IT would be impossible, without extending the scope of this work very largely, to attempt to give a summary of the many important buildings of the sixteenth century belonging to independent or semi-independent Hindu kingdoms. I must confine myself to a few typical ones illustrating the growth of Indian architecture of the period, which will show that Hindu builders, while providing for the architectural needs of the dominant political power, were not slow to use the experience they gained thereby for their own purposes. I have already noticed some of the important buildings of Vijayanagar, with which the Bijâpûr school was so closely connected.
In the north the most remarkable was the temple of Govind Deva, built at Brindaban, the chief centre of the Vaishnavaite sect, near Mathurâ, by the Maharajah Mân Singh of Amber—one of Akbar’s trusty Hindu allies—in the last decade of the sixteenth century. It has suffered greatly from the systematic vandalism of Aurangzîb’s fanatic followers, who threw down the superstructure of the great porch and razed the sacrarium, or garbha griha, containing the image, together with its lofty gandhi, or spire, to the ground. Aurangzîb is said to have placed on the top of the existing building a mosque wall, where he offered up prayers.1 This accounts for the present stunted appearance of the exterior.
In plan the temple as it now stands is cruciform, and its prototype can be seen in another ruined Vaishnavaite shrine, known as the Sâs Bahû temple (Pl. XXI) at Gwalior, which is five centuries earlier. A comparison of the two temples will show how the religious sentiment of Islâm and the practical experience gained by Hindu builders in the service of Muhammadan rulers had influenced their own craft traditions. First there is a complete absence of figure sculpture in the decorative treatment of the building. It was quite easy for Brahman priests to make such a concession to orthodox Musulmân feeling, and even to join the Muhammadan mullahs in a crusade against idolatry, for anthropomorphic symbolism had only been used by them as a means of popularising the philosophic teaching of Hinduism, and never had been regarded as essential to Hindu religion.
Those prophets of Anglo-India who try to conjure up the bogey of Brahman perfidy whenever the wheels of official machinery get out of gear would do well to note that the most faithful and trusted advisers of the great Muhammadan rulers of India were Brahmans, and that orthodox Hinduism, so far from maintaining an implacable hostility, on religious grounds, to rulers of an alien race and creed, has always been anxious to restate its own dogmatic teaching so as to avoid offence to the religious feelings of the ruling powers of the State. No sooner were the Muhammadans firmly established in India in the thirteenth century than a Hindu teacher, Jaidev, arose to denounce idolatry. He was followed by Ramanand and Kabir in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and by Nanak the Guru of the Sikhs. The Sikh religion was the outcome of the impact of Islâm upon Hindu thought, just as the teaching of the Brahma-Samâj of the present day represents the adjustment of Brahmanical religious ideas in the direction of Christianity.
This crusade against anthropomorphic symbolism has had a marked effect upon Hindu architecture from the thirteenth century to the present day. If the Muhammadan conquest gave a great stimulus to the structural development of the Indian building craft, and kept alive the traditions of Indian painting, it almost entirely suppressed the splendid schools of Buddhist and Hindu sculpture which, at the time of Mahmûd of Ghaznî’s invasion, had reached their culminating point at Elephanta and Ellora in the north, and at Tanjore in the south. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the Jain builders of Western India followed Muhammadan custom in omitting sculptured decoration from the exterior of domes (Pl. XCI); and the Saiva sect in the north, wherever Muhammadan influence extended, substituted for anthropomorphic images of the Deity the aniconic symbol of the lingam.
Except for the absence of figure sculpture and the occasional introduction of the pointed arch, built in Hindu fashion, there is not any striking difference externally between the Sâs Bahû temple of Gwalior and Govind Deva’s temple at Brindaban; but in the interior of the latter the very original use of vaulting with radiating arches, in combination with pillars, brackets, and lintels, gives a fine illustration of the inventive genius of the Hindu craftsman and his capacity for assimilating new ideas. As an architectural achievement it must be said, even in its present condition, to rank higher than Akbar’s great mosque at Fatehpur-Sîkrî, which was built about the same time. Only a few fragments of the painted decoration now remain, but sufficient to suggest that before the desecration of the temple there must have been few buildings in Asia to rival it.
The craftsmanship is that of Fatehpur-Sîkrî, but the Hindu builders working on their own ground could deal with structural problems more freely and confidently than they were able to do under the restrictions of Musulmân ritual and custom, with the result that they achieved a structural harmony and decorative unity which are not always felt in the Jâmi’ Masjid at Fatehpur.
The building as it now stands represents only the nave or approach to the holy of holies, the garbha griha. The intention of the original design, externally, may be gathered from the earlier Rajput temples, such as the Kandariya Mahadeva (Pl. XCII), which remain intact; but probably the domes which covered the porch, or nave, were of the puritanised Hindu type, which Fergusson calls “Pathân,” for this was the type which was commonly adopted by the Hindu temple builders of the time. Under Akbar’s tolerant rule there was a renaissance of Jaina architecture at the sacred hill of Palitâna in Gujerat, and the sixteenth-century Jaina temples with “Pathân” domes and foliated arches (Pl. XCI) can only be distinguished from I contemporary Muhammadan tombs of the same province by the spire, or sikhara, over the sacrarium.
Plate XCIV shows part of the interior of the Brindâban temple, but like most Hindu temples it has never been adequately photographed. The characteristic columns which support the roof of the cross aisles (Plate XCV) are of the same type as the symbolic Pillar or Tree of the Universe on which Akbar sat enthroned at Fatehpur-Sîkrî.
Fergusson says of this temple that it is “the only one, perhaps, from which a European architect might borrow a few hints.” If architecture in Europe is always to be regarded from the archæological standpoint as a problem of “style,” or the adaptation of ancient buildings to modern purposes, this narrow appreciation of Hindu craftsmanship might be accepted. But the architect-craftsman who believes in the possibility of a real revival of the art of building, and understands that the history of Indian architecture is the history of Indian craftsmanship, will find that the Hindu temple-craft was the main source from which all Muhammadan ideas of building in India were derived. If Anglo-Indian architects would avail themselves of their opportunities, as the Muhammadans did, all the conditions necessary fora true architectural renaissance, now wanting in Europe, are present in India in the twentieth century, as they were in the time of Mahmûd of Ghaznî.
Besides this temple Mân Singh also built a palace in the Ghâts at Benares, to which his famous descendant, Raja Jai Singh,2 a century later added an astronomical observatory. The façade of it fell into ruin and was badly restored in the middle of the nineteenth century. Pl. XCVI shows one of the beautiful stone balconies which belonged to the original building. Another palace at Govardhan, near Mathurâ, which has also suffered from modern restoration, is attributed to Mân Singh3; but most of the finest Hindu palaces now existing belong to the latter half of the seventeenth or to the eighteenth century.
- 1. Growse’s “Mathura,” pp. 243-4, note.
- 2. Jai Singh was employed by the Mogul Emperor, Muhammad Shah, to revise the calendar, which had become very confusing owing to the inaccuracy of the then existing tables. He built four other observatories—at Delhi, Mathurâ, Ujjain, and at Jaipur.
- 3. For illustration see Growse’s “Mathura,” p. 303.