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Posted on 30, Nov 2020


Mughal architecture

THE EARLY MUGHAL STYLE (1556-1628) The first monument in the real Mughal style is the tomb of Humayun constructed in 1569 by his widow. One of the most outstanding Muslim buildings in Delhi and the first building on Indian soil in the typical Timurid design, it is regarded as a landmark in the development of Mughal architecture in India, apart from representing the first of Mughal scheme of tomb-gardens ; it stands in the centre of a large four-walled garden-enclosure entered by impressive gateways, one each in the middle of its three sides. The high and wide square platform on which the tomb stands, has on its sides small rooms with arched fronts. The plan and design of the tomb are indicative of strong foreign, mostly Central Asian-Persian, influence. For example, it is square in plan, but its comers are flattened. and the middle bay in each side is deeply set back in the form of a semi-domed alcove or arched vault. The plan of the interior is also different. Instead of the single square or octagonal chamber hitherto in vogue, there is a larger octagonal central chamber with a vaulted roof which is surrounded on four comers by similar compartments smaller in size, all interconnected by galleries and corridors. Moreover, the foreign influence may be seen in the treatment and shape of its central double dome placed on an edge-rimmed circular base. On the other hand, the indigenous elements are discernible in elegant finials and Lodi-type comer chhatris (kiosks) on slender pillars, use of white and grey marble inlay in red sandstone, a few decorative designs, etc. Although its otherwise high dome appears somewhat low for its base, its kiosks and the finials, elegant in themselves, seem a little out of tune with the entire setting, and the decoration of its facade is limited, nevertheless, the mausoleum is a great architectural achievement on account of the perfect proportions of its different parts, the pleasing contract of red sandstone and white marble, the graceful curves of its bold arches and the grand volume of its dome. Somewhat similar in design to Humayan’s tomb is that of Akbar’s foster-father Ataga Khan (d. 1562), constructed in 1566-67. Of much smaller dimensions, the inlay work of multi-coloured marbles and the low relief carvings of its facade are far richer and finer than in Humayun’s tomb. Akbar’s building projects are many and varied. Flimself as great a patron of architecture as of other arts, he caused to be constructed a large number of buildings at Agra, Fatehpur Sikri, Lahore, Allahabad, Rohtasgarh (In Bihar) and elsewhere. His buildings are mostly constructed of red sandstone with limited use of white marble. Being endowed with a liberal outlook and catholicity of taste, he patronised indegenous building traditions with the result that the forceful architectural style of his reign is marked by a judicious mixture of purely indegenous and foreign forms. The central theme of Akbar’s buildings is the use of the trabeate system, though arcuate forms were also adopted but mainly for decorative purposes. The pillar-shafts are now generally many-sided and have bracket-capitals. The ornament consists chiefly of the carvings or bold inlay, perforated screen work, and artistically painted design on the walls and ceilings in gold or colours. The Red Fort standing on the bank of the Jamuna at Agra is the first major building project of Akbar. An irregular semi-circle in plan, its massive walls are of concrete and rubble faced entirely with huge blocks of finely dressed red sandstone. The Delhi Gate of the fort on the west, forming the principal entrance, is an imposing structure consisting of an arched gateway between two massive octagonal bastions, each with one octagonal domed kiosk at the top. The whole structure, with its charming facade on the back side, arcaded terraces, domed pavilions and finials, and rich and varied ornamentation including white marble inlay, is architecturally a noble and dignified monument in itself. Within the fort, most of the extent buildings are those that were constructed in the reign of Shah Jahan. The only building of Akbar’s period, preserved in entirety, is the Jahangiri Mahal, a large square palace built of red sandstone in the usual palace-plan of double-storeyed chambers enclosing an open courtyard. With the exception of a few arches appearing here and there in a subsidiary position, the entire palace with pillars, beams, brackets and flat ceilings is built in the Hindu trabeate style which also characterises the profuse carving all over the building but is particularly visible in the shape and design of the brackets. The most spectacular building activities of Akbar’s reign took place at Fatehpur Sikri, about 36 kilometres from Agra, where a large number of impressive buildings were constructed, almost wholly of red sandstone, for residential, official and religious purposes. Among the residential buildings, the most important are those popularly named the Panch Mahal, the Palace of Jodh Bai and the houses of Maryam, Turkish Sultana and Birbal, of varying sizes and designs; These palaces are for the most part built in the trabeate style, with Lodi type domes and heavy eaves on finely carved brackets of Gujarat-Rajasthan type; occasional arches with bud-fringe, and above all, superbly carved surfaces. Of these, the palace of Jodh Bai, complete in design and arrangement, is self-contained in every respect and provides a fine example of the type of building meant for royal residence. Its almost plain exterior is in sharp contrast with its interior which is remarkable for rich carvings of the pillars, balconies, perforated stone-windows and ornamental niches. Many of the structural elements and motifs of decoration executed in the indigenous style impart to the palace an architectural character of its own. The houses of Maryam and Turkish Sultana, much smaller and simpler than Jodh Bai’s palace, are remarkable for their workmanship of a high order. Maryam’s house is a small block consisting of a room having a verandah on three sides and on the fourth a set of three rooms; some portions of its interior and exterior were originally embellished by large mural paintings, traces of which may be seen even now. The house of Turkish Sultana, despite its being a small one-storeyed building, is particularly remarkable for the picturesque environment of paved courts and water-courses on the one hand and for profuse carved decorations, of a rich variety and craftsmanship, occupying the whole inner and outer surface of the building, on the other. The superb effect produced by this little building may be judged from the fact that Fergusson was inclined to rank it as the richest, most beautiful and most characteristic of all Akbar’s buildings. The double-storeyed building called Birbal’s house is, in addition to the features mentioned above, also remarkable for its design in that on the upper floor, two shoulder roofed rooms alternating with open terraces have been set diagonally. The Panch-Mahal is also remarkable for its unique design of a five-storeyed building with open pavilions arranged in a pyramidal fashion and their pillars of varying design and carvings. The most distinguished among the official buildings at Fatehpur Sikri is the two-storeyed curious building popularly designated as Diwan-i-Khas or the Hall of Private Audience. Though of moderate size, it is remarkable for the unusual treatment of its interior, which consists of one single chamber with overhanging galleries projecting from the sides. In the centre of the floor it set up an exquisitely carved single pillar of substantial size, the expanding bracket-capital of which supports a circular stone platform connected with galleries at the four comers by narrow diagonal passages. There are, in addition, quite a few notable buildings at Fatehpur Sikri, such as the Khwabgah, the Astrologer’s Seat, etc., but the most impressive of the whole group is the magnificent Jami mosque (1571-72) with its lofty gateway called Buland Darwaza and the marvellous tomb of Shaikh Salim Chishti situated within its open quadrangle.; The Jami mosque, unlike the other buildings at Fatehpur Sikri, is partially constructed in the arcuate style and belongs to the usual open courtyard type of mosques. While in general design it is purely Islamic, some of the structural forms and method of construction especially in the side wings of its prayer-hall and cloisters-arcade are in Hindu style. The mosque proper is one of the largest and finest mosques in India, remarkable for the skilful variation in the construction of the interior of its prayer-hall, for its balanced composition and for the variety of its rich decoration of carving, painting and inlay work over most of the interior. Equally impressive is the Buland Darwaza forming the soutnern entrance of the enclosure. In general form, it is dominantly Persian, the pendentives of interesting arches used in its semi-dome also point to this fact. Built in the form of a semi-octagon projecting beyond the wall of the mosque, it has been regarded as one of the most perfect architectural achievements in India. In apparent contrast to the lofty Buland Darwaza is the small but very beautiful tomb of Shaikh Salim Chishti built in white marble. Standing on a square marble platform in the compound of the Jami mosque, the tomb-chamber is surrounded by a verandah closed by elegant marble screens executed in extremely rich and delicate geometrical patterns, a feature characteristic not of north India at all, but obviously inspired by the tombs of Gujarat while its deep cornices supported on serpentine convoluted brackets of rare design and excellent carving, reminiscent of the brackets in the Shahzadi’s Tomb at Chanderi, but here they are much finer. The architectural tradition as practised in the reign of Jahangir is almost similar to that of Akbar’s period. There is the shift towards garden architecture, and there are many structures of Jahangir’s reign which exhibit elaborate wall paintings. One important garden of his time is the renovated Bagh-i-Nur Afshan. Of the monuments of Jahangir’s reign, the most important are Akbar’s tomb (1612-13) at Sikandra near Agra and the tomb of Itimadud Daula (1626) at Agra. The most arresting feature of Akbar’s tomb is its unusual form and design. It is situated in the midst of a spacious and elaborately laid out garden of Charbagh pattern, having four imposing gateways of sufficient architectural merit, the one on the southern side being real and the rest, false. This southern gateway is particularly impressive on account of its pleasing proportions, profuse surface ornamentation in inlay, and four graceful white marble minarets of a new but perfectly developed type heralding the first appearance of its feature in north India. The tomb proper is a five-storeyed structure in the shape of truncated pyramid. The ground storey consists of a massive terrace; each of its four sides has shallow arches except in the middle where an alcove or vaulted archway is set within a rectangular frame crowned by a graceful marble kiosk. The upper intervening ones contain a number of red sandstone kiosks arranged in order, while at the top, the fifth storey comprises an open court, enclosed by a flat-roofed arcaded gallery, the outer arches of which are filled with delicately perforated white marble screens, and a tall and graceful kiosk at each corner. Architecturally not perfect, according to some, the tomb is superb in effect on account of the originality of its conception and scheme of decoration which consists chiefly of exquisite carvings, artistic paintings in gold and colours, tile- decoration and pleasing inlay work, in geometric and floral designs. One of the other two most important buildings of Jahangir’s reign, the tomb of Itimadud- Daula, built by his daughter, Empress Nur Jahan, in or about 1626-27 stands on a raised platform in the middle of a garden-enclosure. Built wholly of marble and decorated profusely with exquisite inlay work, it forms a connecting link between the style of Akbar and that of Shah Jahan ; in this small but elegant building, the style assumes a most delicate and refined character. It is square in plan and consists of a central chamber enclosed by connected rooms with three arched openings in each side and four broad and squat octagonal and round towers at corners. A square shouldered-roofed pavilion in the centre on the terrace, having finely performed marble screens, forms the upper storey. Remarkable for the charm and harmony of its design, the tomb is an architectural achievement of a high order, but its architectural character is overshadowed by its exquisite pietra dura or inlay in precious stones over its whole surface. The different motifs-rose-water vessels, grapes, wine-cups and flasks, the cypress, etc., employed in this particular inlay work, are purely Persian in character. On the other hand, the tomb of Abdur-Rahim Khan-i-Khanan is interesting in that it constitutes a significant link between the tomb of Humayun and the Taj Mahal. Now standing divested of its white marble facing, it largely resembles the former, but the angles of its large single chamber, square in plan internally and externally, are not flattened. Among other monuments belonging to this period is the mausoleum of Jahangir himself at Shahdara near Lahore. It is situated, like the tomb of Akbar, in the centre of a large garden and is a square single-storeyed structure standing on a low plinth. Each of its four sides consists of eleven arches of which the central one forms the entrance, while at the four comers rise lofty and handsome octagonal minarets in five stages. With the disappearance of the marble pavilion that occupied the central portion of its roof-terrace, the building has lost its symmetry of composition. The rich surface decorations of marble inlay, glazed tiles and painting are its main ornamental features. There are to be found quite a few late sixteenth century monuments, particularly tombs in this phase, in the west Uttar Pradesh-Punjab-Haryana-Rajasthan region, at places like Agra, Batala and Nakodar (respectively in Gurdaspur and Jullundhur districts, Punjab), Namual, Ropar and Sonepat (in Haryana), Nagaur, etc., whose considerable architectural merit has not been taken note of even cursorily; quite a few of these tombs introduce a new octagonal type representing a certain amount of diversity, and their architectural style is marked by a distinct Persian influence. This early imperial Mughal style seems to have started influencing the local style in the newly annexed provincial territories of Bengal (including Bihar), Gujarat, Rajasthan, etc., only after the consolidation of the Mughal authority, that is to say, after the close of the sixteenth century. The most typical among the buildings of this style at such places is the palace-complex (1597) at Rohtasgarh in Shahabad district of Bihar, with the principal entrance called Hathia Pol or Elephant Gate, forming its most decorative part. The various buildings of the complex, such as Baradari (Offices), Darbar (Audience) Hall, Shish Mahal, Phul Mahal and Nach Ghar, represent the same virile and forceful architectural style that had been initiated in Akbar’s buildings at Fatehpur Sikri and elsewhere. Another building expressive of the same robust manifestation in the same region is the Chhoti Dargah or Tomb of Makhdum Shah Daulat (1616) at Maner near Patna, which, along with its large impressive gateway of great beauty and elegance, is an architectural achievement of a high order. It is perhaps the finest monument of the Mughal period in Bihar and can also rank among the outstanding ones in the whole country. Its most striking feature is the elegance and pleasing variation of design and neatness of execution. Consisting of a square tomb-chamber, enclosed by a continuous verandah, some of its salient features are the subtle variation of design, particularly of the front elevation in three stages including the domical roof, perfect proportion of its different parts and their harmonious composition, elaborate carving of a very high order of its verandah-ceiling in foliage design, and fret-work of great delicacy and exquisite finish. The small mosque nearby is also architecturally not without significance. Its most striking feature is its pointed vaulted stone roof resting on stone struts after the fashion of wooden roofs. At Ajmer in Rajasthan is the massive Akbar’s Palace, locally called the Magazine, a rectangular structure with four imposing octagonal comer towers of sufficient architectural merit and an audience-chamber in the centre, entered through a magnificent gateway in the typical early Mughal style. The fine palatial garden-mansion called Shahi Bagh, built in about 1618-22 by Shah Jahan, at Ahmedabad, of which the central mansion and a few other structures have survived, is among the few typical Mughal buildings in Gujarat.

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Lubna Irfan

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Womens's College, AMU Aligarh