The month of Ashwin is the month of the Goddess or devi. The fervour can be felt all over India with Durga images everywhere. She is worshipped as Ma Durga or Durga Mata. There are different legends associated with her. In Bengal she is believed to come home from the mountains with her children and is worshipped with them alongside with great pomp and festivity !
The concept of devi first appeared in the Vedas in 200 B.C. but gained focus in Puranic literature with texts like the Devi Mahatmya. Goddess Durga reigns supreme and is the divine feminine as Devi in Hinduism and a divine mother as Mata. Taken from the Devi Mahatmyam – the story goes thus – Durga as Mahisasuramardini is one of the manifestations of the Divine mother whose primary aim is to combat demons who threaten the cosmos. She has many arms and each has a different weapon. She rides on a lion and defeats the buffalo demon Mahisasura who has been given a boon that no-one can defeat him except a woman. The demon’s entire army was challenged by Durga. Mahisasura attacked Durga as a buffalo-demon whom Durga kills with a trisula (trident) after a fierce battle. Feast your eyes on some awesome images done in the traditional Madhubanistyle of painting !
Durga slays Mahisasura, Madhubani painting.
The images depicted here are of Goddess Durga from the Mithila school of painting, originated mostly in North Bihar of India which mostly depict religious stories in painting. It is called commonly called Madhubani painting which is made mostly by women. Madhubani art is being created since many centuries in some parts of Bihar, in fact there is no concrete evidence as to when it actually began. The art got national recognition when artists like Jagadamba Devi, Sita Devi were given National awards by the President of India. This art form is well-liked by the European and Canadian people among others. The exhibition Expo 70 in Japan and Asia-72 further established this art form ensuring sales of the paintings, which were made on other media like paper, instead of the regular floor or walls of the villages. The art has become more visible and popular once it has come on to paper. Now one gets to see the art form on sarees, trains, picture galleries, five star hotels, walls of railway stations and private drawing rooms. However as noted by Indian historian Upendra Thakur in his monumental work, the art needs to be constantly protected from gross commercialisation.
Madhubani paintings have many colour settings. Deep red, green, blue, black,light yellow, pink etc. Red is dominant in many paintings. A bamboo twig is used for drawing outlines. For filling colour pihua, a small piece of cloth tied to a twig is used. Women gather together and make the painting. A leader among them draws the composition and others fill colour. Younger girls assist the older women. Families keep paper notes of the artwork, to be made during ceremonies. It is even shared with the same caste from different villages. The styles get repeated but with variations, though the idioms remain the same.
Durga slays Mahisasura, Madhubani painting.
Goddess Durga is a favourite deity. Goddess Kali is an important deity in Tantrik rituals and tantra has had an important effect in the making of Aripana (floor drawings) and wall paintings. The major motifs in Madhubani painting depict flora, fauna, natural life. Gods, goddesses, lion, fish, parrot, turtle, bamboo, lotus, creepers, swastika among others. These forms are interchangeably used as per the ritual. Events like the thread ceremony, initial wedding formalities, final wedding rites, renovation of shrine all demand paintings. Paintings are made for both beautification and sanctification of the courtyard and threshold. Kohabara paintings augment well for the marriage. The kadamba tree, sun, flowers, peacocks, moon, palanquin, tortoise, fish are all depicted. Bhitti chitra or wall paintings are drawn on auspicious occasions. Symbols used in Madhubani painting have their own significance. Elephant, palanquin denote royalty. Sun and moon represent long life. Goose and peacock are symbols of welfare and calmness. Lotus denotes good luck the bamboo denotes future progeny.
The word ”Acanthus” recalls to mind the Corinthian columns from Greece. The leaf is a perennial, with thick, spiny leaves with serrated edges. There are several varieties of the acanthus plant. Though it is surmised that the motif of this leaf originated from the palmette design, it still fascinates. Acanthus depicts long and enduring life. The acanthus plant grows in and around the Mediterranean. Check out the story of this unique leaf and its journey in different media used in the human realm !
Diagram, acanthus leaf.
Buddhist Capital from Gandhara, 4th century A.D
The Encyclopaedia Britannica says : Acanthus, in architecture and decorative arts, is a stylized ornamental motif based on a characteristic Mediterranean plant with jagged leaves, Acanthus spinosus. It was first used by the Greeks in the 5th century BC on temple roof ornaments, on wall friezes, and on the capital of the Corinthian column. One of the best examples of its use in the Corinthian order is the Temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens. Later the Romans used the motif in their Composite order, in which the capital of the column is a three-dimensional combination of spirals resembling rams’ horns and full-bodied acanthus leaves. The acanthus leaf has been a popular motif in carved furniture decoration since the Renaissance.
Capital detail,temple of Olympian Zeus, 6th century,Athens, Greece.
Acanthus leaf design seen on the capitals, temple of Olympian Zeus, 6th century, Athens, Greece.
A poem reads thus –
The Corinthian of Greece and acanthus leaves-
The temple of Athens where the golden bell rings.
Its a tumble of tune a song for the yore-
The musical swells, as symphony soar.
The bride of Apollo does walk down the aisle, in virgin white lace-
by power of means she maneuvers with grace.
And Apollo himself wrote a passaged vow to wealthiest wealth of love that forever bows.
Without her, he says, the nights have no moon,
the stars will fall out of place,
neither courtesy of colors in midst noon nor there is such a beautiful face.
Apollo’s Bride, Cassandra, blushed with fury lust-
And by the ring she took his hand,
her lover Apollo took it by grand.
And together forever they treasured their land
Under Greece’s dome by the Corinithia of Acanthus leaves- ..
The bells continuously sing Golden bells’ ring
of what rumbles and bring
The definition of lovely things.
………………………..by Brittany Martin.
Acanatha is a minor character in Greek mythology whose metamorphosis was the origin of the Acanthus plant. The tale goes that Acantha was a nymph loved by the god Apollo. Acantha, however, rebuffed Apollo’s advances and scratched his face. As a result, Apollo transformed her into the Acanthus, a plant with spiny leaves. The acanthus leaf has inspired art and architecture right from the 5th century in Greece and Rome as mentioned. The leaf has inspired designs for wall papers, wood work as railings, on watches, as decoration on book illustrations. The 4th and 5th century art at Gandhara had a lot of Greek influence and the Buddhist capital below depicts the acanthus leaf used for ornamentation. The design is used as a modern tattoo too !
Illustration, Acanthus Capital.
Fragment of frieze with acanthus leaves, Islamic art, 6th century.
Byzantine architecture too has celebrated the acanthus leaf motif. The leaves cover large surfaces. Also seen in the letters of Illustrated manuscripts including the borders. Many Roman buildings have captured the beauty of this leaf as foliage designs. Islamic art has also used this awesome motif.
Illuminated Book of Hours with acanthus leaf as ornamental border, 1406–09 A.D
Mughal rose water sprinkler, acanthus motif design, 1700 A.D
Detail from the facade of the Cathedral in Syracuse, Italy, 18th century.
Acanthus block-printed cotton velveteen designed by William Morris, 19th century.
Cushion cover, acanthus design, 21st century. (Image from Amazon.com)
Mention Mandu and everyone recalls the famous love story of Baz Bahadur and Rani Rupmati. Located in the Malwa region of Madhya Pradesh, now in Dhar district. the place has some amazing history along with beautiful built structures which illustrate the romance. Rupmati is a shepherd girl who Baz Bahadur, met during one of his hunting trips. He was the last ruler of Malwa, son of Shuja’at Khan; he heard her singing and was smitten by her beauty. He asked her to come to Mandu, to which she agreed but asked to live at place not far from him and the Narmada river. This led to building of the Rupmati pavillion and the Rewa Kund. It is believed that they married as per Hindu and Muslim rites.
Baz Bahadur and Rani Rupmati hunting, painting, Nurpur, 18th century.
Unfortunately in 1561, the Mughal Emperor sent Adham Khan to conquer Mandu. Baz Bhadur fled to Chittorgarh to seek help. The army of Malwa was no match to the Mughal forces. Mandu was defeated in the battle of Sarangpur. Rani Rupmati did not want to be captured and poisoned herself.
The story of Rupmati was written by Sharaf-ud-Din Mirza in the Persian language. He collected 26 poems of her; the original manuscript changed hands and and was translated by L. M Crump in 1926, under the title : ‘The lady of the lotus – Rupmati, Queen of Mandu, a strange tale of faithfulness.
Excerpts from the translation :
……Her eyebrows are like unto the curves of the letter ‘Nun’ or unto rainbows in the heavens : to twin black fishes in the fountain of the sun, to the sword of that for the terror of infidels was sent down on earth : horns of the deer of sight are they or the sacred book of a temple of the idolaters : feathers of the wings of the falcon of vision or the invocation of the name of God. The painting of her eyebrows is as two crescent moons set each on other or twin daggers over twin swords : green sheaths are they of the sharp falcons of her brows or two green leaves of the tree of Paradise. The tail of her eyebrow is the sting of the scorpion or the point of the sword of the executioner. The line of her knitted brows is a gleaming blade or a ripple in the wine-cup of her charms.…
…..more often soon than late, for he neglected all things for her company, they would sing to each other the songs of love which they had composed, or, calling the musicians and the singing and dancing girls, listen to their songs of love and war. Fair was life to them evening after evening on the roof of the Ship Palace, in the heart of their dear city impregnable, looking out over mosque and tomb, dome and cupola of blue and green and yellow and of marble white, and beyond, to lake and wood, to hill and vale fair indeed, and all the fairer for the music in their ears and the love within their hearts. Yet was not Rup Mati slow to perceive that herein lay danger for Baz Bahadur. His nobles delighted to gather round him and ply him with wine, till he knew not night from day…..
Baz Bahadur’s Palace, Mandu.
Arcade, Baz Bahadur’s Palace, Mandu.
The songs and verses which are said to have been composed by Rupmati are dohas, kabittas and sawaiyas still sung in Mandu ! Also a part of translated work by M.L Crump, The lady with the lotus.
The defeat of Baz Bahadur, painting from Akbarnama, late 16th century.
The lady of the lotus – Rupmati, Queen of Mandu, a strange tale of faithfulness/ Ahmad -ul-Umari, tr. L.M Crump, London : Oxford University Press, 1926.
Tucked away in Ibrahimbagh in the historic city of Hyderabad in India, which was founded in 1591 by the fifth Sultan of the Qutub Shahi rulers of the Deccan Sultanate of Golconda; who ruled when Sultan Quli declared independence from the powerful Bahmani kingdom in early 16th century, is their necropolis in a beautiful garden setting. The Sultans ruled both from Golconda and Hyderabad at different points of time.The Qutub Shahis are remembered for bringing in new traditions along with immigrants from Persia, the founder Sultan Quli being from there who migrated to the Indian subcontinent. The Qutub Shahis mingled their culture with local sensibilities to usher in a ‘composite’ culture which paved the way for new ways of dress and etiquette, language, intoduction of beautiful calligraphy, art and architecture. A new idiom thewhich, Golconda school of miniature painting evolved during their reign who were great patrons of music and literature. The Sultans themselves composed poetry which is still cherished. They patronised the languages Persian and Telugu along with Dakhni, proto-Urdu. Many works of literture were produced. The dynasty ruled upto 1686 which ended with the siege by Aurangzeb in 1687. After an interim Mughal rule the Asaf Jahis ruled and developed the area which became part of the Indian Republic in 1956. The city of Hyderabad, now in Telangana State of India, has seen phases of growth under various rulers to become a major metropolis in south of India with expansion of the newer city of Hyderabad, the Secunderabad Cantonment, the last addition being Cyberabad. This write-up focusses on the amazing tomb complex at Ibrahimbagh in Hyderabad which is some distance from the Golconda Fort. Qutub Shahi architectural splendour is very prominent here with most features of Islamic architecture with components like arches, domes and minarets. The local influence can be seen in the liberal use of lotus-petal bases around the domes and minarets.
View of Golconda Fort on the way to the tombs |D. Vinod
The tombs of the Sultans along with other important people from the family and associates are at a royal necropolis or tomb complex at Ibrahimbagh near the Golconda Fort. The place was also called Bagh Safa. The tombs were built over time by various kings. Surrounding the tombs are gardens; beautiful gardens with shrubs and trees, a bagh setting amidst fountains and the timeless interplay of light and shade. Nature seems to be at its best with flowers, birds, bees, butterlfies and squirrels, abundant foliage, under the bluest skies.
Skyview, image | Dinesh Singh
Mentionable here are the eight sultans of the Qutub Shahi dynasty; Sultan Quli Qutb-ul-Mulk (1512–1543), Jamsheed Quli Qutb Shah (1543–1550), Subhan Quli Qutb Shah (1550),Ibrahim Quli Qutb Shah (1550–1580),Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah (1580–1612), Sultan Muhammad Qutb Shah (1612–1626),Abdullah Qutb Shah (1626–1672) and Abul Hasan Qutb Shah (1672–1686). The last Sultan is not buried here as he was sent to Daulatabad after the Mughal siege by Aurangzeb and his forces in 1687.
Cistern at the bagh, image|Dinesh Singh
The architecture seen here is a beautiful blend of Persian, Indian and Pashtun influences. The tombs are mostly on a raised platform having domes and surrounded by arches. The tombs were much venerated during the Qutub Shahi times. The tombs of the Sultans had golden spires over them. People would read from the Holy Quran which used to be kept on pedestals. During the Qutub Shahi rule, there used to be Persian carpets on the floors inside the tombs with the perfume of incense wafting around. After the reign changed, the tombs were not much in focus. In the beginning of 19th century, Sir Salar Jung ordered for their restoration. He was an important prime-minister of Hyderabad-Deccan during the Asaf Jahi rule (1724-1948). The Aga Khan Foundation is restoring the tombs at present in the 21st century. There are displays which show the course of work that is happening here at the bagh.
One gets to see all the sturctures in the tomb complex along with the gardens and fountains, the well called Badi bowli, a neatly designed stepwell. The fine stucco on the structures leaves one amazed and the dainty designs on the minarets are very pleasing to the eye. The tomb of the founder of the dynasty Sultan Quli Qutub-ul-mulk is some distance away to the south west of the tomb of Sultan Mohammad Quli Qutub Shah. A fairly simple tomb structure built on a platform with an octagonal interior with a dome crowning the top. Sultan Quli’s tomb has the inscription Bade Malik or Big Master as he was addressed by that name. The tomb has two graves with another smaller one. Outside there are 21 graves on the plinth, maybe of people close to him. The tomb of Subhan Quli on the same plinth has a dome which being fluted looks very beautiful. Some distance away to the west of Sultan Quli’s tomb is his son Jamsheed Quli’s tomb, an octagonal structure which looks double storeyed with arches and projecting balconies. The balconies have rich ornamental balustrades.. The tomb of Mohammad Amin who died in 1596; who was the sixth son of Sultan Ibrahim Qutub Shah and father of Sultan Mohammad Qutub Shah at a young age of 25, is towards the west of the tomb complex. The tomb has two graves inside.
Tomb of Sultan Quli, founder of the dynasty|D.Vinod
The tomb of Sultan Ibrahim Qutub Shah is some distance away to the south west of Sultan Quli’s mausoleum.The tomb has two graves in the main chamber and another sixteen on the terrace most probably of his children. Sultan Mohammad Qutub Shah’s mausoleum has a circular dome and the central chamber is surrrounded by an arcaded gallery with seven exits or openings. The upper storey has five recesses.
The tomb of Sultan Subhan Ali, fondly called Chhote Malik or Little Master lies near his father Jamsheed Quli’s tomb. The other tombs are of the physicians or hakims of the Sultan Abdullah Qutub Shah, Nizamuddin Ahmed Jeelani and Abdul Jabbar Jeelani, tomb of Neknaam Khan who served in Sultan Abdullah’s army, tomb of Fatima Sultan sister of Mohammad Qutub Shah and Kulsoom , his grand-daughter. Also the tombs of courtesans Taramati and Pemamati. The tomb complex was once called Lagar-e-faiz-athar where songs, dances and drama were regularly staged.
There are also other tombs in the complex of members of the dynasty of the Qutub Shahis which have different architectural features from the main tombs but are very pleasing to the eye with ornate designs.
Tomb of Hayat Bakshi Begum, tomb complex, Ibrahimbagh, Hyderabad|Dinesh Singh
Tile decoration, Hayat Bakshi Begum masjid, tomb complex, Ibrahim bagh, Hyderabad|Dinesh Singh
Tomb of Sultan Jamsheed Quli, tomb complex, Ibrahimbagh, Hyderabad|D. Vinod
Tomb of Sultan Ibrahim Qutub Shah, Ibrahimbagh, Hyderabad|Soma Ghosh
Blue tile work remains, Tomb of Sultan Ibrahim Qutub Shah, Ibrahimbagh, Hyderabad|Asif Ali Khan
The tomb of Sultan Mohammad Quli Qutub Shah who died in 1612 is a striking structure with a double terrace. He was the fifth Sultan and is well rembered for constructing the Charminar at Hyderabad with the Char Kaman and founding the city of Hyderabad. The Sultan’s grave is in a crypt covered with black stone and is lower than the ground. The arcades around are unique and are very cool inside in contrast to the bright sunlight during daytime outside the tomb. The minarets at the corners have exquisite designs.
Tomb of Sultan Mohammad Quli Qutub Shah, tomb complex, Ibrahimbagh, Hyderabad|D.Vinod
Archways, tomb of Sultan Mohammad Quli Qutub Shah, tomb complex, Ibrahimbagh, Hyderabad|Soma Ghosh
The tomb of the seventh ruler, Sultan Abdullah Qutub Shah appears first to the vistor. The sacrophagus is in black basalt. There are still some traces of blue and green enamel on the minarets. The tomb overall is very impressive with its seven arches built in perfect alignment in its corridors giving a feel of infinity. After this on the left one gets to see the incomplete tomb but actually has the grave of Sultan Abdullah’s eldest son-in-law Mirza Nizamuddin Ahmed.
Some way from the entrance to the north-west one can locate the impressive tomb of Hayat Bakshi Begum or Ma saheba, who is the daughter of the fifth ruler, Sultan Mohammad Quli Qutub Shah and wife of the 4th ruler, Sultan Mohammad Qutub Shah. Her son was Sultan Abdullah Qutub Shah. She played an important role and was a strong presence in Deccan history of the time. She was fondly called Ma-saheba. Her tomb has seven arches on each side with beautiful minarets at the corners, her sacrophagus in black basalt with verses. Her tomb is ornate and its parapet displays a frieze of flowers.
The tomb of Mohammad Qutub Shah is near the tomb of Hayat Baksh Begum to the south. He died in 1626. The graves of his other six children are also in this tomb. The complex has the tombs of Taramati and Pemamati who were sisters and royal dancers and concubines. The mortuary bath is also at the complex where the bodies of the royals would be given a bath before burial; there were cisterns for both hot and cold perfumed water.
Tomb of Sultan Abdullah Qutub Shah, tomb complex, Ibrahimbagh, Hyderabad| Dinesh Singh
The Hayat Bakshi Begum’s mosque attached to her tomb at the north side of her tomb is an important structure of the complex. It has a prayer hall, a vaulted roof with sunken domes, a facade with five arches and finely designed minarets with pots at the ends on lotus petals. The dome at the centre has beautiful designs; the mihrab has an inscription containing Quranic verses in superb calligraphy around it on black stone. This masjid was built in 1667.
The tomb of the founder of the dynasty Sultan Quli Qutub-ul-mulk is some distance away to the south west of the tomb of Sultan Mohammad Quli Qutub Shah. A fairly simple tomb structure built on a platform with an octagonal interior with a dome crowning the top. The tomb has two graves with another smaller one. Outside there are 21 graves on the plinth, maybe of people close to him. The tomb of Subhan Quli on the same plinth has a dome which being fluted looks very beautiful. Some distance away to the west of Sultan Quli’s tomb is his son Jamsheed Quli’s tomb, an octagonal structure which looks double storeyed. The tomb of Mohammad Amin who died in 1596; who was the sixth son of Sultan Ibrahim Qutub Shah and father of Sultan Mohammad Qutub Shah at a young age of 25, is towards the west of the tomb complex. The tomb has two graves inside.
Lo ! some we loved..the loveliest and the Best
……………..one by one….crept silently to Rest.
……..from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.
Archway at tomb of Sultan Abdullah Qutub Shah, tomb complex, Ibrahimbagh, Hyderabad|Dinesh Singh
An unfinished tomb started by Sultan Abul Hasan Tana Shah, houses the grave of Mirza Nizamuddin Ahmed, Sultan Abdullah’s eldest son-in-law. The royal tomb complex also has the mosque of Hayat Bakshi Begum and the dargah of Hazrat Hussain Shah Wali, Sufi saint and builder of the Hussain Sagar at Hyderabad. A mortuary bath in Turkish style exists opposite the tomb of Mohammad Quli. The tombs of the earlier Sultans are at the back of the bagh. The tombs of the Sultans have Quranic verses especially the ‘throne verse’, the aayat-ul-kursi and the Shia durud in calligraphy. The tombs look uniform in design but there are some differences especially in the size of the structures. The tombs are usually built on a raised plinth with an arcaded gallery around a square chamber. A ring of lotus petals are seen at the base of the bulbous dome over the structure which looks very ornate and decorative. Aurangzeb had mounted cannons on the tombs during his siege efforts in 1679 to destroy the fortifications of Golconda Fort.
When the sun sets here the silhouette of the tombs are seen against the evening sky; the breeze blows and one feels the whispering of tales of the centuries gone by. India’s poetess Sarojini Naidu has said of the tombs:
The royal tombs of Golconda
I muse among these silent fanes
Whose spacious darkness guards your dust
around me sleep the hoary plains
That hold your ancient wars in trust
I pause,my dreaming spirit hears,
Across the wind’s unquiet tides,
The glimmering music of your spears
The laughter of your royal brides,
The royal tombs of Golconda
In vain o Kings,doth time aspire
to make your names oblivion’s sport
While yonder hill wears like a tier
The ruined grandeur of your fort
Though centuries falter and decline
Your proven strongholds will remain
Embodied memories of your line
Incarnate legends of your reign.
O Queens, in vain old Fate decreed
Your flower-like bodies to the tomb;
Death is in truth the vital seed
Of your imperishable bloom
Each new-born year the bulbuls sing
Their songs of your renascent loves;
Your beauty wakens with the spring
To kindle these pomegranate groves.
References and image attributions
1.History of the Qutub Shahi dynasty/H.K Sherwani, New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1974.
2.The art and architecture of the Deccan Sultanates/George Michell and Mark Zebrowski, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.
3. The heritage of the Qutub Shahis of Golconda and Hyderabad/M.A Nayeem, Hyderabad: Hyderabad Publishers, 2006.
5. Images by are by Dinesh Singh, D. Vinod, Asif Ali Khan and the author.
Much has been written about the Taj Mahal, India’s iconic Mughal monument. A testament to love as it is believed, made by an emperor, Emperor Shahjahan for his favourite queen, Mumtaz Mahal or Arjumand Bano Begum. One is awestruck on seeing the Taj made from marble from Makrana which depicts so many elements of art and architecture. One can see domes, arches, minarets, windows, ceiling designs, parchin kari or pietra dura, calligraphy, Islamic geometry. Also jaali or trellis work. The finial on top of the biggest dome is also very ornate. Different views from the Taj show the beautiful embellishment and the exquisite use of marble to create this awesome wonder of the world. This mausoleum or rauza is one of the finest monuments of the world.
This famous edifice is at an important Mughal city, Agra on the banks of the Jamuna river. Agra also has an awesome fortress, the tombs of Emperor Akbar, his consort, Jodha Bai and Vizier I’timad-ud-daulah of Emperor Jahangir. The chief architect of the Taj was Ustad Ahmed Lahori. The design is a synthesis though the Persian element is predominant.
Taj Mahal, image, 21st century.
The Taj Mahal
Aye, build it on these banks,” the monarch said, “That when the autumn winds have swept the sea, They may come hither with their falling rains, A voice of mighty weeping o’er her grave.”
They brought the purest marble that the earth E’er treasured from the sun, and ivory Was never yet more delicately carved : Then cupolas were raised, and minarets, And flights of lofty steps, and one vast dome Rose till it met the clouds : richly inlaid With red and black, this palace of the dead Exhausted wealth and skill. Around its walls The cypresses like funeral columns stood, And lamps perpetual burnt beside the tomb. And yet the emperor felt it was in vain, A desolate magnificence that mocked The lost one, and the loved, which it enshrined.
……………..Letitia Elizabeth Landon
The Taj Mahal is situated a mile distant from the Agra Fort at a bend of the river Jamuna. The Taj was built on a large square area out of Raja Jai Singh’s garden. The Taj is considered a place of pilgrimage because Mumtaz Mahal had died during childbirth, ie. it is both a rauza and urs, hence it was designed keeping in mind the needs of both. there is designed place for pilgrims to stay, poor to receive food and gift of clothes etc. The Taj has a forecourt and gardens. The charbagh, mosque and tomb were built in the larger portion, ending in an open platform and raised terrace with the river in view. The mausoleum was placed on this terrace. The gateway at the southern end was the public entrance. The gateway at the northern wall of the forecourt is a three storeyed gateway.
Floral arabesques on spandrels, Taj Mahal, image, 21st century.
The Taj unfolds as one walks through the monument. The outer gateway opens to a large quadrangle surrounded by arcaded rooms and adorned by four gateways This monument took 22 years to build. A broad pavement leads to a gateway made of red stone and inscribed with verses from the Holy Quran. As one moves on, one can see beauty and embellishement. There are the jaalis, pietra dura works as beautiful arabesques. Some views here are testimony to some splendid floral designs at the Taj.
Floral arabesques on spandrels,Taj Mahal, image, 21st century.
Floral arabesque in border and plant motifs on a dado, Taj Mahal, image, 21st century.
Chevrons and vegetal motifs, Taj Mahal, image, 21st century.
Petals, inverted, Taj Mahal, image, 21st century.
Vegetal and floral arabesques,Taj Mahal, image, 21st century.
Taj Mahal, image, 21st century.
Vegetal scroll, Taj Mahal, image, 21st century.
Taj Mahal, image, 21st century.
Floral scroll, Taj Mahal, image, 21st century.
Ornamental scrolls, vegetal design, Taj Mahal, image, 21st century.
The arabesque holds a special meaning. The Cambridge dictionary says that it is ‘a type of design based on flowers, leaves, and branches twisted together, found especially in Islamic art’. The architecture of Mughal monuments in India offers many examples of arabesque art. The Taj Mahal, tomb of Emperor Akbar, tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah, the Fatehpur Sikri, the Agra Fort, the Red Fort and several others. The arabesque has also been defines as a vegetal design consisting of full and half palmettes as an unending continuous pattern in which each leaf grows out of another. It is symbolic of the unity of faith of Islam.
The beautiful and striking designs created on many Mughal monuments are actually a combination of the arabesque-vegetal, geometric patterns and Islamic calligraphy. Islamic art is diverse and made up of stunning patterns, due to the absence of figures which could make it an object of worship, which is prevented in Islam. However the core of the art is symmetry and harmony. There is an effort to convey the structure of everything through pattern. Geometry is an important element, it is sacred geometry with an inner and outer meaning.
Arabesque art depictions, mostly combined with geometry and calligraphy have two types, the first is about the principles that govern the order of the world. Geometric forms have a built in symbolism.The principles include the basics of what makes objects structurally sound yet pleasing to the eye. The square has equal sides and represents the important elements of nature, earth, air, fir and water. The physical world is symbolised by a circle that inscribes the square and would collapse upon itself without any of the four elements. The second type is based on the flowing nature of vegetal froms, representing the feminine life giving force. The third type is the mode of Islamic calligraphy. it is also called the art of the spoken word. Many proverbs and passages from the Holy Quran can be seen in arabesque art. The coming together of these three forms create the arabesque in its entirety. The art is not just mathematically precise but beautiful and symbolic. Many Islamic designs are based on squares and circles, interlaced to form complex patterns. A common motif is the 8 pointed star made of 2 squares, one rotated 45 degrees with respect to the other. Another basic shape is the polygon, mostly pentagon and octagon. Islamic artwork is found in jaali work or trellis tilings, woodwork, kilims or rugs, leather book bindings, metalwork, ceramics and ceilings.
A glimpse into this fascinating world of visual art includes images from two important tombs in Agra, North of India, both from 17th century Mughal era.
Tomb of Emperor Akbar
Emperor Jalalluddin Akbar was the third Mughal emperor, born in 1542 A.D, who ruled from 1556 to 1605 A.D. Akbar’s reign significantly influenced the course of Indian history. During his rule, the Mughal empire tripled in size and wealth. Akbar promulgated Din-i-Ilahi, a syncretic creed derived mainly from Islam and Hinduism, Zoroastrianism and Christianity. His tomb is at Sikandra, Agra, a structure with ornate and stunning Islamic art and architecture.
Tomb of Emperor Akbar, main entrance with artwork, 17th century, Agra.
Emperor Akbar, miniature painting, 17th century, MFA, Boston, U S A
Tomb of Emperor Akbar, 17th century, Agra.
Detail, tomb of Emperor Akbar, 17th century, Agra.
Ceiling detail, ”muqarna”, tomb of Akbar, 17th century, Sikandra, Agra.
Ceiling detail, ”muqarna”,tomb of Akbar, 17th century, Sikandra, Agra.
Inlay panels on South Gate, tomb of Akbar, 17th century, Agra.
Jaali work, tomb of Akbar complex, 17th century, Agra.
Tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah
Mirza Ghiyas Beg also known by his title of I’timad-ud-Daulah was a vizier in the Mughal empire, whose children served as wives, mothers, and generals of the Mughal emperors.He was the father of the famous ‘Nur-Jehan’ and grand father of ‘Mumtaz-Mahal’ of the Taj Mahal fame. He was made ”Vazir” after Nur Jehan ‘s marriage with Jehangir in 1611.
I’timad-ud-Daulah, painting, 18th century.
Tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah, 17th century, Agra.
Tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah, 17th century, Agra.
Detail, 8-pointed star pattern, tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah, 17th century, Agra.
Detail, tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah, a quarter of each 6-point star is shown in each corner; half stars along the sides, 17th century, Agra.
Gate,arabesques on spandrels, Tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah, 17th century, Agra.
Jaali design with 6 point stars and arabesques on the sides, tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah, 17th century, Agra.
Arabesques on exteriors, tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah, 17th century, Agra.
Deep cut or excavated caves in the Aurangabad district of Maharastra in Western India are the now well-known Ajanta Caves. Made into a 75 metre wall of rock, between 2nd century B. C and 5th century A.D these caves are a marvel in art, sculpture and rock-cut architecture. The earliest caves are believed to have been excavated during the Satavahana period and belong to the Hinayana tradition of Buddhism. During the reign of King Harisena (r. 460-478 A.D) of the Vakatakas, whose feudatories and minister supported the ”sangha”, the Mahayana Buddhists contributed to over 20 impressive cave excavations at Ajanta. These were embellished with mural art, sculpture and great architecture. The caves are cut into a mountain wall above the Waghora river.
View of Ajanta Caves, 2nd century B.C to 5th century A.D, Maharashtra.
The architecture of the caves were customised to the monastic needs of the Buddhists to include assembly halls, living quarters and spaces for meditation. A few caves are from the pre-Vakataka period. Some glimpses from sculptural marvels from the caves are showcased –
Cave 1 – Made under Harisena, this cave has an elaborate carved facade, with relief sculptures on the entablature and ridges, and most surfaces embellished with decorative carving. There are scenes carved from the life of the Buddha, animals, as well as a number of decorative motifs.
Frieze, Cave 1, Ajanta.
Cave 4 – This cave is squarish, with a large image of the Buddha in preaching pose flanked by bodhisattvas and celestial nymphs hovering above. It consists, of a verandah, a hypostylar hall, sanctum with an antechamber and a series of unfinished cells. This monastery is the largest among the Ajanta caves and it measures nearly 970 square metres.
Buddha and bodhisattvas, Cave 4, Ajanta.
Cave 6 – It is two storeyed monastery made up of a sanctum, a hall on both levels. The lower level is pillared and has attached cells, the upper hall too has subsidiary cells. The sanctums on both level feature a Buddha in the teaching posture. The Miracle of Shravasti and Temptation of Mara is depicted in the lower level walls. Only the lower floor of cave 6 was finished. The unfinished upper floor of cave 6 has many private votive sculptures, and a shrine Buddha.
Buddha and bodhisattvas, Cave 6, Ajanta.
Cave 7 –a monastery of a single storey having a sanctum, a hall with octagonal pillars, and eight small rooms for monks. The sanctum Buddha is shown in preaching posture. There are many art panels narrating Buddhist themes. This cave has a grand facade with two porticos. The veranda has eight pillars of two types. One has an octagonal base with amalaka and lotus capital. The other lacks a distinctly shaped base, features an octagonal shaft instead with a plain capital. The veranda opens into an antechamber. On the left side in this antechamber are seated or standing sculptures, those of 25 carved seated Buddhas in various postures and facial expressions, while on the right side are 58 seated Buddha reliefs in different postures, all on lotuses.
Buddhas, antechamber, Cave 7, Ajanta.
Cave 19 – This structure was completed during the Vakataka rule which which is grand chaitya hall. It has a courtyard with attached cells. It has an elaborate facade and a single entrance to the cave having a portico with pillars. It has a circular window with lot of decoration around the opening. There are decorated pilasters and cornices. The grid has many sculptures, mostly Buddha figures. There is Naga group on the facade.
Entrance, Cave 19, Ajanta.
Naga group, facade of Cave 19, Ajanta.
Entrance sculptures, Cave 19, Ajanta.
Cave 9 – This cave has a distinct apsidal shape. The aisle has a row of 23 pillars. The ceiling is vaulted. The stupa is at the center of the apse, with a circumambulatory path around it. The stupa sits on a high cylindrical base. It is a chaitya or worship halls from the 2nd to 1st century B.C, the first period of construction, reworked upon at the end of the second period of construction in the 5th century. Many sculptures adorn the facade, mostly Buddha images.
Cave 9, entrance, Ajanta.
Cave 9, Buddha with Ananda, Ajanta.
Cave 9, apsidal hall with stupa, Ajanta.
Cave 11-It is monastery and the cave veranda has pillars with octagonal shafts and square bases. The ceiling of the veranda shows evidence of floral designs and eroded reliefs. The center panel is of the Buddha seen with votaries lining up to pray before him.
Exterior, Buddha with a devotee, Cave 11, Ajanta.
Elephant, Cave 16, Ajanta.
Cave 26 – It is a worship hall or chaitya, with elements of a vihara design. The interior view of the cave gives a general appearance of a Mahayana vihara. An inscription states that a monk Buddhabhadra and his friend minister serving king of Asmaka, gifted this large cave. It has two upper stories and four wings of the cave were planned, but these were abandoned and only the carved Buddhas on the right and left wall were completed. The cave consists of an apsidal hall with side aisles for circumambulation . This path is full of carved Buddhist legends, three depictions of the Miracle of Sravasti in the right ambulatory side of the aisle, and seated Buddhas in various mudras. At the center of the apse is a rock-cut stupa with an image of the Buddha in front, 18 panels on its base, 18 panels above these, a three tiered torana above him. On top of the stupa is a nine-tiered harmika, a symbolism for the nine samsara in Mahayana cosmology. The walls, pillars, and brackets are intricately carved with Buddhist themes.
Entrance, Cave 26.
Side shrines, Cave 26, Ajanta.
Reliefs, Cave 26, Ajanta.
Column designs, Cave 26, Ajanta.
Chaitya hall with stupa, Cave 26, Ajanta.
The enshrined Buddha is sitting in the pralambapadasana posture, with his legs down, maybe representing Maitreya, the future Buddha.
View, Chaitya hall with stupa, Cave 26, Ajanta.
Stupa, Cave 26, Ajanta.
Capitals, Cave 26, Ajanta.
Aisle, Cave 26, Ajanta.
Pariniravana of the Buddha, Cave 26, Ajanta.
The art of ancient India/Huntington, Susan,L,New York : Weatherhill, 1985.