The Mughal Architecture developed as a distinct style in India in the 16th century during the Mughal period. It developed as an art that encompassed both Persian and Indian architecture. One can see many examples of the Mughal architecture in North India, the most famous among them being the Taj Mahal.
The Mughals loved colourful decorations. Typical Persian embellishments included Islamic elements like line arabesque, stalactite, geometrical designs and calligraphy. However, at the time of their invasion into India, most Indian palaces and temples were decorated with sculptures and carvings that included symbols and representations of nature and animals. The two arts were very distinct.
Islam prohibits the depiction of animal motifs. However, Babur was a liberal king and he encouraged the use of Indian form of art in his Islamic buildings. Akbar inherited his father’s broad vision. In fact, he was even more generous and tolerant towards the adoption of ancient Indian culture in the forts and palaces that he built. For instance motifs like the chain and the bell, which is a very typical Hindu symbol depicting the invoking of gods with the ringing of bells have been found in the Jodha Bai palace and the mosque built inside Fatehpur Sikri.
At the time of Shahjahan’s rule, not only did Mughal architecture stand as a perfect blend between Persian and Indian art but it reached a zenith with delicate workmanship, grace and a new lyricism defining the constructions made during the time.
With Shahjahan, came the age of marble. The medium allowed a new fluidity to be incorporated in the drawings, designs and forms used. There was a change in both style and technique of construction. While Akbar used gaudy red stones that looked grand and bold, Shahjahan with his refined taste gave a delicate touch to his buildings by using marbles of soft hues with delicate stone tracery and inlay work.
The most important architectural construction during Akbar’s period was the building of the new capital city, Fateh Pur Sikri, located 40 kms away from Agra. The project included a complete city in itself with many buildings and pavilions forming a part of the complex. The walls of Fatehpur Sikri include not only geometrical and Islamic designs but also Hindu motifs like the gavaksa and the swastik. The city included religious buildings like the shrine of Sheikh Salim Chisti and the great mosque and also other secular buildings like the Jodha Bai palace, Man am Ki Kothi and the Panch Mahal.
Taj Mahal remains Shahjahan’s most magnificent contribution to the Mughal architecture. It is made entirely out of Makrana marble and showcases such delicate artwork and purity of form that many call it a dream in marble. Its luminous quality is best appreciated on a full moon light when it is said to shine and shimmer like a beautiful rose.
With the death of Shahjahan, Mughal architecture witnessed a decline. The next ruler, Aurangazeb was a puritan who prohibited the use of all symbols as they were against Islam. Ancient motifs began to be used only as an architectural element and had no symbolic representation.
The Nawabs of Awadh continued to build mosques, gates, gardens and Imambaras around Lucknow and Faizabad, but they were more hybrid and decadent in style. With the coming of the British, there was a new influence on architecture and instead of religious buildings or palaces; more secular and utilitarian buildings began to construct.
With the decline of the Mughals, the Mughal architecture came to an end, but the forts, mosques and palaces of the time still stand testimony to the grandeur that it once enjoyed.