Rulers and Buildings

Learning Goals:

Destruction of temples: Since rulers demonstrated their devotion to god and their power and wealth by constructing temples, it is obvious that temples were targeted when kingdoms were attacked. Some such instances are as follows:

Shrimara Shrivallabha: When this Pandyan king invaded Sri Lanka in the early ninth century, he seized valuable items like the statue of Buddha made of gold.

Gardens, Tombs and Forts

Architecture became more complex during the Mughal period. Many Mughal rulers like, Babur, Humayun, Jahangir, Akbar and especially Shah Jahan took keen interest in literature, art and architecture.

Babur: In his autobiography, he described his interest in planning and laying out formal gardens, placed within rectangular walled enclosures and divided into four quarters by artificial channels. These gardens were called chahar bagh (four gardens) because of the symmetry in their division into quarters.

Important aspects of Mughal architecture like the central towering dome and the tall gateway (pishtaq) were first visible during his reign. The tomb was placed in the centre of a huge formal chahar bagh and built in the tradition known as ‘eight paradises’ or hasht bihisht which is a central hall surrounded by eight rooms. Red sandstone edged with white marble was used in the construction of the building.

Akbar: During his reign there were many important architectural innovations. These were inspired by the tombs of his Central Asian ancestor, Timur. Beginning with Akbar, some of the most beautiful chahar baghs were constructed by Jahangir and Shah Jahan in Kashmir, Agra and Delhi.

Shah Jahan: Different elements of Mughal architecture were fused together in a grand harmonious synthesis during his reign. Huge amount of construction activity, especially in Delhi and Agra; took place during his reign. The ceremonial halls of public and private audience (diwan- I khas o am) were planned carefully. These courts, placed within a large courtyard; were also described as ‘chihil sutun’ or forty-pillared halls. His audience halls resembled a mosque. The pedestal on which his throne was placed was described frequently as ‘qibla’, the direction faced by Muslims while praying. This is because everyone faced that side when the court was in session. These architectural features suggest the idea of king as God’s representative.

He emphasized the connection between royal justice and imperial court. In his throne were a series of pietra dura inlays that depicted the legendary Greek god Orpheus playing the lute. It was believed that Orpheus’s music could calm the beasts till they coexisted peacefully. His audience hall aimed to give the message that the king’s justice will treat all equally; creating a harmonious world.

During the early years of his reign, his capital was Agra, a city where the nobility had constructed their homes on the banks of the river Yamuna. These were set in the midst of formal gardens which were created in the chahar bagh format. There was also a variation of chahar bagh format present during the time. It was called the river-front garden in which the dwelling was not located in the middle of the chahar bagh but at its edge, close to the river bank.

Taj Mahal

Shah Jahan adapted the river-front garden for the layout of Taj Mahal. It was the grandest architectural accomplishment during his reign. In this, the white marble mausoleum was placed on a terrace by the edge of the river. The garden was to its south. He developed this architectural form as a means to control the nobles’ access to the river. The imperial palace commanded the river front in the new city of Shahajahanabad that he constructed in Delhi. Only specially favoured nobles like his eldest son Dara Shukoh had access to the river. All others had to construct their homes in the city away from the Yamuna River.

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