One of the first things that people think about when asked about India is the Taj Mahal. The gleaming white monument is a testament to Mughal architecture in India and has withstood the test of time. People all over the world associate India with the Taj Mahal, Agra and in a way indirectly Mughal architecture.
Mughal architecture is a profusion or a mixture of the earlier Lodhi era, Sultanate styles, Persian styles and the Hindu architecture of the erstwhile kingdoms. Thus, Mughal architecture in India was a combination of the architectural styles that the early Mughals brought with them and the styles which were already predominant in India. This style came to be known as the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture.
Let us now go through some of the various characteristics which became features/trademarks of Mughal buildings and as a result in broad, its style of representation. These are some things which most of us can relate to when we visit or picture a Mughal building.
The Idea of Jannat-
Mughal architecture in India was based around the concept or idea of Jannat (Paradise). The Mughals came from a relatively arid and harsh climate. Mountainous regions with rugged landscapes which gave no sense of respite were the profile of the land that they came from.
Initially, all building activity of the Mughals was focussed on functional needs such as building forts, mosques, places for a congregation. These spaces were built to showcase the authority and the might of the new ruling classes.
Once the leadership of the Mughals was established in India, the construction activity underwent a massive change. Buildings were now designed to be pleasure palaces for the royalty. One of the other reasons behind this was also that the ladies and the children came with bag and baggage to set up their homes in this new country.
The idea of these new structures was based on the Islamic idea of Jannat or paradise. The char bagh style of landscaping is a direct result of it. The spaces were designed to capture the imagination of the royalty as well as the general populace. Water bodies, green areas, impressive structures all lent a hand to achieve this task.
Another striking feature that you can observe in most Mughal buildings is symmetry. The Taj Mahal in Agra is widely considered to be the most symmetrical building in the world. The Mughals were great architects and builders. With practically no tools and modern day machinery, they were successful in building the world’s most magnificent structures. Most of their buildings were exactly symmetrical. Everything was deliberate and inorganic as compared to structures which developed in other parts of the world at that time.
The Charbagh concept of garden design is one of the most well-known features of Mughal Buildings and landscapes. Char Bagh translates into four gardens. As mentioned earlier, the idea behind the char bagh originates from the idea of paradise. The four sub-gardens are divided with the help of walkways and waterways ( channels). The central part of each garden is an impressive fountain and a water body. An excellent example of this is the Humayun’s Tomb in New Delhi and even the Taj Mahal.
Note- The building in most Charbagh gardens is placed in the center of the entire site.
The Mughals were known for their austere and inorganic sense of planning. Their buildings, palaces, forts, and cities, in general, were well planned and were in contrast to the municipal level organic planning which was prevalent in civilizations across the world. The forts and the palaces of the Mughal era were situated upstream while the city is generally located downstream. This was because all waste was usually disposed of in the river. While the citizens could use water which contained the king’s waste the vice versa could not be the case.
An important point to be noted here is that most Mughal cities were situated on the banks of a river.
Thus, Mughal architecture is known for its systematic and organized fashion rather than the chaos of organic development.
Monumental and Impressive
Another striking feature of Mughal architecture in India is all building typologies are constructed to be monumental in size. Think about it, from the famous Taj Mahal in Agra to the Red Fort all Mughal buildings were meant to impress. This was partly due to the reason that the Mughals wanted to consolidate their position in the newly conquered territory. Also, the Mughal buildings were meant to signify the authority of the Mughals over its subjects.
Thus, all in all, Mughal buildings were primarily built on monumental scale. They unlike the buildings of the bygone eras were not constructed on a private or a public scale.
Use of Passive Cooling Techniques
One of the lesser known facts of the Mughal buildings was that they incorporated a number of passive cooling techniques to factor in the intense heat prevalent in North India during the summers. Some of the most notable features of this strategy include Jaalis, walls with high thermal mass (thick walls), canals & waterways, cross ventilation, relatively smaller windows, blank walls, courtyards, gardens and so on and henceforth.
These features helped made the fortresses and palaces habitable and made them sustainable long before the concept of sustainability came into being.
The Mughals were also masters in managing water resources efficiently. This was possible because of their excellent construction skills, knowledge in regards to water management and conservation and ingenious thought process.
One of the most excellent examples of this can be seen in the Shalimar Bagh gardens. The Mughals used ingeniously to their advantage the natural water resources present at the site and the power of gravity to create a one of a kind garden complex. Gravity has been used to create truly magnificent fountains which ultimately flow into a lake. The chemistry between man-made and nature is truly commendable.
Regarding the building typologies prevalent in Mughal architecture, the following are the major ones-
The Mughal buildings ranged from defensive structures such as forts and military outposts to pleasure palaces. Other major building types included merchant havelis, religious structures and common hutments for the commoners.
The Mughals were well known for their domes which were very typical of the Indo-Saracenic style. The Mughals otherwise mostly used trabeation (column and beam structures). One interesting fact in regards to the structural component of Mughal buildings is that the structure was extremely thick and cumbersome. In some cases, it was 10 feet thick. This was in the case of forts and other defensive structures meant to protect the enclosure from attacks. The substantial structure was also required to transfer the heavy loads of the roof and the structure in its totality in general. Another feature that is very peculiar in Mughal buildings is the use of arcades and other pendentive structures to transfer load.
Another reason due to which the Mughals were way ahead of their time was innovation. They created something new and different unlike anything else seen in the world. They developed an architectural style of their own. A number of significant buildings stand as a testament to that fact. Some examples are as follows-
The Taj Mahal, Agra
Humayun’s Tomb, Delhi
Red Fort, Delhi
Jama Masjid, Delhi
Agra Fort, Agra
Shalimar Bagh, Jammu and Kashmir
Each building is an innovation in itself from the soothing gardens of Shalimar Bagh to the impressive bastions of the Red Fort in New Delhi. The Structural brilliance and the almost accurate planning of the Mughals baffle most people even in this day and age.
As the saying goes, “God lies in the details.” The same goes for Mughal architecture in India. Examples of this can be seen in almost all Mughal buildings. The intricacies of the Jaali work, the polish of the dressed stones, inlay work (such as the Pietra Dura as seen in the Taj Mahal, Agra), delicate carvings and the several unseen details which went into the construction of these great monuments is a testament to this fact. Thus, it is safe to say that the Mughals were masters of the details which go into the design and development of a built form.
Another feature that most people have enjoyed, but few of us notice is the way Mughal buildings are designed to frame views. You might have seen your friends on social media posing with the Taj Mahal in the backdrop while on a recent trip to Agra. Have you ever wondered why everything looks so perfect? The answer lies in the well thought of design of the monument. The four minarets alongside the Taj help in framing the view along with performing a critical structural purpose. The minarets act as pins which support the heavy structure from not sinking in the relatively loose soil (the Yamuna river bank). Thus, the Mughals made a conscious effort to frame views to make the monuments as aesthetically beautiful as possible.
The Mughals also made use of a concept known as kinesthetics. They designed their buildings so that the visitor observed at each step of his/her journey a different perspective of the building. For example, in the Taj Mahal, when one enters the Taj Mahal seems small and somewhat like a distant dream. After this, the visitor is forced to move forward through one of the walkways adjacent to the main water canal. During this journey, the visitor gets a different perspective until he/she arrives at the central white marble fountain. At this point in the trip, the Taj Mahal seems to emerge from the banks of the river Yamuna. As the visitor moves ahead, the Taj Mahal seems to vanish, and the plinth appears to become more prominent with every step traversed. Thus, this goes on to say that the Mughal mastered this unique art which made their buildings architectural gold.
Hierarchy of Spaces
The Mughals were also successful in creating a hierarchy of spaces. Most palaces and forts had a clear segregation in between public and private spaces. This can be seen in the Red Fort in New Delhi among other examples. The outermost areas of the forts were meant for troop deployments which were followed by their quarters.
The palace area too had clear cut demarcations regarding public and private spaces as well as according to the class-conscious society prevalent at that time. This can be observed by the presence of two meeting halls the Diwan i Khas (meeting hall for the nobles) and the Diwan i Aam (meeting hall for the commoners). Regarding public and public and private spaces in the palace, the public spaces were reserved for the outer parts while the apartments for the emperor and his mosque was situated towards the innermost of the fortress. Thus, the Mughals developed a clear sense of hierarchy while designing spaces.
The Mughals built with a strong religious influence. Their buildings adhered to all Islamic norms and often had many a carving with representing Islamic scriptures. The orientation of the buildings was decided according to its relative direction with Mecca and Medina and a number of sculptures and carvings adorned the walls of the monuments.
The reason behind (to an extent) was to influence the majority Hindu population. The Mughals brought with them a new religion to the country which they wanted the indigenous population to adopt. Thus, along with building structures which responded to their religion, another motive behind the religious connotation to building design was to influence the indigenous population of the region.
Thus, stating the seemingly obvious, Mughal architecture developed into a one of a kind architectural style which has withstood the test of time. It is appreciated widely by people all across the world due to its distant features as discussed above. It is up to us architects of India to carry forward and preserve our traditional styles of architecture and create something new that is looked upon with pride by our future generations.