On April 21, 1526, Babur defeated Ibrahim Lodi at the Battle of Panipat and founded the Mughal dynasty. After assuming power in India, he sent for architects and craftsmen from his homeland in Central Asia to create gardens and palaces fit for the new monarch that would also, perhaps, remind him of the lands he had left behind. Most of these have disappeared, save Baburís Lotus Garden in Dholpur, which survives only in the traces of its design. It has a flattish pool with sides resembling petals, giving the impression of a blossom opening up to the sky. Today, the lichen-covered surface of the pool looks like an opaque green glass that has stubbornly refused to act as the skyís mirror. The photograph of this desolate pool, along with several others, form the content of MUGHAL ARCHITECTURE & GARDENS (The Shoestring, Rs 4,500). This lavish book, which certainly could not have been produced on a shoestring budget, has a text by George Michell and photographs by Amit Pasricha. Supplemented by site layouts and maps, the photographs capture the variety and grandeur of Mughal architecture.
The Mughal rulers imported the Persian style of architecture from the lands of their origin. As they settled down in India, they blended it with indigenous designs, thus creating an eclectic style, which is now recognized as the distinguishing mark of Mughal design. For instance, although the bulbous domes and coloured tiles found in many Mughal mausoleums indicate Timurid influence, the ubiquitous rooftop chhatris were borrowed from the architectural style of the Sultanate kings, who had ruled Delhi before the Mughals. Shah Jahan, who can be said to have perfected the Mughal style, introduced the bangla ó hut-like curved roof ó in his architectural plans, taking inspiration from Bengal, which, by his time, had been included in the Mughal dominions. Shah Jahan also played host to a series of European visitors, who brought the continent to India.
ďColumns in palaces and mosques from this time onwards often manifest tapering fluted shafts that seem to imitate Italianate models, while architectural ornament assumes a distinctly Baroque character, as in the symmetrically disposed arabesques that fill the spandrels above arches, or the friezes of leafy acanthus that run around the bases of domes.Ē The tower in the north-west corner of Shah Jahanís Quadrangle, which he built in 1645 by renovating the Lahore Fort, is known as the Kala Burj. It has a domed chamber with a stellate medallion. Top right is a recently cleaned painting from the chamber with a bird motif, which suggests European influence.
Michellís text is informative, if a bit too technical, as the quotation above would prove. A few anecdotes associated with the monuments would have added a dash of colour to the text. The same applies to the photographs, which, for all their splendid colours, appear flat, in that they seem to lack stories of their own. Left shows the plasterwork on the interior domes of Safdar Jangís tomb, which was the last great architectural project of the Mughal era in Delhi. It memorializes Mirza Abdul Mansur Khan, better known as Safdar Jang, the powerful chief minister of the weak Muhammad Shah, who ruled from 1719 to 1748. The medallions have looped floral designs, which are echoed in the radiating petals, which, in turn, are echoed in the honeycomb pendentives.
If Safdar Jangís tomb concretizes the late style of Mughal architecture, Nila Gumbad, standing outside the walls of Humayunís Tomb built by Akbar, has all the features of the early style. It seems to date from the years prior to Humayunís exile in 1543. Top left shows the beautiful blue tiles on the external walls of the dome that give the tomb its name. Combined with the green and yellow tiles, they create a kaleidoscopic effect. Bottom is the innermost chamber of Jahangirís tomb. The 99 names of god cover the sides of the emperorís grave. The replicating geometric pattern on the floor lends a hectic sense of life to the final resting place of the dead.