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Mughal Architecture (An Outline of its History and Development 1526-1858)

Mughal Architecture (An Outline of its History and Development 1526-1858)
Item Code: NAM037
Author: Ebba Koch
Publisher: Primus Books, Delhi
Language: English
Edition: 2014
ISBN: 9789380607535
Pages: 184 (21 Color and 162 B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details: 9.5 inch x 7.0 inch
weight of the book: 722 gms
About the Book

First published in 1991, Mughal Architecture: An Outline of Its History and Development (1526-1858) is a comprehensive study of the whole range of Mughal architecture, including such famous building as the tomb of Humayun in Delhi, the Taj Mahal in Agra, and the palaces and mosques in Agra, Fatehpur Sikri, Delhi, Kashmir, and Lahore. A classic study of one of the most important building styles of world architecture, this volume provides a succinct analysis of building types, architectural elements, gardens, and cityscapes in their historical contexts, giving due consideration to their ideological and symbolic significance.

The author provides a richly illustrated survey of the history of Mughal architecture and the various traditions, Central Asian Timurid, Indian, Persian, and European, which were fused together to create a universal style, characterized by a clear rationality and aesthetic appeal. The numerous photographs and measured scale and drawings of many of the buildings that have never before been surveyed, are the result of the author’s pioneering fieldwork in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, as well as in Central Asia and Iran.


About the Author

Ebba Koch is professor of Art History at the University of Vienna and a senior researcher at the Austrian Academy of Sciences. She has been the architectural advisor to the Taj Mahal Conservation Collaborative since 2001. She has been Visiting Professor at Bogazici University, Istanbul (2012-13), Harvard University (2008-9), University of Oxford (2008) and the American University in Cairo (1998). Her particular interest is directed to the art and architecture of the Great Mughals and their artistic connections with Central Asia, Iran, and Europe. Her publications include Mughal Art and Imperial Ideology, and The Complete Taj Mahal which has become a standard reference work on the subject.



The volume here submitted to the public requires more than the usual measure of explanation and apology, in particular for treating such a vast subject in so brief a way. But, like my earlier book Shah Jahan and Orpheus, it was an entirely unplanned child.

In spring 1988 I was asked by Professor C.E. Bosworth, one of the editors of the second edition of the Encyclopaedia of Islam, to do the article on Mughal architecture. When I set to work I realized that what I had to do was practically to write a new outline of Mughal architecture. Recent research in the field, our better knowledge of Timurid architecture (which has now become more accessible through the publications of Golombek and Wilber and O’ Kane), and not least my own ten years of fieldwork in India, Iran and central Asia made me feel that I would not do justice to the subject by repeating once more the conventional opinions. In order to explain just the general trends, many gaps had to be closed at least superficially. That meant that the existing knowledge from the published sources had to be combined with new, unpublished material. This was particularly necessary as regards the ‘Timurid connection’ of Mughal architecture and the main trends in the funerary architecture of Jahangir’s reign and in the mosques of Shah Jahan. When I had finished writing it the text had become much longer than originally planned, and only a brief abstract of it was used for the encyclopaedia. After I had tried out the material in a lecture at New Delhi in autumn 1989, friends and colleagues persuaded me to publish it in the form of a book. Their argument was that a ready reference on Mughal architecture was greatly needed, the more so since there has not been any monograph devoted to this subject so far.

The text has been conceived to provide the reader interested in Mughal architecture with concise, up to date information about its stylistic development and types of building. I also hope that by the presentation of new material the book will broaden our picture of Mughal architecture, and that by fresh analysis it will stimulate further research and discussion. However, I would not claim that the work lives up to classical standard of constituting ‘one harmonious whole’. The formative phases of Mughal architecture are treated more fully than the later periods, where even the most basic research is still wanting. Often, preference is given to the tracing of stylistic developments over a rigid classification of building types; the index will compensate for that. Notes are kept to a minimum; they usually refer either to contemporary sources or to the most recent secondary literature. A bibliography for further reading is provided at the end of the book.

The transliteration of Persian and Arabic words follows the system of the Cambridge History of Islam, with a few exceptions. Thus, I have employed ‘ay’ for the diphthong ‘ai’ and the Arabic forms ‘th’ and ‘w’ for the Persian‘s’ and ‘v’. Diacritical marks have been confined to the transliteration of technical terms in the glossary and to the citation of contemporary sources in the bibliography. Place-names are rendered in their current form. Names of monuments between quotation marks are those of local tradition not supported by historical evidence. The use of Persian, Arabic and Sanskrit-derived architectural terms follows the practice of the Mughal sources; these terms are explained in the glossary. Every Muslim date of the Hijra era is followed by an oblique and the corresponding Christian date converted according to Freeman-Grenville.

My thanks go to Professor C.E. Bosworth for providing the impulse for me to draw together my ideas on Mughal architecture and for his encouraging first reaction to the result. I am particularly indebted to the Archaeological Survey of India for repeated permission granted over the years to survey the Muslim monuments of India. I profited greatly from stimulating discussions with Dr W.H. Siddiqi and Dr Z.A. Desai. With gratitude I also acknowledge the assistance I have had from the Department of Archaeology and Museums, Government of Pakistan, in particular from Dr Ahmad Nabi Khan, Dr M. Rafique Mughal and Masood ul-Hasan Khokhar. I also thank Dr Saifur Rahman Dar, director of the Lahore Museum. My scale drawings of the forts of Agra, Allahabad and Delhi could not have been made without the generous permission of the Indian Army; my special thanks go to General O.P. Malhotra, General Gauri Shankar and General P.N. Kathpalia. All photographs not specifically credited to others were taken by myself; all drawings, unless otherwise indicated, were prepared by the architect Richard A. Barraud from measurements taken by him and myself. I am glad to have the occasion to acknowledge here for the first but certainly not for the last time the professional interest, the great care and the goodwill he has devoted throughout the years to this aspect of my work. I also thank Glen Scaife for his help with the drawings. My findings are based in many instances on Mughal texts and still unpublished manuscripts, the translation of which I could not have carried out without the assistance of Dr S.M. Yunus Jaffery from Zakir Husain College (formerly Delhi College). I hope that he will be pleased to find in this book a photograph of the historic building in which he works and lives, and where he initiated me into the Persian language. I am indebted to three colleagues for kindly putting unpublished manuscripts at my disposal: Professor Iqtidar Alam Khan from Aligarh Muslim University (Mughal caravanserais and Mughal buildings of Bayana including a plan of Maryam al-Zamani’s ba’ oli), Professor Annemarie Schimmel (patronage of ‘Abd al-Rahim Khan-i Khanan) and Dr Catherine B. Asher (patronage of Raja Man Singh). Dr Asok Kumar Das, Yaduendra Sahai and Dr B.M. Jawalia were most helpful during my research in the Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II Museum in the City Palace of Jaipur. I am further indebted for encouragement, information, stimulating suggestions and help in more practical matters to many friends and colleagues, especially Jurgen Borchhardt, Ikram Chaghtai, Andrew Cook, Simon Digby, Albertine Gaur, Susan Gole, Narayani Gupta, Jerry Losty, George Michell (in particular for his advice in matters of fieldwork), Attilio Petruccioli (for giving me permission to publish one of his plans of Fatehpur Sikri), Brijender, Shashi and Pincha Singh (for hospitality and help in Delhi), Robert Skelton (for hospitality in London), Angela Volker and last but not least Mark Zebrowski for his initial encouragement in 1976 to take up the study of Mughal architecture. During a visit to Vienna in December 1988, Partha and Swasti Mitter read an early draft of the manuscript and made very helpful suggestions to improve its linguistic form.

In Austria I am indebted to the Fonds zur Forderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung, in particular to Dr Raoul F. Kneucker, for a grant which enabled me to carry out the present work. I also thank Dr Erhard Busek, Minister for Science and Research, for his kind interest and support.

And I am forever beholden to my husband Benno for his willingness at all times to share me with the Mughals.



The Architecture of southern Asia owes to the patronage of the Mughals one of its most creative and richest periods. Each of the Muslim dynasties that established themselves in the Indian subcontinent from the end of the twelfth century onwards created its own architectural style, but no other period of Indo-Islamic architecture before the Mughals has bequeathed to us such a wealth of outstanding secular and religious buildings.

But before we concentrate on purely architectural issues it will be helpful to provide the reader new to the subject with a little general information on the Mughals. Those already familiar with the Mughals will perhaps prefer to proceed to the second part of the introduction.

In Arabic and Persian, mughal means ‘the Mongol or ‘Mongolian’, because Babur, the founder of the Indian Mughal dynasty, was descended on his mother’s side from Chingiz Khan. More important for the self-understanding of the Mughals, however, was Babur’s paternal descent from Timur, the great Asian conqueror of the later fourteenth and early fifteenth century. With this Timurid-Mongolian heritage, the Mughals withstood Indianization, at least with regard to physiognomy and language, until about 1600. Up to this time family portraits still show Tartarian features, and Chaghatay Turki was spoken in the family. By and by, through dynastic marriages with Rajput princesses, the Mughals became more Indianized. Also, the family Turki gave way to Persian, which was already the official language of the court, of the administration and, of course, of poetry.

Babur’s impressive progress through life as general and emperor (padshah) was still marked by the Mongolian drive to conquer, in his case however softened by a truly humanistic approach towards life. He began his career as ruler of a small Timurid principality in the central Asian region of Ferghana. After his attempt to establish himself as ruler of Samarqand failed, Babur took another cue from his great ancestor Timur—who had invaled Delhi in 801/1398 –and turned his attention southwards to India. He occupied Kabul and from there, in the famous battle of Panipat (932/1526), defeated the Lodi sultan of Delhi, who then ruled over northern India. Initially, Babur was all but pleased with his new conquest: in his rightly famous memoirs, the Babur nama, he criticizes the heat, the dust, the mentality, the art, the architecture and the fruits of Hindustan. He died after only four years of rule in India, and was buried in Kabul.

Babur left to his son and successor Humayun (‘the August’) a territory still to be consolidated. The second Mughal almost lost again what had been conquered of Hindustan to his local rival, the Afghan chief of Bihar, Shir Shah Suri. After several devastating defeats, Humayun had to take refuge at the court of Shah Tahmasp I of Persia (r. 1524-76). With his help he reconquered northern India in 1555 but died soon after, in 1556, from a fall on the stairs of his library at Delhi. During Humayun’s absence the highly capable Shir Shah had laid the basis for the administration and organization of an imperial state, spadework from which the Mughals were to profit.

Akbar, the son of Humayun, was enthroned at the age of fourteen and ruled until 1605 (Plate I). Called rightly ‘the Great’ (akbar), he became the most important ruler of the Mughal dynasty. With the support of highly capable nobles, in particular his friend the liberal thinker and author Abu’l Fazl ‘Allami, Akbar expanded the empire over the greater part of India. He brought Malwa, the Rajput states, Gujarat, Bengal, Kashmir and Khandesh under Mughal rule and secured the north-west frontier by recapturing Kabul and Qandahar. The latter was however to remain a bone of contention between the Mughals and the Safawid rulers of Persia. Akbar provided India with modernized military, fiscal and commercial system and a well-functioning administration based on officials of a military aristocracy comprising Turks, Persians, Afghans and Indians both Muslims and Hindus. Nobility was not inherited but acquired through military rank (mansab); even the succession to the throne was not regulated by primogeniture. Generally the land in the hands of the nobility belonged to the crown, and reverted to it after the transfer or the death of the temporary landholders. This regulation had a certain dampening effect on non-imperial architectural patronage. Akbar strove for a reconciliation of his Muslim and Hindu subjects, in particular in the intellectual and religious spheres. He had outstanding works of Sanskrit literature translated into Persian and propagated an enlightened religiosity based on reason. His deep intellectual curiosity about religions in general also led him to invite Jesuit missionaries to the Mughal court. On the diplomatic level Akbar had contacts with the Safawids, Ozbegs (Uzbeks) and Ottomans, and even planned to send an envoy to the pope and to King Philip II of Spain.

The consolidation under Akbar provided the basis for the flourishing of the Mughal empire during the rule of Akbar’s son Jahangir and his grandson Shah Jahan (Plate I). Jahangir (‘the World-Seizer’, r. 1605-27) continued more or less on the lines of Akbar. In the last phase of his reign the real power was in the hands of his Persian wife Nur Jahan (‘Light of the World’) and her family—her father, Ghiyath Beg Tehrani (entitled I ‘timad al-Daula), who held as wazir and wakil the highest charges of the empire, and her brother Abu’l Hasan Asaf Khan. Asaf Khan’s daughter, Arjumand Banu Begam, was married to Jahangir’s son Prince Khurram, the later Sheh Jahan and, as Mumtaz Mahal (‘the Chosen One of the Palace’), became famous for the mausoleum he built for her.

Sheh Jahah (‘the World Ruler’, r. 1628-58) was only able to succeed to the throne through the ruthless machinations of Asaf Khan. For the first time other pretenders to the throne were eliminated through murder—the Mughals had lost the moral standards of their first hour. The most prominent victim of Shah Jahan’s ambition was his elder brother Khusrau. The deed was excused by Shah Jahan’s historian Kanbo as rightful means to secure the succession and the save the country from turmoil. The Mughal empire did indeed experience its phase of greatest prosperity and stability under the rule of Shah Jahan. His ambition to extend Mughal power further north to Balkh and Badakhshan, however, ended in failure. Shah Jahan’s later reign was already overshadowed by the first signs of decline. After an illness of the emperor, his son Aurangzib usurped power in 1658 and waged a savage war for the succession. The struggle culminated in the public execution under the pretext of heresy of his brother Dara Shukon (‘the Glory of Darius’),m the favourite son and designated successor of Shah Jahan, Shah Jahan was imprisoned for the rest of his life in the fort of Agra, his daughter Jahanara (‘World-Adornment’) keeping him company. Entitled Shah Begam, she had enjoyed the status of the first lady of the realm after the death of her mother, Mumtaz Mahal.

Aurangzib (‘Throne-Ornament’,r. 1658-1707) was, on the one hand, a capable general: he subjugated the Deccani sultanates in the south and thus brought about the greatest expansion of the Mughal empire. On the other hand, he was a strictly orthodox Muslim and broke with the liberal traditions of his predecessors. This stance, together with a loosening grip on the administration, was not conducive to conducive to reconciling the heterogeneous tendencies in the empire.

Under Aurangzib’s weak successors the Mughal empire soon became debilitated. During the whole of the eighteenth century northern India was at the mercy of indigenous and foreign powers. The English extended their sway form Bengal westwards until they occupied Delhi in 1803. The last two Mughal rulers, Akbar Shah II and Bahadur Shah II, were allowed to rule at least nominally until 1858, when the English took the Great Indian Mutiny as a pretext to depose and exile the last Mughal.

From Babur to Aurangzib the Mughal dynasty produced, in uninterrupted succession, six generations of world-ranking rulers. They combine political and military genius with scientific, artistic, even mystical qualifications of the highest order. The Mughals are not only founders of cities (Akbar, Jahangir, Shah Jahan), architects (Shah Jahan), recognized naturalists and horticulturalists (Jahangir), polo-players (Akbar, Jahangir) and excellent shots (including Jahangir’s wife Nur Jahan), but also authors of highly readable autobiographies (Babur, Jahangir), letters (Aurangzib) and poems (Babur); they are calligraphers, collectors of art, sponsors of painting and literature, astronomers (Humayun), religious innovators (Akbar) and authors of philosophical treatises and of mystic works (Dara Shukoh, Jahanara). Their objective and broad-minded disposition—at least up to Shah Jahan, who became more orthodox—also marks their attitude towards religion within the framework of Sunni Islam.

Their brilliant abilities qualified the Mughals particularly well to stand as absolute sovereigns at the head of a centralized state and to give some credence to their propagated ideal of kingship, which was shaped on Muslim caliphal, Koranic prophetic, ancient Iranian, Hindu, Sufi and even biblical eschatological models. The descendants of Timur—at least Akbar, Jahangir and Shah Jahan—saw themselves as representatives of God on earth who united both spiritual and political authority. They also prided themselves on being second Solomons or perfect replicas of the prophet—king of Koranic sanction. From Humayun to Shah Jahah, the Mughals surrounded themselves with the aura of the mythical and ancient historical kings of Iran and India, and claimed that their wise and just rule would bring to the world of humans and animals a golden age of peace. The Mughals tried earnestly to live up to this image, and architecture, art, poetry, historiography and court life all served to manifest the imperial ideal.

The dominant focus of culture was the court, whose activities were regulated by an etiquette which under Shah Jahan became increasingly more rigid. The court alternated between the metropolises of the empire, Agra, Lahore and Delhi. Delhi eventually became the permanent seat, after, Shah Jahan had built a new capital there in 1639—48. The favourite summer residence of the Mughals was at all times the valley of Kashmir.

All in all, the Mughals represent the Indian variant of absolutism, a concept of rulership that determined their patronage of architecture.

As a new dynasty which felt a strong need to assert its status and as an elitarian minority ruling over a vast territory of peoples of different creed and culture, the Mughals were highly aware of the potential of architecture as a means of self-representation. A ruler, according to Mughal political thinking, was best represented by his buildings, and kings should therefore erect great buildings as memorials to their fame. Akbar’s historian Qandahari writes: ‘A good name for kings is [achieved by means] of lofty buildings..... that is to say, the standard of the measure of men is assessed by the worth of [their] building and from their high-mindedness is estimated the state of their house.

And Shah Jahan’s (self-appointed) historian Kanbo legitimates his emperor’s passion for building as a necessity of good rule: ‘It is evident that an increase in such things [i.e. buildings and external show] creates esteem for the rulers in the eyes [of the people] and augments respect [for the rules] and [their own] dignify in the [people’s] hearts. In this way the execution of divine injunctions and prohibitions and the enforcement of divine decrees and laws which are the ultimate aim of rulership and kingship are carried out more effectively.

The logical corollary was to represent the emperor also as the cause of stylistic changes in Mughal architecture. At least up to Aurangzib’s reign, the official Mughal histories take care to convey the impression that the formative phases of Mughal architecture were determined not by individual architects but by the committed patronage and informed judgement of each emperor. In particular, the court historians of Jahangir and Shah Jahan represent the emperor’s taste as the main criterion by which the value of architecture was measured. Unlike Mughal painters, who often signed their works, architects (mi ‘maran) are only rarely mentioned. The men who supervised the actual construction are named more often, but the exact nature of their role in the building process is not defined and remains to be established. As elsewhere in the Islamic world, the building is in the first instance associated with its patron. The fact that architectural innovations usually appear first in buildings sponsored by the emperor (or his closest entourage) testifies to the crucial role the imperial patrons played in the evolution of this art. Since the architecture of each reign possesses such a distinct ‘physiognomy’, it is legitimate to designate it by the name of the ruling emperor. However, this periodization has no sharp dividing lines, and transition from one period to the next is smooth.

From the very beginning the emperor’s patronship was echoed by nobles of the court and by Mughal officials in the expanding empire, these had a definite share in shaping the image of ‘Mughal architecture, which thus had an ever broadening base in terms of buildings and patrons.

Mughal architecture created a supremely confident style by synthesizing the most heterogeneous elements: Transoxanian, Timurid, Indian, Persian and European. The supraregional character of Mughal architecture sets it apart from the earlier Islamic architecture of the Indian subcontinent and gives it a universal appeal. At the same time, Mughal architecture was not strictly dogmatic, and remained flexible towards regional conditions and building traditions.

Since the Mughals were direct heirs to the Timurids, the sustaining element of their architecture, especially during the initial phase, was Timurid (in the older literature often considered to be Persian). A fact that is not generally recognized is that essential ideas of Timurid architecture, such as the perfect symmetry of plan reflected consistently in the elevations, as well as complex vault patterns, came to fruition much more in Mughal architecture than is Safawid Iran, which was also heir to the same tradition.




Preface ix
Introduction to the Revised Edition 1
Introduction 9
Map of India 14
Babur (932-937/1526-1530) 31
Humayun (937-950/ 1530-1543, 962-963/ 1555-1556) 34
Akbar (963-1014/ 1556-1605) 42
Funerary and Secular Architecture and the Timurid Ninefold Plan (Hasht Bihisht) 42
Fortress-palaces 53
Mosques 63
Public and Utilitarian Buildings 66
Subimperial Patronage 68
Jahangir (1014-1037/1605-1627) 70
Tombs 70
Mosques 82
Palaces 84
Gardens 86
Public Works 90
Shah Jahan (1037-1068/1628-1658) 93
Tombs 97
Palaces 104
Fortress-palaces 107
Gardens 116
Mosques 118
Public Buildings 124
Aurangzib (1068-1118/ 1658-1707) and Later Mughal Architecture 126
Palaces and Gardens 126
Tombs 128
Mosques 130
Public Works 133
The Later Mughal Style 134
Conclusion 136
Glossary 139
Select Bibliography 145
Index 159


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