The Mughals and Monumental Royal Mausoleums

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Spahic Omer
Kulliyyah of Architecture and Environmental Design
International Islamic University Malaysia

                                                   The Taj Mahal in Agra, India.


The Mughals were a Muslim dynasty of Turkic-Mongol origin that ruled most of the northern Indian subcontinent from the early 10th AH/ 16th CE to the mid-12th AH/ 18th CE century, after which it continued to exist as a considerably reduced and increasingly powerless entity until the mid-13th AH/ 19th CE century. At the height of their power in the 11th AH/ 17th CE century, the Mughals were in command of most of the subcontinent. “The Mughal dynasty was notable for its more than two centuries of effective rule over much of India, for the ability of its rulers, who through seven generations maintained a record of unusual talent, and for its administrative organization. A further distinction was the attempt of the Mughals, who were Muslims, to integrate Hindus and Muslims into a united Indian state.”[1]

            The Mughal state was founded by Babur (d. 937 AH/ 1530 CE) who claimed descent from Timur (d. 808 AH/ 1405 CE) — the conqueror of West, South and Central Asia and founder of Timurid dynasty — on his father’s side, and from Genghis Khan (d. 625 AH/ 1227 CE) – the founder of the Mongol Empire — on his mother’s side. Babur’s rule and that of his son’s, Humayun (d. 964 AH/ 1556 CE), are generally regarded as transitional and preparatory for the Mughal golden age which featured four exceptionally talented emperors with diversified and even somewhat contrasting personalities, dispositions and interests. The four emperors were Humayun’s son Akbar (d. 1014 AH /1605 CE), Akbar’s son Jahangir (d. 1037 AH /1627 CE), Jahangir’s son Shah Jahan (d. 1077 AH /1666 CE), and the latter’s son Aurangzeb (d. 1119 AH/1707 CE). The reigns of the four emperors marked the cultural and civilizational zenith of the Mughal rule during which some enduring aspects were added to the already vast, rich and multihued profile of Islamic cultural and civilizational legacies, above all in the spheres of administrative organization, traditions, way of life, art and architecture.

It was towards the end of emperor Aurangzeb’s reign, that the Mughal Empire began to disintegrate, a process which was considerably accelerated in the years after his death when “successor states” came into existence. Emperor Aurangzeb’s harsh treatment of Hindus and the reversal of the liberal religious policies of his predecessors, particularly those of Akbar’s, have been cited as principal reasons for the crumbling of the empire. The empire had become far too large and unwieldy, and Aurangzeb did not have enough trustworthy men at his command to be able to manage the more far-flung parts of the empire. Many of his political appointees broke loose and declared themselves independent. Moreover, the system of political alliances established by Akbar Aurangzeb allowed to go to seed.[2] “Shortly after the death of Aurangzeb,the Mughal Empireceased to be an effective force in the political life of India, but it was not until 1274-75 AH/ 1857-58 CE, when theIndian Rebellionwas crushed and the emperor Bahadur Shah (d. 1279 AH/ 1862 CE) was put on trial for sedition and treason, that the Mughal Empire was formally rendered extinct.”[3]

The culture and civilization of the Mughals, especially their art and architecture aspects, were an amalgam of more than a few dominant factors and features. The most significant were pure Islamic, Persian, Turkish, Mongol and Indian influences. The Mughal state was the arena in which Mongol traditions of rule and empire, and the high culture of Iran and Central Asia long patronized by Mongol and Timurid rulers, came to be united with the wealth and the talents of South Asian peoples. “The outcome was an extraordinary period of power and patronage in which persianate high culture was brought to a new peak. Thus, India for seventeenth-century Europe was a vision of riches; the word Mughal to this day is loaded with a sense of power; and the Taj Mahal is arguably the most admired building of the past four centuries.”[4]

In connection with funerary architecture, the Mughals, by and large, inherited the legacies and followed in the footsteps of earlier, or their contemporary, Muslim dynasties and empires, such as Samanids (261 AH/874 CE – 390 AH/999 CE), Hamdanids (277 AH/890 CE – 399 AH/1008 CE), Buyids (320 AH/932 CE – 454 AH/1062 CE), Fatimids (297 AH/909 CE – 567 AH/1171 CE)Ayyubids (567 AH/ 1171 CE – 742 AH/ 1341 CE), Mamluks (648 AH/ 1250 CE – 923 AH/ 1517 CE), Saljuqs (4th-7th AH / 10th-13th CE century), Osmanlis (699 AH/ 1299 CE – 1342 AH/ 1923 CE) and Safavids (907 AH/ 1501 CE – 1149 AH/ 1736 CE). The Mughals infused those legacies and prevailing trends with their own moral fiber, eventually creating and molding the funerary architecture of theirs in the image of their socio-political, religious, cultural and historical traditions and viewpoints. Not only their funerary architecture, but also all aspects of the Mughals’ art and architecture appeared to be rather stately, monumental, elitist and somewhat private.

Moreover, the Indian subcontinent territories which were controlled by the Mughals proved somewhat an easy hunting ground for various religious adventurers and many people were rather susceptible to their doctrinal promotional calls with architecturally memorializing and glorifying certain deceased persons accounting for one of more prominent dimensions of such ventures. The Mughal sovereigns, when all is said and done, were at once the instigators and casualties in the whole scheme of things. The Mughal territories – or at least, most of them — with both their rulers and peoples, were such because they represented some of those not long ago conquered distant lands where the process of total Islamization was a rigid and slow one, and where neither Arabic was prevalent nor the religious knowledge common, which could help the people to distinguish aberration and innovation from the right path and impart an understanding of the true faith. In addition, those were the territories whence a traveler for the Hajj (annual pilgrimage to Makkah) or for receiving higher religious education, which could greatly boost the people’s understanding and practicing of the true Islamic message, was bound to encounter great difficulties. In those lands, Muslim minorities likewise were socially integrated with predominantly indigenous inhabitants but who were firmly wedded to their superstitious beliefs and un-Islamic customs.[5]

As a result, the Mughals produced a number of monumental royal mausoleums rarely paralleled in magnitude, elegance and cost. Most of them were imperial funerary complexes that incorporated huge and exquisite gardens with all the necessary facilities and provisions. Occasionally, mosques featured too, as integral parts of the complexes but always physically separated from the mausoleums. Apart from the royal funerary multiplexes which were built for most emperors, there were also many other imposing tombs and mausoleums which were built for some other state dignitaries, royal family members, and even some scholars and religious — albeit mostly Sufi — leaders and saints. Most of those monuments housed more than one person.

When Babur, the first Mughal emperor, died, although the nascent Mughal state was at that point in desperate need of legitimacy assertion, no major dynastic monument was conceived to commemorate his passing. It was marked, instead, by the orthodox burial Babur is said to have requested before his death. No building was thus erected over his grave.[6] He is commonly thought to have been first buried in Agra; however, his remains were later moved to Kabul in Afghanistan. Over the next century, his grave was frequently visited by his descendants. Babur’s modest grave stood in a burial-garden that comprised a marble enclosure as well as a small marble mosque. Quite a few significant embellishments inside the burial-garden, albeit without affecting the unpretentious form of the emperor’s grave, were contributed by two subsequent Mughal emperors, Jahangir and Shah Jahan.[7] Babur is said to have requested out of piety and out of his high aesthetic tastes that he be buried in a garden.[8]  By his own desire, his body was carried to Kabul and was buried there in “the sweetest spot” on a hill-side, amidst beloved surroundings, a cool-running stream and sweet-smelling flowers.[9] Babur’s insatiable craving for stylishly designed and landscaped gardens is well-documented in his “Babur-Nama”.[10]

Babur was succeeded by his son Humayun. But a great segment of the latter emperor’s reign was constantly marred by political instability as a result of which in 947 AH/ 1540 CE he lost Mughal territories to, and was exiled from India by, thePashtunnoble,Sher Shah Suri. However, with Persian aid, Humayun regained those territories 15 years later, prompting an important change in Mughal court culture whereby central Asian origins of the dynasty became overshadowed by the influences of Persian art, architecture, language and literature. He recaptured Delhi in 963 AH/ 1555 CE only to die in a freak accident the following year. It follows that emperor Humayun was so engrossed in securing and consolidating the fragile and vulnerable regime that he did not have a chance to plan his own burial. Besides, he died relatively young, aged 48, in an accident while descending the staircase from his library. Humayun’s body was at first interred in one of his palaces in Delhi, but afterwards was moved to Sirhind in the Punjab, where his son and the next emperor, Akbar, paid homage to the curtain-shrouded coffin in 966 AH/ 1558 CE.[11] In 970 AH/ 1562 CE, when emperor Akbar’s grip on power became reasonably secure, he ordered work to commence on a tomb for his father in Delhi. The tomb was fully completed in 979 AH/ 1571 CE. Humayun’s remains returned to Delhi several years before the completion of the tomb.[12]

However, some believe that it was Humayun’s first wife, Haji Begum, who commissioned the tomb, in which case it could be that both Haji Begum and her son, Akbar, teamed up for the project. It is impossible to imagine that Humayun’s wife alone would embark on an enterprise of such significance, seeing through its construction over a period of eight years, without active and official involvement of Akbar in his capacity as both son and current emperor. Glenn D. Lowry concludes that such were the project’s grandeur, cost and complexity of certain formal decisions that only one person could have built it: Akbar. Besides, during much of the time when the tomb was under construction, Haji Begum was in Makkah performing hajj or pilgrimage.[13]

Humayun’s tomb is the first to mark the grave of a Mughal emperor. It is known as the first example of the monumental scale that would characterize the largest part of subsequent Mughal royal funerary architecture. The overall plan and architectural features of the tomb are described as follows: “The tomb design is attributed to Sayyid Muhammad and his father, Mirak Sayyid Ghiyath, Persian architects and poets active in the Timurid and later the Mughal courts. The tomb is situated south of the Purana Qila, on the eastern edge of Delhi. It is set in the center of a garden in the classical Mughal charbagh pattern. A high wall surrounds the garden on three sides, the fourth side being bounded by what was once the bank of the river Jamna, which has since been diverted. The garden is divided into four parts by two bisecting water channels with paved walkways (khiyabans), which terminate at two gates: a main one in the southern wall, and a smaller one in the western wall.The tomb sits at the center of a plinth, about 21 feet (7m) high. The top of its central dome reaches 140 feet from the ground. The dome is double-layered; the outer layer supports the white marble exterior facing, while the inner one defines the cavernous interior volume. The rest of the tomb is clad in red sandstone, with white marble ornamentation.A large iwan, a high arch, punctuates the center of each facade, and is set back slightly. Together with the other arches and openings, this effect creates a varied and complex impression of depth at each facade. Detailed ornamentation in three colors of stone adds to the richness of the surfaces. The plan of the main tomb building is intricate. It is a square ‘nine-fold plan’, where eight two-storied vaulted chambers radiate from the central, double-height domed chamber. The chambers of each level are interconnected by straight and diagonal passages. In Humayun’s tomb, each of the main chambers has in turn eight more, smaller chambers radiating from it. The symmetrical ground plan contains 124 vaulted chambers in all. The sarcophagus of Humayun is found in the central domed chamber, the head pointing south, and facing east according to Islamic practice. The vaulted chambers also contain sarcophagi that were added later. The sex of each occupant is marked by a simple carved symbol: a box of writing instruments indicates a male, and a writing slate indicates a female. The sarcophagi are not otherwise inscribed, but among them are known to be those containing the wives of Humayun, and several later Mughal emperors and princes.”[14]

Following emperor Humayun’s death, his son Akbar ascended the Mughal throne in Delhi at the tender age of thirteen. Akbar, by all accounts, was the greatest of the Mughal emperors. He was an extremely capable ruler. He reestablished and consolidated the Mughal Empire, having administered it for fifty years. He is most appreciated for having a liberal outlook on all faiths and beliefs. During his era, culture and art reached a zenith. Although he might have been illiterate, or perhaps dyslexic, he was taught scholarly subjects for a time. He displayed a great love of literature and had all the books which came into his possession read out to him from cover to cover.[15] Consequently, his library contained an enormous number of books on a plethora of subjects and branches of learning. Undeniably, Akbar’s court was a true center of culture and erudition. “The political, administrative, and military structures that he created to govern the empire were the chief factor behind its continued survival for another century and a half. At Akbar’s death in 1014 AH/ 1605 CE the empire extended from Afghanistan to theBay of Bengaland southward toGujaratand the northernDeccan.”[16]

Some people suggest that the construction of Akbar’s tomb commenced during his lifetime and was completed during the reign of his son and new emperor, Jahangir. However, there is no concrete evidence that he either planned or started construction of his own tomb in the Agra suburb of Sikandra before he died.[17] In the “Akbar-Nama”, it has only been recorded that “the sacred garden known as Bihishtabad was fixed upon as his resting place and the earthly mould was committed to the earth”.[18] Recorded references to the tomb are mostly from Jahangir’s rule. They mention his discontent with the initial progress on the mausoleum and outline his active involvement in its design, modification and embellishment.[19] It is said, for example, that, at first, the Akbar’s royal tomb was constructed in such an inappropriate way that when new emperor Jahangir, who was absent from Agra during the construction process quelling a rebellion, saw it he immediately ordered its destruction. He remarked that it did not come up yet to his idea of what the tomb ought to be.[20] A new more “appropriate” tomb was later conceived and built.

Akbar’s funerary complex is described as a “square in plan and aligned on the cardinal axis, with the tomb at its center and four gates, one along each wall. Based on a charbagh, or walled square garden composition much like his father Humayun’s tomb, the tomb of Akbar has a tall sandstone gate clad with ornate marble inlay carvings and inscriptions. It consists of a colossal arched niche flanked on either side by double-stacked balconies. Surmounting the gate pavilion are four towering white marble minarets, one at each corner. Its inscriptions were written and designed by Abd al-Haqq Shirazi (later known as Amanat Khan), famed calligrapher of Mughal monuments including Taj Mahal. While the inscriptions on the north elevation facing the tomb eulogize the deceased emperor, those above the entrance praise Jahangir, the patron of the tomb.Beyond the lofty gate lies thecharbaghdivided into quadrants by watercourses designed to evoke the rivers of paradise. Hence, the mausoleum itself is physically and metaphorically located at the center of a heavenly garden, Behistan.A paved causeway leads from the gate to the mausoleum. It is a five-tiered structure much like a truncated pyramid enveloped by low galleries. The domed and vaulted galleries are a hundred and five meters long serving as a large square plinth for the four square stories located at their center, each of which steps in as the structure rises. The gallery space is rhythmically arranged with massive pillars supporting arches roughly 6.7 meters apart. The central bay of each side is marked by a highpishtaqsurmounted by a rectangularchhatri, or roof kiosks. Only the southernpishtaqgives access to the burial chamber, a small square room at the end of long corridor at the heart of the building domed at eighteen meters. Of the vaulted bays behind the four pishtaqs, the southern one is the most elaborate in ornamentation. The burial chamber also houses the tombs of the emperor’s daughters, Shakrul Nisha Begam and Aram Bano.Outside, the second story has an arcaded verandah on each side, which is composed of twenty three bays. The arcades are repeated on the subsequent floors forming peripheral walkways at each level andchhatrisat the corners. The top floor has no superstructure but consists on an open terrace enclosed with marble screen parapets. This five-tiered structure with its pillared terraces and numerouschhatrisalso bears a striking resemblance to the Panch Mahal at Fatehpur Sikri.”[21]

We will see later that the royal funerary architecture of the Mughals followed no strict established behavioral patterns, nor was there a complete logical evolutionary process, or a growth. However, having been built of red sandstone, with the exception of the four towering minarets over its lofty gate, the fifth tier of the tomb proper and most of the domes and vaults of its chhatris, which were built of white marble, the tomb-complex of Akbar marked what could be loosely and in no cast-iron terms described as the beginning of a transitional phase from red sandstone to white marble in the funerary architecture of the Mughals. That phase was later completed with the creation of the tomb of I’timad al-Dawlah (the pillar of the state)by emperor Jahangir’s wife for her late parents, and it reached its apogee with the construction of the Taj Mahal by emperor Shah Jahan. That said – to go off the point a bit — one may wonder where the tomb of Jahangir, Akbar’s son, fits in this development or transition paradigm, because it was built by Shah Jahan, Akbar’s grandson, and approximately 10 years after the tomb of I’timad al-Dawlah had been completed, and yet it was built of red sandstone using, just like almost all Mughal buildings, intermittent floral and geometric marble inlay for mainly ornamental and adornment ends. The answer lies in the fact that — as pointed out earlier — Mughal royal funerary architecture, when all’s said and done, did not conform to any rigid and logical evolutionary fashion, so raising that query might not be considered necessary after all. What’s more, the dome-less tomb of Jahangir needed to be quite atypical and fitted, in the sense that it had to incorporate both Islamic orthodoxy and the quintessence of Mughal grandiosity and pomp characterized by Shah Jahan more than anyone else, on account of Jahangir having reportedly willed that no structure should be raised over his grave. Jahangir’s will and preference could also be construed as calling for a qualified funerary architecture restraint and moderation, while the overall appearance of his tomb signified Shah Jahan’s ingenious response to, and an attempt to comply with, his father’s conformist call.

When Akbar died, the Mughal imperial reign passed into the hands of his eldest son Jahangir who due to his greed and impatience for power just six years earlier revolted against his father. Some even accuse Jahangir of poisoning Akbar. Although he was defeated, Jahangir still succeeded his father as emperor in 1014 AH/ 1605 CE. However, following what was emerging as a Mughal political pattern, the first year of the new emperor’s reign saw yet another rebellion which was organized by Jahangir’s eldest son, Khusraw. The rebellion was a short-lived affair, having been quickly crushed. Nonetheless, just like his father, emperor Jahangir was an excellent and shrewd administrator. Most of his rule was characterized by political stability, racial tolerance, a strong economy and notable cultural achievements.[22]

Even though Jahangir built an imperial tomb for his late father, emperor Akbar, there is no mention of how exactly and where he himself wished to be buried. The earliest reference is provided in relation to his son and next emperor, Shah Jahan, who built a royal tomb for his late father. Jahangir is reported to have generally willed that there should be no structure erected over his grave. His tomb, which was inaugurated in about 1037 AH/ 1627 CE, the year Jahangir died,  and was completed in about 1047 AH/ 1637 CE, ten years after his son Shah Jahan’s enthronement, thus had to combine “open-air orthodoxy with the fundamentals of Mughal monumentality”. It cost thirty percent less than Akbar’s tomb, even though the latter was constructed much earlier.[23]The tomb of Jahangir is located in Shahdara, a suburb of Lahore to the northwest of the city. The area had been a favorite spot of Jahangir and his wife Nur Jahan when they resided in Lahore, and the area was commonly used as a point of departure for travels to and from Kashmir and Lahore. When Jahangir died in 1037 AH/ 1627 CE he may have initially been buried in Shahdara in one of its many gardens…The tomb occupies a vast quadrangle measuring approximately 500 meters to a side and is subdivided into four chahar baghs (four-part gardens). A fountain occupies the center of each of the chahar baghs and the avenues in between, creating a ring of 8 fountains around the central tomb…The mausoleum itself is square in plan and about 80 meters a side. Except for the four corner minarets the layout is entirely horizontal with a flat roof covering the whole of the structure…At Jahangir’s tomb, a compromise of sorts was arrived at by raising a roof over the cenotaph but not constructing any monumental embellishments such as domes. This design was apparently not very popular as it was replicated only once for the tomb of Nur Jahan, Jahangir’s wife, at her tomb garden also in Shahdara…At the center of the mausoleum is an octagonal tomb chamber about 8 meters in diameter. It is connected to the outside of the tomb by four hallways facing the four cardinal directions. The cenotaph at the center is carved from a single slab of white marble and decorated with pietra dura inlays of the 99 attributes of God. At its foot is an inscription in Persian recording that ‘This is the illuminated grave of His Majesty, the Asylum of Pardon, Nooruddin Muhammad Jahangir Padshah 1037 AH (1627 CE)’.”[24]

Thus, emperor Shah Jahan, reputed to have had the most refined of the tastes in the arts and architecture, was the only celebrated Mughal emperor who managed to build monumental royal mausoleums both for his father, whom he had succeeded, and for his self. What is more, he is even reported to have added a marble enclosure to the unassuming grave of emperor Babur in Kabul, as well as a mosque to the burial-garden where Babur’s grave was located, as pointed out earlier. The period of Shah Jahan’s reign is generally regarded as the golden age of Mughal architecture. He possessed an almost insatiable passion for building in consequence of which many splendid monuments, such as mosques, mausoleums, governmental buildings, palaces, gardens, etc., were created. Shah Jahan’s reign was also a period of great literary activity, and the arts of painting and calligraphy were not neglected. His court was one of great pomp and splendor, and his collection of jewels was probably the most magnificent in the world.[25]

The superb mausoleum in which Shah Jahan’s body rests is the Taj Mahal, the masterpiece of his reign, which, however, was first erected in memory of Shah Jahan’s  favorite of his three queens, Mumtaz Mahal, the mother of Aurangzeb who succeeded Shah Jahan as emperor. This mausoleum complex immortalizes Mumtaz Mahal who died in childbirth in 1041 AH/ 1631 CE, after having been the emperor’s inseparable companion since their marriage in 1021 AH/ 1612 CE. The building’s name, Taj Mahal, is a derivation of the Empress’s name. Building commenced about 1042 AH/ 1632 CE. More than 20,000 workers were employed from India, Persia, the Ottoman empire and Europe to complete the mausoleum itself by about 1048-1049 AH/ 1638–39 CE. The adjunct buildings that include a mosque as well were finished by 1053 AH/ 1643 CE, and decoration work continued until at least 1057 AH/ 1647 CE. In total, construction of the 42-acre (17-hectare) complex spanned 22 years.[26] In 1068 AH/ 1657 CE, approximately 10 years subsequent to the total completion of the Taj Mahal, Shah Jahan fell ill, precipitating a struggle for succession between his four sons. The victor, Aurangzeb, declared himself emperor in 1069 AH/ 1658 CE and strictly confined Shah Jahan in the fort at Agra until his death in 1077 AH/ 1666 CE. Following his death, Princess Jahanara Begum Sahib, Shah Jahan’s eldest daughter who nursed him most in his dotage, planned a state funeral to include a procession with her father’s body carried by eminent nobles followed by the notable citizens of Agra and officials scattering coins for the poor and needy. Aurangzeb, the new emperor and most conformist and austere of all, refused, washing his body in accordance with Islamic rites, taking his sandalwood coffin by river to the Taj Mahal and interred him next to the body of his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal.[27]

The Taj Mahal funerary complex is described in Encyclopedia Britannica Academic Edition as follows: “Resting in the middle of a wide plinth 23 feet (7 meters) high, the mausoleum proper is of whitemarblethat reflects hues according to the intensity of sunlight or moonlight. It has four nearly identical facades, each with a wide central arch rising to 108 feet (33 meters) and chamfered (slanted) corners incorporating smaller arches. The majestic centraldome, which reaches a height of 240 feet (73 meters) at the tip of itsfinial, is surrounded by four lesser domes. The acoustics inside the main dome cause the single note of a flute to reverberate five times. The interior of the mausoleum is organized around an octagonal marble chamber ornamented with low-relief carvings and semiprecious stones (pietra dura); therein are the cenotaphs of Mumtaz Maḥal and Shah Jahan. These false tombs are enclosed by a finely wroughtfiligreemarble screen. Beneath the tombs, at garden level, lie thetrue sarcophagi. Standing gracefully apart from the central building, at each of the four corners of the square plinth, are elegant minarets. Flanking the mausoleum near the northwestern and northeastern edges of the garden, respectively, are two symmetrically identical buildings — themosque, which faces east, and its jawab, which faces west and provides aesthetic balance. Built of red Sikrisandstonewith marble-necked domes andarchitraves, they contrast in both color and texture with the mausoleum’s white marble. The garden is set out along classical Mughal lines — a square quartered by long watercourses (pools) — with walking paths, fountains, and ornamental trees. Enclosed by the walls and structures of the complex, it provides a striking approach to the mausoleum, which can be seen reflected in the garden’s central pools. Two notable decorative features are repeated throughout the complex:pietra duraandArabic calligraphy. As embodied in the Mughal craft,pietra dura(Italian: ‘hard stone’) incorporates the inlay of semiprecious stones of various colors, includinglapis lazuli,jade,crystal,turquoise, and amethyst, in highly formalized and intertwining geometric and floral designs. The colors serve to moderate the dazzling expanse of the white Makrana marble. Under the direction of Amanat Khan al-Shirazi, Qurʾanic verses were inscribed across numerous sections of the Taj Mahal incalligraphy, central to Islamic artistic tradition. One of the inscriptions in the sandstone gateway is known as Daybreak (89:28–30) and invites the faithful to enter paradise. Calligraphy also encircles the soaring arched entrances to the mausoleum proper. To ensure a uniform appearance from the vantage point of the terrace, the lettering increases in size according to its relative height and distance from the viewer.”[28]

Following the enthronement of the new emperor, Aurangzeb, things in the state started to change dramatically. His policies in relation to religious toleration, which for the most part were different from those of his predecessors, remain a very controversial aspect of his reign. Nonetheless, he was recognized as a strong and effective ruler, and his reign lasted for 49 years, from 1069 AH/ 1658 CE to 1119 AH/ 1707 CE. With his death the great period of the Mughal Empire came to a close, and central control of the Indian sub-continent waned rapidly. He was pious and wanted to integrate more vigorously and more systematically the Qur’anic injunctions into all life spheres including the lives of the ruling elite. The art and architecture sectors were affected too. He is alleged to have placed a ban upon the fine arts as being contrary to the values and commandments of the Qur’an and Prophet Muhammad’s traditions, and dismissed from his court all but orthodox Muslim craftsmen. This resulted, as the allegation goes, in the rapid decline of aesthetic taste that set in with his accession.[29]

Towards the end of his life, Aurangzeb’s devoutness and orthodoxy increased even more. However, the signs of what was to come were on display from the very beginning. By 1078-1079 AH/ 1667-68 CE, only about ten years subsequent to his coronation, he memorized the entire Qur’an, an endeavor that took him seven years. That is to say, he embarked on that arduous noble mission in about the third year of his rule. He also by his own hand wrote out the Qur’an a number of times.[30] Additionally, Aurangzeb is said to have been fond of moderate Sufism. At the same time, he was against religious innovations (bid’ah) associated with various Sufi establishments. Although he did not like making pilgrimage to Sufi shrines, he nevertheless visited a Sufi’s shrine at Ajmer and even went to a living holy man or a saint.[31] He at one point issued a decree stating that visiting graves is contrary to the Islamic Shari’ah.[32] Likewise, he was interested in Sufi master Jalaluddin al-Rumi’s poetry which moved him to tears, yet he disliked Hafiz and had his Diwan (writings) banned due to frequent mention of wine. He showed sympathy with music, yet he discouraged it and fired the musicians at the court.[33]

Finally, when he died and as an expression of his deep devotion to his beliefs and principles, Aurangzeb was buried in a modest open-air sepulcher in the courtyard of the tomb of a Sufi sheikh and saint in the city of Khuldabad. That was exactly what he had willed. The simple sepulcher had been built by the emperor in his own lifetime. “The red stone platform over his grave, not exceeding three yards in length, two and half yards in breadth, and a few fingers in height, has a cavity in the middle. It has been filled with earth, in which fragrant herbs have been planted.”[34] However, it has been stated that, originally, the tomb consisted only of a wooden slab with a Persian inscription on it: “No marble sheets should shield me from the sky as I lie there one with the earth.”[35]






















 Akbar’s tomb in the Agra suburb of Sikandra

[1] Mughal Dynasty, Encyclopedia Britannica Academic Edition, (accessed March 18, 2013).

[2] Aurangzeb: A Political History, (accessed March 18, 2013). Muhammad Qamaruddin, A Politico-Cultural Study of the Great Mughals (1526-1707), (New Delhi: Adam Publishers & Distributors, 2004), p. 104-125. Sri Ram Sharma, The Religious Policy of the Mughal Emperors, (New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1988), p. 107-143.

[3] Aurangzeb: A Political History, (accessed March 18, 2013).

[4] Annemarie Schimmel, The Empire of the Great Mughals, Translated by Corinne Attwood, (Lahore: Sang-E-Meel Publications, 2005), see: “Foreword” by Francis Robinson, p. 7.

[5] Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi, Saviors of Islamic Spirit, translated into English by Muhiuddin Ahmad, (Lucknow: Academy of Islamic Research and Publications, 1977), vol. 3 p. 30.

[6] Michael Brand, Orthodoxy, Innovation and Revival: Considerations of the Past in Imperial Mughal Tomb Architecture, in “Muqarnas X: An Annual on Islamic Art and Architecture”, edited by Margaret B. Sevcenko, (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1993), p. 325.

[7] Ibid., p. 325-326.

[8] Humayun Tomb, (accessed March 18, 2013).

[9] Sri Ram Sharma, The Crescent in India, (New Delhi: Bharatiya Kala Prakashan,2003), vol. 1 p. 264, 269.

[10] The Baburnama, Memoirs of Babur, translated, edited and annotated by Wheeler M. Thackston, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), p. 359.

[11] Michael Brand, Orthodoxy, Innovation and Revival: Considerations of the Past in Imperial Mughal Tomb Architecture, in “Muqarnas X: An Annual on Islamic Art and Architecture”, p. 326. Glenn D. Lowry, Humayun’s Tomb: Form, Function and Meaning in Early Mughal Architecture, in “Muqarnas IV: An Annual on Islamic Art and Architecture”, edited by Oleg Grabar, (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1987), p. 133.

[12] Michael Brand, Orthodoxy, Innovation and Revival: Considerations of the Past in Imperial Mughal Tomb Architecture, in “Muqarnas X: An Annual on Islamic Art and Architecture”, p. 326. Neeru Misra & Tanay Misra, The Garden Tomb of Humayun, (New Delhi: Aryan Books International, 2003), p. 2-9.

[13] Glenn D. Lowry, Humayun’s Tomb: Form, Function and Meaning in Early Mughal Architecture, in “Muqarnas IV: An Annual on Islamic Art and Architecture”, p. 136.

[14] Humayun Tomb, (accessed March 19, 2013). See also: Yves Porter & Gerard Degeorge, The Glory of the Sultans, translated from the French by David Radzinowicz, (Paris: Flammarion, 2009), p. 205-206. Neeru Misra & Tanay Misra, The Garden Tomb of Humayun, p. 30-45.

[15] Annemarie Schimmel, The Empire of the Great Mughals, p. 263.

[16] Mughal Dynasty (India 1526-1707), Encyclopedia Britannica Academic Edition, (accessed March 20, 2013).

[17] Michael Brand, Orthodoxy, Innovation and Revival: Considerations of the Past in Imperial Mughal Tomb Architecture, in “Muqarnas X: An Annual on Islamic Art and Architecture”, p. 327.

[18] Abu al-Fazl, The Akbar-Nama, translated from the Persian by H. Beveridge, (New Delhi: Rare Books, 1973), vol. 3 p. 1262.

[19] Akbar’s Tomb, (accessed March 20, 2013).

[20] Michael Brand, Orthodoxy, Innovation and Revival: Considerations of the Past in Imperial Mughal Tomb Architecture, in “Muqarnas X: An Annual on Islamic Art and Architecture”, p. 323.

[21] Akbar’s Tomb, (accessed March 20, 2013).

[22] Sri Ram Sharma, The Crescent in India, vol. 2 p. 485-518.

[23] Michael Brand, Orthodoxy, Innovation and Revival: Considerations of the Past in Imperial Mughal Tomb Architecture, in “Muqarnas X: An Annual on Islamic Art and Architecture”, p.328-329.

[24] Jahangir’s Tomb (Asian Historical Architecture), (accessed March 20, 2013).

[25] Shah Jahan, Encyclopedia Britannica Academic Edition, (accessed March 20, 2013).

[26] Taj Mahal, Encyclopedia Britannica Academic Edition, (accessed March 20, 2013). Yves Porter & Gerard Degeorge, The Glory of the Sultans, p. 240-241.

[27] Shah Jahan, (accessed March 20, 2013). Sri Ram Sharma, The Religious Policy of the Mughal Emperors, p. 94-116. M.L. Bhatia, The Ulama, Islamic Ethics and Courts under the Mughals, (New Delhi: Manak Publications, 2006), p. 1-20.

[28] Taj Mahal, Encyclopedia Britannica Academic Edition, (accessed March 20, 2013).

[29] E. B. Havell, Indian Architecture, (New Delhi: S. Chand & Co, 1913), p. 37.

[30] Michael Brand, Orthodoxy, Innovation and Revival: Considerations of the Past in Imperial Mughal Tomb Architecture, in “Muqarnas X: An Annual on Islamic Art and Architecture”, p. 331.

[31] M.L. Bhatia, The Ulama, Islamic Ethics and Courts under the Mughals, p. 16.

[32] Michael Brand, Orthodoxy, Innovation and Revival: Considerations of the Past in Imperial Mughal Tomb Architecture, in “Muqarnas X: An Annual on Islamic Art and Architecture”, p. 331.

[33] M.L. Bhatia, The Ulama, Islamic Ethics and Courts under the Mughals, p. 16-17.

[34] Michael Brand, Orthodoxy, Innovation and Revival: Considerations of the Past in Imperial Mughal Tomb Architecture, in “Muqarnas X: An Annual on Islamic Art and Architecture”, p. 331. Ebba Koch, Mughal Architecture, (Munich: Prestel, 1991), p. 127.

[35] Khuldabad – Abode of Eternity, (accessed March 21, 2013).

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