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Mughal Architecture: A Bird’s Eye View

Mughal Architecture   developed during the period of  Mughal rulers in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.  It is  an amalgam of Islamic, Persian, Turkish and Indian architecture. Some of the remarkable features of Moghul buildings include   a uniform pattern of structure and character, large bulbous domes, slender minarets at the corners, massive halls, large vaulted gateways, and delicate ornamentation etc.

The Mughal dynasty was established after the victory of Babur at Panipat in 1526. During his five-year reign, Babur took considerable interest in erecting buildings, though few have survived. His grandson Akbar built widely, and the style developed vigorously during his reign. Among his accomplishments were Agra Fort, the fort-city of Fatehpur Sikri, and the Buland Darwaza. Akbar’s son Jahangir commissioned the Shalimar Gardens in Kashmir. Mughal architecture reached its zenith during the reign of Shah Jahan, who constructed the Taj Mahal, the Jama Masjid, the Red Fort, and the Shalimar Gardens in Lahore. After Shah Jahan Mughal architecture declined.

Main Features

Mughal Architecture incorporates Indian elements with Persian and Islamic elements. Mughal Architecture has also influenced later Indian architectural styles, including the Indo-Saracenic style of the British Raj, the Rajput style and the Sikh style.

 Some features common to many buildings are:

  • Large bulbous onion domes, sometimes surrounded by four smaller domes.
  • Use of white marble and red sandstone.
  • Use of delicate ornamentation work, including pachin kari decorative work and jali-latticed screens.
  • Monumental buildings surrounded by gardens on all four sides.
  • Mosques with large courtyards.
  • Persian and Arabic calligraphic inscriptions, including verses from the Quran.
  • Large gateways leading up to the main building.
  • Iwans on two or four sides.
  • Use of decorative chattris.

To begin with Jahangir and Akbar took lot of interest in constructing beautiful buildings based on Moghul architecture specifications. Rather than building a huge monuments like his predecessors to demonstrate their power, Shah Jahan built elegant monuments. The force and originality of this previous building style gave way under Shah Jahan to a delicate elegance and refinement of detail, illustrated in the palaces erected during his reign at Agra, Delhi and Lahore. Some examples include the Taj Mahal at Agra, the tomb of his wife Mumtaz Mahal. The Moti Masjid (Pearl Mosque) in the Lahore Fort and the Jama Masjid at Delhi are imposing buildings of his era, and their position and architecture have been carefully considered so as to produce a pleasing effect and feeling of spacious elegance and well-balanced proportion of parts. Shah Jahan also built sections of the Sheesh Mahal, and Naulakha pavilion, which are all enclosed in the fort. He also built a mosque named after himself in Thatta called Shahjahan Mosque. Shah Jahan also built the Red Fort in his new capital at Shah Jahanabad, now Delhi. The red sandstone Red Fort is noted for its special buildings-Diwan-i-Aam and Diwan-i-Khas. Another mosque was built during his tenure in Lahore called Wazir Khan Mosque, by Shaikh Ilm-ud-din Ansari who was the court physician to the emperor.

 Following are the important pieces of architecture during the Mughal period:

Agra fort

Agra fort is situated in Agra, Uttar Pradesh. The major part of Agra fort was built by Akbar from 1565 to 1574. The architecture of the fort adopted the features of Rajput planning and construction. Some of the important buildings in the fort are Jahangiri Mahal built for Jahangir and his family, the Moti Masjid, and Mena Bazaars. The Jahangir Mahal is an impressive structure and has a courtyard surrounded by double-storeyed halls and rooms. Agra fort is a UNESCO world heritage site

Humayun’s tomb

Situated in Delhi, Humayun’s tomb is was commissioned by Humayun’s first wife and chief consort, Empress Bega Begum (also known as Haji Begum), in 1569-70, and designed by Mirak Mirza Ghiyas and his son, Sayyid Muhammad, Persian architects chosen by her. It was the first garden-tomb on the Indian subcontinent. It is often regarded as the first mature example of Mughal architecture.

Fatehpur Sikri

Situated in Fatehpur Sikri, a place near Agra, it is considered to be one of the most outstanding architectural achievements of Akbar. Fatehpur Sikri was his capital city. The construction of the walled city was started in 1569 and completed in 1574. It contained some of the most beautiful buildings – both religious and secular which testify to the Emperor’s aim of achieving social, political and religious integration. The main religious buildings were the huge Jama Masjid and small tomb of Salim Chisti. The tomb, built in 1571 in the corner of the mosque compound, is a square marble chamber with a verandah. The cenotaph has an exquisitely designed lattice screen around it. Buland Darwaza, also known as the Gate of Magnificence, was built by Akbar in 1576 to commemorate his victory over Gujarat and the Deccan. It is 40 metres high and 50 metres from the ground. The total height of the structure is about 54 metres from ground level…

The Haramsara, the royal seraglio in Fatehpur Sikri was an area where the royal women lived. The opening to the Haramsara is from the Khwabgah side separated by a row of cloisters. According to Abul Fazl, in Ain-i-Akbari, the inside of Harem was guarded by senior and active women, outside the enclosure the eunuchs were placed, and at a proper distance there were faithful Rajput guards.

Buland Darwaza

Buland Darwaza,  the “Gate of victory”, was built in 1601 A.D. by Mughal emperor Akbar to commemorate his victory over Gujarat. It is the main entrance to the palace at Fatehpur Sikri, which is 43 km from Agra, India. Buland Darwaza is the highest gateway in the world and is an example of Mughal architecture. It displays Akbar’s empire. The Buland Darwaza is made of red sandstone, decorated by white and black marble and is higher than the courtyard of the mosque. The Buland Darwaza is symmetrical and is topped by large free standing kiosks, which are the chhatris. It also has at the top center, terrace edge gallery-kiosks on the roof, stylized buckler-battlements, small minar-spires, and inlay work with white and black marble. A Persian inscription on eastern archway of the Buland Darwaza records Akbar’s conquest of Uttar Pradesh and the victory in Gujarat in 1573. An inscription on the central face of the Buland Darwaza describes Akbar’s religious openness.

The Tomb of Sheikh Salim Chishti

The Tomb of Sheikh Salim Chishti is famed as one of the finest examples of Mughal architecture in India, built during the years 1580 and 1581, along with the imperial complex at Situated near Zenana Rauza and facing south towards Buland Darwaza, within the quadrangle of the Jama Masjid which measures 350 ft. by 440 ft. It enshrines the burial place of the Sufi saint, Salim Chisti (1478 – 1572), a descendant of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti of Ajmer, and lived in a cavern on the ridge at Sikri. The mausoleum, constructed by Akbar as a mark of his respect for the Sufi saint, who foretold the birth of his son, who was named Prince Salim after him and later succeeded Akbar to the throne of the Mughal Empire.

Messis’s Palace

This is the largest palace in the Fatehpur Sikri seraglio, connected to the minor haramsara (where the less important harem ladies and maids would have resided) quarters. The main entrance is double storied, projecting out of the facade to create a kind of porch leading into a recessed entrance with a balcony. Inside there is a quadrangle surrounded by rooms. The columns of rooms are ornamented with a variety of Hindu sculptural motifs.

Begum Shahi Mosque 

Begum Shahi Mosque is also called the Mosque of Mariyam Zamani, which was constructed during the reign of Mughal Emperor Jahangir in the honour of his mother, Begum Mariyam Zamani, who was also known as ‘Maharani Jodha Bai‘.Jahangir built his mother Mariyam Zamani Begum’s mosque and is just 1 km away from the tomb of Akbar near Agra at a place called Sikandra. The mosque is located inside the old Masti Gate in the Walled City of Lahore.

Wazir Khan Mosque 

The Wazir Khan Mosque is 17th century mosque located in the city of Lahore, capital of the Pakistani province of Punjab. The mosque was commissioned during the reign of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan as part of an ensemble of buildings that also included the nearby Shahi Hammam baths. Construction of Wazir Khan Mosque began in 1634 C.E., and was completed in 1641. Considered to be the most ornately decorated Mughal-era mosque, Wazir Khan Mosque is renowned for its intricate faience tile work known as kashi-kari, as well as its interior surfaces that are almost entirely embellished with elaborate Mughal-era frescoes. The mosque has been under extensive restoration since 2009 under the direction of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture and the Government of Punjab, with contributions from the governments of Germany, Norway, and the United States.

Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal , which means “Crown of the Palaces” is an ivory-white marble mausoleum on the south bank of the Yamuna river in the Indian city of Agra. It was commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan (reigned from 1628 to 1658). The Taj Mahal was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 for being “the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world’s heritage”. It is regarded by many as the best example of Mughal architecture and a symbol of India’s rich history. The Taj Mahal attracts 7–8 million visitors a year and in 2007, it was declared a winner of the New7Wonders of the World (2000–2007) initiative. The Taj Mahal houses the tomb of his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. It also houses the tomb of Shah Jahan, the builder. The tomb is the centerpiece of a 17-hectare (42-acre) complex, which includes a mosque and a guest house, and is set in formal gardens bounded on three sides by a crenellated wall. Construction of the mausoleum was essentially completed in 1643 but work continued on other phases of the project for another 10 years. The Taj Mahal complex is believed to have been completed in its entirety in 1653 at a cost estimated at the time to be around 32 million rupees, which in 2015 would be approximately 52.8 billion rupees (U.S. $827 million). The construction project employed some 20,000 artisans under the guidance of a board of architects led by the court architect to the emperor, Ustad Ahmad Lahauri.

Moti Masjid

Moti Masjid , one of the “Pearl Mosques”, is a 17th-century religious building located inside the Lahore Fort. It is a small, white marble structure built by Mughal emperor Jahangir and modified by the architects of Shah Jahan, and is among his prominent extensions (such as Sheesh Mahal and Naulakha pavilion) to the Lahore Fort Complex. The mosque is located on the western side of Lahore Fort, closer to Alamgiri Gate, the main entrance. Other pearl based mosques included Mina Masjid (Gem Mosque) and Nagina Masjid (Jewel Mosque), both located in Agra Fort and completed in 1637 under Shah Jahan’s reign. The mosque, built between 1630–35, is the first among the “pearl” named named mosques, the others built by Shah Jahan in Agra Fort (1647–53), and his son Aurangzeb in the Red Fort (1659–60). The structure, located in the northwestern corner of Dewan-e-Aam quadrangle, is typical of Mughal architecture of Shah Jahan’s times. It is completely built of white marble that was brought from Makrana. The façade is composed of cusped arches and engaged baluster columns with smooth and fine contours.The mosque has three superimposed domes, two aisles of five bays, and a slightly raised central pishtaq, or portal with a rectangular frame.

The Lahore Fort

The Lahore Fort or Shahi Qila, is a citadel in the city of Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan. The fortress is located at the northern end of walled city Lahore, and spreads over an area greater than 20 hectares. It contains 21 notable monuments, some of which date to the era of Emperor Akbar. The Lahore Fort is notable for having been almost entirely rebuilt in the 17th century, when the Mughal Empire was at the height of its splendour and opulence. Though the site of the Lahore Fort has been inhabited for millennia, the first record of a fortified structure at the site was in regard to an 11th-century mud-brick fort. The foundations of the modern Lahore Fort date to 1566 during the reign of Emperor Akbar, who bestowed the fort with a syncretic architectural style that featured both Islamic and Hindu motifs. Additions from the Shah Jahan period are characterized by luxurious marble with inlaid Persian floral designs,  while the fort’s grand and iconic Alamgiri Gate was constructed by the last of the great Mughal Emperors, Aurangzeb, and faces the renowned Badshahi Mosque. And after the fall of the Mughal Empire, the Lahore Fort was used as the residence of Ranjit Singh, founder of the Sikh Empire. The fort then passed to British colonialists after they annexed Punjab following their victory over the Sikhs at the Battle of Gujrat in February 1849. In 1981, the fort was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its “outstanding repertoire” of Mughal monuments dating from the era when the empire was at its artistic and aesthetic zenith.

Red Fort

The Red Fort is a historic fort in the city of Delhi in India. It was the main residence of the emperors of the Mughal dynasty for nearly 200 years, until 1856. It is located in the centre of Delhi and houses a number of museums. In addition to accommodating the emperors and their households, it was the ceremonial and political center of the Mughal state and the setting for events critically impacting the region. Constructed in 1639 by the fifth Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan as the palace of his fortified capital Shahjahanabad, the Red Fort is named for its massive enclosing walls of red sandstone and is adjacent to the older Salimgarh Fort, built by Islam Shah Suri in 1546 AD. The imperial apartments consist of a row of pavilions, connected by a water channel known as the Stream of Paradise (Nahr-i-Bihisht). The fort complex is considered to represent the zenith of Mughal creativity under Shah Jahan,[citation needed] and although the palace was planned according to Islamic prototypes, each pavilion contains architectural elements typical of Mughal buildings that reflect a fusion of Persian, Timurid and Hindu traditions. The Red Fort’s innovative architectural style, including its garden design, influenced later buildings and gardens in Delhi, Rajasthan, Punjab, Kashmir, Braj, Rohilkhand and elsewhere.

The fort was plundered of its artwork and jewels during Nadir Shah’s invasion of the Mughal Empire in 1747. Most of the fort’s precious marble structures were subsequently destroyed by the British following the Revolt of 1857. The forts’s defensive walls were largely spared, and the fortress was subsequently used as a garrison. The Red Fort was also the site where the British put the last Mughal Emperor on trial before exiling him to Yangon in 1858. Every year on the Independence day of India (15 August), the Prime Minister hoists the Indian “tricolour flag” at the main gate of the fort and delivers a nationally broadcast speech from its ramparts. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007 as part of the Red Fort Complex.

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