New Delhi: Taj Mahal may count amongst the most stellar Mughal monuments in India but numerous lesser known mosques and tombs, across the country stand testament to the heritage of Islamic architecture.

From the oldest mosque in the country located in Kerala to fine monuments in Agartala and Kashmir, art historian and filmmaker Benoy K Behl has captured almost all of them in "A world of beauty and grace - Islamic Architecture of India".

"India has perhaps as much medieval Islamic architectural heritage as that of the rest of the world put together. The quality of the beautiful monuments of India ranks with the best anywhere. The world is not aware of how much or how great India's Islamic heritage is," says Behl.

The 31-minute documentary with a 26 minute TV version made by Behl for the public diplomacy division of  External Affairs travels from Kerala in the south to Kashmir in the
north, from Tripura in the east till Gujarat in the west.

The historian captures the confluence of local talent with inspirations from Iran, Arabia and Central Asia in the mosques, tombs, madrasas, palaces and fortresses that reflect the cultural links that India shares with other countries.

"Islam came to India not from the North, as is commonly believed. but from Arab traders in what is today the region of Malabar in Kerala and Muslims developed as a trading community there. You can see still traces of that community amongst the Mopalas in Kerala, who trace their ancestry back to the Arabs," says Behl.

The film shows the first mosque built in India at Kodungalur in Kerala by Raja Cheraman Perumal in 629 AD. In Kayalpattanam Arab traders built the first mosque in Tamil Nadu in 633 AD.

"A distinct culture developed in the cosmopolitan community of the Deccan. The streets of the Deccani sultanates were filled with Turks, Persians, Arabs and Africans," says Behl.

The documentary shows Gol Gumbaz in Bijapur, tomb of Sultan Muhammad Adil Shah, who ruled from 1627 to 1657AD and is the second largest in world after St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

The massive Bidar Fort built in the 14th and 15th centuries, Humayun's Tomb, considered the first great masterpiece of the Mughals, Akbar’s most ambitious architectural project the city of Fatehpur Sikri are among other monuments figuring in the documentary. "Several hundreds of mosques and Islamic tombs of great beauty are spread throughout India. In Gujarat there is 15th century world heritage site of Champaner. In the east, there is the impressive Nakhoda Masjid and several others in Kolkata. There are famous dargahs in Hajo and other places in Assam," says Behl.

"There are fine mosques even in the furthest corners of India. In the North East of India, in Agartala in the state of Tripura, is the beautiful Gedu Mia Ki Masjid, says the filmmaker who has travelled extensively to document the sites.

"In the mountainous state of Kashmir, Islamic architecture was influenced by ancient Hindu and Buddhist traditions. This was combined with influences from Persia and Turkistan. Wood was used extensively in the mosques and tombs of Kashmir," points out Behl.

The filmmaker and photographer has to his credit over 35,000 photographs of Asian monuments and art heritage and has previously made a hundred documentaries on art history. His exhibitions have been received in 24 countries around the world and he holds the Limca Book Record for having travelled to all corners of India.

Agencies