The Sinking Brick Mosques of Bengal; ciudad de aguas
|Título||The Sinking Brick Mosques of Bengal|
|Del Curso||Poética de las Aguas|
|Carreras||Náutico y Marítimo|
Tabla de Contenidos
- 1 Introduction
- 2 Processes and Context of Power
- 3 The Bengali Mosque and the Deltaic Condition
- 4 Functional Diversity and Evolution in the Brick School of Bengal: Tracing the Roots
- 5 The Mosque: Synthesis as Process
- 6 Functional Diversity as a Factor of Evolution
- 7 Classification of the Mosques: Influences and Evolution in Style
- 8 Evolution within the Bengal style(s)
- 9 Khan-e-Jahan Style and the 60-domed Mosque, Bagerhat
- 10 Afterword
- 11 Bibliography
The cultural zone of Bengal holds its own spatial location between two worlds -the Himalayas in the north and the Indian Ocean in the south forming a territorial discontinuity. It’s Bengal,where the land-bulge of the Indian sub-continent contracts….And the same time, forms the western edge of the other complex racial and cultural continuity. As such a monocultural point of view would restrict an understanding of the historical layering and the diversity within.
Islam was a direct component of Turko-Persian culture in India, specifically in the North because of its proximity in terms trade and military operations to unsettle the existing powers. In Bengal the process of Islamic spread was much less a political and societal upheaval, it involves a different dynamics mainly because of the cultural identity of the Bengali spoken Muslims and its completely different geo-climatic setting. In such circumstances there were ample chances of a transformation of the ancient consciousness of place than a total obliteration.
For example, why did the Muslim Builders prefer to build the most number of small pavilion-like mosques although having have had constructed the ambitious Adina Mosque? The builders of the first mosques who converted to Islam had an understanding of construction in brick. Architectural elements like vaults, arches and domes were not an invention of the time but the Islamic builders understanding of an architectural schemata was experiential and stood deep in the local sensitivity, causing in an iconographic shift in the typology of mosques in the Islamic world.
The term ‘Bengal’ was first used in the travel descriptions of Marco Polo which literally means an ancient group of people who lived in the southern part of Bangladesh. About 1330, in the time of Delhi emperor Tughlag, Bengal was divided into three sub-provinces, Lakhnawti(Gaur) in the north, Sonargaon in the east and Satgaon in the south West. Tughlag unified the three provinces and declared the first independent sultanate free from Delhi Sultanate.
During these independent Muslim occupation of Bengal,some Sufis and saints came and settled in different parts of Bengal for their missionary activities to propagate Islam,for example Khan Jahan ‘Ali at Bagerhat,Shah Jalal at Sylet,Baba Adam at Rampal-Dhaka,Makhdum Shahdaullah Shahid at Shahjadpur etc. Over time, the Sufis earned significant social importance and were further encouraged by Sultans to built social institutions.
Processes and Context of Power
The term ‘Bengal’ as a territory was first defined by the Muslim rulers that stretches from the Brahmaputra , the Kangsa, the Surma and the Sajjuk river in the east to the Nagar, the Barakar and the lower reaches of Suvarnarekha in the west. A major description of the context involves the description of rivers and its flood lands, the formation of nomad islands and the changing course of the mother river and displacement of landmasses. The alluvial basin formed by sediments deposited by the Ganges and Brahmaputra and their numerous associated streams and distributors is also the most fertile naturally irrigated landmass on earth. It is therefore obvious that the monsoon rains, the rise and fall of river levels, floods, alluvion, diluvion and changes in river courses form the substance of both cultural and physical geography of the area. As well as constructing the traumatic memory of existence, it also supplies necessary nutrients for cultivation. The rural settlements are scattered and temporarily inhabited. The nature of a dwelling, its construction and dismantling is very much analogous to rice cultivation in shifting alluvial planes. An average agricultural family in the delta changes their habitat (bhita) 14 times in a lifetime. As such, the ‘fertility’ of soil is of less value than its ‘fluidity’. The nomad islands (chars) and the southern edge of the delta are prone to serious flooding, imposing climatic constraint to cope with a nomadic sense of existence. The region between Jessore and Khulna to Bagerhat is low and covered with swamps, the population is sparse, and the places suitable for dwellings are the high lands along the banks of rivers. Further south where the tracts begin to merge in the Sundarbans, we find very few villages with a shifting boundary and rich rice fields and scattered houses in groups as grams. Sluggish creeks (khals) and rivers wind about the rice clearings, and their course can be traced by the fringe of brushwood that lines their banks. The above description of the context involves a very rich diversity governed by the dynamics of water and land. The description of an agricultural village and the processes that construct the memory of existence in a transitory and traumatic landscape opposed by a sense of permanence defines the freestanding singular representation of a mosque. The rural settlement pattern consists of grams, usually nucleated type, not the single farm type living in compact groups and not in widely scattered habitations, to adapt to an agrarian system. The villages consist of very well defined parts: a)Vastu,the habitat b)Kshetra,agricultural land c)Go-chara,natural meadow land. Usually located at the corner of the village (gramas) along the boundaries. d)Garta/nala, pits and canals for drainage. e)Ushara,barren tracts f)go-parha/go-maga,catle tracts g)patha, path
The rich alluvial deposit is used as the most available raw material to make bricks and other everyday objects establish a contextual relationship with the attitudes of Muslim builders. For example, the ‘chala’ and its different variants, mainly found in roofs of Bengal temples and Sultanate mosques is an appropriate example of an instrumental inheritance of local crafts into building practices. George Michell appropriately points out that the use of bamboo in the making of chouchala vaults is conducive to the pliability of bamboo and hence the patterns are still observed which shows a structural scaffolding pattern of its construction. Although the hut roof forms are inspirational and imitation in terms of modified representation is arguable, the use of bamboo for generating a curved surface in response monsoon water shows the inventiveness in the thought process of the builders. More than understanding the ‘usefulness’ and ‘appropriateness’ in building techniques, the Muslim builders attended to the need of a contextual resolution in brick and later in stone to find a language closer to existing practices in everyday life . Thus the hut is not a mere representation of the laukik(vernacular/folk) that is monumentalized by any means but the adaptive practice of making a ‘chala’ convinced the builders to represent its reality as an expressive element specific to the laukik and hence the chouchala roof form in the Sultanate mosques. Here one can obeserve that the context is shaped by processes that inform its functional domain of acceptance as well as its relation to ever-changing relation to external forces that generate new meaning(s), of which the Muslim occupation in Bengal is no exception.
The Bengali Mosque and the Deltaic Condition
In terns of making, the mosques in the city of Bagerhat are very similar to the brick kilns found in the aquatic landscape of the delta. The rich deposit of clay makes these kilns function in the dry season and are left abandoned in the monsoon, creating a landscape of power submerged in flood wáter. The mosques give shape to such an imagination in a concrete way. The smallest of the mosques, the Cunkhola Mosque to the grand 60-domed mosque appeal to ones imagination of how a house of God withstands time to immortalize itself. Its architecture reflects a robust understanding of resources that immortlaizes itself as a temporal construct. A city with soft ground seeking permanance and protecting itself from the rising sea and the swelling rivers suddenly transforms into a dramatic landscape of anticipation over centuries. The Muslim builders had the genius to seek order in such a fragile geo-climatic context .
Over time they experimented with brick to house domes over an octaginal base with lessons from their precedents. The builders not only mastered the craftsmanship but understood the essence of Bengali psyche, which is tactile and sensorial rather than an iconic representation of their religious belief. The diversity involved in the procees is equally varied and arguably one of the most significant acievement of the Independent Sutanate in Bengal .
Functional Diversity and Evolution in the Brick School of Bengal: Tracing the Roots
The earliest evidence of monumental architecture roots in Bengal comes from the Buddhist tradition. The early monumental architecture marks a moment of conscious creation,
"pointing to the transition from an unselfconscious architecture-the domain of traditional, vernacular practice to a more metaphorical and symbolic construction,"
(Haque, Saif Ul; Ashan, Raizul & Ashraf Kazi, Khaleed, Chetana Sthapatya Unnoyon Society,PAUNDRANAGAR TO SHEREBANGLANAGAR,Architecture inf Bangladesh, Dhaka,1999).
This was the result of a more consolidated political and social structure by means of a stable Pala reign with their artistic maturity. Other ruins between 3rd and 12th century include the Buddhist viharas and stupas found in Mainamati at Comilla district in Bangladesh Few number of Hindu Temples (9th -12th century) of north-Indian influence remain in Bankura and Burduan districts, the westernmost districts of West Bengal. Thus to reflect on the building tradition of ancient Bengal one finds the viharas as a type. The Paharpur complex in the Pala domain is one of the largest in the sub-continent and comprises of stupas, minor chapels, water tanks amongst other structures. It’s enclosed by a quadrangular ring of one hundred seventy five cells. The conceptualization and construction of the cells for monks around a courtyard, the combination of vihara and ‘stupatemple’ types within a complex is the first configuration of any religious institution in the delta.
Within a short period of time the Muslims became rulers of the entire landmass and for the next 100 years, Bengal was a province ruled by governors appointed by the Delhi sovereigns. The arrival of Turks introduced a Turko-Persian culture with a totally new religious ethos. In 1338, Fakhr al Din Mubarak Shah declared independence for eastern part of Bengal and in a few years (1342) Ilyas Shah succeeded in unifying the whole of Bengal and founded an independent kingdom. His successors preserved the unity and independence of Bengal for more than 185 years to come. Based on an existing culture and tradition of building, new building types were introduced, such as mosques and mausoleums. A large number of mosques were built during the independent Sultanete (1338-1538), “Of the total number of dated mosques constructed in Bengal during the entire Muslim period(1204-1757); almost three-quarters were built between the mid-fifteenth and the mid sixteenth century” 10.The major sites of building were around the city of Gaur,Pandua,Bagerhat and Sonargaon.
The most important architectural phenomenon of this period is introduction of the mosque as a new building type-the ‘Bengali mosque’.These mosques elaborate a singular idea instead of a pavilion and had adaptive resemblance to laukik(vernacular) practices in its own expressive ways in brick.
Apart from the efforts made by the Delhi Sultans, the isolation of Bengal from rest of the Indian subcontinent led the Muslims to be closer to the indigenous culture and literature. The translation of Ramayana in Bengali, construction of numerous Hindu temples under direct patronage of Bengali Sultans and development of Bengali language in several literary forms is seen during this time. Until the coming of the Mughals, the Bengali Sultans are seen painstakingly involved in experimentation with local materials, craftsmanship and building techniques to find an indigenous response to built religious institutions with characteristic variation in the language of building, and a response to the land-water condition.
The Mosque: Synthesis as Process
In any mosque, formal provision is made for the area required for the individual or family to worship, the principle place of worship must accommodate considerable number of mats involved at community level for the Friday (juma) noon prayers or everyday prayers, hence the juma or jami or any other mosque. In the Islamic world mosques follow mainly four types; namely Arab Hypostyle mosque, Persian Four-iwan mosque, Indian Three-domed mosque, Turkish Central-dome mosque.
"But some basic elements of architecture, principles of geometry and organization have cut across the geographical and sociological boundaries remain the same for all. The external differences are minor and stylistic, and not of a theme."
(Nilkanth Chhaya; Study of Mosques; Unpublished Thesis, School of Architecture, C.E.P.T. University. 1976).
In other words, the unity of faith that is characteristic of the otherwise quite diverse Islamic community is expressed in its physical form in the principal site of Islamic worship: the masjid. In different contexts mosques are seen to have a distinct feature which is a result of its constant evolution within a geographical system of knowledge and socio cultural layerings. Fundamentally, the idea of ‘sacred’ (in belief) and in its physical (not spatial) manifestation remains the same irrespective the same. The existing religious belief in pre-Islamic Bengali society; mainly governed by an orthodox segregation rooted to the practices related to the temple and its implications in society and the idea of ‘sacred’ is inverse to that of a mosque and everyday Islamic practices. In other words, “Compared with the clarity of the mosque, the temple is an abode of mystery; the courts of the former are open to light and air, with many doorways inviting publicity, the later enclose a ‘phantasma of massive darkness’, having somber passages leading to dark cells, jealously guarded and remote. The mosque has no need to a central shrine, it is sufficient for a devotee to turn in the direction of Mekka, but the focal point of the temple is a sacred chamber often deep within the labyrinth of its endless corridors. Architecturally the mosque is wholly visible and intelligible, while the temple is not infrequently, introspective, complex, and intermediate. The representation of natural forms is prohibited by the Islamic usage, whereas the walls of the temples pulse with imagery and their interiors are the dwelling places of the Gods.
In Islam, the concept of ‘place’ or makan is composed of both the container (jism) and the contained (ruh or spirit). It does not have a tangible existence, but exists in the consciousness of the beholder who visually perceives physical boundaries while his intellect perceives the spirit as “contained”, defined within the boundaries.
The primary function of a mosque is to provide the means by which worshipers can orient themselves toward the most sacred physical site in Islam, the Kaba in Mekka. The mihrab (or prayer niche) – is one of the most important architectural features of a mosque which indicates the quibla. The second function of the mosque is to provide a place for congregational prayer. Certain mosques include a minaret or a tower which is separate or together with the mosque as a distinct indentifying feature also used for the call of the adhan. A source of fresh water, such as a fountain provides the water required for the ritual cleansing (wudu) that precedes each of the five sessions of daily prayer. The dikka, a later addition to the mosque architecture, was traditionally used by assistants to the imam. There are different postulates based on religious significance and location of a specific element on the site of a mosque. Although physically manifested, each element differs in importance. But rituals of use are fundamental to any mosque irrespective of type, location scale and style. For example the minarets and hauj are principal design elements in the Turkish mosques whereas the mosques in Bengal Sultanate are devoid of any exaggerated expression of such features. The hauj in the 60 domed mosque, Bagerhat is the pond adjacent to the site, same for the Choto Sona in Gaur and most of the other Sultanete mosques.
The following sequence found in any Indian three-domed Jami or Ottoman Turkish Central-domed Mosques are the necessary constituents that attend to the spiritual and social function of a mosque (Fig.1.31): 1. Main Entrance 2.Secondary Entrance 3.Sahn(Central court) 4.Hauj(Abultion Tank) 5.Riwaq(Peripheral Colonnade) 6.Iwan(Payer room Entrance) 7.Iiwan(Prayer Chamber) 8.Minar and 9.Quibla Wall.
For example, in the case of the 60 domed mosque, Bagerhat, the identification of Khan- e- Jahan as a distinct style / movement in the marshy jungles of south Bengal demands an understanding of the material and spiritual function within the frontier culture of expanding domain in the early Muslim period, hence its physical manifestation. The mosques erected during the mentioned time should be looked at as multi- domed fort like structures in the midst of a jungle, which belongs to a particular social and historical segment of a certain culture. It reveals the functional characteristics of a group of people engaged in the missionary activities and jungle exploration in southern Bengal. It fulfils all the necessary constituents of a mosque, but it establishes a dialogue with the context and processes that house its constructive principle, hence every example mentioned in this study holds its functional meaning which is not devoid of the processes that hold the same.
Functional Diversity as a Factor of Evolution
The Bengal Sultanate over a constructive phase of development invented several attitudes and response to local conditions and influences in built form. The evolution of the ‘plan-form’ and experimentation within a particular type of mosque or tomb structure is seen to depend on the ‘wellbeing’ of the Sultanate and its political freedom. It’s also a direct component of influence within previous practices and available resources to build. The diversity within a wide array of mosques and tombs is not an isolated discourse but engulfs the dynamics of change and continuity. Thus the Sultanate invents its own complexity and conditions conducive to experiment over existing norms and acceptance of the same. Although the mosques are built over a period of three centuries with several attitudes of rulers and distinctly identifiable styles, one can find a strong sense of identity within. To paraphrase,
"even at times of great societal change, when an unprecedented, new consciousness overtakes an existing one, there can also exist the germ of recurrence if certain conditions are conducive; while such upheaval constitutes a rupture in case, the germ of recurrence ensures that rupture does not occur at all levels; within this dynamics, formed by change and continuity architecture becomes the most visible intersection of this dynamics ,it becomes for us to understand how the germ of recurrence perpetuates."
(Khaleed Ashraf, Architecture as Evocation of Place, pp.77- 78).
As such any development in a style or any type specific to a particular style leaves its germ cells that perpetuates in every form of evolution.
Classification of the Mosques: Influences and Evolution in Style
The early Islamic mosques of Bengal follow a visual pattern that differentiates it from its contemporary centre of power in Delhi. There are subtle variations in particular ways the independent Sultans built mosques with diverse interests in different geo-political and social conditions within Bengal. As a result we find variations in types. But broadly the mosques are classified in two major categories: Rectangular and Square (more common for tombs than mosques).The evolution can be understood as a synthetic process over time with several rulers of Bengal attending to the call of ‘allah – the merciful’, engaged building mosques as social institutions.
A classification of the Sultanate mosques according to its architectural development in type further inform the construction techniques, influences in style and experimentation specific to groups and sub-groups among a wide array of brick monuments. It shows that apart from the Adina Mosque, all the other mosques built over a passage of two centuries are enclosed .The idea of discarding the courtyard primarily as a response to the monsoon implied a new set of characteristics in the conceptualization of such a structure. As the early Muslim conquerors of Bengal were of Turkish origin, Turkey is often automatically considered to be the source of several architectural themes. As such the mosques in central Asia and Persia are also seen to be influenced by the formation of single units or enclosed domed type of mosques, such as Bukhara, Kaj, Dashi, and Eziran(1179).This is further discussed in reference to the identified types in the Sultanate mosques.
Evolution within the Bengal style(s)
The Muslims established their power in Bengal, where existing norms of practice and the deltaic socio-cultural setting had a strong influence on its architecture. The constant struggle with climatic conditions and limitation of key building material challenged the process to attain freedom of expression in conceptualizing the mosques. Over two centuries, the Muslim (mostly converted Hindu and Buddhists in earlier phase) builders struggled to experiment with brick and resist floods and simultaneously attend to a refined model of building mosques which is unique and never repeated in the history of building mosques in the Islamic world. As such it gave birth to several individual styles with the characteristics of its own .The mosques in the Bengal Sultanate can be classified according to style specific to the Sultans and its location. Although there are further classifications in groups and sub-groups within any particular style and its origin(city or district in Bangladesh). According to Abu Sayeed Mostaque Ahmed and other researchers there are 6 broadly identified styles in the Bengal Sultanate. They are as follows: The Mamluk Style. The Early Illyas Sahi Style. The Eklakhi Style . The Later Illiyas Sahi Style. The Khan-e-Jahan Style . The Hussain Sahi Style.
Khan-e-Jahan Style and the 60-domed Mosque, Bagerhat
‘Khan-e-Jahan’ is the constructive principle of the formation of an individual architecture in the delta. It’s an indicator of the material and spiritual aspirations of people acquiring cultural meaning. Khan-e-Jahan style contains a set of genes, which defines the type of its monuments. The monuments are sparsely decorated and very introverted, as such experimental but not extravagant in achievement. The style is also characterized by elements such as heavy masonry walls, curved cornice, dwarf looking small openings and selective use of stone as protective measures. Moreover, features such as string courses on the cornice level and on the shafts of the corner turrets (especially the circular ones) are all subordinating in every detail to the overall constructive intent. The 60-domed mosque is Bagerhat is a convincing specimen which embodies certain distant influences from the Tughlug’s in Delhi(The Khirki mosque,1347, and further west from Multan with subtle modifications .The mock fortification of Khirki is not a prime inspiration of the seemingly alike circular turrets of the 60-domed mosque, Bagerhat but the frontal turrets in the 60-domed mosque house internal staircases ascending the roof.
As the eastern turrets are higher than the western counterparts, the difference is synchronized by a prominently visible curved cornice, which meets the turrets. More than direct influences we find a participatory decision making process between the Tuglag and Khan-e-Jahan which informs a similar contextual response. The process of development of Bagerhat city is also found in direct relation to the monuments built by Khan-e-Jahan with the central point being the 60 domed mosque group. The Reza Khoda group represents a sub-style maintained by a definite ethnic group with octagonal corner turrets, the Nine dome group emphasizes on structural clarity and an axial interrelationship of the inner space. The scattered location of these groups in the city act as nodes in response to the agrarian society. The Khan-e-Jahan mausoleum complex shows an organic development of spaces inside and around the complex whereas the dispersed sites like the Chunkhola mosque as an independent model.
As a mature and individual style, the mosques and tombs built in and around the city of Khalifabad emerged as a structured frame of taste, principles and action. Architecturally, it evolved with an expertise of generous arrangement of elements within a contained built form incorporating play as an essential metaphor.The impact of such initiations was so instantantaneous and widespread that it spurned different smaller groups of defined sub-styles of Khan-e Jahan. The Shait Gombuz mosque group, the Nine domed mosque group and the Reza Khoda Mosque Groups are distinctly identifiable with pertinent qualities.
A comparison with the Mughals sets an appropriate contrast with the Sultanate in Bengal. The change in topography, climate and language invents its own complexity in which to contextually question its architecture.
The Mughal conquerors were rulers of a vast and diverse landmass. The Sahenshas, with their seat of Power in Delhi sought to achieve clarity as an amalgamation of several social practices. The Mughals were primarily conquerors who had an unforeseen excellence in artillery. They saw landscapes with an expertise of a warrior. Mughal architecture, with its mammoth impact in the subcontinent instigated a dialogue between divergent ideologies that were prevailing and found (with the advent of Islam) in the practice of making palaces, mosques and tombs. Thus the ‘overtaken consciousness’ was confrontational between the idea of spreading Islam and the myths and poesis of the land.
One finds Fathepur Sikri, Mughal Emperor Akbar’s capital for fourteen years, as a city with an image of a Royal Citadel. With its grandness of purpose and tremendous experimentation in style and language, lies in a dilemma of being regarded as ‘Rajput’ or ‘Mughal’ .The architectural urban manifestation of Fathepur Sikri is found to be a confluence of both in a harmonious way. It’s difficult to locate an architectural inquiry where the Mughal intellect sought architecture devoid of an eclectic meaning. The architectural genius of Mughal monuments lies in the way Islamic principles are manifested, from the deep shaded corridors of Sikri to the grandeur of Akbar’s tomb in Sikandra, it refines principles fundamental to architecture as an ‘organization’ and ‘strategies’ arising from its interaction with context.
The independent Sultans of Bengal sought a deeper understanding of their socio-cultural construct, as an act of participation to penetrate existing belief structures in society. Although the Bengal Sultanate and the contemporary Imperial power in Delhi varies in scale of administrative framework and strategic intentions of very different nature, one can identify the confrontation in its architecture. For example, rectangular mosques were also found in Ottoman times, but never attained the same popularity they enjoyed in Bengal. There are no nine-domed structures in the subcontinent except Bagerhat. The square type, unique to South Bengal and Khan-e-Jahan further underwent a playful process of evolution resulting in a Bengali square type of mosque. In other words
"In Bengal heavy monsoon rains dictate an entirely covered building, but how it was covered may owe something to the western riwaq of the Quwwatul Islam Mosque at Delhi, which the Bengalis transformed into an independent building. The rectangular multidomed mosques range from the very large-for example the Shaitgumbaj Mosque in Bagerhat."
(Perween Hassan, Muqarnas, Vol. 6 ,1989, pp. 58-74) In every sense the Muslim builders made mouments in the marsh land as an act of ‘building cities in water’.
The Sultanate mosques, even in their elemental composition adopted a number of preceding features, making them syntactically closer to the architecture of place, and at the same time ichnographically unique among the typology of mosques. The ‘chouchala’ roof, exposed brick work and use of curved cornice are gestures that understood the Bengali sensibility. The fact that Bengali Muslims converted to Islam over time is because the Sultans had a holistic and systematic approach to spread Islam as a product of its grassrooted understanding of Bengali taste. The pre-Islamic Bengali society and the social dominance of a rigid belief system were never opposed by Islam, rather nurtured with an eye of rectification. The very fundamental idea of building a mosque was an integral part of an inculcating discourse. This study is an attempt to conceptualize an architectural dialogue between the Sultanate mosques and the way they are made, and their relation to the deltaic condition. The investigation leads to an endless array of possibilities, from techniques to abstraction, from methods to meaning.
Locating the mosques within a framework of analysis to study its evolution and its stylistic development leads to an understanding of its construction systems. In certain ways the inventiveness of the Bengal Sultanate is reflected in the way construction systems have evolved over experimentation. The exploration of brick vocabulary and its material property in assembly attained a mature language of building which imbibed the skill of a craftsman making it more expressive and contextually relevant to the delta.
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