Dome in Mosque Architecture originated in India before Islam

mrabe at mrabe at
Wed Jun 25 00:34:58 UTC 1997

Dear Sudheer,

I'd intended to reply earlier, but this second posting is an invitation to
rifle something off the top, rather than tracking down the necessary

Basically, I think you are mistaken in your belief that architectural
vaulting that incorporates the _true arch_ or dome was known in India prior
to  the Islamic period!

The much early Buddhist stupas were solid core mounds of brick, later
dressed with stone revetments: they did not make use of voussoirs, or
wedge-shaped blocks that distribute weight along a curvilinear arch.

Instead, traditional Indian zilpins, and their culturals kinsmen among the
Javanese and Khmer of Southeast Asia, made use of the CORBELLED arch (and
vaults that extend further to cover interior spaces).  I can explain the
difference further off-list, maybe with xeroxed illustrations to a postal

Meanwhile you might like to track down an article A.K. Coomaraswamy wrote
decades ago on domes:  it may be republished here:

Coomaraswamy, Ananda Kentish, 1877-1947:  _Essays in early Indian
architecture ; edited and with an introduction by  Michael W. Meister_:
New Delhi : Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts : Oxford University
Press, 1992.:  xxviii, 151 p. : ill. ; 32 cm.'s the original citation:  "Symbolism of the Dome," _Indian
Historical Quarterly_ xiv (March 1938), pp. 1-56

Hope this helps,

Michael Rabe
Assoc Prof. Art History
Saint Xavier University
The School of the Art Institute of Chicago

>Dear Indologists
>In ancient times in India, there was evolved a method of constructing
>interlocking domes. This technique was used mainly in the making of
>roofs for Buddhist Stupas in around 300 B.C. onwards i.e. 2300 years
>back. The Stupa at Sanchi in Madhya Pradesh is one surviving example of
>this architecture. There are other examples of such  architecture in
>other parts of India.
>The style of interlocking structures had been perfected by the Romans in
>the interlocking arch which they used in constructing bridges and
>aqueducts. The Roman interlocking arch is a one-dimensional structure,
>but the interlocking dome is a three dimensional structure. Again, this
>was perfected in the days when we did not have cement or concrete. Hence
>the technique of constructing domed roofs which originated in ancient
>India 2,300 years back can be looked upon as a significant invention of
>humankind to defy the rules of gravity.
>It is from this architectural style of the Buddhist Stupa that - the
>Gumbaz - the Islamic style of constructing domed roofs on Masjids could
>have originated. And interestingly, while this architectural style
>totally disappeared from medieval and modern India as a symbol of
>indigenous architecture, it was preserved and popularised through
>Islamic architecture all over the Islamic world (as also in India in the
>mosques that were constructed during Muslim Rule).
>The interlocking dome is reported to have gone from ancient India to
> pre-Islamic Sassanian Persia, and from there further on to the Eastern
>Roman (Byzantine) Empire  which had Constantinople (Istanbul of today)
>as its capital.
> The famous Sophia (Selimiye) Mosque at Istanbul overlooking the
>Bosphorous straits which separate Europe from Asia in Turkey has domes
>which closely resemble the dome over a Buddhist Stupa. This mosque was
>originally constructed by the Byzantine Emperor Constantine as a
>Basilica of St. Sophia. The minarets were added in 1453 A.D. after the
>town came under the rule of the Ottoman (Uthman) Turks. Without the
>minarets, the structure would strongly resemble a Buddhist Stupa.
> Another fact supporting the hypothesis that the Islamic style of
> constructing Gumbaz is borrowed from outside the Islamic world is that
>the oldest and most holy mosque (Kaaba) at Mecca does not have a dome
>over it. It is only the mosques constructed later which have the dome as
>a roof.
> Today the dome (Gumbaz) has become so stereotyped with Islamic
>architecture that it would be fantastic to claim that it could have
>originated in ancient India or anywhere outside the Islamic world. The
>Interlocking dome - called Anda (egg) in Sanskrit texts on architecture
>dates back to 2300 years; while Islamic architecture is 1400 years old,
>hence the probability that the Islamic style Gumbaz originated from the
>earlier Stupa architecture of ancient India.
>If you are interested read more about this at the site "INDIA'S
>Visit the home page for this site:
>This site aims to satisfy the urge of Indologists, NRIs who have
>distanced themselves from their roots and others who would like to know
>about the advances made in ancient India in the fields of science and
>technology and their transmission the world over.
>I am looking for more such authentic references about the advances made
>in the construction of domed roofs in ancient India in:
>1) Dictionaries and Encyclopedias
>2) References to Indian architectural styles techniques in the
>chronicles of foreigners who visited ancient India
>3) Similar references to India in current western literature (on the web
> I want to continue this kind of study in association with those
>interested in ancient Indian History with specific reference to advances
>made in science and technology.
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