This article proposes that Indian Islamic architectural practices of the Sultanate period (thirteenth to sixteenth century) were in keeping with centuries-old philosophical principles of reverence for ancient wonders. Guiding Indian Islamic rulers toward this disposition were Neoplatonic philosophies and texts organized around the structuring principle of wonders or ‘aja’ib. I argue that the discourses on the ‘aja’ib had a significant twofold impact on Islamic architectural practices in India. First, they influenced Islamic rulers of India to interpret and appreciate the non-Islamic ancient monuments not as traces of idolatrous worship that warranted destruction, but as wonders of God’s creation. Second, the preservation of such wonders or their partial incorporation into new buildings made their cosmological properties available to rulers desiring to project themselves as rational, divinely ordained sovereigns. This investigation will be focused on two ancient Indian pillars found in Delhi: the iron pillar in the Quwwat al-Islam Mosque and the Ashokan pillar found in Firuz Shah Kotla Fort. Through the lens of ‘aja’ib it may be proposed that early Muslim rulers were drawing on Hindu and Buddhist architecture to create mystical spaces with the aim of ordering new relationships between the conquering power and the new topography over which they ruled.
Keywords: Delhi; India; monuments; pillars; wonders; ‘aja’ib
Kavuri-Bauer, Santhi. "The Wisdom to Wonder: ‘Aja’ib and the Pillars of Islamic India.' In International Journal of Islamic Architecture, Volume 6, Number 2 (pp. 285-310) , edited by Stephennie Mulder, Bristol: Intellect, 2017.