The Lost Sultanate Palaces

This land is very poor in showcasing the architectural heritage of the sultanate period
Muslim sultans not only introduced wooden architecture but patronised it as well.
Muslim sultans not only introduced wooden architecture but patronised it as well.Author

Although Muslim sultans ruled this land for about 250 years, but no palace, or any secular structure, belonging to the sultanate period is found anywhere in the state. Besides, neither any master remains of any palace of that period are visible anywhere.

As such this land is very poor in showcasing the architectural heritage of the sultanate period, the monuments of that period which have reached us comprise of the religious structures.

It does not mean that sultans did not built their royal palaces. In fact there is a mention of few of their royal palaces in historical records, and literature, that had been raised in old Srinagar; where from they had been administrating their Sultanate. However, most of the Royal structures were built of wood as such these could not reach us.

The wooden palaces and royal buildings built during the sultanate period were mostly raised on wooden logs; as such these monuments could not save from natural climates like fires and floods.

Muslim sultans not only introduced wooden architecture but patronised it as well.

Historians like Srivara, Mirza Haider, PNK Bamzai, G M D Sofi and Hassan Khoihami have given a long list of buildings and palaces constructed by Zain-ul-Abidin and other Muslim sultans.

Most of these palaces are recorded were multi-storied and decorated with fine types of wooden – carving and lattice works. The most notable among these were Zaina Lank at island of famous Wular Lake and other at Nowshehra Srinagar which was known as Zaina Dab.

Religious shrines

Unfortunately, the land could not preserve any evidence of any royal palace of the sultanate period 1339-1589 AD. The monuments available of the period are mostly religious shrines, mosques and tombs which represent the typical wooden architecture of Kashmir.

Material used in these constructions includes bricks, wood, and stones. Tombs are the memorials of great Sayyeds and Sufi saints raised over their respective burials.

These are square in plan and mostly self contained buildings, plinths are of Devri stones, while the chambers constructed sometimes of bricks and mortar, and sometimes of logs laid across each other. The space between logs \filled with brick-work, chambers are square with a cenotaph ( Zarich )of lattice work in its centre.

The entrance to chamber is usually from the south, bays of the chamber are decorated with fine types of jalli screens of wood, the interior as well as the exterior of the central chamber is sometimes covered with paper machine paints, the columns around the central chamber as well as the roof are elaborately carved, the low pyramidal roof projecting over the whole super structure was originally built of earth and brick bark overgrown with a single of white and blue irises. (But nowadays such roofs are hardly seen anywhere).

The roof is usually surmounted by a rising steeple, the final of which is molded, the largest moldings being sometimes in the shape of an umbrella usually covered with metal, either brass or copper. Sometimes the finals were of earthen pottery.

Such tombs were mostly seen in rural areas of Southern Kashmir. These olden tombs appear either to have lost their steeple along with their earthen finals or to have been then restored in metallic form.

The Sultanate period buildings have been built of stones, bricks, and wood, but stone and wood are the dominant material. While as the wood has surpassed the stone as well.

The architectural monuments raised during Muslim period had been exclusively built of wood. These Muslim period palaces had not only been formed of wood but decorated as well with latticework.


Lattice work, locally known as Panjrakari, is very popu­lar in Kashmiri constructions. The craftsmen dealing with wooden works used to fill the doors, windows, ventilators with jali screens formed of lattice work.

It was the most complicated art perhaps no less than carving or inlaying. The jali screens were built up of minute laths arranged in geometric forms so as to display their edges.

They are held in position by the pressure they exert upon each other by certain main lines being doweled together and by the frame of the panel within which they were fitted.

The minute laths were made of either deodar or walnut wood. The logs were chipped to the desired length and breadth and then woven in several orders. The geometric, sun and moon orders were commonly followed.

Many designs of Panjra Kari were popular in Kashmir, the most favourite being those of the rising sun and cobwebs.

The best kind of Pinjra work was known by their Kashmiri names posh kandur, chaharkhana, shashpahlu, dwazdah sar, sheikh sar, jujjari, shirin and tota shesh tez.

The Panjras were formed in these designs in square and rectangular shapes. These Panjras were then put in varied uses in Kashmiri houses, windows, doors railings, ventilators, ornamental partitions and screen were all done in Pinjira.

This art, like other woodworks, has a long history in Kashmir; some scholars have traced its his­tory to elev­enth century, the period of Harsha. While quoting Kalhana, these scholars have made a mention of a twelve storey wooden palace of Harsha’s period decorated by wooden works.

Most of the scholars believe that Shahmiri Sultans first introduced it in their architecture while few say that panjrakari was in­troduced and promoted by great Mughals.

It least matters who introduced it, but it signified that the craft got cultivated here for centuries together. It was initially used in Muslim shrines; almost all ancient Muslim shrines carry wonderful designs of intricate latticework. From here it got adopted in common structures and then a time reached when it began to be followed strictly in Kashmiri architectures.

The foreign travelers who visited Kashmir valley have made good mention of lattice works in their accounts. Some of them produced their respective research on the art.

Bernier, who visited Kashmir in the reign of Aurangzeb, makes a mention of the latticed windows, shutters and doors in the houses of kings and nobles which screened from view the beautiful ladies of their harem.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK

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