History Optional Paper-1 Solution – 2002: Q.8

Q.8 Explain the principal features of architecture during Akbar’s rule. What changes were made in them by Shahjahan? [2002, 60m]


Akbar’s reign can be taken as the formative period of Mughal architecture. It represents the finest example of the fusion of Indo-Islamic architecture.

Structural Form

The architecture of the reign of Akbar represents encouragement of the indigenous techniques and a selective use of the experiences of other countries. The chief elements of the style of architecture that evolved under Akbar’s patronage can be listed thus:

  1. the buildings mainly used red sandstone as the building material;
  2. a widespread use of the trabeated construction;
  3. the arches used mainly in decorative form rather than in structural form;
  4. the dome was of the ‘Lodi’ type, sometimes built hollow but never technically of the true double order;
  5. the shaft of the pillars were multifaceted and the capitals of these pillars invariably took the form of bracket supports; and
  6. the decoration comprised of boldly carved or inlaid patterns complemented by brightly coloured patterns on the interiors.

Building Projects

Akbar’s buiding projects can be divided into two main groups, each representing a different phase. The first group comprised buildings of fork and a few palaces mainly at Agra, Allahabad and Lahore. The second group related basically to the construction of his new capital at Fatehpur Sikri.

a) The First Phase

One of the earliest building projects of Akbar’s reign was the construction of a fort at Agra,
conceived actually as a fortress-palace. Its massive walls and battlements convey all effect
of great power. Inside the fort, Akbar had built many structures in the styles of Bengal and
Gujarat. Except the Jahangiri Mahal, however, all the other structures were demolished by
Shah Jahan as part of a later phase of remodeling. Today the Delhi Gate of the fort and Jahangiri Mahal are the only representative buildings of Akbar’s reign.

The Delhi Gate of Agra Fort probably represents Akbar’s earliest architectural effort. It formed the principal entrance to the fort. The architecture of the gate shows an originality signifying the start of a new era in the building art of India. The gate follows a simple plan; the different components are:

  1. a front consisting of two broad octagonal lowers by the sides of a central archway;
  2. a back having arcaded terraces topped by kiosks and pinnacles; and
  3. an ornamentation consisting of patterns in white marble inlaid against the red sandstone background.

The Jahangiri Mahal was built by Akbar and is conceived as a robust building in red sandstone. It is the only surviving example in the fort of the domestic requirements of the ruler and is a fine specimen of the fusion of the Hindu and Islamic building designs. It is planned in the form of an asymmetrical range of apartments. The facade on the eastern side has an entrance gateway leading to a domed hall with elaborately carved ceiling. The entire construction is mainly in red sandstone with the combination of beam and bracket forming its principal structural system.

The same style is manifested in the other palace-fortresses at Lahore and Allahabad. Only the fort at Ajmer represents a different class. Since it spearheaded the advancing frontier of the Empire, the walls of the fort were thickly doubled.

b) The Second Phase

The second phase of Akbar’s architectural scheme coincides with the conception and creation of a ceremonial capital for the Empire at Sikri, nearly forty kilometres west of Agra. The new capital was named Fatehpur.

It is one of the most remarkable monuments in India. In its design and layout Fatehpur Sikri is a city where the public areas like the courtyards, Diwan-i Am and Jami Masjid form a coherent group around the private palace apartments. The buildings were sited to relate to each other and to their surroundings. An asymmetry seem to have been deliberately incorporated into the setting-out and design of the complex. All the buildings are in characteristic rich red sandstone, using traditional trabeate construction. The pillars, lintels, brackets, tiles and posts were cut from local rocks and assembled without the use of mortar.

The buildings in Fathpur Sikri may be resolved into two categories: religious and secular character. The religious buildings comprise (a) the Jami Masjid; (b) the Buland Darwaza; and (c) the tomb of Shaikh Salim Chishti. The buildings of secular nature are more varied and thus numerous. These can be grouped under (a) palaces; (b) administrative buildings; and (c) structures of miscellaneous order. It is a curious fact that the religious buildings are invariably built in the arcuate style while in secular buildings dominates the trabeate order.

The Jami Masjid uses the typical plan of a mosque – a central courtyard, arcades on three sides and domed skyline. The western side has the prayer hall with three separate enclosed sanctuaries, each surmounted by a dome and linked by arcades. The usual entrance to the masjid is from east where stands the structure of a big gateway projected in the form of a half hexagonal porch.

In 1596, the southern gateway was replaced by Akbar with a victory gate, the Buland Darwaza. It is constructed in red and yellow sandstone with white marble inlay outlining the span of the arches. The loftiness of the structure is enhanced by a flight of steps on the outside. The entrance has been formed by a piercing huge central arch which is crowned by an array of domed kiosks. The Buland-Darwaza was built to commemorate Akbar’s conquest of Gujarat in 1573.

The tomb of Salim Chishti stands in the courtyard of the Jami Masjid in the north-western quarter. It is all architectural masterpiece as it exhibits one of the finest specimens of marble work in India. The serpentine brackets supporting the eaves and the carved lattice screens are remarkable features of structure.

The palace complex in Fatehpur Sikri comprises a number of apartments and chambers. The largest of these buildings is known as the Jodha Bai palace. The palace is massive and austere in character. The wall outside is plain with principal buildings attached to inner side, all facing an interior courtyard. There are rooms in the upper storey which have ribbed roofs covered with bright blue glazed tiles from Multan.

A unique building of the palace complex is the Panch Mahal, a five storeys structure. The size of the five storeys successively diminishes as one goes upwards. At the top is a small domed kiosk. Some of the sides in this building were originally enclosed by screens of red sandstone. But none remain intact now. An interesting feature is that the columns on which the five storeys have been raised are all dissimilar in design.

Of the administrative buildings, undoubtedly the most distinctive is the Diwan-i Khas. The plan of this building is in the form of a rectangle and is in two stories from outsides. Inside, there is a magnificent carved column in the centre, having a huge bracket capital supporting a circular stone platform. From this platform radiate four railed ‘bridges’ along each diagonal of the hall to connect the galleries surrounding the upper portion of the hall. The main architectural object in this interior is the central column.

Another notable building of the same category is the Diwan-i Aam. It is a spacious Architecture rectangular courtyard surrounded by colonnades. The Emperor’s platform is towards the western end. The platform is in three parts, the centre probably used by the Emperor and separated from the other two sides by fine stone screens pierced with geometric patterns.

Buildings of miscellaneous character are scattered all over the city complex:

  1. Two caravansarais, one located inside the Agra Gate; and the other, the larger structure, is outside the Hathi Pol;
  2. Karkhana building located between the Diwan-i Aam and Naubat Khana, having a series of brick domes of radiating rather than horizontal courses; and
  3. The water-works, opposite the caravansarai near Hathi Pol, comprising a single deep baoli flanked by two chambers in which a device was used to raise the water for distribution in the city.

Akbar’s death in 1605 did in no way hamper the development of a distinctive Mughal architecture under his successors. A secure Empire and enormous wealth in legacy in fact permitted both Jahangir and Shah Jahan to pursue interest in the visual arts.

Changes made by Shahjahan

In the sphere of the building art, Shah Jahan’s reigns were an age of marble. The place of red sandstones was soon taken over by marble in its most refined form. This dictated significant stylistic changes which have been listed below:

  1. The arch adopted a distinctive form with foliated curves, usually with nine cusps;
  2. Marble arcades of engrailed arches became a common feature;
  3. The dome developed a bulbous form with stifled neck. Double domes became very common;
  4. Inlaid patterns in coloured stones became the d0minant decorative form; and
  5. In the buildings, from the latter half of the Jahangir’s reign and in subsequent Shahjahan’s reign, a new device of inlay decoration called pietra dura was adopted. In this method, semi-precious stones such as lapis lazuli, onyx, jasper, topaz and comelian were embedded in the marble in graceful foliations.

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