The History, Art and Architecture of the Mughal Empire

3rd Assignment, Part One

Photo: The tomb of Mughal emperor Akbar (r.1556-1605), Sikandra, India. (Uros Zver, 2011)

My interest in the title and subject of this blog took an irreversible turn when I first strolled around the serene gardens of the Red Fort in Delhi, built as imperial residence by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan (r.1627-1658), the builder also of the famous Taj Mahal, in the first half of the seventeenth century. For Shah Jahan, who by this time had developed a strict formal architectural style emphasizing natural symmetry and vegetalized ornamentation, this meant building a palace whose baluster columns evoked cypresses, whose walls were adorned with naturalistic renderings of plants in marble relief, and blossoming pietra dura flowers of precious stones, replete with streams cascading through pavilions — an immortal paradisiacal garden of stone to mirror the passing beauty of its natural equivalent. The famous Koranic inscription I read above one of the portals in the garden, “If there is paradise on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here!” has held me ever since.

These days I am in the early stages of writing a thesis about one of the Mughals’ most enigmatic architectural masterpieces, the tomb of Mughal emperor Akbar (r.1556-1605), who by his conquests and institutional innovations transformed a modest, insecure north Indian state he inherited from his father, to bequeath to his successors a stable, populous empire, whose wealth dwarfed that of his European, Ottoman and Persian contemporaries, and cemented the rule of this Turko-Mongol dynasty on the Indian subcontinent until the eighteenth century.

This blog is intended to deal with the Mughal dynasty more widely, including not only its art and architecture, but its history in the broadest sense. The items that will particularly interest me are those related to Mughal imperial ideology and its role in architectural programs, especially those of their magnificent dynastic tombs. What precisely did the ideology consist of, what was its development, and how (and why) was it translated into architectural monuments of such enduring appeal?


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