A FEW years after Mân Singh of Gwalior completed his palace, yet another Musulmân invader, Bâbar, the illustrious founder of the Mogul dynasty in India, came to contest the sovereignty of Hindustan with the Afghan rulers of Delhi and Bengal. In 1526, on the field of Pânipat with only 10,000 men, he defeated and slew Ibrâhîm Lodi; the next year he overcame the Rajput Râna Sanga of Chitor, near Fatehpur-Sîkrî; and in 1529 the Afghans in Bengal. But in 1531 the meteoric career of one of the most romantic figures in history was cut short by death.
Bâbar inherited the nature-loving traditions of his race: he was strongly imbued with the Persian culture of his time, which had borrowed much from China as well as from India and the West. His wine-bibbing habits were redeemed by a passionate joie de vivre and love of music and poetry. He was no philosopher, like his grandson Akbar; the wisdom of India’s sages had no attractions for him. In his delightful memoirs he expresses forcibly his contempt for all things Indian, and according to Montani, quoted by M. Saladin,1 directly he had established himself at Agra, he sent to Constantinople for several of the pupils of the celebrated architect Sinan, to superintend the building of the new city he laid out there. If this is true, the fact is interesting as being the first definite record of the importation of foreign architects by the Musulmân rulers of India. Architecturally it is of no importance and gives no support to Fergusson’s theory of the foreign origin of the Mogul style, for the simple reason that there is no trace of any Byzantine influence in any of the Mogul buildings, or in any Indo-Muhammadan buildings before Bâbar’s time.
If Sinan’s pupils did come to Agra, the new methods of building they introduced seem to have been no more successful than those of the modern Western teacher, for of all Bâbar’s buildings only two now exist, and these are quite insignificant: whereas many of the great Indo-Muhammadan monuments of a much earlier date, built without Western supervision, are still intact.
Objectively, it may be truly said that Bâbar left no impression whatever on the Indian building tradition; yet as the beginning of a new epoch when the Persian fashions of the Mogul court were reflected in court architecture, Bâbar’s reign is a landmark in Indian history.
The student of Indian art is, of course, aware that from time immemorial India had close commercial and political relations with Persia and Mesopotamia, that constant streams of immigrants had continually poured into Hindustan from these and adjacent countries, and that the arts of all of them had had their influence upon the art of India. But the Western observer is too ready to forget that India, even before the time of Buddha, had a civilisation which was peculiarly her own, and that the philosophy and religion contained in that civilisation had a potent influence not only in absorbing the artistic elements derived from the culture of other countries, but in reshaping and transforming them according to her own ideals. The imported material enriched the stock of Indian art and added to its strength, but did not create it or profoundly modify its ideals. We may agree that “English Gothic is only an off-shoot from the parent stock of France,”2 but we must never say that Indian sculpture is derived from Græco-Roman, Indian painting from Persian, or that Muhammadan art in India is “a form of the Arabic modified by local influences”3; for in India the local influences were the predominating creative forces. Persian art, derived originally from Mesopotamia, had an individuality of its own but never strong enough at any time to overrule the artistic convictions of India. Asoka brought craftsmen from Persepolis to help his Indian builders, but while Indian art grew less Persian, Persian art became more Indian. Kanishka brought Græco-Roman craftsmen into India, but Buddhism transformed this Hellenic art and made it Indian. Bâbar, Humâyûn, and Akbar brought Arabian, Persian, and Chinese artists and craftsmen with them, but “Mogul” art in India, until Aurangzîb destroyed it, remained always Indian.
The Arabian and Persian influences in Mogul times undoubtedly did, to a certain extent, modify Indian architecture externally—in particular instances and within limited areas, which always seem larger than they really are, because they are areas which come most under British influence and within the cognisance of Anglo-Indian historians. Before the time of Bâbar, Persia had little influence on Indo-Muhammadan architecture. Few, if any, of the previous Musulmân rulers had had direct relations with Persia: Baghdad and Mecca were the spiritual centres for the Muhammadan world; and it was the Arabic calligraphist—not necessarily Arabian by birth—who had most influence upon the Indian craft tradition. But after Bâbar’s time the Musulmân courts had many close family connections with Persia, and in the seventeenth century Persian fashions were as much in vogue with the Mogul aristocracy as Italian fashions were in France and in England.
In many respects the Persian influence in Indian architecture resembled that of the Italian Renaissance in the latter countries—it was “an art of scholars, courtiers, and the connoisseurship of middlemen.” It was not a strong national impulse from within, as the Renaissance was in Italy itself, but an affectation of the “grand style” of court ceremonial. Structurally, however, it had nothing like the same effect upon Indian building as the Renaissance fashions had upon the building craft of France and England: neither was the Persian tradition either structurally or decoratively so remote from the native tradition of India as Renaissance fashions were foreign to Western Europe. It was rather a return wave of the outflow of India’s own artistic culture which had been poured out over Central and Western Asia in the days of Buddhism, mingled with the other currents from China and from Europe which had joined each other there. Except upon certain branches of the sumptuary crafts, like fine weaving and decorative pottery, Persian influence upon Indian art in the Mogul times was more subjective than objective. Indian thought, under the domination of the intellectual Brahman priesthood, had lost much of the simple joy of living of the earlier Buddhist times. No doubt it derived much needed refreshment from the robust and healthy outlook of Bâbar’s hardy mountaineers—his “Mongol rascals” as he called them. Bâbar’s own keen artistic temperament, which was inherited by many of his descendants, showed itself in the intense delight he took in laying out his gardens, with their fountains and gurgling water-courses, their marble platforms and pavilions, their spreading plane-trees, stately cypresses and lovely flowering trees and grassy slopes, where he and his boon companions revelled to their hearts’ content, making merry with music and improvised Persian verses and with
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In his Kabul gardens, when the arghwan flowers began to blow, “the yellow arghwan mingling with the red,” or when the pomegranates “hung red upon the trees,” Bâbar could find no place in the world to compare with it.
The greatest contribution of the Moguls to Indian art was the spacious formal garden, laid out by Persian or Central Asian gardeners,4 which must have added a rare charm to the seventeenth and eighteenth-century monuments and palaces, hardly to be realised now that the old art of the formal garden as a branch of architectural design is practically dead in India. The richness and beauty of Persian floral design in the decorative crafts was some compensation for the injury done to Indian art by the exclusion of human interest from its sculpture.
It was not, however, the love of nature or of art, but the doctrine of art for art’s sake, which was new to India. The spirit of Indian poetry and painting for ages before the Muhammadan invasion breathed a love of flowers and trees and all animate things as passionate as Bâbar s or any Persian poet’s. But to the Buddhist and Hindu artist and poet the beauty of nature had something of greater significance hidden within it—the divine thought which created it. The realisation of this rather than the sensual enjoyment of beauty itself was the whole aim of their contemplation and artistic effort, as it has been in all the highest art.
Just as the Byzantine and Gothic craft tradition gave Renaissance architecture in Europe its pristine vigour and splendour, so Hindu art and craft gave Mogul architecture its vitality and strength, until the time of Aurangzîb. When the Court fashion detached itself from the native traditions of building, and architecture became not a question of sound craftsmanship and scientific structure but of puritanical prejudice and correctness of style, Mogul building became contemptible; but Indian architecture survived, and the Indian builder continued down to the middle of the nineteenth century to construct buildings which, as Fergusson said, “will bear comparison, with the best erected in Europe in the Middle Ages.”5Like that of the Moguls, the fashionable architecture of Europe became for the most part contemptible when another formula, archæological rather than religious—the dogma of a correct classic taste—was imposed upon the Western builder. Nothing is more likely to restore its vitality, both in the West and East, than giving back to Indian builders those opportunities for experimenting with modern materials and adapting their traditions to modern requirements which have been taken from them by the present departmental system.
Since nothing of importance now remains of Bâbar’s buildings, we must continue the review of sixteenth-century buildings with the mosque and tomb of Shêr Shah, an Afghan noble who had submitted to Bâbar, but revolted against his weak son Humâyûn and drove himjnto exile in Persia. Shêr Shah ruled with great success at Agra from 1539 until his death in 1545. The mosque in the Purâna Kilâ at Delhi is said to have been built by him in 1541. When the façade of the lîwân (Pl. LXVI) is compared with that of the Jâmi’ Masjid at Champanîr, the effect of Bâbar’s and Humâyûn’s Persian predilections upon the ideas of Indian builders can be clearly seen.
There is no trace of Persian craftsmanship, but the Indian builders had evidently been studying pictures by the Persian court painters and taken from them architectural suggestions which pleased them. For the first time in an Indian mosque the Persian recessed portal is used; it is not a copy, but an Indian adaptation. The wall of the central bay of the lîwân is reduced in height, so that the dome, as in the great mosque of Baghdad, becomes the important feature in the sky-line of the façade, instead of the minarets and the front wall of the building. The diminutive minarets which surround the base of the central dome are also a suggestion from Persian buildings, but the dome itself is an Indian one, surmounted by the Hindu Mahâ-padma and the water-pot. The difference between Persian and Indian craftsmanship can be seen in the fine masonry of the whole façade and its carefully studied proportions: the Perso-Saracenic builders were generally studiously careless with regard to proportions, for they aimed chiefly at the effect of colour produced by the casing of glazed terra-cotta or tiles with which the crude or half-baked bricks used for the core of their buildings were protected. The Indian builder used comparatively little colour, but relied upon beauty of line, fine masonry, and exquisite carving. On the whole, it cannot be said that Bâbar’s Persian taste improved the design of Indian buildings. The Jâmi’ Masjid of Champanîr is certainly a greater architectural achievement than the semi-Persianised mosque of Shêr Shah. The interior of the latter building is as purely Hindu in design and craftsmanship as any of the mosques of Gujerat.
The tomb of Shêr Shah, which Fergusson, with his usual bewildering classification, labels as “late Pathân,” separating it from the mosque, which he places under “early Mogul,” is one of the most stately buildings in India, and important as being a half-way house between the Tâj Mahall built about a century later, and its early Buddhist prototypes.
Mr. Vincent Smith, following Fergusson’s lead in attributing everything unusual in Indian architecture to a foreign source, classifies it as “Indo-Persian,” and not only asserts that “both the octagonal form and the coloured glazed tiles were importations from Persia,”6 but rashly suggests that the model of itwas the early fourteenth-century Saracenic tomb at Sultanieh.7 Seeing that the domes of Shêr Shah’s tomb are purely Hindu in form and construction, and that nearly all Hindu domes are octagonal at the springing, it would be almost as justifiable to refer to the octagonal baptistery of San Giovanni at Florence as its prototype, and to classify it accordingly as “Indo-Italian.” It is true that the ground-plan of the sanctuary of Muhammadan tombs, according to the strict Indian tradition, was usually square, the square being changed into an octagon to form the base of the dome. It is true also that Perso-Saracenic tomb-builders of the fourteenth century generally made the plan of the sanctuary octagonal throughout; but before we assume that Indian buildings of a later date are “Indo-Persian,” it is necessary to be sure that the Persian buildings are not in some respects “Perso-Indian,” i.e. derived from earlier Indian prototypes. It is, I think, quite certain that the Persian or Tartar “bulbous” dome derives from the Indian Buddhist domed canopy and shrine. The octagonal Mongolian tombs in Persia may also be derived, through Turkestan, from the early Buddhist prototypes of the octagonal towers in Bengali temples, and of the vimâna of Jugal Kishore’s temple at Brindâban. Buddhist communities existed in Western Persia in the seventh century; and probably the Mongolian invaders of the thirteenth century contributed Indian elements to the Persian building tradition which they had received through Turkestan. But, in any case, an Indian building should not be classed as “Indo-Persian” because Indian builders, in an age of constant experiment, made such a slight concession to the Persian fashions of their patrons as to convert a square plan into an octagon.
Shêr Shah’s tomb is, in fact, less Persianised than the fifteenth-century octagonal tombs at Old Delhi described by Fergusson as “late Pathân.”8 The square form is here resumed in the outer enclosure. The usual grouping of the domes according to the Buddhist-Hindu tradition of the “five jewels” (panch-ratna) is slightly modified on account of the octagonal form of the sanctuary, i.e. the four minor domes are placed at the angles of the square enclosure, eight smaller cupolas being grouped round the central dome and similar ones are placed on the roof of the corridors which surround the sanctuary of the tomb. There is nothing analogous to this arrangement in any Persian tombs.
Both Fergusson and Mr. Vincent Smith mislead their readers by showing the absurd little kiosk, or cupola, placed on the top of the central dome. This was a grotesque modern restoration, very rightly removed by the Archæological Survey of India under Mr. Marshall’s scholarly direction, and replaced by the original Buddhist-Hindu emblems by which all the smaller domes are surmounted. Almost the only Persian or quasi-Persian elements in the whole structure are the eight small finials on the parapets of the cupolas at the angles of the square enclosure. I have already explained that pointed arches are as much Indian as Saracenic: in the sixteenth century all builders in the north of India, both Hindu and Musulmân, used them.
Shêr Shah’s tomb is as purely Indian in conception as any Buddhist or Hindu temple. It must not, however, be compared with either of them, but with similar buildings of its own class. It was a fortress-tomb, adapted in sentiment and structure for such a purpose by Indian builders. The term “Pathân” can only be applied to it as a dynastic distinction. As builders or designers the Pathâns had no more hand in it than the, Goths had in the building of English Gothic cathedrals.
It is grandly situated in the middle of a large artificial lake, and in dimensions it is one of the most important buildings of its class in India. The terrace on which it is built, formerly connected with the mainland by a bridge, is about 300 feet square. The sanctuary is 135 feet in diameter on the ground, the diameter of the dome being 71 feet, or 13 feet more than the dome of the Tâj. The corridors which surround the sanctuary have a width of 10 feet 2 inches.
The next in chronological order of the great Musulmân tombs of India is the mausoleum of Shêr Shah’s Mogul antagonist, Humâyûn, who in 1555 wrested the throne of Delhi from Shêr Shah’s son and successor, Sultan Islâm, with the help of a Persian army, but died the following year from the effects of a fall from the staircase of his palace.
The presence of this Persian army, with the Persian craftsmen who accompanied it, on Indian soil, was the determining factor in the design of Humâyûn’s tomb, which is perhaps more Persian in character than any other important building in India, though it has an individuality of its own and is not a direct imitation of a Persian building. It might be described as a Persianised version of Shêr Shah’s tomb. It stands in a walled enclosure, originally laid out as a formal garden in the usual Mogul style. Little is known of the character of Indian formal gardens before the time of the Moguls; but the innovation here seems to have been more the association of a garden with a tomb than the style of the garden itself. The mausoleum, like that of Shêr Shah, is raised on a large square terrace, 22 feet in height, surrounded by an arcade, Persian in design, but built of red sandstone with white marble inlay. There is little doubt that the masonry of the building was done by Indian craftsmen, and we have here one of the first indications of the development of the art of stone inlay which culminated nearly a century later in the exquisite decoration of the Tâj. All the arches of the tomb are Persian in form, without the characteristic lotus-bud enrichment of the soffits or the pipal-leaf keystone which show the Hindu designer. At the same time the careful study of proportion throughout the building shows the feeling of the Indian mason. The brick construction of the central dome, which has an outer casing of white marble, was probably the work of a Persian dome builder; for this is one of the very rare instances in which the Hindu symbols are omitted from the finial of the dome. The metal kalasha is of the usual Saracenic form.
With all the Persian elements in the details the plan of the whole building is characteristically Indian; the symbolism of the “five jewels” is here carried further than the roof—it is embodied in the whole structure, as it is in the Tâj. The mausoleum itself, an octagonal apartment 47 feet 4 inches in diameter, is surrounded by four other octagonal chapels 23 feet in diameter, the latter being surmounted by four cupolas which are crowned by the Hindu Mahâ-padma and the water-pot.
Humâyûn’s tomb is an eclectic composition of the “grand style,” or of what Professor Lethaby characterises as the “bigwiggy” school. It certainly cannot be cited to support Fergusson’s theory that the greatness of Mogul architecture was due to foreign inspiration. Fergusson himself, while praising it as “a noble tomb,” is constrained to admit that there is a certain coldness and poverty in the design. It has some of the characteristics of modern architectural eclecticism in Europe. In the effort to be “grand” its builders have left a painful impression of pomposity and self-consciousness. The qualities of massive strength and unaffected regal dignity which compel admiration in Shêr Shah’s stately tomb at Sahsarâm are only seen in Indian monuments when the native master-builders were not under the control of Persian courtiers.
- 1. “Manuel de 1’art Musulmân,” p. 509.
- 2. Lethaby, “Architecture,” p. 211.
- 3. Ibid. p. 163.
- 4. The symbolism of the Persian and Central Asian gardens with their “four-fold fieldplots,” planned like miniature Indian villages, was no doubt a part of the old Indian Buddhist tradition; but the Moguls made a fine art of the laying-out of the flower-beds, paved walks, sculptured stone water-channels, and fountains, co-ordinating them with the buildings into a great artistic unity, the scheme of which has been completely ignored in modern “restorations.”
- 5. “Indian Architecture,” vol. ii. p. 185 (edit. 1910).
- 6. “History of Fine Art in India and Ceylon,” p. 406. With regard to the tiles, Mr. Vincent Smith himself notices Mr. Marshall’s account of the tile-work recently discovered at Kanishka’s stûpa at Peshawar, which points to the existence of enamelled pottery as a localised industry in India as early as the second century A.D. He also admits that the process “might have been invented independently in India” and may have been known to the Hindus of Bengal before the Muhammadan conquest.
- 7. Illustrated by M. Saladin, “Manuel de 1’art Musulmân,” figs. 266 and 267.
- 8. “History of Indian Architecture,” vol. ii. fig. 379 (edit. 1910).