The Mughals: Babur (1556-1530 AD), Humayun (1531-1545; 1554-1556 AD) & Akbar: Part 1: (1556-1569 AD)

Salam Waalekum and welcome to this episode of ‘Saga In Stone’.

The Delhi Sultan had always had their share of glory and power. A lot of it infact. But they had always been just a provincial player in terms of their influence. Delhi Sultanate was just like any other sultanate, only bit larger.

And then came Mughals- pan-Indian in their appeal as well as their power.

The history of Mughals began in 1526, at the legendary battleground of Panipat. The history of their architecture began seven years and one king later, here at Purana Qila in Delhi.
In the tradition of the great Sultans of Delhi, Humayun too wanted to erect a new city at Delhi.

Much astrological calculations were made and, the foundation of the new city was laid on the banks of river Jamuna at the ancient site of Indraprastha. It was called Dinpanah, or the shelter of faith. But this shelter of faith did not provide shelter to Humayun for a long time. Sher Shah Suri soon defeated him.

Today these two gateways are the only remains of this first Mughal capital- Talaqi Darwaza and the Bada Darwaza. No remains of any other building are extant. It is likely that whatever construction was completed by Humayun was destroyed by Sher Shah Suri who built the rest of the buildings in the Purana Quila. Sadly all the astrological calculations went wrong for Din Panah, the first Mughal capital in India.

The first substantial example of the Mughal architecture is Humayun’s tomb at Delhi and what an example that is.

Humayun’s tomb is a landmark in the development of Mughal architecture. Had the Taj not been there, and that is a very big ‘if’, this would’ve been without doubt the greatest example of Mughal tomb architecture.

The sheer elegance of this building hits you in the face. The extravagance of the design, the epic proportions, the strength and the grandeur- Humayun’s tomb is a triumph in stone.

It was built by Humayun’s widow and Akbar’s mother, Hamida Banu Begum, commonly known as Haji Begum. Built over eight years from 1564-1571, its cost was 15 Lac rupees.

Humayun’s tomb stands in the middle of a char bagh, the Persian scheme of landscaping that was brought to India by Humayun’s father, Babar. This was the first manifestation of the Mughal schemes of tomb gardens.

Babar had picked up his taste for these gardens during his stay at Samarqand. He built his pleasure pavilions and palatial mansions in the middle of these gardens. These gardens were symbolic of paradise and were a part of old Timurid traditions.

Babur’s body was temporarily buried after his death in a similar Char Bagh at Agra before it was carried to Kabul.

It is said that Babar died for Humayun. Humayun at that time was sick and almost on his deathbed. The courtiers of Babar suggested that his should pray to Allah and make a pledge that if his son gets well, he will donate the famous koh-I-noor diamond. But Babur bargained with his life. ‘Oh God, if a life may be exchanged for a life, I, who am Babur, give my life and being for humayun,’ he said. A fever soon gripped him and as his condition worsened that of his son improved. Finally when Babar died on 26th oct 1530, Humayun had completely recovered.

The monument is square in plan, roughly 146 ft a side. The plan and design of the tomb are indicative of strong Persian, influence. For example, it is square in plan, but its corners are flattened.

The plan of the interior is, also different. Instead of the single square or octagonal chamber hitherto in vogue, there is a larger octagonal central chamber with a vaulted roof. Similar compartments smaller in size surround it on four corners.

Humayun was a kind, sensitive and intelligent king, but he lacked maturity. His story was a story of failures and attempts to rectify his failures.

The word Humayun means lucky, but the man Humayun was anything but lucky. He inherited a vast empire which was unconsolidated. To compound his problems, the treasury was empty. Add to it a legend called Sher Shah Suri, and you know the situation Humayun was in.
He spent a major part of his career as a leader in exile.

In 1555, after more than 10 years of Sher Shah's death, Humayun managed to regain the throne from his weak successor. He died just one year later when he slipped while coming down from his library. He was in a hurry to reach the mosque on time for prayers.

The different parts of the tomb are perfectly proportioned. A grand dome adds to the imperial beauty.

Haji Begum is also buried here, in the mausoleum she erected for her husband.

The lower part of the tomb is a graveyard for other, smaller, luminaries of the Mughal era. These include Mughal princes and rulers like Muhammad Azam Shah, Jahandar Shah, Farrukhsiyar, Rafi ud-Daulah, Rafi ud-Darjat, Ahmad Shah and Alamgir. It is said that the headless body of Dara Shikoh – the eldest son of Shah Jahan, is also buried here. Dara Shikoh was the favoured successor of Shah Jahan, who was killed by Aurangzeb. He was also responsible for the first translation of Upnishads into Persian. So towering was his personality, it is said, if he would not have been killed, India would have been a different place. But again, that is a very big ‘if’. And history, sadly, is not about ifs, it is about the way things actually turned out to be.

This tomb is also the place where it all ended- the once-great Mughal empire and the grand hopes of the 1857 revolution. The last Mughal king Bahadur Shah Zafar was captured from here along with his two sons.

The real Mughal magic started with Humayun’s son Akbar, a rebel, a reformer, a legend, an enigma.

All his historians gave different views of him. Abul Fazl almost deified him –gave him super-human powers; Badauni lamented his differences from Islam; Nizamuddin gave just a simple chronological account of his reign.

A study of his architecture gives us an insight into the man that he actually was.

Agra Fort was Akbar’s first great architectural venture.

Two lofty walls made of thick ore of sand and rubble and faced with large blocks of dressed red sandstone enclose the fort. The entire plan roughly resembles a semi-circle of 2.5 km in circumference.

The construction on this fort started in 1565. A daily labor of three to four thousand masons and eight thousand laborers took eight years to complete it. All this labour definitely shows up in the fort. It is elegant yet very strong. Masculine, yet with the feminine grace intact.
The queries of red and yellow sandstone at Agra's periphery provided most of the building material for Akbar's building projects, including this one.

Since Akbar was very young when his father died, he was under the protection of Bairam Khan. Bairam Khan dominated the kingdom during the early days of Akbar’s reign. Akbar wanted to be free. Finally in 1560, when Akbar was 20, he compelled Bairam Khan to leave for Mecca.

Bairam Khan was stabbed to death by a Lohani Afghan on his way to Mecca.. This was the revenge of the Afghan. His father had been killed on a previous occasion by the Mughal troops under Bairam Khan’s leadership.

Akbar came in power in the true sense only in May 1562 after the death of his foster mother Maham Anaga.

The walls of the fort are well constructed. The battlements, enclosures, machicolations and stringcourses have been skilfully designed.

Amar Singh Gate provides the main entrance to the fort. It was originally intended for private entry. At that time, it was known as Akbari Darwaza. It was renamed after Amar Singh Rathore of Marwar, who assassinated Salabat Khan, the Mir Bakshi of Shah Jahan in1622. He is said to have escaped by jumping the moat on his horseback from the top of this gate.
Amar Singh Rathore may have succeeded in escaping from this gate. But it would’ve been a tough job. This gate has remarkable strength and arrangements for defence purposes. It has a drawbridge, a crooked entrance with dangerous trap-points and a steep rise.

The decorative patterns in colored glaze have softened the appearance of the gate somewhat.

Just behind Amar Singh gate is Naubat Khana, a truly imposing and beautiful structure.
Naubat Khana has pillared pavilions overhead. The decorative patterns of this entry point makes it a site worth seeing.

According to Abul Fazl, Akbar built over five hundred buildings in the fort. That may be typical Fazl speak, with a great deal of exaggeration. But he certainly built a good number of buildings. Of these, only the Jahangiri Mahal is still extant. Ruins of another palace can also be seen next to it. Most of Akbar’s buildings were destroyed by Shahjahan, who built his own structures over it.

Jahangiri Mahal, as a building, throbs with life.

Intricately carved sandstone, trimmed with white marble makes the facade an architectural treat. The octagonal turrets over the blind arches add to the magic.

The courtyard behind the facade is flanked by pillared halls on north and south sides.
On its west side is the so called Jodhabai’s temple. She supposedly kept her idols in these recesses.

The inner chhajja, rotating round the court is supported on beautifully designed peacock-shaped brackets. Each peacock has a serpent in its beak. This is an illustration of the Hindu mythological belief that the peacock is a traditional enemy of serpents.

These brackets are the only specimen of its type in the whole medieval architecture of India.
Another courtyard overlooks the river. It has a number of beautifully built ancillary chambers.
The riverside bastions have terraces where the kings came to experience the cold waves of air.

Mughal architecture was inspired by a number of sources- Indian, Timurid, and even European.

These were the early days yet for Akbar and the great Mughals. The flowering had begun, but the bloom was yet to come.

Next week, we’ll take you to a dream city which was abandoned for other dreams.Till then Khuda hafiz

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