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Wednesday, 5 October 2011

The Mughal Empire - Art and Architecture

Art and Architecture flourished under the Mughals. The uncertainty of the Sultanate period was over, and the new ideas from that period had been successfully absorbed. Now under the patronage of the powerful Mughal emperors, great works in art and architecture began in all parts of the empire.
Painting made some significant advances during the Mughal period. Painting was a popular expression of art during the Mughal period, and in fact a Mughal school of painting developed during the time, since the Mughal period had a distinctive style. The finest painting of the Mughal period are the Padshanamth and the Khandan-i-Timura. The Mughal paintings often covered scenes from the court and help our understanding of how the court functioned. These paintings also provide us with information on what the emperors and their nobles looked like. Many famous artists came and took up residence in the court of Akbar, during whose time Mughal art reached its peak. A large number of artists were Hindus, which is an example of Akbar's cosmopolitan approach to the empire. The painters amongst that time excelled in portraits, painting of animals, book covers and illustrations as well as the art of miniature paintings amongst many others. Akbar was extremely fond of art and gave much support and encouragement. After his death, Mughal art continued to flourish under Jehangir who was a
fine connoisseur of art and paid handsomely for works he liked. His understanding of art was so good, that he was able to recognize the works of individual artists in a composite piece. Jehangir would often buy art from different parts of the country and world and show these samples to his artists to further their knowledge of different techniques. Hence he brought several influences into Indian art, which were once again able to integrate with prevailing styles and form exquisite work. Mughal art began declining after the period of Jehangir with Shah Jehan not particularly fond or knowledgeable of art. Aurangzeb was also not a patron of art, and soon the Mughal artists migrated to some of the other independent kingdoms in Rajasthan and various other places where they continued to produce their quality work. However they would never manage to find the sort of patronage that they had under the Mughals, and survived by selling their work to members of the public that could afford them. Bereft of patronage their art form began a steady decline, and the advent of the European rulers was the final blow, as these new rulers did not patronize or assist Indian artists.
All the greater Mughal emperors were great builders, even Babur in his short reign was able to put up a few monuments. The only exception was Aurangzeb whose puritan approach to life, did not support indulgences like building fine buildings. Hence architectural work in his time is almost absent, with the few monuments pale shadows of the greatness achieved by the earlier emperors. Shah Jehan was the most prolific Mughal builder, and built some of its greatest structures, the most famous of which is the Taj Mahal. Major building work began only during the reign of Akbar, with a few monuments being constructed in the reign of Babur, Humayun and Sher Shah. From Babur's period, about three major monuments have survived. They are a mosque at Panipat, which was constructed to commemorate his victory at the battlefield there, for it was this battle which laid the foundations of the Mughal empire. In addition there are two other monuments, the Jami Masjid at Sambhal and a mosque within an old Lodi fort at Agra. Humayun unfortunately never got much of a chance at ruling the empire, and hence there are very few monuments from his time. Two structures remain, a mosque at Agra, and one massive and well made mosque in Fathbad, Punjab. Sher Shah who interrupted the Mughal rule for a short while also left behind some creditable structures. A mosque called the Qil-I- Kuhma Masjid , was a fine piece of work, one of the finest works of architecture in North India of the period. His tomb is built in the middle of a lake in Sassaram , combines exquisite design with a sense of dignity.
It was during the reign of Akbar when architecture began to really pick up. Akbar being fond of fine buildings, took tremendous interest in the field. Akbar thoroughly studied the different types of art, and with an open mind, accepted many other new ideas from a variety of sources. He would then formulate plans which would be implemented by the expert craftsmen that he had employed. Akbar did not restrict his brilliance only to building fine monuments, he also built forts, schools, tanks and wells. Akbar had an extremely open mind and allowed his craftsmen to bring in Hindu styles into his structures. One of the finest examples of this is the Jahangiri Mahal in the Agra fort, which has a number of Hindu architectural styles like square pillars and rows of small arches. Humayuns tomb in old Delhi is another example of the synthesis of styles. Akbar was a great builder, second only to Shah Jehan and built some of the finest work of the Mughal period. The greatest of Abkar's buildings are located in Fathepur Sikri, a city which was built near Agra. Over here there are many beautiful buildings like Jodh Bai's palace, Diwan-I-Am (hall for the general audience), Diwan-I-Khas(hall for private audience), the marble mosque known as the Jami Masjid, the Bulund Darwaza a massive archway and the Panch Mahal. Two other remarkable buildings of his period are the Palace of Forty Pillars at Allahabad and his tomb at Sikandara. Akbar was succeeded by Jehangir, who did not build many monuments, though he created beautiful Mughal gardens. One of the creditable buildings of his time was the tomb of Akbar, which however was merely executed (the designing had taken place during the time of Akbar). Another fine work is the white marble tomb of I'timad-ud-daulah.
Shah Jehan who succeeded Jehangir, was the most prolific builder amongst all the Mugahl emperors. He build many palaces, forts, mosques and gardens which are found all across the empire. A massive amount of money went into these structures which although lacking the originality of Akbar's time, are far superior in the field of lavish and skilful decoration. One of Shah Jehan's biggest projects was the construction of the city of Shah Jehanabad in Delhi. Inside this walled city, known today as the Red Fort are some marvellous buildings. The Diwan-I-Khas had at one time, a silver ceiling which was decorated by a mixture of marble, gold and precious stones. The stupendous beauty of this building is perhaps best described by an inscription found engraved in it:
Agar firdaus bar ru yi zamin ast Hamin ast, u hamin ast, u hamin ast
Translated it means, that if on earth there was ever a place as beautiful and blissful as Eden, then this and only this building could be such a place. Other fine buildings of Shah Jehan's time are the Moti Masjid (Pearl Mosque) at Agra and the Masjif-I-Jahan Nama also at Agra. The tomb he built for Jehangir at Lahore is also another fine specimen. uildings of Shah Jehan's time are the Moti Masjid (Pearl Mosque) at Agra and the Masjif-I-Jahan Nama also at Agra. The tomb he built for Jehangir at Lahore is also another fine specimen.

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