Considerations of the Past in Khusro Bagh: Michael Brand, Summary

Michael Brand’s article, “Orthodoxy, Innovation, and Revival: Considerations of the Past in Imperial Mughal Tomb Architecture” opens at a rather crucial moment in the history of Khusro Bagh. Brand begins by recounting Jahangir’s displeasure at the design of Akbar’s tomb in Sikandra, Agra. The “blunder”, to quote Brand, that Jahangir accuses his architects of are influenced by two particular “themes or sub-themes” in Mughal architecture. First, almost a century (1527 – 1613) after Mughal rule in India there existed no “consensus” on what “constituted an appropriate tomb”. Second, “patronage, design, and construction” of “crucial markers of political intent” were governed by dynastic politics such as the battles of succession clouding the issue of Mughal succession. These two aspects reflect the evolution of Mughal funerary architecture and as is evident have a significant impact on how one perceives Khusro Bagh, but more on this shortly.

By systematically categorizing and analyzing the “death, burial, and entombment” of the first six Mughal emperors, namely Babur, Humayun, Akbar, Jahangir, Shah Jehan, and Aurangzeb, Brand argues that to think of Mughal architecture as a chronological development towards an “age of marble” with its zenith in the Taj Mahal is an incorrect assumption. Instead he choses to see Mughal architecture as cyclical process, one influenced by Timurid “classical” revivals and “anti-classical” revolutions. Of course, he clearly states that the terms – classical and anti-classical – must be treated with care.

Timur Tomb Samarkand

Gur-i-Amir, Samarkand, c. 1405 (image source: Rolf Gross).

Brand commences with three important social and historical features of imperial building programs – religion (Islam), ancestry (Timurid), and empire (India). In the case of religion, Islam advocates a simple burial in a grave that is uncovered and open to moisture and rain. This is both a sign of humility and orthodoxy, yet, imperial tombs are far grander and more sophisticated both in their architecture and iconography. Moreover, Islamic burial practices vary regionally, the Ottomans differ from Safavi Iran and both differ from Mughal India. Herein Brand’s observation on Mughal traditions of funerary architecture is particularly noteworthy, as he notes not only were the Mughals drawing upon their Timurid heritage (ancestry), they also encountered an existing form of Islamic architecture in India (empire). Thus, the elongated drum like doule-dome and glazed tiles of Samarkand were suddenly juxtaposed to the red sandstone tombs and white marble domes of Tughlaq Delhi. This cultural intersection is an important starting point for the development of Mughal architecture in India and much of Brand’s argument follows these intersecting themes in the development of the six major Mughal tombs.

Ghiyath_aldin_tughluq_tomb

Tomb of Ghiyath-al-Din Tughalaq, New Delhi, c. 1325, (image source: Wikipedia).

Some very compelling questions Brand raises include the lack of a single dynastic mausoleum, lack of singular form or style in each successive Mughal tomb, the complicated nature of patronage (death of the emperors, etc.) and chronology (successions, wars of rebellion, etc.), and who were these monuments commemorating (the sons who built them or the father they housed). Within two centuries of Mughal rule spanning the deaths of Babur (1530) and Aurangzeb (1707), Mughal tombs come “full circle” from orthodox (Babur), Timurid revival (Humayun & Shah Jehan), radically innovative (Akbar & Jahangir), and then back again (Aurangzeb) suggesting that imperial Mughal funerary architecture must be studied on its own merits and circumstances. Most importantly, Brand highlights the importance of the past in Mughal architecture by analyzing both revival and innovation.

These questions and inferences impact my study Khusro Bagh by allowing me to fully contextualize the patrons (Jahangir and Nithar Begum), the battles for Mughal succession following the death of Akbar (Khusrau Mirza and Jahangir), and commemoration (who was being commemorated here: a Hindu Rajput wife of Jahangir’s and a rebel prince or a kind husband, forgiving father, and loyal daughter). The stylistic features at Khusro Bagh also suggest, like Michael Brand, a gradual transition in funerary architecture. Hence, the structure and form of these monuments is essential to study the development of Mughal architecture generally and Mughal tombs specifically.

Randip Bakshi

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