Mughal Contribution in Architecture

What is the role of Mughals in the development of Indo-Islamic Architecture?

Mughal emperors patronized and promoted a unique form of art and architecture called Indo-Islamic Art and Architecture during their rule in the Indian subcontinent from the 16th to18th century. These art forms and architectural styles have a profound influence on the later architecture that developed in India during the British and post-British eras.  

This article analyzes different forms and styles of Mughal Architecture.

Different forms of Mughal Architecture 

Mughal Architectural forms include Persian gardens (Charbagh), mausoleums, palaces, and mosques, etc. which the Mughals built extensively in different parts of the Indian subcontinent during their rule from the 16th to the 18th century. 

1. Mughal Gardens

Gardens of Persian style are one of the remarkable Mughal contributions to architecture that still illuminates with all their glory and splendor in different places in today’s India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.

There are two aspects of Mughal Gardens, (a) gardens built as part of other architectural forms i.e. mosques, palaces, mausoleums. (b) gardens built separately from other forms of architecture.  

Main Characteristics of Mughal Gardens 

  • The types of gardens that developed under Mughals reflect the structure of Persian Gardens (Charbagh). 
  • Their layout represents the four gardens of Paradise mentioned in the Muslim Holy Book, Al-Quran.
  • Walkways and flowing water divide the four gardens from each other within usually walled from all sides.
  • Canals, pools, and fountains were important and common features of almost all of the Mughal gardens. 

List of important Mughal Gardens

I. Bagh-e-Babur

The Garden of Babur lying in present-day Afghanistan is the final resting place of the first Mughal Emperor, Zahiruddin Babur. According to historians, the Emporer himself had developed this historic garden around 1528. Babur’s own biography, the Memoirs of Babur mentions orders for the construction of an avenue garden in Kabul.

When Babur died in 1530, he was laid to rest in Agra India. His Burial in India was against his wish as he desired to be laid to rest in Kabul Afghanistan.  Sher Shah Suri fulfilled Babur’s wish as he interred Babur’s body at Bagh-i-Babur in Kabul, Afghanistan. 

  • The Garden consists of fifteen stepped terraces on a hillside with an axis pointing towards Mecca.
  • The 14th terrace contains Babur’s grave. A screen of white marble surrounded the grave originally.
  • A small mosque built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan lies to the southwest of the grave on the next lower terrace.
  • Shah Jahan made a couple of more addition, (a) water channels flowing through the center of the garden (b) a Caravan Serai at the base of the garden.
  • The fifteenth terrace contains the marble jali screened tomb of Babur’s granddaughter, Ruqaiya Sultan Begum.

II. Mehtab Bagh

Mehtab Bagh (Moonlight Garden)  is a Mughal Charbagh complex in Agra India which is in perfect alignment with the Taj Mahal on the north to the opposite bank of the River Yamuna. The garden is the last of the eleven grand gardens that Mughals constructed during the reign in India.   

Shah Jahan had identified the site as an ideal location for viewing the Taj Mahal and that led to the creation of a moonlit pleasure garden (Mehtab Bagh in Urdu).

Shah Jahan designed the garden as an integral part of the Taj Mahal on its opposite side of the river. The width of the garden is the same as that of the rest of the Taj Mahal complex.

Important features of the garden include pools, fountains, walkways made of white plaster, and a number of airy pavilions. It also contained a variety of fruit trees, flowers such as daffodil, narcissus, jonquil, etc.   

III. Taj Mahal Gardens 

Taj Mahal Gardens are Persian Timurid-styled gardens known as Charbagh developed according to the Islamic concept of heaven with four rivers and a lush garden. The Mughal emperor Shah Jahan built these gardens as part of the magnificent Mausoleum as per the wishes of his favorite wife on her death bed. 

Shah Jahan selected the river Yamuna and constructed the garden in multiples of four as per the Quranic description of heaven.  At the time of the construction, the garden contained a variety of fruit trees, daffodils, and roses. 

The gardens maintained meadow and acted as a green carpet right from the main gateway and to the base of the Mausoleum.

Spread on an area of 300 meters, the garden receives enough water supply from the River Yamuna located nearby.  The garden contains two major canals made of marble plus fountains increasing the beauty of the garden with a constant flow of water. 

A number of flower beds on a raised platform are another feature located in each quarter of the four-by-four garden.  The flower beds are believed to have contained 400 plants.

What is noteworthy among all is that every aspect of the garden is multiple of four primarily based on the Islamic belief that 4 is a lucky number. Thus the Shah Jahan known as the architect king has made the entire garden in synchronization with the number “4”.

IV. Garden with Hamayun’s Tomb

Garden with Hamayun’s tomb is a Charbagh garden, a typical Persian-styled garden with a quadrilateral layout. The widow of Hamayun, Hamida Begum commissioned the construction as part of the tomb of Hamayun during the reign of Akbar. The garden was the first of its type built in India which set a precedent for future Indian landscape architecture. 

Walkways divided the garden into four squares with a couple of bisecting central water canals. The two water channels symbolize the four rivers of heaven according to the Quranic concept of paradise. Similarly, walkways divided each sub-square small garden into further smaller squares with the same number of water channels. In total, there are 36 square gardens with two water channels and pathways.  

The water channels disappear beneath the tomb structure and appear on the other side in a straight line. This disappearance and reappearance of the water channels are in synchronization with the Quranic verse which talks of rivers flowing beneath the ‘Garden of Paradise. 

V. Shalimar Gardens, Lahore 

Shalimar Gardens are another example of Mughal architecture. This garden was built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in 1641 AD in Lahore. This Garden structure is one of the most significant among other Mughal Gardens.  The architecture reflects influences of the architecture of different regions/times i.e. Central Asia, Persia, Kashmir, and the Delhi Sultanate. 

The UNESCO The garden has been incorporated the Shalamar Gardens into its list of the World Heritage Sites along with Lahore Fort in 1981.

Important Features of Shalimar Gardens

i. Design and architecture 

The garden complex resembles an oblong parallelogram as the architectural design is based on that of Char Bagh. There is a high brick wall famous for its detailed fretwork surrounds the garden. The entire garden complex is 658 meters from north to south and 258 meters from east to west.

ii. Terraces of the Gardens

The garden is spread out in three elevated levels of terraces mounted above one another. The lower level, Hayat Baksh refers to the Benefactor of Life. Similarly, the second level, Faiz Baksh refers to Benefactor of goodness while the third or upper level known as Farah Baksh means Benefactor of Pleasure

iii. Fountains

Fountains are the most striking feature of Shalimar Gardens. There was a total of 410 fountains with waters flowing into marble pools. The creativity used in the making of the water systems and thermal engineering is such that the scientists of today show their astonishment. The fountain water helps cool the surroundings providing relief to visitors during the scorching months of summer. 

VI. Khusro Bagh

Khusro Bagh is a large Mughal garden in Allahabad India. Mughal King Jahangir had built it as part of the tomb of her Rajput wife Shah Begum. Lying over forty acres and shaped like a quadrangle, it is listed as a site of national importance in India. 

VII. Other Mughal gardens 

Apart from the above, there are many small and big gardens that Mughals commissioned and built throughout the length and breadth of the Indian subcontinent. Some of them are Nishat Bagh, Shalimar Bagh, Garden with Pari Mahal and Chashm-e-Shahi, etc. in Indian-held Kashmir. 

2. Mausoleums built by Mughals  

Mausoleums are one of the magnificent landmark Mughal architectural forms. Following are some of the important Mughal Mausoleums.

I. Humayun’s tomb 

Designed by a Persian architect, the Tomb of Humayun is one of the achievements of Mughal architecture during the reign of Akbar.  The second Mughal King Hamayun’s wife Hamida Begum commissioned the structure in 1562.

This was the first tomb to have been built in India and the first building to use red sandstone in abundance. Moreover, the structure was the first building that witnessed the use of the Persian double dome in India.

Furthermore, it is an amalgam of indigenous Rajasthani decorative elements, Greek pietra dura technique with marble and stone inlay ornamentation, latticed stone carving, etc. 

II. Tomb of Salim Chisti

The Tomb of Sufi Saint, Salim Chisti (1478–1572) was built in 1580-81 of white marble at Fatehpur Sikri, the royal city during the time of Akbar. The tomb lies within the courtyard of the congressional mosque (Jama Masjid).

The Mughal king Akbar constructed the mausoleum as a sign of deep reverence for the Sufi saint. The Sufi saint, Salim Chisti foretold the birth of Akbar’s son whom Akbar named Prince Salim after the Sufi Saint. It was prince Salim who later succeeded Akbar to the throne as Jahangir.

The mausoleum is a single-story building within which is the grave of the saint lies. A wooden canopy decorated with different designs and with mother of pearl mosaic surrounds the grave. There is a covered passageway around the wooden canopy to perform circumambulation by the murids and visitors. 

Stone pierced screens or Jalis all around with the intricate geometric design is another important feature of the interior decoration. 

III. Taj Mahal

Located in Agra, the Taj Mahal is a white marble mausoleum built between 1632 and 1648 by Shah Jahan in memory of his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal.

The mausoleum rests in the middle of a huge square platform with four similar front looks, each with an arch-shaped doorway. 

Large double some with a finial on the top reflects both Islamic and Indian architectural style. The finial contains both the Islamic motif of the crescent moon and the Hindu symbol of the trident associated with the god Shiva.

The large double dome at the center contains a Lotus design which is another religious symbol of Hinduism. Moreover, four smaller umbrella-like structures, the Chatteris with the same Lotus motif surround the central tomb. 

The mausoleum represents the Islamic garden of paradise and enjoys a reputation of being the greatest achievement in Mughal architecture.

According to different accounts, 20,000 men worked for years to erect this huge structure at a cost of millions of rupees.

IV. Other Mughal tombs 

Other tombs built as part of great achievements in the development and evolution of Mughal architecture include the tomb of I’timad-ud-Daulah, the tomb of Safdar Jhang, Bibi ka Maqbra, etc. 

3. Mosques built by Mughals 

Famous mosques Mughals built in the Indian subcontinent are as follows

I. Wazir Khan Mosque

The Wazir Khan Mosque is another achievement of the fifth Mughal emperor Shah Jahan which he built in Lahore, Punjab from 1634-41. The mosque is part of a number of buildings including the famous Shahi Hammam baths.

The Mosque is one of the buildings the Mughals built with the most ornate decoration during their rule in India. It is famous for ornate interior artwork such Kashi-Kari, mural paintings, tile work, etc.  

II. Shah Jahan Mosque 

As the name suggests the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan built this mosque in Thatta, Sindh.  The architecture of the mosque reflects Central Asian architecture (use of geometry and the most elaborate display of tile work). It is also famous for its geometric brickwork that architects used as a decorative element unusual for Mughal-time mosques

Historians believe that the king built this mosque as a token of gratitude to the people of Thatta which was the birthplace of Hamayaun.  

III. Badshahi Mosque 

Badshahi mosque is another striking example of Mughal architecture. The last of the first five great Mughals, Aurangzeb commissioned and erected this mosque in Lahore. 

Emperor Shah Jahan expanded the city during his rule from 1628 to 1658. However, during the reign of Aurangzeb its importance as an important royal residential place witnessed a decline. 

The mosque has a vast courtyard on a platform. The visitors access this platform from the eastern side after crossing twenty steps upright double door entrance. The entrance of the mosque embodies minute-level ornamentation and carved panels on its front look. 

Following are the important features of Badshahi Mosque: 

  • It has three large size bulbous marble domes.
  • The building contains white marble inlay of lines and patterns
  • Red sandstone and white marble dominate as the building blocks of the mosque.   

IV. Sunehri Mosque

The Sunehri Mosque is another marvelous Indo-Islamic architectural monument in Lahore, Pakistan. The Mughal king, Muhammad Shah constructed the mosque in 1753 at a time when the Mughal reign was in a steady decline in India. The mosque has got its name “Sunehri Mosque” (Golden Mosque) for its glided domes.  

4. Mughal Forts and Palaces 

Mughal kings built a number of forts and palaces in different places of India. Given below is a brief and succinct description of these structures.  

I. Agra Fort

Agra Fort was an architectural achievement of Mughal Great king, Akbar. Akbar built  Agra fort was built from 1565 to 1574 in Agra in today’s Uttar Pradesh, India. The fort reflects a fusion of Persian and the Indian architectural style of the Rajputs.

Agra fort complex contains some other important buildings, i.e. the Moti Masjid, Jahangiri Mahal, and Mena Bazaars. Similarly, the Jahangiri Mahal with a courtyard lying in the center of double-storeyed halls adds to the architectural magnificence of the fort.  

II. Lahore Fort

According to historians, the foundations of Lahore Fort date back to the reign of Akbar. The structure of the fort reflects both Islamic and Hindu architectural patterns and motif.

Successive Mughal emperors, i.e. Shah Jahan and Jahangir added the expensive marble decorated with Persian floral patterns to the fort. Similarly, the last of the great Mughal emperors, Aurangzeb constructed a magnificently designed and decorated main entrance to the fort called the grand Alamgiri Gate.  

After taking control of Lahore by Sikhs, the founder of the Sikh Empire Ranjit Singh used the fort as his residence. With the fall of Sikhs and the annexation of Punjab, the fort fell into the hands of the British who used it till 1947. 

III. Red Fort

Red Fort is another marvelous accomplishment in Mughal architecture and the emperor, Shah Jahan which he completed in 1648. The structure has got its name “Red Fort”  for the walls made of red sandstone around the fort.

One of the unique features of the fort is the Nahr-i-Behisht (Stream of Paradise), a continuous water canal connected with a row of pavilions of the royal private apartments.  Although the Islamic style of art is more dominant the pavilions depict an amalgam of Indian, Islamic, and Persian traditions. 

Fort has a couple of magnificent buildings within itself, i.e. the Diwan-e-Khas and the Rang Mahal known as Imtiaz Mahal and Shah Mahal respectively. There is a third important building, Diwan-e-Asm where the king addressed his courtiers and common people who gathered on important events. 

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