Written by kharkhuwa on 27 May, 2003
Set atop a rocky outlier of the upper Vindhyan range, barely thirty-seven kilometres to the west of Agra, Fatehpur Sikri is a dramatic, deserted and ghost-ridden landscape. This imperial city was built by Akbar as a sign of gratitude to the sufi saint Shaikh Salim…Read More
Set atop a rocky outlier of the upper Vindhyan range, barely thirty-seven kilometres to the west of Agra, Fatehpur Sikri is a dramatic, deserted and ghost-ridden landscape. This imperial city was built by Akbar as a sign of gratitude to the sufi saint Shaikh Salim for blessing him with an heir. Long before Akbar set his eyes on this ridge, it was a completely uninhabited stretch of land; whatever glory or fame it acquired was purely a result of the sufi saint’s choice of turning it into a hermitage.
It is said that the young Akbar, after his ascension to the throne at the tender age of fourteen, used to hunt frequently around Sikri. It was during one of his hunting expeditions that his curiosity was aroused by the songs of the minstrels about the sufi saints, one of whose founders was the celebrated Khwaja Muinuddin Chisti, who was buried at Ajmer. Akbar soon set out to Ajmer to pay homage at the dargah of the saint at Ajmer. In the mean time, he also heard about the hermitage of Shaikh Salim at Sikri. Bereft of a son and an heir, he approached the holy man in the cold season of 1568-69 and sought his blessings. The Shaikh promised him not one, but three sons. A grateful Akbar vowed that if the prophecy were fulfilled he would "make the Shaikh’s friendship and grace his protector and preserver," to which the saint rejoined that he would allow the emperor’s first-born son to take his own name.
Immediately after Akbar’s visit to Shaikh Salim’s hermitage, one of his wives became pregnant. She was thereafter taken to a specially built palace—the Rang Mahal—near the Shaikh’s khanqah (religious hostel of the Sufis), which still survives though in a highly neglected form. It is historically and architecturally, one of the richest buildings in Fatehpur Sikri. Meanwhile, Akbar also ordered the construction of the great mosque—the Jami Masjid—under the Shaikh’s supervision.
The long-awaited son was born on 30 August 1569, and was named Muhammad Salim after the saint. The joyous emperor visited Ajmer and Pak Pattan in 1570–71 as a mark of thanksgiving. On his return journey he visited the Shaikh’s hermitage in 1571 and stayed with him overnight—an occasion he marked by ordering splendid buildings to be raised at Sikri.
The work at Sikri commenced at a brisk pace, and most of the buildings were complete within a year. Akbar himself stayed at Sikri to supervise the work. It is said that the emperor "even quarried stone himself, alongside the workmen," and "sometimes put his hands to other menial tasks." However, on 4 July 1572 Akbar had to leave Sikri to conquer Gujarat, which was ruled by an independent Muslim dynasty. He returned triumphant to Sikri almost a year later, and renamed the city as Fatehabad, which soon assumed the popular form Fatehpur—"the city of victory."
The construction work continued uninterruptedly at Fatehpur Sikri for another twelve years. Akbar fixed his court there and devoted all his attention to his dream city eager to make it a true reflection of his military might as well as his policy of reconciliation. Elaborate gateways were built, which were flanked by semi-circular bastions on either side. This was followed by the Daulat Khana (the royal palace), the Haram Sara (the royal seraglio), the princes’ palaces and the Karkhana. Then in March 1575, he ordered the construction of the Ibadat Khana, the first building in Fatehpur representing the special religious and intellectual interests of the emperor. It was without doubt the richest of all buildings in terms of historical and literary associations though, unfortunately, it no longer stands. The ceremonial city also had formal courtyards and reflecting pools—the prerequisites for a city that was intended to serve as the cultural, commercial and administrative centre of the empire.
Fatehpur Sikri was, however, not built to replace Agra; Akbar wanted to retain the strong fort of Agra to fall back upon in case of a rebellion or invasion. Nevertheless, it was from Fatehpur that many of his far-reaching reforms were promulgated; it was also at Fatehpur that he, along with his advisers, transformed the Mughal Empire into a unique example of conciliation and cooperation, and the forerunner of the secular ideals of today.
However, Sikri’s claim to fame was short lived. In 1885, Akbar had to leave the city to defend the North-Western Frontier. The following years were spent in pacifying the Afghan tribes, occupying the Kashmir valley, and conquering Qandahar and Sind. Fatehpur, in the mean time, was neglected. The empty houses of the nobility, most of them hastily built, decayed gradually. By 1591, the roofs of many stone houses had gone and most of the buildings of unburnt bricks had collapsed. Even when Akbar returned from Lahore in 1598 he established himself at Agra, not Sikri. It was only in August 1601, during a return journey from the Deccan, that he passed a few days at Sikri. The famous inscription on the Buland Darwaza bears testimony to the emperor’s last and final visit to the city that he so lovingly built. However, Akbar had to rush back to Agra to deal with Prince Salim, who was now in rebellion at Allahabad—a sad irony of fate for an emperor who had built the city as a mark of gratitude for the birth of the very son who turned a rebel. Akbar stayed at Agra until his death in 1605.
After the death of Akbar, Fatehpur Sikri became a deserted city, only used occasionally by visiting kings and princes. In 1619, Salim, now ruling as Jahangir, stayed here for three months because Agra was at the time raged by a plague. Except this nothing worthwhile happened at Sikri. It was looted and plundered by the Jats in the seventeenth century, who even despoiled Akbar’s Tomb at Sikandra. In addition, the disintegration of the Mughal Empire and the declining material prosperity spelt disaster for the buildings. The erstwhile ruler of Gwalior, Madho Rao Scindia (1772–1795), took some interest in Fatehpur but it was limited to the descendents of the Shaikh. It was only after Lord Curzon’s initiative in the late nineteenth century that Fatehpur Sikri was finally saved from further damage. Curzon had the Public Works Department turned out from the palaces it had occupied, rescued the Rang Mahal from private ownership, instituted repairs of stone screens and built the attractive dak bungalow at Sikri.
The tomb that Nur Jahan’s built for her father Mirza Ghiyas (Itmad-ud-daulah) after his death in 1622 is, unlike her own, a symphony in white marble inlaid with coloured stones and enhanced with gold paint. The tomb, which stands on the left bank of the…Read More
The tomb that Nur Jahan’s built for her father Mirza Ghiyas (Itmad-ud-daulah) after his death in 1622 is, unlike her own, a symphony in white marble inlaid with coloured stones and enhanced with gold paint. The tomb, which stands on the left bank of the Yamuna, is presented through the formal char bagh (four-part garden that emulates the Garden of Paradise in Islamic tradition) plan with high walls on all sides. Justly famous, the tomb marks the transition point in Mughal architecture from which white marble replaces red sandstone as the ground for multicoloured pietra dura inlay—a style that finds its superb culmination at the Taj in Agra.
The main entrance to the tomb is on the east, the direction of which was perhaps conditioned by its situation on the riverside. The gateway and its side pavilions are constructed of red sandstone with inlaid designs in white marble. The tomb proper, though it stands on a plinth of red sandstone, is of pure white marble and exquisitely finished with profuse ornament in mosaic and inlaid patterns. It is square in shape with broad octagonal towers marking its corners. The towers attain a circular form above the terrace and are surmounted by circular chhatris.
Each façade of the tomb is made of three arches, with the central arch forming the entrance. The interior is composed of a central mortuary hall housing the cenotaphs of Nur Jahan’s mother Asmat Begam and father Itmad-ud-daulah. The corner rooms contain the tombstones of some near relations, including that of her daughter Ladli Begam.
It is however the decorative aspect, rather than the layout and setting, that seems to dominate the tomb of Itmad-ud-daulah. The mosaic of polychrome pietra dura attracts the visitor at first glance. Persian motifs like drinking cups, vases, cypress and narcissus and visual descriptions of Paradise from the Holy Qur’an have been lavishly employed—all signifying the increasing Persian influence in the Mughal court following Nur Jahan’s marriage with Jahangir.
That the Mughals began like Titans and executed like jewellers is fully justified by Mirza Ghiyas Beg’s tomb. Although it is small compared to the other sepulchral monuments of the Mughals, most notably the Taj, a comparison between the two is not out of place here. In both the cases, the wife preceded the husband to her heavenly abode. In both the cases, she lies buried in the exact centre, with face towards Mecca and feet towards the south in accordance with Islamic law. Finally, and quite interestingly, the husband occupies an asymmetrical position on the right side of the wife, tampering thereby with the structural unity and aesthetics of the monument.
Nur Jahan: Empress of Mughal India, Ellison Banks Findly, Oxford University Press, 1993.
When Mihr-un-nissa met her second husband Salim, who had taken the name Jahangir after his ascension to the throne in 1611, she was already a widow of 35 years and ‘burdened’ with a daughter from her first husband—Ali Quli, entitled Sher Afkun (also Sher Afghan).…Read More
When Mihr-un-nissa met her second husband Salim, who had taken the name Jahangir after his ascension to the throne in 1611, she was already a widow of 35 years and ‘burdened’ with a daughter from her first husband—Ali Quli, entitled Sher Afkun (also Sher Afghan). For a woman thus placed to enchant and bemuse a king in possession of a harem stacked with beautiful women shows her remarkable class—her astuteness, charisma and temperament. In fact, Jahangir was so impressed by his wife’s multifaceted personality that he gave her the title of Nur Mahal (Light of the Palace), which he later expanded to Nur Jahan (Light of the World).
Nur Jahan had diverse achievements to her credit. She could spin a verse, appreciate a painting, design a building, evolve a new style in dress, sustain a conversation on any topic, and drop tigers and lions dead with an arrow or a bullet. Her accomplishments made her an irresistible companion for the emperor. She shared her husband’s interests in fine artistic objects and precious stones and assisted him in the layout and design of several gardens including the Shalimar Bagh on the Dal Lake in Kashmir and the Mughal Garden in Agra.
Jahangir’s own Memoirs enable us to know about this multi-faceted woman in great detail. He records that on one occasion she killed four tigers from her howdah while on a hunting mission. And when Jahangir was taken as prisoner following the campaign for ascension to the throne, Nur Jahan even tried to cross the swift and flooded Yamuna in an elephant. Although her efforts to rescue failed, the attempt shows her spirit and her loyalty. Unfortunately for her, Jahangir died on 28 October 1627 in transit between Kashmir and Lahore and his son Shah Jahan became the fifth Mughal emperor. After the coronation of Shah Jahan, Nur Jahan gave up politics and lived in seclusion. She had already completed her father’s tomb by now, and devoted the rest of her time in building the tomb and garden of her husband at Shahdara in Lahore. As for herself, she built a very small tomb with the following epigraph:
Bur Muzaarey Maan Ghureebaan Ney Chiraaghey Ney Guley
Ney Purey Purwaanaa Soazud, Ney Suddaayey Bulbuley.
On the grave of this traveller be so good as to light no lamps nor strew any roses.
This will ensure that the wings of moths do not get singed and that nightingales will not weep and lament.
Small wonder for a woman who had become a legend in her lifetime!
Nur Jahan’s Persian grandfather, Khwaja Muhammad Sharif, was the vazir (prime minister) of Khurasan and then of Yazd under the Safayid rulers of Persia. However, after his death, the family fell upon hard times so much so that Muhammad Sharif’s son, Mirza Ghiyas, had to…Read More
Nur Jahan’s Persian grandfather, Khwaja Muhammad Sharif, was the vazir (prime minister) of Khurasan and then of Yazd under the Safayid rulers of Persia. However, after his death, the family fell upon hard times so much so that Muhammad Sharif’s son, Mirza Ghiyas, had to flee to India in 1577 along with his pregnant wife. As they traversed the stony path to India Mirza’s wife gave birth to a beautiful baby girl near the city of Kandahar whom they named Mihr-un-nissa (Sun of Women). However, the prospect of another life to nurture appeared a formidable task to the dejected family and they abandoned the baby by the wayside.
As Mirza and his family continued their journey after leaving the baby behind, the scouts of a caravan that was passing by saw the baby and took it along with them. As luck would have it, the caravan soon caught up with Mirza Ghiyas and restored the baby to the grateful parents. Mirza’s charm and refinement endeared him to the chief of the caravan, and he introduced Mirza to Akbar’s court. The Mughal emperor too was impressed by Mirza and made him a mansabdar of 6,000 zat and 3,000 sawar, only to be promoted soon to Lord Treasurer of the Empire, and finally to the rank of commander and the proud title of Itmad-ud-daulah (Pillar of the State).
Mirza Ghiyas was the role model of a courtier in the Mughal court. Smooth, polite, urbane, accomplished and skilled, Mirza set the example of how the aristocrats should live and carry themselves. With Mirza Ghiyas also came to the court his sons and near relatives—Asaf Khan, Shaista Khan, Arjumand Banu (Mumtaz Mahal), and others. They were all remarkable persons known for their administrative skills and extraordinary level of elegance. These polished and cultured Iranians left their impact on the manners and customs of the court and also influenced the arts and architecture to a considerable extent.
As is often the case with children of famous parents, Jahangir’s life from the beginning was eclipsed by the achievements of his famous father, Akbar. He grew up resentful of his father and the latter’s coterie of nobles and courtiers, and there were frequent tiffs…Read More
As is often the case with children of famous parents, Jahangir’s life from the beginning was eclipsed by the achievements of his famous father, Akbar. He grew up resentful of his father and the latter’s coterie of nobles and courtiers, and there were frequent tiffs between the father and son. Even after he became the emperor, he remained aloof and indifferent to the day-to-day affairs of the empire, bored as he was by the nitty-gritty and monotony of it all. He also lacked the obvious inclination for warfare unlike his famous predecessors. To make matters worse, he was self-indulgent and sensual with a streak of cruelty, and an addict whose daily regimen included six cups of alcohol and two doses of opium.
For an emperor with such defects and drawbacks, Jahangir was indeed lucky to have lived under the spell of some of the most colourful personalities of the day—the most influential among these was the beautiful Nur Jahan whom he married in 1611. The marriage was an event of singular importance not only because it brought into the arena of Mughal politics a clever woman to whom Jahangir surrendered himself completely—it literally changed the colour and complexion of Mughal architecture. The tomb of Itmad-ud-daulah, built by Nur Jahan on the left bank of the Yamuna in Agra, marks a revolutionary change in all the aesthetic norms that the Mughals hitherto followed.
Well begun is half done, or so the saying goes. It now appears that the Taj that Shah Jahan built at Agra was only a half of what the emperor had envisaged. The other half, it seems, was to be a replica of the present…Read More
Well begun is half done, or so the saying goes. It now appears that the Taj that Shah Jahan built at Agra was only a half of what the emperor had envisaged. The other half, it seems, was to be a replica of the present monument on the opposite bank of the river, but in black marble instead of white. It is also believed that Shah Jahan had originally planned to connect both the monuments by a bridge.
Let’s take the available evidence first. Tavernier, the French traveller who visited Agra during the reigns of Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb, records the construction of the second Taj almost contemporarily:
Tavernier’s claim finds concurrence in the works of latter gazetteers and guidebook writers, who almost invariably mention the story of Aurangzeb refusing to carry out his father’s unfinished task. Some of these writers went to the extent of pointing out traces of the unfinished tomb on the other side—namely, the Mehtab Burj and the wall that adjoins it. Both of them lie exactly opposite the Taj Mahal, and are therefore considered sufficient proofs of the proposed tomb even by recent writers. As J. B. Page writes:
Another ‘proof’ in this connection is provided by the asymmetrical position of the crypt in which the emperor is buried. As Page opines, "Had the Emperor at first intended this to be his tomb he would have occupied the central position." This may indeed be true, for Shah Jahan would not have allowed the otherwise perfect symmetry of the Taj to be marred by the irregular position of his own cenotaph.
However, noted historian and an authority on Mughal architecture, R. Nath, categorically denies any veracity in the story of the second Taj and says that "the idea belongs more to fiction than to history." Nath is of the opinion that given Tavernier’s self-contradictory accounts of his travels, he might well have recorded a rumour. The French traveller first visited India during A.D. 1640–41 when the Taj was still under construction and a replica on the other side of the river could not have been begun. He was again at Agra in August–September 1665, 17 years after the completion of the Taj. Obviously, if any construction had been undertaken on the second Taj, it could be dated only after 1648 (the year when the Taj was completed) but much before 1658 when Shah Jahan was finally deposed and imprisoned by Aurangzeb.
Nath justifies the ‘traces’ that are identified as the remains of the second Taj as the ruined walls of Babur’s Mehtab Bagh, which the founder of the Mughal dynasty built on the other bank of the Yamuna. He further claims that the 12-foot-tall Mehtab Burj is only the south-east tower of the garden of the same name, and it does not stand any comparison with the 43-foot-high north-east tower of the Taj.
As regards the asymmetrical position of the crypt, Nath argues that there is nothing novel about it. The same case happened at the tomb of Itmad-ud-daulah, though the apparent drawback is not easily noticeable there. Taking the comparison a bit further, he says that in both the cases, the wife preceded the husband to her heavenly abode. Again, in both the cases, the wife lies buried in the exact centre, with her face towards Mecca and feet towards the south in accordance with Islamic law. The inference to be drawn from this, according to the historian, is clear: the story of the second Taj is a result of a long-standing rumour that has caught the fancy of petty guides and travel writers who want to cash in on the hullabaloo of the whole thing.
In 1648 Shah Jahan had shifted capital to Shahjahanabad. He already had the Peacock Throne and the Kohinoor. He never remarried but his lust for life continued unabated. Bernier, Tavernier and Niccola Manucci provide salacious details about the Mughal emperor’s private indulgences, excesses defying age…Read More
In 1648 Shah Jahan had shifted capital to Shahjahanabad. He already had the Peacock Throne and the Kohinoor. He never remarried but his lust for life continued unabated. Bernier, Tavernier and Niccola Manucci provide salacious details about the Mughal emperor’s private indulgences, excesses defying age and causing deterioration of health. As prisoner in the Agra Fort during his last days, Shah Jahan fell terribly ill. His parched throat could hardly swallow a few drops of sherbet. Nicola Manucci relates a tale that a faqir in Bijapur had warned Shah Jahan that the day his hands stopped smelling of apples he would die. Shah Jahan recalled the words and smelt his hands. A sigh escaped his dry lips. He cast his last lingering glance at the Taj from his bed in the Musamman Burj. His tired eyelids closed on a shattered heart forever. And so died on January 31, 1666 "Abu’l Muzaffer Shihab-al-Din Muhammad Sahib-i-Qiran-Sani, Shah Jahan Padshah Ghazi, son of Nur-al-Din Jahangir Padshah, son of Akbar Padshah, son of Humayun Padshah, son of Babar Padshah, son of Oma Shaikh Mirza, son of Sultan Abu Sa’id, son of Sultan Muhammad Mirza, son of Miraza Shah, son of Amir Timur Sahib-i-Qiran."
Jahanara planned a funeral procession befitting the grand Mughal. The purse containing twenty thousand gold and silver coins for showering over the bier was confiscated. She was herself a prisoner, hence she couldn’t order people. A small number of insignificant menials carried the body through the small water gate to the river. Quietly Shah Jahan’s body left the fort he had embellished, the magnificent marble palaces and pavilions. In the early hours of the day, his body was entered into the crypt—a rather poignant end for the fifth Mughal emperor. It is said Shah Jahan’s favourite elephant Khaliqdad, sensing the tragedy, also died as the burial was in progress.
Nicola Manucci adds a spicy tale of Aurangzeb’s reaction to Shah Jahan’s death. Aurangzeb "sent a trusted man to pass a heated iron over his father’s feet, and if the body did not stir, then to pierce the skull down to the throat to make sure that he was really dead. Orders were sent to I’tibar Khan not to allow his burial until the arrival of Aurangzeb in person." Once Shah Jahan had escaped Bijapur in a coffin to reach Agra. The son remembered the tricks his father could play. But court chronicles mention that Aurangzeb reached Agra 25 days after the burial and all he did was to enact a brief scene of simulated grief, and offer fake condolences to Jahanara as a ploy to snatch the jewels in her possession.
Only Tavernier mentions the beginning of another tomb for Shah Jahan, across the river. Historians and archaeologists dismiss this idea. However, the foundations of a mammoth building, deep huge wells on which stood plinth structures now exposed due to erosion of land under water, and lone cupola at the end of a long boundary wall replicating the Taj, are all too evident of the abandoned enterprises. His Majesty Firdaus Ashvani, (Shah Jahan’s posthumous title) was buried beside the Empress, the only asymmetrical work at the Taj.
The dome is crucial to Islamic architecture, cosmologically uniting heaven and earth. The square of the edifice represents the material universe, the dome symbolizes the vault of heaven. The octagon stands for the transitional phase. Above the finial is the region of transcendence. The whole…Read More
The dome is crucial to Islamic architecture, cosmologically uniting heaven and earth. The square of the edifice represents the material universe, the dome symbolizes the vault of heaven. The octagon stands for the transitional phase. Above the finial is the region of transcendence. The whole domed structure is thus designed as a replica of the throne of God in Paradise where a gigantic white pearl dome stands supported by four corner pillars from which flow the rivers of grace. The Taj architects have prominently used the keel arch set within a rectangle, repeating the shape everywhere "the gateway, niches, windows, trellised doors, plinth, dome ornamentation and cusped arches of he cupolas. To complete the image of Paradise the tomb has been most lavishly ornamented with splendidly calligraphed verses from the Qur’an.
The legendary gold railing was subsequently replaced by an octagonal latticed screen (Mahajar-i-mushababbak) of the most marvellous craftsmanship with an entrance fashioned of jasper after the Turkish style, joined with gilded fasteners. It cost 10,000 rupees, but is the most splendid work of art, well worth its weight in gold. It stands enclosing the two cenotaphs.
Humayun’s Tomb and the tomb of Abdul Rahim Khan-i-Khana in Delhi had served as model for the Taj with their dome-topped structure raised on a high platform. Akbar’s tomb at Sikandara lent its dominant four-pillar design. Its splendid calligraphic ornamentation by Amanat Khan inspired Shah Jahan to entrust the Taj ornamentation to the same artist. The tomb of Itmad-ud-daula at Agra, built by Nurjahan for her father, had the most innovative and grand pietra dura decoration, a mosaic of exquisitely coloured hard precious stones inlaid into the white marble. The lyrical rhythm of the floral motifs had an amazing beauty, which the Taj greatly emulated. As Percy Brown, the noted art historian observes, the Taj pietra dura "resembles the spirited sweep of a brush rather than the slow laborious cutting of a chisel". As many as 35 different types of precious stones have been used on a single bloom—turquoise, jade, agate, coral, lapis lazuli, onyx, bloodstone, cornelian, jasper, garnet, etc. The ninety-nine names of Allah have been used to decorate the eastern and western sides of Mumtaz’s grave in the crypts. In those days, the cost of the Taj worked out to 50 lakhs and the annual revenue of 30 villages was earmarked for the regular maintenance of the mausoleum.
Described as the most extravagant monument ever built for love, this poignant Mughal mausoleum has become the de facto tourist emblem of India. To India’s first Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, the Taj was a "teardrop on the face of humanity," an edifice that echoes the…Read More
Described as the most extravagant monument ever built for love, this poignant Mughal mausoleum has become the de facto tourist emblem of India. To India’s first Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, the Taj was a "teardrop on the face of humanity," an edifice that echoes the cry, "I have not forgotten, I have not forgotten, O beloved." Situated on the banks of the river Yamuna in Agra, the Taj today is source of attraction for millions of tourists from all over the world.
On June 17, 1631 Mumtaz Mahal died, after delivering her fourteenth child "Gauharar." The grief-stricken Shah Jahan stood dazed, unable to comprehend the situation. She had died leaving all her children, mother and relations to his care. But he had promised her never to remarry, and to build the grandest mausoleum over her grave. Her body received a temporary burial in the Zainabadi Garden in Burhanpur and within six months it was removed to Agra. Shah Jahan had already acquired from Raja Jai Singh a plot of land on the riverside. Here was to be built the Taj Mahal. Work on the tomb started in a frenzy with thousands of artisans and labourers toiling ceaselessly. The first anniversary urs was held in June 1632 amid royal pomp and show, attended by Shah Jahan and Jahanara.
On the second urs, on May 26, 1633, the mausoleum had taken shape, and the crypt chamber and the surrounding works accomplished. Peter Mundy’s eyewitness account relates:
This fabulous gold railing made of 40,000 tolas of gold encrusted with precious gems and diamonds enclosed the grave lying under magnificent golden constellation of orbs and lamps.
Shah Jahan issued firmans to Raja Jai Singh ordering immediate and constant supply of the Makrana marble for the tomb. An inclined two-and-a-half-mile-long road ramp was built to carry huge marble slabs to the top. In absence of wood, the scaffolding was of brick. The mausoleum rose higher with every sunset. In nearly six years’ time, the main edifice of the tomb was complete. In the words of Ustad Ahmad Lahori, chief architect of the project: "And above this inner dome, which is radiant like the heart of angels, has been raised another heaven-touching, a guava-shaped (amrudi shakl) dome…crowning this dome of heavenly rank, the circumference of whose outer girth is 110 yards high flittering like the sun with its summit rising to a total height of 107 yards above the [level of the] ground."
Written by kharkhuwa on 26 May, 2003
The term Mughal architecture is generally used to denote the building style that flourished in northern and central India under the patronage of the Mughal emperors from the mid-16th to the late 17th century. The monuments and gardens constructed by the Mughals saw strong influences…Read More
The term Mughal architecture is generally used to denote the building style that flourished in northern and central India under the patronage of the Mughal emperors from the mid-16th to the late 17th century. The monuments and gardens constructed by the Mughals saw strong influences of Persian, Indian, and various provincial styles.
Although Babur ruled only for a brief period, he left his indelible signature on all that was to follow in Mughal architecture. He gave medieval architecture a new direction and revolutionized the whole art of building. Mughal architecture after Babur was presented through the formal char bagh (four-part garden that emulates the Garden of Paradise in Islamic tradition) plan wherein the ethereal effect of the Persian garden, complete with its water channels, stone tanks and water chutes, formed an integral part of the whole scheme.
While Babur charted the course of the new architecture, it was Akbar who took it to higher levels. The Humayun's tomb at Delhi, built by Akbar, is considered the precursor of this national style that culminated with the construction of the Taj at Agra. The style is a perfect amalgamation of Persian and Hindu influences: while the char bagh scheme continued to hold its distinct pre-eminence, the Hindu influences can be seen in the use of beam-and-post (trabeate) building method and the associated stone-carved ornamentation. Recourse to jali (filigree), lavishly used in Mughal buildings, also points out to the influence of the latter school.
Jahangir's marriage to Nur Jahan in 1611 brought Iranian influence to the Mughal court. The importance attached to minute details of Persian embroidery work, the use of calligraphic lines from the Qur'an and the use of typical Persian flowers like narcissus, iris and tulip (instead of the lotus and lily used earlier) in paintings are distinctive features of this architectural style. In addition, the style sought to do away with red sandstone, which hitherto constituted the chief building material in Akbar's time. Instead, Jahangir made large-scale use of white marble in building the upper storey of Akbar's tomb at Sikandra. His wife, Nur Jahan, followed this up by building the entire tomb of Itmad-ud-daulah (also Mirza Ghiyas Beg; Nur Jahan's father) in white marble.
Mughal architecture reached its zenith during the reign of emperor Shah Jahan (1628-58), its crowning achievement being the magnificent Taj Mahal. The Persian elements that were introduced during his predecessor's reign achieved fruition, and indigenous elements were now brought under restraint. Among the characteristic features of Shah Jahan's style, the bulbous dome, the engrailed arch and the elaborate use of chhatris (cenotaphs) are the most prominent. The trabeate (horizontal) method of building in Akbar's time was replaced by the arcuate (curved) method to give an impression of grandeur and magnificence to the edifice. The construction material was predominantly white marble though red sandstone with a heavy overcoat of white shell plaster was also used.