 64
Tomb of Rani Rupmati 68
Tomb of Hushang Shah 72
Sayyid Usman Rauza 76
Tomb of Chotte Khan Ka Gunbad 82
Tomb of Mubarik Sayyid 86
Tomb Sikandar Lodi 90
Tomb of Hasan Khan Sur 94
Tomb of Sher Shah 98
Tomb of Isa Khan Niyaz 104
Tomb of Adham Khan 110
Tomb of Humayun 114
Tomb of Muhammad Ghaus 126
Tomb of Akbar 130
Tomb of Mohammed Quli Qutub Shah 144
Ibrahim Rauza 148
Tomb of Iftikhar Khan 154
Tomb of Shah Daulat 158
Tomb of Khan Khanan 162
Tomb of Jahangir 168
Gol Gumbaz 176
Tomb of Jahan Begum 182
Tomb of I' timad-ud-daula 184
Taj Mahal 190
Afzal Khan Rauza 200
Shah Navaz Khan Rauza 204
Tomb of Ali' Adil Shah II 208
Tomb of Safdar Jang 212
Conclusions 219
Bibliography 225
Appendix A, Glossary 233
Appendix B, Ensembles and Chahar-bagh 239
Appendix C, Proportional Comparisons & Miscellaneous Plans 257
Appendix D, Major Muslim Rulers of India 305
Appendix E, Chronology of Muslim Monuments in India 317
Notes 323
Index 329
Acknowledgements 335

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