Understanding the Art and Architecture of Bengal Sultanate

Understanding the Art and Architecture of Bengal Sultanate

The large number of Masjids established in Bengal during the independent implies the swiftness with which the local population turned to become Islam, and during this period, the years 1450-1550 can be recognised as the time of most building of masjids. Out of the total number of masjids built in Bengal during the entire Muslim period, almost three-quarters were constructed between the mid fifteenth and the mid sixteenth century.  The masjids which spotted the countryside ranged from small to medium size, and were used for daily devotion.

Art and Architecture

The architecture of Bengal, consists of the modern country of Bangladesh and the Indian state of West Bengal, has a long and rich history, blending with native features with influences from different parts of the world. Bengali architecture inculcates ancient urban architecture, religious architecture, rural vernacular architecture, colonial townhouses and country houses, and modern urban styles. The bungalow style is the most significant architectural export of Bengal.

Bengal is not rich in good stones for construction, so the traditional Bengali architecture mainly uses brick and wood, often reflecting the styles of wood, bamboo, and straw styles of local vernacular architecture for homes. Decorative carved or moulded plaques of terracotta are all considered to be a special feature of the Sultanate architecture.


Urbanization is recorded in the region since the golden age. This was considered to be an important segment of the second wave of urban civilization in the Indian subcontinent, following the decline of the Indus Valley Civilization. Ancient Bengal was part of a system of urban and trading hubs strengthening to Ancient Persia. The prehistorical sites of Mahasthangarh, Paharpur, Wari-Bateshwar remains, Chandraketugarh and Mainamati give a confirmation of a well-systematic urban civilization in these areas. Terracotta became a hallmark of Bengali construction, as the region lacked stockpile of stone. Bricks were formed with the clay of the Bengal delta.

Primitive Bengali architecture reached its summit during the Pala Empire, mainly in the construction of viharas, temples and stupas. Pala architecture shaped Tibetan and Southeast Asian architecture. The most famous monument established by the Pala emperors was the Grand Vihara of Somapura, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Historians believe Somapura was a model for the architects of Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

Empire Pala

Empire, the palace was a Buddhist dynasty in the proprietorship of Bengal from the 8th to the 12th century. The Palaus Dynasty created a special form of Buddhist art which was further called as the “School of Art Sculpture School”. The giant structures of Vikramshila Vihara, Odantpuri Vihar and Jagaddal Vihar were some of the remarkable masterpieces of the Pala Dynasty. UNESCO has also demonstrated it as a World Heritage Monument in the year 1985. The building pattern of the country was carried out throughout South East Asia and China, Japan and Tibet. The Bengal Region has rightly been named the “Lady of the East”.

Medieval and early modern periods

Hindu and Jain

There are various temples residing in probable condition date from about the 17th century onwards, after temple construction was brought to life, it had stopped after the Muslim conquest during the 13th century. The ceiling style of Bengali Hindu temple architecture was very special and closely related to the traditional building style of rural Bengal. The ceiling patterns involved the jor-bangla, do-chala, char-chala, at-chala, deul, ek-ratna, pancharatna as well as the navaratna. Bishnupur in West Bengal has an incredible set of such temples which were established from the Malla dynasty, are some of the remarkable examples of this pattern. Most of these temples are layered on the outer surface with terra cotta reliefs which comprises of abundance of secular materials making these essential to reconstruct the social structure from these times.

Bengali Mortal Architecture

Mortal architecture is a type of building stood on the graves. Tombs in Bengal are rare in number but all of them shows remarkable differences and endorse of traditional Islamic forms according to their tastes and regional specifications. As in Muslim countries, the orders of the hadith to practice taswiyat al-quburin, that is, to level the grave according to the surrounding terrain, does not stop the erection of a tomb over the level of the terrain, the erection of cenotaphs of bricks or stones, or monumental mausoleum buildings in Bengal.

The mortal inscriptions contain terms such as maqbara, tyrbe, qabr, gunbad, rawza. Tombs in Bengal can be segregated into chronological periods, one is Sultanate or Pre-Mughal and the other one is referred to as Mogul.

Sultanate or Pre-Mughal Tombs

As in other Muslim buildings in Bengal, native tastes and techniques are more used in pre-Mughal graves, while the fondness for the cosmopolitan Mughal patterns came on the Mughal mortal structures.

The funeral ground in Bengal differs from the shape of the mortal enclosures to the open sky without building coverage to monumental mausoleums. The tombs of some of the most important saints in Bengal -Shan Jalal in Sylhet, Alaul Haq and Nur Qutbul Alami in Chhoti Dargha, Paqndua, are in open paddock and according to the rightist faith that “only the deceitful deeds of the dead will offer that protection and shadow”. Baba Adam Shaid’s Tomb at Rampal, Munshiganj, one of the earliest known renowned Muslim Bengal saints, was until recently without that building coverage.

The effects of Islam on the Bengali structural planning can be clearly visible since the 12th century. The most ancient existing masjid was established during the Delhi Sultanate. The Masjid architecture of the independent Bengal Sultanate period constitutes the most essential element of the Islamic architecture of Bengal. This peculiar regional pattern drew its inspiration from the native vernacular structure of Bengal, keeping into account the curved chala roofs, corner towers and complex floral carvings. Sultanate-era masjids attribute various different domes or a single dome, with richly laid out patterms, mihrabs and minbars and an absence of minarets. The surviving Sixty Dome Masjid is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Sultanate style also comprises of gateways and bridges. The style is widely scattered across the areas.

Tombs Mughal

Mughal’s surviving tombs are in great many numbers than the Sultanate tombs and display greater variety of shapes by multiplying the predecessor styles. They are established separately, often in the area of the masjids, or within a walled enclosure which makes a tiny complex with a masjid, or in larger complexes of religious architectures and piers placed within fortified gardens, for example: tombs of Bibi Par in Lalbagh Fortress (Dhaka) and Anwar Shahid (Burdwan).

Colonial period

The period of British rule saw affluent Bengali families engaging European firms to design houses as well as palaces. The Indo-Saracenic movement was strongly widespread in the region. While most rural estates highlighted an elegant country house, the cities of Calcutta, Dacca, Panam and Chittagong had widespread 19th and early 20th century urban architecture, comparable to London, Sydney or Auckland. Art deco shaping began in Calcutta in the 1930s.

Terracotta Temple Architecture

Although there were laid out testimonies of human settlements in Bengal since the primitive era, there is a sad shortage of archaeological evidence. This is due to the Bengal soil structure. The widespread community in the alluvial plateau of the entire strong Gangut and Brahmaputras river region is unprotected to flooding and the resulting in unreliable geo-graphic pattern. The only regions that still remain untouched by the floods are the western Chota Nagpuri and the hills of the Himalayas of the east and the north. This ground structure is shown in the selected building material by the Bengali temple designers.

Usually the terracotta temples with polished surface decorations and inscriptions are inscribed in Nagari’s alphabets. The roof structure has also been influenced by the severe floods of the Gang and Terai delta confirming during the monsoons, has effectively been curved most of the time to get rid of the enormous amount of water as quickly as possible and, thus,  increasing the lifespan of the structure.

Architectural proof has generally been formed by the Gupta Empire Period and onward. There have been modern discoveries of terracotta tiles from the times of Chandraketugar and Mahasthangarh that shed further highlighted the building patterns of the Shunga and Gupta periods. In addition to Palavi and Phamsana’s effect on building pattern, it is also closely connected to the Bhanja designs of temples from the Mayrigan district of Orris. However, the temples of Southern Bengal are eccentric because of its unparalleled ceiling style and closely connected to the traditional style buildings protected with rice bushes in rural Bengal.

Bishnupuri in the Southern District of Western Bengal Bankura has a series of temples that are built by the Malla Dynasty, are some of the remarkable examples of this design. Most of these temples are layered on the outer surface with terracotta consists of a multitude of centuries-old materials that make these essential to reconstruct social fabric from these times. Temple structures comprises of pyramidal steep roofs that are informally known as chala. Often there is more than a single tower in the temple construction. These are made of latex and tulle, evacuating them under the mercy of the harsh weather conditions of Southern Bengal. Dakshineswar Kali Temple is one of Bhanja-style examples, while the smaller Shiva Shrines along the river bank are also some of the examples of the Southern Bengal’s ceiling style, although in much smaller ratio.


The origin of the bungalow has its radical in the local architecture of Bengal. Some houses were traditionally small, only one storey and unhitched, and had a wide veranda which was the style adopted by the British, who used them as the dwelling places for colonial administrators in summer shelter in the Himalayas and in compounds outside the Indian cities. The Bungalow style houses are still very famous in the rural Bengal. In the rural areas of Bangladesh, the Bengali style houses were often known to be referred as “Bangla Ghar”.

The main architectural material used in modern time is rigged steel sheets. Previously they had been built from wood, bamboo and a kind of straw called “Khar”, which was used in the roof of the Bungalow house and kept the house cold during hot summer days. Another roofing material for Bungalow houses has been red clay tiles.

The history of the settlement in Bengal region is most likely more than 3,000 years old. The Muslim rule was initiated by the invasion of Ikhtiyar Uddin Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khilji at around 1204 A.D. In the later years, lots of Muslim rulers came in this continent and handed in the construction of Masjid, Madrasa, and Mausoleums. Unique building materials, climatic considerations, social and contextual influence on spatial quality has provided such a greatness in these structures that it has become identical as “Bengal Style” among the other styles ran through the Indian sub-continent and outside of India in other Muslim countries during 12th-15th century in terms of structural innovation and addressing contextual issues.

Those masjids and design philosophy lasted for hundreds of years in our continent and they were reviewed as the inspirational works for the rulers and the builders of later phases, like Mughal and colonial regime.


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