Golden Period of Architecture:
Although all the Mughal rulers except Aurangzeb took great interest in architecture, yet Shah Jahan surpasses all in the field of architecture.
There is no doubt that architecture reached the pinnacle of its glory during the period of Shah Jahan.
The period of Shah Jahan (1627-1658) witnessed a glorious outburst of activity in the development of architecture.
At the same time it must also be accepted that a period of 100 years (1556-1658) covered by the reign of Akbar, Jahangir and Shah Jahan has a special significance for the promotion of architecture. Likewise there was some activity in this area in the period of Babur and Humayun. Therefore, it is said that the Mughal period was the golden period of Indian architecture.
Main features of Mughal Architecture:
1. Variety of buildings:
The Mughal rulers built magnificent gates, forts, mausoleums, mosques, palaces, public buildings and tombs etc.
2. Synthesis of Persian and Indian style:
The specimens of architecture created under the Mughals have become the common heritage of both the Hindus and the Muslims. It is a happy blend of Hindu and Muslim architecture.
3. Specific characteristic:
A common characteristic of the Mughal buildings is “the pronounced domes, the slender turrets at the corners, the palace halls supported on pillars and the broad/gateways.”
4. Costly decorations:
The Mughal emperors in general but Shah Jahan in particular decorated his buildings with costly articles. One of the important distinguishing features of the Mughal buildings is their ornamentation as compared with the simple buildings of the previous Muslim rulers of India.
5. Building material:
During the Mughal period, buildings were constructed mostly of red sandstone and white marble.
Development of architecture under different Mughal rulers:
Babur and architecture:
Babur was not impressed by Indian architecture. At the same time he was busy in waging wars. Nevertheless he sent for the pupils of Sinan the noted Albanian architect to work with Indian craftsmen whose skills he had appreciated. But this did not materialise. As Babur recorded in his ‘Memories’, he employed 680 workmen and 1491 stone cutters daily on his various buildings in India. He constructed several buildings but only two mosques—one at Panipat and the other at Sambhal have survived.
Humayun and architecture:
Humayun’s troubled reign did not allow him enough opportunity to give full play to his artistic temperament. Even then he constructed the palace of ‘Din-i-Panah’ in Delhi which was probably destroyed by Sher Shah. Humayun constructed some mosques at Agra and Hissar.
Akbar and architecture:
The history of Mughal architecture really starts with Akbar. Just as Akbar built up an extensive empire on the goodwill of the Hindus, in the same way he utilised local talent and took inspiration from Indian architecture. One of the earliest buildings built is the Tomb of Humayun, in Delhi. It was built after Humayun’s death by his first wife Hamida Banu Begam. This splendid tomb, designed by a Persian Architect Malik Mirza Ghiyas and executed by Indian craftsmen and masons, is a fine example of the synthesis of Indian-Persian traditions.
Important buildings built during Akbar’s time include the following:
(1) Red Fort at Agra.
(2) City of Fatehpur Sikri
(3) Lahore fort,
(4) Tomb at Sikandra.
During Akbar’s time, it is said that about 500 beautiful buildings were constructed in the Red Fort at Agra but only a few of them now survive.
Main features of Akbar’s buildings are:
(i) Synthesis of Hindu- Muslim art tradition
(ii) Extensive use of red stone
(iii) Construction of buildings for civilian purposes.
Jahangir and architecture:
Jahangir had fine artistic sense but he was more fond of painting than architecture. Two important buildings were raised. One was the completion of the Tomb of Akbar at Sikandra and the other was the Tomb of Itmad-ul-Daula built by Nur Jahan over the grave of her father. The most important feature of this tomb is that it is decorated with ‘pietra dura’ i.e. in-laid with semi-precious stones of different colours.
Shah Jahan and architecture:
Shah Jahan’s period is usually called the ‘Golden Age of Mughal Architecture’ and he is given the titles of ‘Prince among the Builders’ and ‘Engineer King’. His most important and impressive buildings are the Taj Mahal, Red Fort and Jama Masjid. These buildings are extremely beautiful and soft.
Shah Jahan mostly made use of marble in place of red stone. With a view to enhance the beauty and effect of the ceilings, he made full use of gold, silver, precious and coloured stones. At several places, the pictures of trees, animal scenes and other flora and fauna have been depicted. (See next question).
Aurangzeb and architecture:
Aurangzeb’s accession to the throne marks the end of rich harvest in building art. His puritanism gave little encouragement to the development of art. He is usually discredited with the destruction of two most important Hindu temples at Banaras and Mathura and raising mosques upon them. He built the Shahi Masjid at Lahore.