HUMÂYÛN’S tomb was an episode in Indian architectural history which, but for the great dimensions of the building and for its interest as one of the connecting-links in the evolution of the Tâj Mahall, might well be passed over. It left no more permanent impression upon Indian architecture as a whole than did the smaller Persianised tombs which are scattered over the north of India. The Indian master-builders naturally added the structural elements contained in all of them to their own stock-in-trade, but they did not during the rest of Akbar’s long reign remain subject to the dictation of Persian court fashions.
The whole architecture of India in all its wonderful variety is more original and self-contained than any of the great Western schools, except Egyptian. The architecture of medieval Europe owed an immense debt to the Oriental tradition. English architecture was to a great extent created by the Gothic tradition. But there were no buildings placed on Indian soil which were so entirely foreign to India as Byzantine buildings were foreign to Italy, or as Gothic buildings were foreign to England. Under Akbar’s beneficent rule Indian builders were free to build for their Mogul patrons according to their own ideas, just as they had been under the Musulmân sovereigns of Bengal and Gujerat.
Humâyûn died in 1556, leaving to his son, a boy of thirteen, a legacy of difficulties even greater than those which he himself had inherited from Bâbar. But before he was thirty, Akbar (1556-1605) was undisputed master of an empire much greater than his grandfather’s, and had done more to consolidate all the heterogeneous racial and religious components of Hindustan than any other ruler since the days of Asoka.
His greatest building activities began in 1569, when he laid the foundation of Fatehpur-Sîkrî, near Agra, now a deserted city, but still a wonderful memorial of his genius as a statesman. There is, however, as little warrant for Fergusson’s presumption that Abkar played the part of an amateur architect as for his theory that the style of the buildings of Shêr Shah and his Afghan predecessors had been “invented by the Pathâns.” Abûl Fazl, Akbar’s biographer, makes quite clear the personal predilections of his royal master. He was deeply interested in philosophy and religion, and, being illiterate himself, had books read to him every day. For the same reason he was especially fond of pictures, looking upon the art “as a means both of study and amusement.” He personally supervised the work of the court painters every week. Abûl Fazl has much to say about calligraphists and painters, and gives a short biographical sketch of the most celebrated of them. But, whereas Shah Jahân’s chroniclers record the name of all the chief builders of the Tâj, Abûl Fazl does not mention one of those who built Fatehpur-Sîkrî and Akbar’s palace at Agra. Neither does he give any hint that Akbar concerned himself intimately with the art of building. A few short paragraphs in the Âîn-i-Akbârî refer to “the splendid edifices which His Majesty plans”; “the mighty fortresses which protect the timid, frighten the rebellious and please the obedient.” Also “the delightful villas and imposing towers, which afford excellent protection against cold and rain, provide for the comforts of the princesses of the Harem, and are conducive to that dignity which is so necessary for worldly power.” Sarais were built for the comfort of travellers, and many tombs and wells dug “for the benefit of men and the improvement of the soil.” Schools and places of worship were founded, “so that the triumphal arch of knowledge is newly adorned.”
Akbar’s personal interest in building was in its economic, not in its artistic, aspect. “His Majesty,” says Abûl Fazl, “is a great friend of good order and propriety in business”; and just as he kept strict control over the pin-money of the ladies of the Imperial zanâna, so he regulated the price of building materials, the wages of craftsmen, and collected data for framing proper estimates. The minute particulars given under these heads in the Âîn-i-Akbâri1 are evidence of the efficient organisation of his Public Works administration, and show what little justification there is for the popular belief that the Moguls were always extravagant builders.
Indirectly Akbar’s influence upon the architecture of his time was very great; for whereas both his father and grandfather were Persian in their habits and tastes, Akbar was an Indian of the Indians, and disgusted his orthodox Musulmân courtiers by the enthusiasm with which he entered into the study of Hindu philosophy and religious teaching. He allied himself by marriage with the royal families of Rajputana. Many of his chief ministers and intimate friends were Hindus. There was consequently throughout Akbar’s reign or during the last half of the sixteenth century a great reaction against the tendency of the Mogul court to adopt purely Persian fashions in building. Akbar’s palace at Agra and the buildings of Fatehpur-Sîkrî are essentially a new development of the same Buddhist-Hindu craft tradition which had created the architecture of the preceding Musulmân dynasties in India. The term Mogul as applied to them is useful for the purpose of classification, but it becomes very misleading if it lends itself to the assumption that the Moguls were the master-builders, or that Mogul genius was the creative force behind them. Akbar’s buildings, strictly speaking, are Rajput rather than Mogul.
Naturally the fame of Akbar’s court attracted to it mastercraftsmen from all parts of his dominions, and even from outside; but it is clear that Akbar, so far from showing a preference for foreigners, was a great admirer of Hindu art and craft. It is equally obvious that Akbar, like any other ruler of his stamp, consulted his master-builders and gave general directions for the arrangement and accommodation he required, but otherwise his interest in building was, as I have said, mostly shown in a careful control of the expenditure.
Fatehpur-Sîkrî, nevertheless, in its great mosque—which was also a university—its palaces, assembly-halls, and public offices, its schools and hospitals, baths, water-works, and its spacious caravanserais for travellers, most of which are still intact, bears witness to Akbar’s splendid capacity as an organiser and ruler of men.
Town-planning, as Râm Râz has shown,2 was a science recognised in the Hindu Silpa-sâstras for centuries before Musulmân rule in India; and there are some indications that the Hindu canons were partially observed in the laying out of Fatehpur-Sîkrî. The city, which was an irregular oblong in shape, about six miles in circuit, lay open on the north-west to a large artificial lake, now dry, which mitigated the dust and stifling heat of an Indian summer and afforded all the amenities of a water-frontage. The other three sides were enclosed by fortified walls, which had nine gateways.
The great mosque, placed on high ground in the centre of the city, is oriented auspiciously like a Hindu temple, with the four walls facing the cardinal points and the entrance on the east. The palace buildings have the same aspect, and Akbar’s throne in his private audience-chamber, the Diwân-i-Khâs, was raised upon a single pillar in the centre of it, with a colossal bracketed capital, symbolising the throne of Vishnu, the Upholder of the Universe—the ideal Hindu ruler being regarded as Vishnu’s Vicegerent on earth. The five-storied pavilion known as the Panch Mahall, adjoining the Mahall-i-Khâs, is planned after the monastic assembly-halls, or colleges, of pre-Muhammadan times in India.
The buildings of Fatehpur-Sîkrî belong almost exclusively to the Buddhist-Hindu tradition; the admixture of Persian and Arabian elements is much less than might have been expected from the precedent set by Akbar’s father and grandfather. Generally speaking, these elements are confined to surface decoration, sculpture, and painting; for many of Akbar’s court painters belonged to the Persian school. But in the great mosque the Persian semi-domed portal is introduced both in the structure of the façade of the lîwân and in the gateways of the quadrangle. Indian builders had been made familiar with this form of construction by the building of Shêr Shah’s mosque and Humâyûn’s tomb, so its appearance in later buildings is no proof that foreign craftsmen were still taking a part in the construction of them. Every living school of art and craft borrows freely from its neighbours when the opportunity offers, without servile archæological imitation.
The great mosque, from the pulpit of which Akbar promulgated his doctrine of the “Divine Faith” in the endeavour to reconcile the conflicting creeds of all his subjects, is an interesting example of this. Looking at the plan of the lîwân (fig. 38), which is quite different from other Indian mosques and obviously based upon a Persian or Arabian model, one might easily conclude that the building belonged to the Saracenic tradition. An inscription on the mosque itself to the effect that “this is a duplicate of the Holy Place” (Mecca or Baghdad) would seem to make this a certainty. Yet in the structure itself the evidence of the Indian master-builders’ handiwork and controlling mind gives overwhelming proof to the contrary. It is a purely Indian building, in spite of the eclecticism of its details. Probably one of Akbar’s Persian painters drew a rough sketch of one of the famous mosques at Ispahan or Baghdad, and the Emperor showed it to his Indian master-builders and said, “Build me a mosque like this.” The result was an entirely original Indian building, as original as it would have been had Akbar been Christian and commanded them to build him a cathedral like Canterbury or Notre Dame de Paris.
There is very little exact reproduction of Persian structural forms, as there is in Humâyûn’s tomb, but only adaptation. The pillars and whole structure of the roof are strictly Hindu. In Humâyûn’s tomb the dome is obviously Persian; here the ribbed domes of the lîwân are constructed on the same principle as the central dome of the Jâmi’ Masjid at Champanîr. All the domes have Hindu pinnacles. There seems to be Persian handiwork in some of the decoration and minor structural details, but it is by no means better than the Indian work and not always in tune with it.
The lîwân measures 288 feet by 65 feet. The principal chapel in the centre is covered by a dome, 41 feet in diameter, of the usual Indian form and construction, but stilted at the base in Arab fashion. The two side-chapels have similar domes 25 feet in diameter. The rest of the lîwân has a flat roof supported on pillars and brackets of pure Hindu design.
The quadrangle measures 359 feet 10 inches from north tosouth, and 438 feet 9 inches from east to west. It contains the tomb of Shaikh Salîm Chishtî, the saint of Fatehpur-Sîkrî, who was Akbar’s spiritual adviser; it is built in white marble in a very ornate style. Adjacent to it is another mausoleum for his grandson, the Nawab Islâm Khan, who was made Governor of Bengal by Jahângîr, and his male descendants. A separate vault, called the Zanâna Rauza, was for the Shaikh’s female relatives. These buildings, of course, do not belong to the original design of the mosque. The numerous chambers, usually about 10 feet square and covered by domes, which surround the open quadrangle were intended for the maulvis and their pupils. These, together with the noble cloisters in front of them, formed the University buildings of Fatehpur.
The lîwân, though grandly planned and in some respects one of the finest in India, falls behind the great mosque at Champanîr in that perfect co-ordination between its structural and decorative elements, which, as Professor Lethaby justly observes, is necessary for a great school of architecture. The new elements of the style, brought in by Bâbar’s and Humâyûn’s Persian craftsmen and by Akbar’s court painters, are not so perfectly blended with the old ones as they are at Champanîr. A great deal of the Persian decorative detail was added perfunctorily, so that Professor Lethaby’s observations in some of the later Roman buildings might well be applied to it. “The elements of sculpture and painting were merely formal, and in no way epic; they were added to a building as adornments, and were not the very soul of its life. The times in history when building, sculpture, painting, and other arts have been perfectly co-ordinated into a higher unity have, indeed, been very few; but if we are to distinguish between fine building and noble architecture this organic unity must be the test.”3
Later in Akbar’s reign we shall find that the Indian mastercraftsmen had made the Persian tradition their own, so that the structural and decorative elements were once more brought together into that higher unity. One of the most striking examples of this is the famous Buland Darwâza, or High Gate of the mosque, which has been recognised by all authorities as one of the great buildings of the world. An inscription on it shows that it was built towards the close of Akbar’s reign to commemorate his conquests in the Dekhan. It will be seen from the plan (fig. 39) that it is a complete structure in itself, containing large halls and a number of smaller chambers, through which entrance is gained to the inner quadrangle of the mosque. It is raised on a platform 42 feet in height above the road; across the main front it measures 130 feet. From the pavement in front of the entrance to the top of the finials surmounting the gate the height is 134 feet.
Like most of the other buildings at Fatehpur-Sîkrî it is built of red sandstone, and as there is no painted decoration on it, but only carving and discreet inlaying of white marble, we may conclude that the design of the whole structure and the decoration of it was in the hands of Akbar’s Indian master-builders.4 The character of the design supports this conclusion. It is Persian in general form, but the architectural treatment of it is unlike any Persian building and distinctively Indian; though it may be observed that Persian pendentives with intersecting arches are used in the semi-dome. I have already explained how ingeniously the Indian buildings afterwards combined this structural principle with their own methods in the wonderful domes of Bijâpûr.
Persian builders had seized upon this structural use of the mihrâb not so much for its architectural effect as for the splendid glow of iridescent colour which the reflections of its concave surface gave to their encaustic decoration. It was left to the Indian master-builders to show its architectural possibilities in fine masonry. The fact that Persian motifs are freely used in the carving is no evidence of Persian craftsmanship. It will be remembered that the exquisite floral inlaid decoration of the Tâj, which seems to be purely Persian, was Hindu work. In carpet weaving and other textiles, in painting and in pottery, the Moguls indented largely upon Persia; but masonry was not a Persian craft, and in all Indian buildings stone construction and decoration, whether it be carving or inlay, almost invariably connote Indian design and craftsmanship.
The most characteristic of the Fatehpur buildings, apart from the mosque, are not generally imposing in size, but are wonderfully interesting as types of the public offices and domestic buildings of the period. These include Akbar’s office (Pl. LXXII), and the Dîwân-i-Khâs with Akbar’s throne, which has been already mentioned. The former, if it had been built in Europe, would have ranked as a fine example of “classic” taste; the latter would be admired as an excellent specimen of the Renaissance style. Both are of Hindu design and construction, with the admixture of Saracenic decorative details which the court fashions of the time dictated; just as the Hindu craftsman now borrows freely from European trade catalogues to please Anglicised Indians.
The Dîwân-i-Khâs is a square building, about 43 feet on the outside, containing a single vaulted chamber, 28 feet 8 inches square, in the centre of which is Vishnu’s symbolic Pillar or Tree of the Universe, on the top of which Akbar sat enthroned. Surrounding this chamber are corridors containing the staircases which lead to the galleries above; the latter run round the building at the height of the top of the pillar, which is connected with them by passages along the diagonals. The vaulted roof, constructed with stone ribs—the interspaces being filled with slabs of stone—took the place of the customary dome so as to provide for a terraced promenade over it. According to the strict Hindu tradition, the roof should have had its “five-jewel” domes; the absence of the central dome in this instance makes the four kiosks at the corners seem too large for the building. But, in domestic architecture especially, when there is a living building tradition, practical requirements always overrule purely academic considerations. The builders of Akbar’s audience-halls and royal villas, though they adopted many structural forms which were used in temples and mosques, made no attempt to work strictly according to “style,” and hence were not troubled by those archæological qualms which afflict the modern dilettante and paper architect so grievously.
The leading characteristics of the “style” of these buildings—the planning; the wide projecting dripstones and their supporting brackets, for shade and protection from rain; the double roofs, domed or vaulted for coolness—are all dictated by considerations of comfort and convenience rather than imitation of other buildings. Centuries of honest building had created a tradition which produced good architectural design without any conscious effort.
The building known as Rajah Bîrbal’s house (Pl. LXXV), within the precincts of the imperial zanâna, was probably occupied by one of Akbar’s sultânas. It was built in 1572, three years after the commencement of the city. It is a twostoried building raised on a plinth, with entrance porches on the north and south which have double-vaulted roofs; small steep staircases to the first floor are contained in the thickness of the outer walls. The ground-floor contains a suite of four rooms, each 16 feet 10 inches square; the walls being treated in a similar way to the exterior with stone pilasters, dados, and arched niches, but very richly carved. These rooms are ceiled with flat slabs of stone extending from wall to wall in single pieces, laid on a carved cornice and supported by carved brackets. The first floor contains two rooms of similar size, opening on to two terraces which were originally enclosed by stone screens. These rooms are covered by double domes of the usual Hindu type built with stone ribs.
The palace of Fatehpur known as Jodh Bâî’s Mahall—probably occupied by Akbar’s Rajput wife, Mariam Zamânî, the mother of Jahângîr—is a stately building of much larger size. In its classic simplicity it presents a great contrast to the exuberant richness of the other sultânas’ residences, and because it was built for a Rajput princess the decoration does not show so much partiality for Persian and Arabian motifs. The plan (fig. 42) will be interesting for showing the interior arrangements of a typical Indian palace.
The Panch Mahall is another of the many fine buildings at Fatehpur. It is a stone-built pavilion of five stories, the ground-floor containing eighty-four pillars (a Hindu symbolic number, connoting the perfect life of man), each storey above diminishing proportionately up to the top, which is crowned by a domed canopy supported on four pillars. It is planned after the old Indian assembly-halls frequently alluded to in Buddhist literature, an example of which exists within the fort at Bijâpûr.5 Pl. LXXVII, which shows a corner of the first floor, will give some idea of the dignified design of this pavilion. The pillars of each storey conform to a general scheme, but instead of the dry uniformity of a Greek or Roman “order,” every one is varied in the ornament of its cap and base, as well as in its mouldings or other enrichments, so that the eye finds infinite variety of interest in observing the details without any disturbance of the general effect of classic dignity and repose. To realise the inexhaustible invention of the Indian craftsman the reader must consult Edmund Smith’s monumental work on Fatehpur-Sîkrî, in which full details of the Panch Mahall and other buildings are given.
From 1585 to 1598 Akbar removed his court to Lahore, and in the latter part of his reign to Agra. The fort at Agra, which is a fine example of his military works, had been commenced in 1566 on the site of an older one built by Salîm Shah, the son of Shêr Shah. The part of the palace inside the fort known as the Jahângîrî Mahall was no doubt commenced by Akbar, though it was probably completed by his son and successor, after whom it was named. The Persianised exterior is uninteresting—another illustration of the fact that, on the whole, Persian influence was an element of weakness in Mogul architecture, and not, as is generally assumed, the source of its creative energy. The interior, which is for the most part purely Rajput, or Hindu, exhibits all the virile imagination and constructive skill of the Indian builder.
The principal apartments are ranged round a quadrangle, 71 feet by 72 feet, which is one of the finest architectural works of Akbar’s time. Pl. LXXVIII shows a corner of it after the very careful restoration carried out by the Archæological Survey in Lord Curzon’s Viceroyalty. It is only in India, where a living craft tradition exists, that any restoration of this kind can be safely carried out, for the craftsmen employed were probably descendants of those who built the palace.
In Pl. LXXIX, which shows the ruinous state of the building before restoration, the details of the construction can be better understood. It will be noticed that the small pointed arches under the cornice are constructed in Hindu fashion in single blocks of stone, like woodwork, without voussoirs or keystones. Immediately under these arches the brick core of the main walls of the building can be seen exposed in place where the stone facing has worn away.6 The dripstone which the massive brackets were intended to support has entirely gone.
There is an outer courtyard on the river side of the palace in which Persian structural details are used freely, but the design of it, like that of the exterior of the palace, is tame and uninteresting. The construction of the massive stone ceiling of one of the principal apartments is shown in Pl. LXXX. It is sometimes assumed by European critics who do not understand Indian conditions, that Indian craftsmen in using stone in this manner were blindly imitating wooden construction, not having sufficient intelligence to adapt their methods to the materials they used. This is an entire misapprehension of the case. Indian builders appreciated quite as well as their craft brethren in Europe the character of the materials they were working with. Methods of lithic construction in Europe have been determined by the difficulty of obtaining good building stone of large dimensions and in sufficient quantities near the sites of buildings. The buildings of Fatehpur-Sîkrî, Agra, and many other places in Northern India were close to quarries of sandstone which provided building stone, in unlimited quantities and of almost any dimensions, of such fine quality that it could be worked almost as easily as wood. Under such conditions no intelligent craftsman would limit himself to methods of construction which prevail in other places where good building stone is scarce.
The methods which are called lithic in Europe are, in fact, used by Indian builders where conditions analogous to those of Europe obtain. It has been a fatal mistake of the Anglo-Indian architect to impose upon the Indian builder uniform pseudo-scientific methods of construction derived from his own narrow experience, quite regardless of local circumstances which have governed the craft traditions of India.
The last important building in which Akbar was personally concerned was his own tomb at Sikandara, near Agra, which was commenced by himself and completed by his son Jahângîr in 1613. As Fergusson has pointed out, it was, like the Panch Mahall at Fatehpur-Sîkrî, designed after the model of a Buddhist-Hindu many-storied vihâra, or monastery, but the traditional domed canopy on the top storey was either omitted by Jahângîr,7 who was not pleased with the original design, or it has fallen into ruin. Though the absence of the dome gives to the whole pyramidal structure a curious truncated appearance, Akbar’s tomb is a worthy monument of one of the greatest of Indian rulers.
- 1. See Blockmann’s translation, vol. i. pp. 222-9. Sections 86 to 90 of the Âîn fix the prices of building material, the wages of artisans, give data for building estimates, and particulars regarding the weight of different kinds of wood.
- 2. Essay on the Architecture of the Hindus, pp. 41-7. Râm Râz describes eight different schemes of planning, which admitted of forty varieties, according to the the town or village. Those he gives are all oblong in shape, with two main streets, crossing the centre at right angles to each other, and parallel to two sides of the oblong, the longer street running generally from east to west and the shorter one north to south.
- 3. “Medieval Art,” pp. 12-13.
- 4. The Arabic inscriptions would be drawn by expert Muhammadan calligraphists and carved by Indian masons.
- 5. See Plate III, “Bijâpûr,” by Fergusson and Meadows Taylor, 1866.
- 6. The architect will, of course, understand that, in India as in Europe, most of the buildings popularly described as of stone or marble have a core of brickwork or concrete.
- 7. Compare the omission of the central dome on the Diwân-i-Khâs at Fatehpur already noticed, p. 170. Mr. Vincent Smith’s idea (“History of Fine Art in India and Ceylon,” p. 411) that the design was suggested by craftsmen from Cambodia seems to me very far-fetched. There is not the least reason to suppose that Akbar’s builders had not seen Hindu structures of this type, like that at Bijâpûr, and their Silpa-sâstras would certainly have preserved the traditional design and rules for the construction of them.