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Islamic Architecture
The Mughal forces capturing the Deccan

Miniature, the Mughal forces capturing the Deccan, 1636.

Courtesy: Stone, C. (1997). "The Most Splendid Manuscript". Aramco World. 48 (6), 18-31


Divani Khas

Delhi, Red Fort, Divai-Khas 1639

Courtesy -- Bloom, J. and Blair, S. (1994). "The Art and Architecture of Islam: 1250-1800". New Haven and London: Yale University Press.


Golden Age

Miniature: Shah Jahan distributed to the poor several times his weight in gold, silver and other valuables twice every year.

Courtesy: Stone, C. (1997). "The Most Splendid Manuscript". Aramco World. 48 (6), 18-31

Twilight of the Mughal Dynasty

It should come as no surprise that the sons of Aurangzeb became locked in a life-or-death struggle for succession. After all, their father came to power after a savage battle with his own brothers. The victor among Aurangzeb's sons was Bahadur Shah. The elderly and moderate Bahadur Shah had a brief reign, lasting from 1707 to 1712.

Bahadur Shah was followed by a line of feeble successors. During the early 18th century, writes Hambly, the imperial administration of the Mughals disintegrated, and new forces -- like the Jats, Sikhs and Marathas -- came forward. Delhi once again was a hub of political activity. The court nobility became the principal usurpers of imperial authority. The sons of Bahadur Shah, notes Hambly, were but puppets of the warring factions.

"The silver twilight of Mughal civilization had begun," writes Hambly, "and, even if power and pomp were rapidly disappearing, Delhi remained the sanctuary of an urbane, sophisticated court which still had taste, even if it lacked talent."

The end of this idyll was sudden and unforeseen. In 1739, the great Iranian soldier Nadir Shah invaded India. Despite a superiority in number, the Mughal forces were easily defeated by the Persians. When an attempt was made on Nadir Shah's life, the Persian forces retaliated with a bloody vengeance.

Writes Hambly, "Nadir Shah's sack of Delhi marked the real end of the Mughal Empire, although the dynasty itself, bereft of military resources and possessing pitifully slight political influence, survived for a further hundred and twenty years as a venerated anachronism."

Vast quantities of booty were taken by the victorious soldiers, notes Brend, including the celebrated Peacock Throne of Shah Jahan.

In the decades following the massacre, conditions in Delhi were not particularly conducive to large-scale construction. The architecture of mid-18th century Delhi, writes Hambly, if not particularly distinguished, possessed a blowzy stylishness. The ethereal repose that characterized the best Islamic buildings, continues Hambly, was wholly lacking during this period.

Meanwhile, notes Brend, the power of the Hindu Marathas and of the European trading centers was spreading. The final phase of Mughal rule in Delhi, writes Hambly, ended with the British sack and siege in 1857. The Red Fort became a garrison for British soldiers who demolished architectural treasures and replaced them with ugly barracks.

Brend writes that the last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah II, was deposed in 1858; India was brought under the direct rule of the British Crown. Independence and the partition of India and Pakistan, notes Brend, came in 1947.

The Mughals left behind a distinctive and elegant style of architecture, write Blair and Bloom, in which indigenous traditions of Indo-Islamic architecture were combined with forms and techniques imported from Iran and Central Asia. In general, note Blair and Bloom, the solid three-dimensional massing typical of earlier sultanate buildings gave way to a linear approach in which flat surfaces were divided into panels. The brick and tile typical of earlier times, continue Blair and Bloom, were replaced by stone, especially red sandstone and white marble. The application of color, however, was restrained in favor of high polish and meticulous finish. The most famous buildings associated with the Mughals, note Blair and Bloom, are monumental tombs set amidst pools and formal gardens. The most famous of these, of course, is the magnificent Taj Mahal.

  Mughal Line