4.614 | Fall 2002 | Undergraduate

Religious Architecture and Islamic Cultures

Lecture Notes

19. Mughal Mausolea

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The Mughals of India: A dynasty whose founder Babur (1526-30) descended from the most illustrious Mongol conquerors, Ghenkis Khan and Timur, hence the name. They ruled most of India for three centuries before direct British rule was set in 1858. The period between Babur’s reign and 1707, when five of his descendants, Humayun, Akbar, Jahangir, Shah Jahan, and Aurangazeb ruled is considered the age of the Great Mughals.

Chahar Bagh: (Persian, four gardens) Quadripartite garden enclosure with a cruciform plan.

Hazira or Rawda: (Arabic) terms used in the Mughal period to designate a tomb or a mausoleum. The originial meaning of the former is “enclosure”, the latter “garden.” This suggests the garden origin of tomb-gardens.

Hasht-Bihisht: (Persian, eight paradises) A late name to an old type of building that has a radially symmetrical plan with eight parts surrounding a central chamber which is almost always domed. In Islamic times, this plan was most suited to house a reception/audience hall, or a tomb. It was popularized by Timur and his descendants in both their palatial and religious monuments. Later developments emphasized the faç by adding turrets to the four corners, by raising the central part of the faç via a pishtak, and/or by doubling the side through chamfering the corners.

Pietra Dura: Semi-precious stone (lapis, onyx, jasper, topaz, and cornelian) inlays in marble following geometric or floral designs.

Chatri: (originally Persian for umbrella) A small, vaulted pavilion used in India mostly.


The Taj Mahal in Agra

(1632-54). (Crown Palace) The majestic mausoleum built for the empress Mumtaz Mahal by her husband Shah Jahan. Iconographically highly charged, it represents the epitome of Islamic mausolea. Its plan is that of a Hasht Bihisht with four minarets framing it on the four sides of its square platform.

The Tomb of Akbar at Sikandra

(1604-13). A pavilion larger than Humayun’s in the center of a larger chahar bagh, this tiered composition of four planes above the plinth creates an horizontal axis that terminates with a cenotaph open to the sky.

The Tomb of Humayun in Delhi

(1565). A massive domed pavilion on a square base set in the center of a huge garden divided recursively into nine chahar baghs.

The Tomb of Itimad al-Dawla in Agra

(1628). A low pavilion over a square plinth, situated in the center of a chahar bagh and surrounded by four minarets at the four corners. This is the first monument to employ white marble and pietra dura.

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