II. The Mughals
V. Shah Jahan
There are many different ways to learn about the history of a country. One could turn to a historian and beg him to tell, or he could visit a library and spend months reading. Of course, he could also search the web for the first-best summary of facts. Most likely, Google and Wikipedia will be quick to provide selected info and get the job done. It will be an easy and comfortable way of gaining knowledge - but sometimes, easy and comfortable just isn’t enough and not at all satisfying. If that is so, one might consider a fourth option of (his)storytelling: listening to a country’s buildings; its palaces and forts, its gardens and artificial seas, its churches, schools, stadiums and harbours. He might listen to a whole city or a single church only for both represent the particular time of their building and reflect the thoughts, values, morals and preferences of this period. In fact, architecture could just turn out to be all the more entertaining rather than any lectures, book or the world wide web. In case ofMughal architecture, it certainly does.
Although India can refer to a proud and very multifaceted history of architecture - with the likes of early and later Hindu and Buddhist temples, Muslim mosques and palaces, and to some degree even the achievements of colonial architecture - the creations of the Mughals probably outshine them all - not least because one of their finest pieces of art ranks amongst the seven world-wonders. The following essay will give an overview over Mughal architecture and hopefully help understanding the ideas behind it. In the very beginning, it explains the origins of the Mughal dynasty. It focuses in further detail on the four emperors Akbar, Jahangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb, for they are considered the most important forces in terms of changing the landscape of Mughal India. The resume will provide some overall thoughts and the results of the analysis of the emperors’ different styles in (urban) planning, building, decorating and patronizing.
II. The Mughals
The Mughal empire is often considered one of the strongest and powerful reigns in India. Although the date stamping differs from source to source, a majority of historians agrees that the kingdom lasted from 1526 till 1757 at least. Its roots however belonged more to the past. T.J.S. George tracks them back to the 12th century when the introduction of Muslim order into India brought along “a movement of ’Islamisation’ which was destined to give new directions to the established ideas and assumptioms of the people” (George: 1999). Needless to say that this included architecture. The ’Indo-Islamic’ architecture could already be seen during the Sultanates but did not fully outlive its potential by then. When the first Mughals finally defeated the Lodhi Sultans and the Rajput Ranas, it was Babur, and, more memorably, his son Humayun, who took over the country and laid the foundation for the long rulership that was to come. Yet still, Humayun himself spent a great deal of time in exile and regularly had to fight the enemies who threatened the outside borders of the young Mughal empire. Therefore he was unable to realize a lot of his architectural ideas. So, it had to be his son, Akbar, to step up and make history at last.
Akbar is often named ’The Great Mughal’ for all he has achieved - politically, economically and, last but not least, culturally. He ruled from 1556 till 1605, entering the throne at the age of only fourteen. His cultural achievements might seem confusing since Akbar was unable to read or write but he had, as Roy C. Craven points out, “great intellect and remembered every word read to him, talking in great delight in this manner of instruction” (Craven: 1979). Akbar fancied the art of architecture more than anything else. His works featured both Muslim and Hindu elements. The combination of the two different religious backgrounds reflected Akbar’s vision of policy. He was the one who made Mughal India a centralized country in every direction, driven by “desire to integrate culturally his diverse nation” (Craven: 1979). But where did his passion for come from? George assumes Akbar “had seen the Hindu architecture of Rajasthan, and was deeply impressed by the living craft traditions of Indian artisans” (George: 1999). This explanation is very believable since Akbar used to travel a lot, especially in his younger years. As emperor, he became best-know for Fatehpur Sikri, a city he wanted to be his new capital and residence, as well for Humayun’s tomb, some magnificent palaces in Agra, the Ajmer Fort, the Lahore Fort and the Allahabad Fort.
If one looks at pictures of Humayun’s tomb he will undoubtly be reminded of another, even greater building: the Taj Mahal. The similarity of these two tombs is just strinking and it is almost safe to say Shah Jahan must have been inspired by this fairytale of red sandstone which was constructed in 1565 at Delhi. What makes Humayun’s tomb so special is “the inlaid white marble decoration” (Craven: 1979) and, I would add, the water that appears to be rather a small mere than a pool. Furthermore, it is outstanding for the “high portal of the south-facing main entrance [which] is shaped like a scooped-out, arched nine, echoed by the two smaller ones on either side” (Mitter: 2001). But Akbar did not only designed his father’s graveyard but also his own. He must have been a man who always wanted to be in control and the decider of his own fate, in this case: his eternal peace. Blueprints and groundplans of Akbar’s tomb exhibit that it implies central octagonal chambers which lead to an archway that is, further up, fitted with many cupolas, little kiosks and pinnicles.
Fatehpur Sikri on the other hand was not about death but about life at its fullest. The city became a hotspot that attracted travellers from everywhere - “a ceremonial city”, as Craven labels it, “including elaborate palaces, formal courtyards, reflecting pools, harems, tombs, and a great mosque” (Craven: 1979). With its fine and datailed layouts, huge credit certainly goes to the teams of masons and stone-carvers that helped completing it within fiftheen years, starting in 1571. Its rapid uplifting is proof that Akbar built massively and in red sandstone, preferably. Sikri was an ambitious project since it was home (on its climax) of a quarter of a million people and a city of contrasts; not only socially but architecturally: “The counterpoint to the stark Buland Darwaza (thriumphal gateway) [...] is provided by the open pavilion palaces. The delicate white marble tomb of Salim Chisthi, decorated with perforated stonework, also offers a contrast to the sombre red Sikri sandstone” (Mitter: 2001). Fatehpur Sikri had to be abandoned 15 years later.
- Quote paper
- Moritz Herrmann (Author), 2010, Mughal Architecture, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/172822