Agra and Lucknow, both in Uttar Pradesh, have witnessed great architectural activity. Agra was the Mughal capital under the first five emperors till Shahjahan shifted capital to Delhi in 1648. Lucknow was the capital of the Awadh Nawabs till 1857 when the
British acquired it.
Akbar, king at 14, began consolidating his empire and, as an assertion of his power, built the fort in Agra between 1565 and 1571, coeval with the construction of Humayun’s tomb in Delhi. The Agra fort retains the irregular outline of the demolished mud-wall fort of the Lodis. The lofty battlements of the new fort cast its protective shadow over the far stretching mansions of court that nobles and princes built along the river front. The magnificent towers, bastions and ramparts and majestic gateways symbolised the confidence and power of the third Mughal emperor — Akbar.
The fort contains splendid palaces both in red sandstone and white marble built by two generations of prolific builders Akbar and later on Jehangir and Shahiahan. Of the nearly 500 Akbari buildings built in the Bengal and Gujarati traditions only a few have survived, arrayed in a band on the river front.
The most noteworthy Jahangiri Mahal was the principal zenana palace, used mainly by the Rajput wives of Akbar. A splendid gateway leads to an interior courtyard surrounded by grand halls covered with profuse carvings on stone, heavily fashioned brackets, piers and crossbeams. One can still spot vestiges of decoration in gold and blue, done in the prevalent Persian style. ‘Jahangiri Mahal’ mixes Transoxanian features, such as the verandah on the eastfront with its high slender columns, a translation into stone of the timber diwan vernacular Trans oxanian architecture — with courtyard halls styled in the broader Gujarat-Malwa Rajasthan tradition as it had been passed on to the Mughals by the early 16th century architecture of Raja Man Singh of Gwalior’. However, a true synthesis of divergent and fully evolved architectural traditions is yet a long way. This ‘exotic medley’ and, adventurous eclecticism’ suggests a daring approach in architecture. The typically Gujarati brackets—fabulously carved animal and floral motifs register a dominating effect on the few Islamic features such as the verandah on the eastern front with exquisitely slender pillars facing the riverfront. Jahangiri Mahal is the most important building of the Akbari period in the Agra fort.
Both Jehangir and Shahjahan were enamoured of the sensuous effect of white marble and demolished many of Akbar’s red sandstone structures. In the Khas Mahal enclosure later Mughal architecture comes of age. Khas Mahal is an airy edifice, overlooking the specially laid Angoori Bagh. Windows, closed with jali screens, present fabulous views of the riverfront. The two copper-roofed pavilions built in the Bengali tradition were meant for prominent ladies of the harem. On three sides of the garden are female residential quarters. Sheesh Mahal or the royal hammam (bath) is decorated with myriad glass pieces and a central fountain.
Musamman Burj is the most romantic, ornamental pavilion wherein lived two most beautiful and powerful Mughal queens — Nurjahan and Mumtaz Mahal. The quality of pietra duradecoration is fabulous and perfect. Here Shahjahan spent his last few years as a captive held by Aurangzeb. Shahjahan languished and died looking at the Taj Mahal.
Diwan-i-Khas (Hall of Private Audience) is a small hall with double marble columns inlaid with pietra dura decoration. On the terrace, in front of this hall, are two marble thrones. The black th rone belongs to Jehangir who, as Prince Salim in rebellion against Akbar at Allahabad, had ordered it for himself. Below this terrace lies the grand courtyard of Machchi Bhawan, meant for the harem functions. On another side stands a small mosque built for Shahjahan by Aurangzeb.
Concealed steps lead to the Diwan i-Aam (Hall of Public Audience). The arches are covered with white lime polished to a smooth finish. The triple arched royal canopy has lavish pietra dura ornamentation. Here was kept the famous Peacock Throne ordered by Shahjahan. Further north stands the Moti Masjid, its three domes in white marble raising their heads over the red sandstone wall. Moti Masjid is known for its sheer grandeur and perfect proportions. Large portions of the fort are still under military control, and closed to public.
Sikandara, Akbar’s tomb, stands in a large walled garden on the road to Delhi. The most magnificent gateway covered with floral and geometrical arabesque decoration in white and coloured marble is crowned with four elegant minarets in white marble. The calligraphic decoration, first of its kind, is really grand. The gateway is a stately composition. Its high central arch is flanked by others in two storeys. The grandeur of this gateway renders it the most magnificent gateway to any monument in the country. The charbagh leads to the pyramidal structure of the emperor’s tomb. On the uppermost terrace, a replica of the sarcophagus lies open to the sky. Large panels of superbly crafted jali (filigree) screens form the outer wall of the verandah on all four sides. Akbar’s grave lies in the basement, reached through a portico covered with gorgeous stucco paintings in gold, blue and green floral arabesque of Persian inspiration. Sikandara, begun by Akbar, was completed by Jehangir. Hence the structure suffers from stylistic and conceptual incoherence. The absence of the crowning dome remains a
Bara Imambara, Lucknow (Rajeev Rastogi)
mystery. Still, Sikandara ranks high amongst the most beautiful Mughal buildings.
In 1628 Nurjahan, queen of Jehangir, built the tomb of her father Itmad-ud-Daula in a walled garden overlooking the Yamuna. It is the first ever tomb in India built entirely in white marble. Itimad-ud-Daula is, however, justly famous for the glorious pietra dura decoration depicting cypresses, wine glasses and an amazing variety of geometrical arabesque. The jali screens set in arched recesses are splendid. Four small minarets rise at the four corners of the small tomb structure. The whole structure gives the impression of an enlarged precious object.
Chini ka Rauza, tomb of Afjal Khan, a minister of Shahjahan, was built in 1639. The high domed structure was originally covered with glazed tiles in glorious blue and green and yellow colours. Now much in ruins, this tomb makes no concession to Indian architectural features and is truly Persian in concept.
Taj Mahal, the white marble tomb ofArjumand Banu Begum, is Shahjahan’s tribute to his favorite wife’s memory and his greatest contribution to world heritage monuments. The tomb stands on a high podium in a grand paradise setting. There are four elegant tapering minarets, one at each corner of the platform. To the west is a mosque and to the east a replica of the mosque structure. The lofty tomb structure does not stand at the centre of the garden but at the north-eastern end, overlooking the river Yamuna. The main stylistic features of the Taj Mahal link it firmly to the Indo-Islamic architectural tradition.
The central octagonal structure housing the imitation sarcophagus has four smaller octagonal halls grouped around it. The chamfered corners make it an irregular octagon., The internal arrangement of space on the upper terrace is echoed on the roof where the central bulbous dome is surrounded by four chattris. On each facade arched recesses arranged in two storeys flank a high iwan in the middle, the border rising higher than the rest of the facade. thus concealing the neck of the dome
Cities of Architectural Splendour
behind it. The Taj has two sets of graves. The real sarcophagus of the queen and her consort in the basement have their replicas placed directly above in the upper hall.
The walled garden, complete structure in marble, double dome and twin set of graves, four minarets —main features of the Taj —had already appeared at earliertombs of Humayun, Rahim Khan-i-Khana, Sikandara and Itimad-ud-Daula. Thus the Taj Mahal marks the apogee of a glorious architectural tradition.
The Taj Mahal looks a weightless airy creation but is, in fact, a colossal structural complex of gigantic proportions, each part harmoniously integrated into the ultimate concept. One even fails to notice that the total height of the Taj, including the podium and the copper finial is over 73 metres, slightly higher than the towering Qutb Minar in Delhi. The entire covered area is larger than at Humayun’s Tomb. Taking into consideration the subsidiary structures built all around the Taj, it appears a grand township in itself.
The white marble lends the tomb a certain air of purity. The overall ornamentation, though rich and exquisite, is restrained and never overdone. The calligraphic inscriptions are bold and rise in rhythmic grace., Thejali screens have a magical quality of excellence, accomplished with a jeweller’s finish. The screen around the sarcophagus on the upper terrace has stunning perfection, a worthier replacement forthe original gold railing. The pietra dura floral decoration on the screen and the graves reveals an amazing depth. Sometimes there are as many as 64 types of precious stones like cornelian, coral, jasper, onyx, amethyst, lapis, lazuli, turquoise, and jade used on a single bloom. There is a certain tension in these designs between stylisation and realism which makes the work so sensitive. The Taj Mahal represents the zenith of Mughal architecture. Between 1571 and 1584 Fathepur Sikri functioned as the capital of the Mughal empire. At Sikri, Akbar was blessed with three sons in fulfillment of a prophecy by a Chisti saint. The new city built on a ridge turned into a magnificent township, larger than contemporary London.
At Sikri the various royal palaces have’ been built in Gujarati and Rajasthani architectural styles, using trabeate construction, columns, fanciful jali work, sumptuous carving and surface ornamentation. By and large these small palaces are a sequence of connected rectangular courtyards, these are aligned with the polar axes and so have to be grouped in a staggered formation across the top of the narrow diagonal ridge. The overwhelmingly Hindu architectural vocabulary, however, cannot conceal the Islamic norms followed in the large scale planning which is supposed to derive from Arab and Central Asian tent compartments!
Each of the small Sikri palaces has a specific purpose and generally faces acourtyard. Diwan-i-aam hasthe royal pavilion overlooking a large open area where petitioners and courtiers once stood in attendance. Just behind it stands the Diwan-i-Khas used for serious, confidential, diplomatic and religious discourses. Here stands the famous stone column, sprouting 36 elegant brackets carved in the Gujarati style—heavy and ornate. Panch Mahal is a five storeyed pavilion of winds for the harem ladies. Originally jali screens stood between pillars. The Turkish Sultana’s palace is known for exquisitely carved dado panels depicting wildlife — lions, birds and foliage. The central platform at the Anup Talao is linked by four bridges. Here Court musician Tansen played music. Akbar’s private apartments stand close to the tank.
Jodha Bai’s palace has the most distinctively Gujarati and Rajasthani architectural features. Residence of Akbar’s prominent queens, this palace is guarded by a strong portal. Also noteworthy are Mariam’s Palace or Sunehra Makan, Birbal’s House and a miniature garden. Most of the palaces have names invented by misinformed guides to please still more misinformed visitors.
Jami Masiid. sacred centre of Sikri, The harem quarters at Agra Fort (Surendra Sahai) symbolises the city’s spiritual prominence. In the vast courtyard stands the tomb of Sheikh Salim Chisti whose blessings are still sought by childless women. The jali screens have a marvellous quality and the intricately carved serpentine brackets in white marble are pieces of sheer splendour. The 54 metre high Buland Darwaza, triumphal gateway built in 1575 to celebrate Akbar’s successful Gujarat campaign, is the most stupendous architectural work of the Mughals.
Fatehpur Sikri had a short life of splendour. Once Akbar left it in 1585, he never really returned to Sikri. Though visited by many later Mughal emperors, the city never regained its lost importance and has remained the most magnificent and well preserved ghost city of India.
If Agra represents the pinnacle of Mughal architecture, Lucknow, capital of the Awadh nawabs, represents the sad decline of a great architectural tradition. Lucknow rose to political prominence when the Mughal power disintegrated in the 18th century.
Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula was a prolific builder and though he could ill afford building in marble, his brick structures plastered with lime, finished in exquisite sheen and smooth surface, are still in good condition. The Bada Imambada (1784) built as a famine relief project, has the largest vaulted hall in the country — 49.4 metres long and 16.2 metres wide under a 15 metre high ceiling. Just below the ceiling is the viewing gallery meant for the royal seraglio. The maze of passages on the upper terrace actually reduces the weight of the roof built without any girders and external support. This magnificent structure stands within a walled complex, and is approached through triple-arched mammoth gateways. There is an ancient baoli (step tank) and a grand mosque in the imambada compound.
Rumi Darwaza is an ornamental gateway, built to resemble an ornate gate in Constantinople. Rumi Darwaza is a meretricious and fantastic creation, extravagantly bold in concept. Its quaint beauty is still undiminished. Husainabad Imambada is an ornate structure with a gilded dome and a cluster of small turrets and minarets. At some distance stands the Jami Masjid, beautiful with its triple onion-shaped domes.
The Residency, Asaf-ud-Daula’s pleasure palace built in the midst of a large garden, was occupied by the British during the 1857 struggle for freedom. It is now in sheer ruins but its bullet-riden walls and roofless halls suggest a splendid past.
The La Martiniere was the last remarkable structure built in Lucknow by the French adventurer Claude Martin. It presents a curious melange of Indian and European architectural features. Lucknow has other unique buildings — Chattar Manzil, Qaiser Bagh, Shah Nazaf and many more in a very dilapidated condition.
There was little left in the treasury of the Lucknow nawabs to be invested in architectural projects and their days of glory were fast coming to a sad end. precipitated by the British presence. The nawabs had to stay content with imitation glory only.
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