The tomb of Itmâd-ud-daulah, “the Lord High Treasurer,” is on the east or left bank of the river, and is reached by crossing the pontoon bridge. It was built by Nur Mahal, the favourite wife of Jahangir, as a mausoleum for her father, Mirza Ghîas Beg, who, according to one account, was a Persian from Teheran, and by another a native of Western Tartary.
A story is told of the Mirza’s early life, of which it can only be said, Se non é vero é ben trovato. He left his home, accompanied by his wife and children, to seek his fortune in India, where he had some relatives at Akbar’s court. His slender provision for the journey was exhausted in crossing the Great Desert, and they were all in danger of perishing from hunger. In this extremity his wife gave birth to a daughter. The unhappy parents, distracted by hunger and fatigue, left the infant under a solitary shrub. With the father supporting his wife and children on the one bullock which remained to them, they pushed on in the hope of finding relief; but as the tiny landmark where the infant lay disappeared in the distance, the mother, in a paroxysm of grief, threw herself to the ground, crying, “My child! my child!” The piteous appeal forced the father to return to restore the babe to her mother, and soon afterwards a caravan appeared in sight and rescued the whole party.
The child born under these romantic circumstances became the Empress Nur Mahal, who built this mausoleum. Her father reached Lahore, where Akbar then held his court, and through the influence of his friends attracted the Emperor’s attention. His talents won for him speedy promotion, and under Jahangir he became first Lord High Treasurer, and afterwards Wazir, or Prime Minister. Jahangir, in his memoirs, candidly discusses the character of his father-in-law. He was a good scholar, with a pretty taste for poetry, possessed many social qualities and a genial disposition. His accounts were always in perfect order, but “he liked bribes, and showed much boldness in demanding them.” On his death his son, Asaf Khan, the father of Mumtaz Mahal, was appointed to succeed him.
Itmâd-ad-daulah and his wife are buried in the central chamber; his brother and sister and other members of his family occupy the four corners. The pavilion on the roof, enclosed by beautiful marble tracery (Plate IX.), contains only replicas of the real tombs beneath. The mausoleum was commenced in 1622 and completed in 1628. As a composition it may lack inspiration, but it is exceedingly elegant, and scholarly like the Lord High Treasurer himself. In construction it marks the transition from the style of Akbar to that of Shah Jahan; from the Jahangiri Mahal to the Dîwan-i-khas, the Mûti Masjid, and the Taj. The towers at the four corners might be the first suggestion of the detached minarets of the Taj. The Hindu feeling which is so characteristic of most of Akbar’s buildings is here only shown in the roof of the central chamber over the tomb; in pure Saracenic architecture a tomb is always covered by a dome.
This change in style greatly influenced the architecture of the whole of the north of India, Hindu and Jain as well as Muhammadan. It must be remembered that comparatively few of the master-builders who actually constructed the most famous examples of Mogul architecture were Muhammadans. The remarkable decline of the Mogul style which set in under Aurangzîb was largely due to his bigotry in refusing to employ any but true believers.
The family ties of Itmâd-ud-daulah and his daughter, the Empress, were closely connected with Persia and Central Asia; and no doubt the fashion set by Jahangir’s court led to the Saracenic element becoming predominant in the Mogul style, both in construction and in decoration. Many authorities have connected the marked difference between Itmâd-ud-daulah’s tomb and Akbar’s buildings to Italian influence, only on the ground that Jahangir is known to have been partial to Europeans, and allowed them free access to his palace. There is not, however, a trace of Italian art in any detail of the building; there is not a form or decorative idea which had not been used in India or in Central Asia for centuries. The use of marble inlaid work on so extensive a scale was a novelty, but it was only an imitation, or adaptation, of the splendid tile-mosaic and painted tile-work which were the commonest kinds of decoration employed in Persia: Wazir Khan’s mosque at Lahore, built in Jahangir’s time, is a fine Indian example of the latter.
The art of inlaying stone had been practised in India for many years before this building; but here, for the first time, do we find the inlayers making attempts at direct imitation of Persian pottery decoration. All the familiar motifs of Persian art, the tree of life and other floral types, the cypress tree, the flower-vases, fruits, wine-cups, and rose-water vessels are here reproduced exactly as they are found in Persian mosaic tiles. In Shah Jahan’s palace and in the Taj they went a step further, and imitated the more naturalistic treatment of Persian fresco painting and other pictorial art; but there is never the slightest suggestion of European design in the decoration of these buildings.
It is quite possible that some Italians may have shown the native inlayers specimens of Florentine pietra dura, and suggested to them this naturalistic treatment, but if Italians or other Europeans had been engaged to instruct or supervise in the decoration of these buildings they would certainly have left some traces of their handiwork. In the technical part of the process the Indian workmen had nothing to learn, and in the design they made no attempt to follow European forms, except in the one solitary instance of the decoration of the throne-chamber of the Delhi Palace, which is much later in date than Itmâd-ud-daulah’s tomb.1
The whole scheme of the exterior decoration is so finely carried out, both in arrangement and colour, that its extreme elaboration produces no effect of unquietness. At a distance it only gives a suggestion of a soft bloom or iridescence on the surface of the marble. The soffits of the doorways are carved with extraordinary delicacy. Inside the building there are remains of fresco and other painted decoration.
Beautifully placed on the river bank, there is a fine little mosque, which at sunset makes a charming picture. The boldness and greater simplicity of the decoration contrast well with the richness of that of the mausoleum.
- 1. It is very probable that the black slate or marble panels in the Delhi Palace, which are purely Florentine in design, were imported complete from Italy, and fixed in the wall by Indian workmen, who only designed the ornamental scrolls surrounding the panels.