AKBAR died in 1605, but the architectural history of the seventeenth century practically begins with the later buildings of Jahângîr’s reign (1605-28), though the most characteristic of the period belong to Shah Jahân’s time. Popular opinion in Europe connects the greatest monuments of the Muhammadan supremacy in India with the two last-named Mogul emperors, but a critical historian will certainly judge the sixteenth century to have been, on the whole, far richer in architectural achievement.
Excluding the Tâj Mahall—which stands apart by itself—Mogul buildings, after the first two decades of the seventeenth century, begin to show a weakening in architectonic design which was the presage of its complete decadence in the reign of Aurangzîb. The sixteenth century all over India was a period distinguished by strong creative energy and constant experiment in building. Neither Jahângîr nor Shah Jahân had Akbar’s genius for constructive statesmanship, and so far as their personal influence went they only helped Indian craftsmen to clothe in more costly materials the creative ideas of the preceding century. Sumptuous decoration and lavish expenditure in material rather than intellectuality in design were the characteristics of the later period of Mogul architecture. The tendency towards over-refinement in structural design and a dilettante prettiness in decoration seen in Jahângîr’s and Shah Jahân’s buildings was a faithful reflection of the change which took place in the atmosphere of the Mogul court when Akbar’s strong mind ceased to govern Hindustan.
Jahângîr inherited the artistic temperament as well as the vices of Bâbar, but, except for his courage, possessed little of his ancestor’s redeeming virtues. His court was crowded with adventurers of all nationalities, who were freely admitted to share in the Emperor’s drunken carouses. For the three-and-twenty years of his reign the control of State affairs was practically left in the hands of the beautiful and accomplished Empress Nûr Jahân, “the Light of the World,” whose name appeared on the imperial coinage. She used her opportunities in bestowing high offices of State upon her Persian or Mogul relations, and indulged her artistic taste in extravagantly ornate buildings. Shah Jahân, the Magnificent, was a just and impartial ruler, beloved by all his subjects; but he had none of Akbar’s force of character, and his palace at Delhi with its effeminate forms and precious inlay belong rather to the category of exquisite bijouterie than architecture.
The part which the buildings of Jahângîr and Shah Jahân have played in the history of British India, and the attention bestowed upon them by Anglo-Indian writers, have given to the later phase of Mogul architecture an importance wholly disproportionate to its merits, and has made some of the best European authorities take a completely distorted view of the general character of Muhammadan architecture in India. Thus even Professor Lethaby, who has done so much to promote the intelligent study of Western architecture, would apparently include all Muhammadan buildings in the sweeping generalisation of “elasticity, intricacy, and glitter—suggestion of fountain spray and singing birds,” which may aptly describe the Dîwân-i-Khâs at Delhi or Nûr Jahân’s apartments in the Agra palace, but it has no true application to any architecture for which Akbar or any of the great Muhammadan empire-builders in India were responsible. Nor can it be applied to Indian architecture of the seventeenth century generally.
To judge the latter fairly and see later Mogul architecture in true perspective it is necessary to get away from the effeminate and luxurious atmosphere of the Delhi court into the more stimulating air of Rajputana. The virile architecture of Fatehpur-Sîkrî and of Akbar’s fort at Agra was essentially Rajput, and it was the work of the master-builders at the courts of the semi-independent Princes of Rajputana which maintained throughout the seventeenth century the native vigour of Indian architecture, while the craftsmen of the Delhi court indulged the Padshah’s taste for Persianised decoration and sumptuous materials—for “glitter, and suggestion of fountain spray and singing birds.”
Perhaps the best example of Rajput architecture of the seventeenth century is the noble fortress-palace of Datiyâ, built in the first decade of it by Bîr Singh Deva, the Bundelâ chief of Urchâ,1 and well worthy to rank beside any of the royal palaces of the West. Obviously this stately pile, with its suggestion of the Doge’s Palace, belongs to the same building traditions as Jodh Bai’s palace at Fatehpur-Sîkrî and Akbar’s palace at Agra; but in Fergusson’s disjointed and confusing classification, according to creed and dynasty, the palace of the Hindu prince is styled “ Indo-Aryan,” while the other two the work of craftsmen of the same race and building tradition are treated in a separate compartment as “ Mogul.”
Fergusson himself called attention to the necessity of a proper survey of the palaces of Rajputana to enable the architectural student to appreciate them properly, but unfortunately nothing seems to have been done in the last fifty years to provide the necessary material for a closer study of them. No doubt Fergusson himself is largely responsible for the absurd notion that Hindu craftsmen were lacking in creative capacity, which has not only made Indian architecture a sealed book to competent Western critics, but has diverted architectural study in India into an historical cul-de-sac.
Pll. XCVII-XCVIII will, however, give a good idea of the exterior of Bîr Singh’s palace at Datiyâ.2 It is a massive pile of granite, over 300 feet square in plan and raised upon a vaulted basement about 40 feet high. Above this it is built in four stories; the two upper ones are ranged round an inner courtyard, like most Indian palaces. In the centre of this courtyard the private apartments of the palace form another square block, also four stories in height. The two lower stories of the main building contain the great public reception-rooms which extend over the whole area of it, the upper ones forming the enclosure of the inner quadrangle. The larger apartments of these upper stories, placed at the four corners and in the middle of each of the four sides of the main building, are crowned with domes, four kiosks with cupolas being grouped round them according to the usual Hindu symbolism. The similar panch-ratna group of domes of the private apartments, rising in the centre of the quadrangle to about 140 feet above the basement, combines with the others to make a singularly pleasing skyline.
The skill with which the outer walls are treated architecturally, without the self-conscious striving after “effect” which is characteristic of the creations of the modern architectural stylist, and the harmonious grouping of the buildings collected at the foot of the palace walls—contributing to the impression of a spontaneous organic growth rather than conscious mental effort on the part of the designer—are among the æsthetic factors which make up the romantic charm of this Rajput fortress-palace and distinguish the art of a great living tradition from the “designing” of modern Western architecture.
This so-called “Indo-Aryan style” has exactly the same characteristics, structural and decorative, as the “Indo-Saracenic” of Fatehpur-Sîkrî and Agra. From the builder’s point of view the distinction is entirely fallacious. The illustrations will show the Persianised entrance gateway and the “Saracenic” arches of the windows behind the balconies: they are forms which the seventeenth-century Rajput builder had made his own and used indiscriminately, whether his employer were Hindu or Musulmân.
Bîr Singh built another great palace at Urchâ (Pl. XCIX), hardly less interesting architecturally than the other, and certainly ranking higher than most of the effeminate palatial structures of Jahângîr and Shah Jahân, which owe their charm not to greatness of architectonic conception but to consummate craftsmanship and exquisiteness of decorative detail.
The same might be said of most of the Hindu fortress-palaces of Rajputana. They form a unique chapter in Indian architectural history—as yet unwritten. If our poets had sung them, our painters had pictured them, our heroes and famous men had lived in them, their romantic beauty would be on every man’s lips in Europe. Libraries of architectural treatises would have been written on them. The degradation of artistic culture in India, propagated and encouraged by Western administrative methods in the name of progress, is only too clearly evidenced in the taste of the “progressive” prince of the present day, who substitutes the pinchbeck “styles” of modern European paper architecture for the magnificent building art of his own master-craftsmen—artists who faithfully and honestly, century after century even to the present day, have adapted their great traditions to the needs of the age in which they lived.
Jodhpur, still the centre of a fine living building craft, was founded in 1498. The fort and palace (Plate C) belong to different periods of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Grandly massed upon a rocky height overlooking the city and an endless expanse of plain—only dotted with other solitary crags rising up like islands in a sea—this splendid pile seen from a distance is one of the most striking in India; and the beautiful details of it seen closely are not less interesting to the architectural student.
Udaipur with its lovely lake and island palaces is another Rajput city as yet unspoilt architecturally by the modern vandal. Chitor, the historic citadel of Rânâs of Mewar, was its parent. The palaces were built at different times, but mostly in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The fine palace of Amber, the parent of the modern Jaipur, was built between 1625 and 1666.
There are, as Fergusson states, twenty or thirty royal palaces in Rajputana and Central India, every one of which would require a volume to describe in detail. For the present I must limit myself to showing a few types and to pointing out the position they take in the history of Indian architecture—a much more important one than is generally recognised.
The buildings of the seventeenth century which can be classified as Mogul have been so often illustrated that it is almost superfluous to describe them in detail again. It will be more instructive to group them together and point out some of the structural characteristics which differentiate them from the buildings of the preceding century. Fergusson’s statement that “there is no trace of Hinduism in the works of Jahângîr and Shah Jahân”3 is altogether erroneous and misleading.
Neither of these Mogul sovereigns had any anti-Hindu prejudices: the joint partnership of Hindu and Musulmân craftsmen in Mogul buildings which Akbar had established remained unbroken until the reign of Aurangzîb. It was only the spirit which animated Mogul art that changed.
Akbar exercised an efficient economical control over his public works expenditure. His personal example and strict supervision of State affairs maintained a high standard of administrative honesty and efficiency throughout his empire—as the monuments of his reign testify. Jahângîr and Shah Jahân were magnificently extravagant and held the reins of State loosely. The court officials placed in charge of the construction of Government buildings used their opportunities to spend lavishly and to fleece unmercifully the unfortunate artisans under their control. During the building of the Tâj (which lasted twenty-two years), many of them, it is said, died of starvation. It must not be assumed that these rapacious Mogul paymasters were the artists who inspired Mogul architecture.
From the structural point of view the influences which account for the differences between Akbar’s buildings and the Mogul buildings of the seventeenth century came mostly from Gaur and from Bijâpûr. The break-up of the great Bengal building centre towards the end of the sixteenth century sent many craftsmen of that school to the imperial Mogul court, whence they migrated later on into Rajputana. Their influence became apparent in the bent roof of the Golden Pavilion in the Agra palace, the bent cornice of the Motî Masjid at Delhi, and in the cusped Hindu arches which are characteristic of most of the later Mogul buildings. We have already seen the process of their formation from the arches of Buddhist-Hindu shrines both at Gaur in the fifteenth century and at Bijâpûr in the sixteenth century.
When Aurangzîb’s fanaticism drove all but the orthodox Musulmân craftsmen from the Mogul court, the Bengalis and others entered the service of Hindu princes in Rajputana, and from the beginning of the eighteenth century many of the characteristic features of the Bengali tradition appear in Rajput buildings. It is this migration of craftsmen, either voluntary or compulsory, which so long as architecture continued to be the art of building gave the true key to its historical development in all countries.
The striking divergence between the architecture of the later Moguls and the robust local styles of Rajputana which formed the character of Akbar’s buildings became more and more apparent as the seventeenth century advanced. It was no doubt due to the same influence which was making itself felt in Europe at this time—the growth of dilettantism in architecture. It is easy to trace Nûr Jahân’s feminine taste in her elegant apartments in the Agra palace (Plate CII) known as the Samman Burj; and especially in the magnificent tomb which she built for her father, Mirza Ghias Beg, Jahângîr’s Prime Minister.
This is one of the most eclectic of the Mogul buildings. The general planning is in strict accordance with the Indian tradition, but the usual panch-ratna grouping of domes is varied by the substitution of a Hindu vaulted roof, like that over the porch of Rajah Birbal’s palace at Fatehpur (Pl. LXXV), for the central dome over the sanctuary of the tomb. The towers, or stunted minarets, at the four corners of the building follow the precedent of Ibrâhîm’s Rauza at Bijâpûr; but the cupolas surmounting them are of the usual North Indian type.
It is inaccurate to apply the term “Indo-Persian” to Itmad-ud-daulah’s tomb and other of Jahângîr’s and Shah Jahân’s buildings. The structural design of the tomb belongs to the Hindu tradition, upon which all Mogul architecture is based; and even the inlaid decoration was in all probability entirely designed and carried out by the same Hindu craftsmen who afterwards executed that of the Tâj Mahall. Nûr Jahân’s intention was to reproduce in marble and precious inlay the enamelled tile mosaic of Persian tombs; but Persian craftsmen who were not skilled in fine masonry could not do this for her. The Indian masons, therefore, with their usual versatility adapted their craft to the Empress’s taste.4
Jahângîr left no marked personal impression upon his palace in the Lahore Fort, where he resided for the greater part of his reign. None of his buildings there can compare with the contemporary princely palaces of Rajputana, nor is his tomb at Shahdara of any great architectural distinction. His idiosyncrasies were more strongly shown in the delightful pleasure-gardens he laid out in Kashmir, near Srinagar, where he with his beloved consort whiled away the tedium of the hot season in airy pavilions with splashing fountains, or under the shade of the stately avenues of plane trees which lined the water-courses of the gardens. Here, indeed, is the suggestion of “fountain spray and singing birds” which Western imagination applies to the whole area of Indian life.
The beginning of the reign of Shah Jahân brings us back to the point in Mogul architecture from which we started in the second chapter—the building of the Tâj Mahall. If the reader has followed closely the sketch I have given of the gradual development of the Indian building craft from the time of Mahmûd of Ghaznî, it will be clear that the Tâj, like all the other great buildings of the world, is not an isolated phenomenon, the creation of a single master-mind, but the glorious consummation of a great epoch of art. He will recognise in the “five-jewel” grouping of domes and in the structural design of.the whole mausoleum the continuity of the old BuddhistHindu building tradition, and the influence of its idealism in the symbols of the five elements into which human clay is dissolved after death. And from the political history of the time he will be able to trace the derivation of the “lotus-leaf” central dome back to its early Buddhist prototype through the domes of Ibrâhîm’s tomb at Bijâpûr and the Hindu domes of Southern India, instead of pursuing an archæological will-o’-the-wisp in remote corners of Central Asia. The niches and semi-domed portal will recall the desecrated shrines of Buddhism which the Arabs dedicated to the ritual of Islâm.
The splendour of Shah Jahân’s architectural undertakings attracted, as we have seen, master-craftsmen from all parts of the Mogul empire; but the explanation of the lotus dome of the Tâj and other of Shah Jahân’s buildings is to be found in the influence of the rival Muhammadan power in the Dekhan upon the craftsmanship of the imperial Mogul court at Agra and Delhi. Probably, also, the wonderful marble trellis-work which surrounds the cenotaph of Mumtâz Mahall must be attributed mainly to Bijâpûr craftsmen, for it has closer affinities to Bijâpûr work than to any other contemporary school of Indian craftsmanship.
This is only one of the instances in which, when the true history of Indian civilisation comes to be written, the highly developed culture of Southern India will be shown to have influenced the civilisation of the north. Western writers in many cases have not only mistaken the sources of Indian inspiration, but have been unable to distinguish the direction in which the various currents of Indian thought have run, and thus have often missed many clues to the origins of the art and civilisation of Europe.
In the Tâj, the Motî Masjid at Agra, and in the palace at Delhi, Shah Jahân’s master-builders concentrated themselves more upon the effort to produce a perfect refinement of contour and decoration than upon new experiments in structural design. They applied to building the fine art of line practised by the Mogul court painters and calligraphists, in whose work both Jahângîr and Shah Jahân took a keen personal interest. In this sense the later phase of Mogul building belongs, like the contemporary Renaissance architecture of Europe, to the category of picture architecture; and is thereby widely differentiated from the virile schools of Rajputana and other parts of India which represent the national tradition of practical building. The tomb of Mumtâz Mahall and the Motî Masjid at Agra have all the delicate perfections of the rare and most exquisite miniature pictures by the best artists of Jahângîr’s and Shah Jahân’s court. The inlaid decoration translates into marble and precious stones the work of the great masters of calligraphy and the loveliest floral devices which framed Mogul pictures. The contours of the domes render architectonically the marvellous subtlety of the painter’s line.
Among the most perfect of Shah Jahân’s buildings, though the least known, are the marble pavilions on the embankment of the lake at Ajmîr which were rescued from departmental vandalism by Lord Curzon. They belong to the same “classic” school of Indian building of which Gujerat and Fatehpur-Sîkrî furnish many examples. In purity of form and perfection of proportion the classic schools of Europe can show nothing finer.
Shah Jahân’s builders made one attempt to carry further the great tradition of Akbar’s mosque at Fatehpur-Sîkrî in the Jâmi’ Masjid at Delhi. It resembles its prototype in its spacious planning and in the triple domes of the lîwân, except that the Bijâpûr type of dome is substituted for that of the northern tradition. One can see, not only in the symbolism of the domes in detail but in the pyramidal piling up of the masses of the whole lîwân, an unconscious echo of the Hindu temple vimâna. Like the latter, Shah Jahân’s mosque was designed to be a striking landmark which should attract the eye of the faithful from afar and proclaim the glory of Islâm over the whole surrounding country. From its largeness of conception, pleasing proportions, and the architectonic unity of the design, it must be considered one of the finest mosques of the world; but there is a coldness about the interior which makes it less attractive than many others in India.
According to Fergusson, it was begun in 1644 and completed in 1658. The lîwân is 201 feet in length by 120 feet in width. The two minars at the corners of the façade are 130 feet high.
In Southern India the architectural development which had begun at Vijayanagar in the sixteenth century continued through the seventeenth under the Nayyak dynasty of Madura, which after the catastrophe of Talikota succeeded the kings of Vijayanagar in upholding the banner of Hinduism against the assaults of Islâm. The palace of Tirumalai Nayyak is one of the finest examples of the skill of the Hindu master-builder in adapting the Hindu arch to structural purposes, in the same way as had been done in the previous century at Vijayanagar and Bijâpûr. Fergusson rightly said of the great audience-hall (Pl. CIV), now used as a court of justice, that it possesses all the structural propriety and character of a Gothic building; but he misunderstood the origin of the great Hindu foliated arches, and made the usual mistake of calling them “Saracenic.”
Fergusson also overlooked the most significant point concerning this last development of Hindu building in Southern India, that it gives a striking indication of what the Indian master-builder might have done—and still might do—for Anglo-Indian architecture if under the British Raj he were given the same opportunities as he enjoyed under Musulmân rulers. For this great palace was the beginning of a new “style,” perfectly adapted to modern Anglo-Indian purposes, and fusing into one artistic entity the individual characteristics of the three different cults now prevailing in India—Hindu, Muhammadan, and Christian. The arches are Hindu in form, but Muhammadan in application; the “classic” columns which support them are Christian by adoption and the whole building is thoroughly European in structural character. The historical explanation of this remarkable amalgamation of architectural ideas is that Vijayanagar for a long time had intimate commercial relations with the Portuguese settlement at Goa, which in fact was almost entirely dependent upon its great trade with the wealthy capital of the South Indian kingdom. The fall of Vijayanagar was a great blow to the prosperity of Goa, and in the latter half of the sixteenth century the tortures of the Inquisition established by the Portuguese drove the Hindu craftsmen who had built Christian cathedrals and churches there—and even taken them as models for their own temples—to seek refuge at the court of Madura.
The influence of the Hindu craftsman’s association with the European builder and his readiness to assimilate new ideas, from whatever source they might come, can be seen not only in the structure of Tirumalai’s palace, but also in the marked “classical” feeling of some of the figure-sculpture in that part of the great temple of Madura which was built about the same time.
Fergusson thought it a curious thing that the same king who built this palace (Pl. CIV) built also the temple pavilion (Pl. CV), which is so totally different in style. If he had reflected on the fact that the builders of the Gothic cathedrals in Europe built also the baron’s castle, the yeoman’s house, and the peasant’s cottage, he would have found no reason for surprise at the difference between a Hindu palace and a Hindu temple. But Fergusson did not realise that all the great architecture of India—Musulmân, Hindu, and Buddhist—had its root in temple craftsmanship.
The palace of Chandragiri, in the North Arcot district of Madras, the last stronghold of the Vijayanagar dynasty after the battle of Talikota, is another very interesting seventeenth-century example of the same South Indian school of building, which, had it been allowed to develop, might have easily solved the problem which is now puzzling the brains of British architects in Europe and in India.
Mr. R. F. Chisholm, F.R.I.B.A., who has made an especial study of these two buildings, has given plans and descriptions of the palace of Madura in “The Transactions of Royal Institute of British Architects” (vol. xxvi. 1875-6), and of the Chandragiri palace in “The Indian Antiquary” (vol. xii. 1883).
- 1. Fergusson, vol. ii. p. 175.
- 2. See also frontispiece.
- 3. “Indian Architecture,” vol. ii. p. 288 (edit. 1910).
- 4. Even in Wazir Khan’s mosque at Lahore, built in the beginning of Shah Jahân’s reign, where tile mosaic borrowed from Persia is largely used, it is not applied in the Persian way as a protection to the brickwork, but is panelled out for purely decorative purposes in a manner characteristically Indian. The domes of the mosque and general structural arrangements also maintain an Indian character, though Fergusson labels the building as “Persian.”