Contextualizing the Royal Funerary Architecture of the Mughals

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Spahic Omer
Kulliyyah of Architecture and Environmental Design
International Islamic University Malaysia
E-mail: spahico@yahoo.com
 

Jahangir lahor

                                   Jahangir’s tomb in Lahore, Pakistan.

 

When the Mughals arrived and began to assert themselves at the Muslim socio-political scene, the phenomenon of Muslim funerary architecture was more than a thousand years old. They thus inherited a legacy which was instigated and fomented by a variety of historical factors and through the contributions of a great many protagonists from a number of corners of the Muslim vast domain and from virtually all strata of its composite social configuration. It was extremely difficult for anybody to concoct and apply any completely novel ideas and genera, both at conceptual and physical planes. The most conceivable scenario for the Mughals, therefore, was to be ingenious followers and under some unprecedented religious and social circumstances and conditions to bring the ubiquitous funerary architectural trends to some higher level of particularly artistic and architectural refinement and exquisiteness, something like what happened — to a much lesser extent though — to the funerary architectural legacies of the Mughals’ contemporaries, the Osmanlis and Safavids.

 

Cleverly amalgamating all the existing factors and features with their Mongol, Timurid and somewhat Turkish pedigrees, as well as with their novel Indian sociopolitical, religious and economic contexts, was a predictable course of action for the Mughal rulers on account of the fact that their total cultural and civilizational programs from the outset embraced such a philosophy and ethos. The Mughals themselves and their imperial aspirations, in fact, represented an outcome of certain deeply rooted in history unconscious integrational processes. Integration or assimilation tendencies, therefore, were synonymous with the Mughal presence. It was in their blood. Hence, for example, it said for Babur, the founder of the Mughal empire, that he was a direct descendant of the Turkic conqueror Timurthrough his father, and a descendant also ofGenghis Khan through his mother. “Babur came from the Barlas tribe of Mongol origin, but isolated members of the tribe considered themselves Turks in language and customs through long residence in Turkish regions. Hence, Babur, though called a Mughal, drew most of his support from Turks, and the empire he founded was Turkish in character. His family had become members of theChagataiclan, by which name they are known. He was fifth in male succession fromTimurand 13th through the female line from Genghis Khan.”[1] Moreover, Babur and his son and successor, Humayun, were greatly influenced by the Persian culture too, giving rise to a significant expansion of the Persian ethos in the Indian subcontinent. The Persians were instrumental in Humayun’s re-conquering of the Mughal once-lost Indian empire. Consequently, Persian art, architecture, language and literature ever since began to feature prominently in Mughal court culture. Persian was the dominant and rather official language of the empire. It was the language of literature and culture, and it was used for all important documentation.[2] As a whole, Mughal culture and civilization signified an amalgam of pure Islamic, Persian, Turkish, Mongol and Indian influences. An excellent illustration of this is the workforce of the Taj Mahal which included persons from the Ottoman empire, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Bukhara, Afghanistan, Multan and Lahore in Punjab and, of course, India. Many of the non-Indian members played some vital architectural and engineering roles in the execution of the project. Shah Jahan is said to have called together a council of all the best master-builders and craftsmen to be found in India and in Central and Western Asia. There were specialists in every branch of building and decorative craft from those regions.[3]

A precursor to the Indian region’s integrational predilection which the Mughals later both inherited and were able to intensify, has been presented by Ibn Battuta (d. 771 AH/ 1369 CE), who in the 8th AH / 14th CE century from Morocco traversed the Muslim lands. When he in 734 AH/ 1333 CE visited the city of Multan in Sind at the entrance to the Indian sub-continent, Ibn Battuta observed that the Tughlaq ruler of the region, Sultan Muhammad Shah (d. 752 AH/ 1351 CE), had issued orders that no foreigner should be allowed to enter Indian territory unless he came with the express purpose of staying in India. Ibn Battuta honored the proviso. He told his host that he had come with the object of staying. He then was made to write a bond in his name and in the name of those of his companions who desired to stay. Ibn Battuta wrote about Sultan Muhammad Shah: “The king of India, Sultan Muhammad Shah, makes a practice of honoring strangers and distinguishing them by governorships or high dignities of state. The majority of his courtiers, palace officials, ministers of state, judges and relatives by marriage are foreigners, and he has issued a decree that foreigners are to be given in his country the title of ‘Aziz (honorable).”[4] Ibn Battuta himself ended up being appointed as qadi or judge of the Malikite rite (one of the four mainstream schools of Islamic jurisprudence) at Delhi. That took place after the vizier and the governor of Sind had asked Ibn Battuta and his companions if some of them were capable of undertaking the function of vizier, or secretary, or commander, or judge, or professor, or sheikh, so that they could be appointed to those posts.[5]

Following the demise of the Tughlaq dynasty in 817 AH/ 1414 CE, and following a period of chaos that ensued subsequent to the successive invasion of Timurand his sack of Delhi in 801 AH/ 1398 CE, India was briefly ruled by the weak Sayyid dynasty (817-855 AH/ 1414-1451 CE) the first of whose rulers, Khizr Khan (d. 825 AH/ 1421 CE), considered himself a mere Timurid governor.[6] The Sayyids were displaced by the Lodi dynasty (855-933 AH/ 1451-1526 CE) whose members belonged to an Afghan tribe. The last of the Lodi sovereigns was Sultan Ibrahim Khan Lodi (d. 933 AH/ 1526 CE) who was defeated by Babur in 933/ 1526 CE at the Battle of Panipat. That defeat marked the end of the Lodi dynasty and the beginning of the Mughal empire in India. This also spelled, in certain ways, the reinstatement of the authority of Timur and Timurids in the sub-continent. Indeed, Babur believed himself the rightful heir to the throne of Timur, and it was Timur who had originally left Khizr Khanin charge of his vassal in the Punjab, who became the leader, or Sultan, of the Delhi Sultanate, founding the Sayyid dynasty.The Sayyid dynasty, however, had been ousted by the Lodis and Babur wanted it returned to the Timurids.[7]

On top of all this, during the Mongol invasion in the 7th AH/ 13th CE century, many natives of both neighboring and far-flung Muslim territories fled to India for safety and in search of a better future, carrying along and spreading rapidly ideas, beliefs, skills, talents, ambitions and dreams. Some petty pre-Mughal dynasties were established on the Indian soil as a consequence. Truly, the Indian sub-continent was fast becoming a melting pot of cultures, ethnic groups, traditions, values and ideas.

It stands to reason that if a proclivity for integration and amalgamation were in the Mughals’ blood, then the Indian subcontinent since the advent of Islam and Muslims was fomenting its capacity to become a locus of a unique and hitherto unparalleled cultural and civilizational syncretism. The two, the Mughals and the Indian sub-continent, were meant for each other, so to speak. Hence, the Indian syncretism disposition and capacity were exploited to the fullest by the predisposed and, at the same time, willing Mughals. Perhaps, this self-appointed telepathist propinquity between the Mughals and Indian lands prompted emperor Babur to affirm following his routing of the Lodis and the conquest of India that from the time of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) till that very moment, there had been only three sovereigns (padishahs) who had gained dominion over and ruled the realm of India (Hindustan). The third and greatest of them all was nobody else but Babur himself, who against all odds prevailed over much stronger enemy. According to Babur, the key to victory was his and his army’s trust in God. The victory, accordingly, was a gift from God. It appeared as though preordained. It was God who defeated the enemy, not Babur and his army. Babur thus wrote in his “Babur-Nama”: “In recognition of our trust, God did not let our pains and difficulties go for naught and defeated such a powerful opponent and conquered a vast kingdom like Hindustan. We do not consider this good fortune to have emanated from our own strength and force but from God’s pure loving-kindness; we do not think that this felicity is from our own endeavor but from God’s generosity and favor.”[8]

This intrinsic Mughal penchant for eclecticism and syncretism was cultivated to some extreme degrees even in the arena of most sensitive religious dogmas by emperor Akbar, some of whose views eventually bordered on sheer sacrilege and apostasy. As a result, he formulated an elite eclectic religious movement, Din-i-Ilahi (Persian: “Divine Faith”). Din-i-Ilahi was essentially an ethical system. There were no sacred scriptures or a priestly hierarchy in it. Akbar thus intended to merge the best elements of the religions of his empire, and thereby reconcile the differences that divided his subjects. The elements were primarily drawn from Hinduism and Islam, but some others were also taken from Christianity, Jainism and Zoroastrianism.[9] In practice, however, the Din-i-iIlahi functioned as a personality cult contrived by Akbar around his own person. Members of the new religious movement were handpicked by Akbar according to their devotion to him. The movement was generally regarded by his contemporaries as a Muslim innovation or a heretical doctrine. The influence and appeal of the Din-i-iIlahi were limited and did not survive Akbar, but they did trigger a strong orthodox reaction in Indian Islam.[10]

Furthermore, Mughal India was a reasonably fertile ground for rearing almost all the causes which were most responsible for engendering and sustaining Muslim funerary architecture throughout history. That certainly made creating and utilizing funerary architecture a widespread and popular attraction both to ordinary people and the rulers in India. Huge sections of population had major stakes in the custom. Among those causes, the spread of Sufism and its culture of building tombs for Sufi sheikhs and other saintly figures, so as to facilitate visitation and pilgrimage, were pervasive. Already by the 8th AH/ 14th CE century most of the towns in North India had their own saints owing to continuous popularization of the cult of saints. Those cities abounded with numerous Sufi mentors’ and other holy men’s tombs which were powerful places of pilgrimage and objects of popular devotion.[11] Countless unhealthy spiritual practices were thither conducted. People believed that barakah, divine bliss, did not just abide in a saint; it could travel from him to ordinary people. “Barakah, did not disappear after a saint’s death, but in a reinforced form continued to emanate from his tomb, from things belonging to him and even from his name.”[12] The purpose of visitations and pilgrimages — which often entailed ritual circumambulation of a shrine, touching its threshold, lattice or fence, sweeping its floor with a special brush, recitation from the Qur’an, adornment of the shrine with flowers and colored shreds, and distribution of alms[13] — was, in the main, “utilitarian and temporal: getting cured of a disease, getting rid of bewitchment by the evil eye, giving birth to a son, marrying off a daughter, winning a protracted lawsuit, or mending one’s financial position, for example.”[14] Those deluding religious innovations and lapses and their scale did not escape the attention of several European travelers in India under the Mughals. One of them, Edward Terry, remarked that the Muslims went on pilgrimage to the graves of their saints as often as they could.[15] Due to the cultural and to some extent in certain ritualistic matters even religious syncretism and amalgamation in India, connection in those funerary rites and ceremonies with the pagan beliefs of popular Hinduism of the lower strata was perceptible, especially the practices of offering fruits, sweets and rice, part of which after prayers and invocations was returned to the faithful in the form of consecrated food and was distributed among the pilgrims (a version of Indian prasad).[16] Sometimes such a distribution had quite an extravagant form. Scores of other beliefs and practices of popular Hinduism managed to make a way into and have an effect on Indian Muslim popular funerary rituals and culture, in general, and on the Indian Muslim cults of saints, in particular.

Such was the scope and impact of funerary Sufi and saintly culture in India that the incoming Mughal royalty could not arrive and remain immune to the contagion. They were greeted by a dazzling array of different mystical paths and ideologies quite a few aspects of which were hybrids with elements chiefly from Hinduism.[17] The Mughals’ reaction, by and large, was one of recognition, adaptation and acceptance. Hence, no sooner had Babur entered as a victor the city of Delhi, than he circumambulated the tomb of Sheikh Nizam Awilya (d. 726 AH/ 1325 CE), a famous Sufi saint from the Chishti order. The next day, he also circumambulated the tomb of Khwaja Qutbuddin (d. 633 AH/ 1235 CE), likewise a renowned Sufi saint and scholar from the Chishti order, and toured the graves of some former well-known Delhi rulers of Turko-Afghan and Central Asian Turkic origins.[18] Those Babur’s actions were not surprising though, because his family had a long standing connection with Sufism, especially with Naqshbandi order, “going back to Baha’uddin Naqshband, who died in Bukhara in 792 AH/ 1389 CE. His most important successor, Khwaja Ahrar (d. 896 AH/ 1490 CE), was one of the most powerful men in Central Asia at the time, and Babur’s father was a follower of his. Members of his family came with him to India and some of them married into the Mughal family. Babur had Khwaja Ahrar’s Risala-yi-walidiyya translated into Turkish, convinced that this pious work would bring a cure for his illness.”[19]

Babur’s son Humayun was also a great venerator of holy and saintly men. He is reported to have visited the mausoleums and shrines of many of them in Afghanistan, India and Iran while in exile. Humayun is also said to have donated alms to the Sufis in Kandahar. A prominent saintly figure was related to one of his wives. One of his mother’s ancestral relatives included another holy man from Persia. A Sufi notable was killed by Humayun’s brother Hindal, who, among other reasons, feared the former’s great influence over Humayun.[20]

Akbar, too, was a passionate supporter and venerator of the Sufis and their saints.[21] He was in the habit of paying regular visits to the graves of popular holy figures. He and all of his descendents loved the Sufi poetry of Jalaluddin al-Rumi (d. 672 AH/ 1273 CE). Rumi’s mystical poetry had been known in India since the early 8th AH/ 14th CE century, and by the end of the 9th AH / 15th CE century — it has been contended — it also became popular with the Brahmins of Bengal.[22] However, Akbar was most strongly drawn to the Chishti order. He visited the shrine of Mu’inuddin Chishti (d. 628 AH/ 1230 CE) in Ajmer for the first time in 972 AH/ 1564 CE, and then made annual visits from 978 AH/ 1570 CE to 987 AH/ 1579 CE. The arrival of the emperor in Ajmer was always the occasion for great festivities.[23] An European traveler, Francisco Pelsaert, wrote that Akbar once from Agra went barefooted to Mu’inuddin Chishti’s “sumptuous” tomb in Ajmer. He did so with his wife Mariam uz-Zamani.[24] Francisco Pelsaert also stated that mostly those who had no children travelled to Ajmer barefooted.[25] Needless to say that at first, Akbar was desperately seeking a male heir to his throne. He frequented the shrines of some famous saints, as well as the residences of the living ones who were reputed to be able to perform miracles, hoping that the blessing or barakah exuded either by their tombs or their living selves would help. One of the latter ones was Salim Chishti (d. 980 AH/ 1572 CE), a Sufi saint of the Chishti order, who blessed Akbar, and soon the first of three sons was born to him. He named his first son Salim (later emperor Jahangir) in honor of Chishti.[26] Thus, it stands to reason that some of the early pilgrimages of Akbar to Mu’inuddin Chishti’s shrine in Ajmer were likewise for the purpose of supplicating for a male offspring. In the “Akbar-Nama”, it has been recounted that in 984 AH/ 1576 CE, Akbar in accordance with prescribed customs performed the last stage of his annual pilgrimage to the famous shrine in Ajmer on foot, “and making external things a means of increase to internal light, he came as the flower-gatherer of the garden of truth. He divided a large sum of money among those who sat at the threshold of the shrine, and fixed splendid salaries for the expectants.”[27] As a result of those manners, Akbar was frequently reproached by pious and orthodox Muslims for his leanings towards the Sufis, at least towards their more unorthodox aspects. The most prominent of Akbar’s critics was Ahmad Sirhindi (d. 1034 AH/ 1624 CE).[28]

Emperors Jahangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb to varied degrees followed in the footsteps of their predecessors.[29] What is certain, therefore, is that Sufism permeated Indian Islam to a great extent, and right up to the end of the Mughal period some holy Sufi festivals were celebrated in Delhi.[30]

Another powerful factor that contributed to the emergence and institutionalization of the phenomenon of funerary architecture in Islamic civilization was the Shi’ah factor. Since the commencement of the Mughal empire, the Shi’ah and Shi’ism made their presence felt in India as well. That was due to several factors the most significant ones of which were constant migration, the Safavid Shah Isma’il’s establishment of Shi’ism as the state religion in Iran, and emperor Humayun’s exile in Iran when he is alleged to have adopted Shi’ism — at least superficially — in order to please his Safavid Shi’ah counterpart, Shah Tahmasp (d. 984 AH/1576 CE). During his stay in Iran, the fugitive emperor Humayun is said to have visited the most important Shi’ah mausoleums and shrines; as did his wife, Haji Begum. The Persian poets and artists who thereafter streamed into India played a major role in the dissemination of Shi’ah ideas in the Mughal empire.[31] Two of Akbar’s childhood tutors were Irani Shi’ahs. Akbar’s appointment of Nurullah Shustari (d. 1019 AH/1610 CE), an eminent Shi’ah jurist and scholar of his time who moved from Mashhad in Iran to India, as the chief qadi or judge of the Mughal state[32] connoted the pinnacle of the spread and progress of Shi’ism in Mughal India. Before that, Akbar appointed him as his emissary in Kashmir. He also was instrumental in pacifying a revolt which was in offing, and he obtained the first census of the areas of Mughal empireduring Akbar’s reign. All this earned Nurullah Shustari great respect and trust of the Mughal royal family.[33] As part of emperor Humayun’s funerary complex, which was built by his son emperor Akbar with possible involvement of Haji Begum, Humayun’s wife, there was a walled enclosure which housed the Persian craftsmen who had come from Safavid Iran to India for the building of Humayun’s tomb. Humayun’s tomb is thus regarded as the earliest example of Persian/Iranian influence in Indian architecture. Finally, on one of the secondary graves inside the tomb of Akbar there is an explicit reference, in addition to Allah and Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), to Ali b. Abi Talib, his wife and the Prophet’s daughter Fatimah, and their sons Hasan and Husayn, which is an unmistaken indication of one’s, at least, predilection and sympathies towards Shi’sim and the Shi’ah ideology.

Another personality and his social impact worth mentioning at this juncture is Mirza Ghiyas Beg (d. 1032 AH/ 1622 CE). He, too, hailed from Iran and in his capacity as a very important governmental official served both Akbar and his son Jahangir. He was father of Nur Jahan, the wife of Jahangir, and grandfather of Mumtaz Mahal, the wife of Shah Jahan and the one buried in the Taj Mahal. Mirza Ghiyas Beg held an honorable title of I’timad al-Dawlah (the pillar of the state). When he and then his wife died, their daughter, Nur Jahan, built a tomb for them in Agra. The tomb is a splendid piece of architecture. As previously mentioned, it was among the first Mughal buildings in white marble. With its enclosure and plinth built of red sandstone, and the tomb proper of white marble, the mausoleum marked what some researchers regard as a transition from red sandstone to white marble in the funerary architecture of the Mughals. In addition, set in a fine charbagh garden and surrounded by enclosing walls which in their middle sections have ornamental gateways with permanent iwans, the tomb-garden of I’timad al-Dawlah also displayed more than a few Iranian influences. The tomb is often described as “jewel box” or “baby Taj”. Some even regard it as an architectural predecessor of the Taj Mahal.

On the whole, Persians, Uzbeks and Tartars in India followed the Shi’ah path, whereas Turks, Arabs and Indians were mostly Sunnis. There was a great difference of opinion between the two poles, each calling the other kafirs or nonbelievers.[34] Undoubtedly, the fact that Shi’ism gained a considerable foothold in Mughal India prompted one of the region’s most influential Sunni scholars, Ahmad Sirhindi, to compose Epistle on the Refutation of the Shi’ah.[35]

Many European travelers who visited India under the Mughals observed that Nowruz, Persian New Year festival, was observed almost on a regular basis. About the festival in 990 AH/ 1582 CE, during emperor Akbar’s era, a traveler, Monserette, wrote that it was a nine day festival. “To mark the occasion, walls and cannonades of the palace were decorated with hangings of gold and silk. Games were held and pageants were conducted every day. Akbar himself sat on the golden throne, and wore his crown and the insignia of royalty. He also distributed gifts to his generals. Instructions were issued that all citizens should enjoy the festival by singing and dancing. He welcomed all who came to see the festival.”[36]

The remembrance of Muharram was observed regularly too, according to the same European travelers. It was an extremely important occasion for mourning in Shi’ism which takes place on the 10th day of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar. The event marks the anniversary of the Battle of Karbalawhen Imam Husayn b. Ali b. Abi Talib (d. 61 AH/ 680 CE) was killed. On that occasion, the Shi’ah of India made great noise all night for the period of ten days of the month of Muharram. They displayed their mourning in the chief streets of the city, where they made “coffins” which they adorned as richly as they could. They carried them in the evenings with many lights and large crowds. At the same time they cried and mourned. The chief celebration was held on the last night. They also went to the graves of their parents and friends. They whitewashed and decorated their houses for the occasion. They brought thither flowers and gave food to the poor. On the 10th day of Muharram, men held themselves away from their wives and fasted the whole day. Women sang lamentations.[37]

All this clearly shows that the overall religious state of affairs in Mughal India was at once volatile and deteriorating, which represented the most fertile ground for the proliferation of funerary architecture and all the sacraments and customs associated with it. Different emperors with different degrees of culpability were to be taken to task for the situation. Among them, Akbar was one of the biggest culprits, according to Ahmad Sirhindi,[38] a scholar who dedicated his entire life to rejuvenating Islam and opposing the heterodoxies which were rampant in the Mughal state. He never stopped lamenting the decline of Islam during Akbar’s period. So frustrated was he with the emperor that he rejoiced at the accession of his son Jahangir. Ahmad Sirhindi bemoaned the ascendancy of infidelity during Akbar’s days in office, and demanded that Jahangir be prevailed upon by his ministers to forbid the heretical customs that had been established at the court. However, he laid much of the blame at the door of the wicked worldly scholars (‘ulama) and demanded that the intrinsic and rightly-guided scholars of the Hereafter assist the new emperor in purifying and strengthening Islam. But his elation and enthusiasm were short-lived. It is true that Ahmad Sirhindi expressed satisfaction at the accession of Jahangir, but he was later disappointed with the new emperor. His description of the state of Islam during the reign of Jahangir was as gloomy as his descriptions of the period of Akbar.[39]

The similarly powerful message, albeit in more general terms which rarely targeted any specific persons or parties, was delivered by Shah Waliullah Dehlawi (d. 1176 AH/ 1762 CE) in his illustrious writings. Shah Waliullah Dehlawi was born four years before the death of emperor Aurangzeb, thus inheriting the legacy of waning Muslim power, intellectualism and spirituality in Indian sub-continent. Consequently, he strove, both on conceptual and physical planes, for the revival of Islamic rule, intellectual learning and spiritual purity and zeal. Some of his major concerns thus revolved around the subjects of good governance, the relationship between the rulers and people, the conduct of the rulers, justice, epistemology, religious fervor and the rule of the Islamic Shari’ah laws.[40] Due to his keen political insight, Shah Waliullah Dehlawi could not fail to discern that Muslim rule in India was dramatically deteriorating as a result of relentless political rivalries from inside as well as from outside the ambit of the Mughal governmental structure. Owing to their enormous capacities to hold back Muslim cultural and civilizational progress, religious misguidance and deviations as well as political disunity and incompetence, it seems, occupied most prominent places in Shah Waliullah Dehlawi’s list of priorities to be dealt with. They preoccupied much of his taught. It seems, furthermore, that in Mughal India the two components were related to each other through a causal relationship whereby, regardless of which one was the cause and which one the effect, religious misguidance and deviations and political disunity and incompetence were bound to rise and fall together. Indeed, neither of the two could operate and subsist alone in total isolation from the other. They bred on each other. Hence, the intricacies of the world of Mughal politics were always able to mirror, so to speak, the complexities and attrition of  the world of religion and intellectual learning, and vice versa.

So, in light of the above discussion we can safely assert that the Indian sub-continent prior to and after the arrival of the Mughals was a home of architecturally glorifying the dead, especially those persons whose characters and life spiritual and intellectual bequests were swathed in a halo of sanctity, partly or completely. Such an assertion could be further corroborated by Portuguese Father Antonio Monserrate (d. 1009 AH/ 1600 CE) who in 987 AH/ 1579 CE at the behest of emperor Akbar visited India. Visibly stricken by sheer numbers, sizes and architectural class of Muslim funerary structures, he recorded: “Probably it will appear to many an incredible traveler’s tale when I declare that outside the walls of the city (of Fatehpur near Agra) is a graveyard six miles long. This may sound an exaggeration; but no one who knows with what magnificence and costliness the Muslims are wont to build tombs will wonder at it. For, believing as they do that those whose life here is ended can only be admitted amongst the saints of Heaven through the name of Muhammad, they therefore honor their dead with elaborately built tombs, which, as they esteem, are worthy of those who are now holy saints in Heaven.”[41]

Although royal funerary architecture in India before the Mughals’ arrival at the scene was reasonably well-represented, it was not as ubiquitous and splendid as one would expect. Royal funerary architectural heritage in India, naturally, was an upshot of what was transpiring in many regions of the Muslim world for quite a few centuries. The region and its foremost protagonists still considerably “lagged behind” their Arab, Persian and Turkish counterparts. That was the case due to a couple of reasons. Firstly, many conquered Indian territories were regarded as satellite territories, so to speak, due to their geographical and even cultural remoteness from the more established centers of Muslim power, affecting thereby the territory’s overall progress and its reconciliatory as well as integrational undertakings. Secondly, recurring political fluctuations and volatilities played a noteworthy role too. Accordingly, from the end of the 6th AH/ 12th CE century onwards, when the Muslims began to establish a foothold deeper inside the Indian territories, with Delhi and its environs as the seat of government, the reins of power were rapidly changing hands. Such was a period of political upheavals, wars of succession and petty dynasties none of which lasted a century. The longest-serving dynasties were that of the Mamluks of Delhi which ruled from 603 AH/ 1206 CE to 689 AH/ 1290 CE, and that of the Tughlaqs which ruled from 720 AH/ 1320 CE to 816 AH/ 1413 CE. The shortest serving dynasties, on the other hand, were that of the Khaljis which ruled only from 689 AH/ 1290 CE to 720 AH/ 1320 CE, and that of the Sayyids which ruled only from 817 AH/ 1414 CE to 855 AH/ 1451 CE. Without a doubt, it goes without saying that incessant political turbulences, uncertainties and regime changes, which preceded the advent of the Mughals and their government, never constituted conducive environments for the proliferation and wide-ranging acceptance of royal funerary architecture. There was very little feasibility for its firm institution and smooth operation under the circumstances. That partly explains why not only funerary architecture, but also, to some extent, Islamic architecture in general in pre-Mughal India, was not as strongly represented as one would expect.

Although the province of Sind was captured by the Muslims as early as 94 AH/ 712 CE, the earliest examples of Islamic architecture to survive in the sub-continent date from the closing years of the 6th AH/ 12th CE century. They are located mainly inDelhi and its environs, the main seat of Muslim power throughout the centuries. The earliest Muslim tomb to survive is the sultan Ghari tomb, built in 629 AH/ 1231 CE for prince Nasiruddin Mahmud, the youngest son of Iltutmish who was the third ruler of the Mamluk dynasty of Delhi. However, one of the finest representatives of pre-Mughal royal funerary architecture is the tomb of Iltutmish himself, who ruled from 608 AH/ 1211 CE to 634 AH/ 1236 CE.[42] There are quite a few other fine examples of royal tombs and mausoleums dedicated to the members of different ruling dynasties which preceded the Mughal dynasty, such as the tomb of Ala’uddin Khilji (d. 716 AH/ 1316 CE) the second ruler of the Khalji dynasty, the tomb of Ghiyathuddin Tughlaq (d. 726 AH/1325 CE) the founder and first ruler of the Tughlaq dynasty, the tomb of Muhammad Shah (d. 849 AH/ 1445 CE) the second last of the Sayyid dynasty rulers, the tomb of Sikandar Lodi (d. 923 AH/ 1517 CE) the second last of the Lodi dynasty rulers who were toppled by the Mughals.

Humayun New delhi

Humayun’s tomb in New Delhi, India.

ltimad dawah

The tomb of I’timad al-Dawlah in Agra, India.



[1] Babur, Encyclopedia Britannica Academic Edition, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/47524/Babur (accessed March 24, 2013).

[2] Annemarie Schimmel, The Empire of the Great Mughals, p. 74.

[3] E. B. Havell, Indian Architecture, p. 31-34.

[4] Ibn Battuta, Travels in Asia and Africa, translated and selected by H. A. R. Gibb, (London: Darf Publishers LTD, 1983), p. 184.

[5] Ibid., p. 207.

[6] Bianca Maria Alfieri, Islamic Architecture of the Indian Subcontinent, (London: Laurence King, 2000), p. 51.

[7] Aditya Gupta, Babur and Humayun: Modern Learning Organization, (Raleigh: Lulu Inc., 2008), p. 37.

[8] The Baburnama, Memoirs of Babur, p. 329-330.

[9] Frederic P. Miller, Din-i-Ilahi, http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Din-i-Ilahi-NEW-Frederic-P-Miller-/180958719057(accessed March 24, 2013). Khaliq Ahmad Nizami, Akbar & Religion, (New Delhi: Idarah-i-Adabiyat-i-Delli, 1989), p. 146-159.

[10] Din-i Ilahi, Encyclopedia Britannica Academic Edition, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/163768/Din-i-Ilahi (accessed March 24, 2013).

[11] Anna Suvorova, Muslim Saints of South India, (London: Routledge Curzon, 2004), p. 1-11. Visions of Mughal India, an Anthology of European Travel Writing, edited by Michael H. Fisher, (London: I.B. Tauris, 2007,) p. 43.

[12] Anna Suvorova, Muslim Saints of South India,p. 11.

[13] Ibid., p. 21. M.L. Bhatia, The Ulama, Islamic Ethics and Courts under the Mughals, 16.

[14] Anna Suvorova, Muslim Saints of South India,p. 21.

[15] Mohammad Azhar Ansari, European Travelers under the Mughals, (Delhi: Idarah-i-Adabiyat-i-Delli, 2009), p. 96, 133.

[16] Anna Suvorova, Muslim Saints of South India,p. 22. M.L. Bhatia, The Ulama, Islamic Ethics and Courts under the Mughals, p. 16.

[17] Annemarie Schimmel, The Empire of the Great Mughals, p. 129-130.

[18] The Baburnama, Memoirs of Babur, p. 327.

[19] Annemarie Schimmel, The Empire of the Great Mughals, p. 130.

[20] Ibid., p. 131. Khaliq Ahmad Nizami, Akbar & Religion, p. 15.

[21] Khaliq Ahmad Nizami, Akbar & Religion, p. 111.

[22] Annemarie Schimmel, The Empire of the Great Mughals, p. 131.

[23] Ibid., p. 131.

[24] Mohammad Azhar Ansari, European Travelers under the Mughals, p. 133.

[25] Ibid., p. 133.

[26] Abu al-Fazl, The Akbar-Nama, vol. 2. p. 502-508.

[27] Ibid., vol. 3 p. 233.

[28] Annemarie Schimmel, The Empire of the Great Mughals, p. 132. Yohanan Friedmann, Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindi, (London: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1971), p. 80. Abu al-Hasan al-Nadwi, Al-Imam al-Sirhindi Hayatuhu wa A’maluhu, (Kuwait: Dar al-Qalam, 1994), p. 66-82.

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

[30] Annemarie Schimmel, The Empire of the Great Mughals, p. 137.

[31] Ibid., p. 127.

[32] Ibid., p. 127.

[33] Qazi Nurullah Shustari, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qazi_Nurullah_Shustari (accessed March 24, 2013).

[34] Mohammad Azhar Ansari, European Travelers under the Mughals, p. 132.

[35] Yohanan Friedmann, Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindi, p. 69.

[36] Mohammad Azhar Ansari, European Travelers under the Mughals,p. 9.

[37] Ibid., p. 135.

[38] Yohanan Friedmann, Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindi, p. 80. Abu al-Hasan al-Nadwi, Al-Imam al-Sirhindi Hayatuhu wa A’maluhu, p. 66-82.

[39] Yohanan Friedmann, Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindi, p. 80-82.

[40] Shah Waliullah Dehlawi, The Conclusive Argument from God, translated into English by Marcia K. Hermansen, (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1996), p. 129-144, 334-352.

[41] Visions of Mughal India, an Anthology of European Travel Writing, edited by Michael H. Fisher, p. 43.

[42] South Asian Arts, Encyclopedia Britannica Academic Edition, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/556016/South-Asian-arts (accessed March 28, 2013).

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