Architecture of Love and Death (part II)

Taj Mahal (1632-1652), Agra, India.

Taj Mahal (1632-1652), Agra, India.

This is the second, and last post, of Architecture of Love and Death.  In the first post, I proposed that Egyptian pyramids were built in preparation of Death for their nobility, while Muslim mausoleums such as the Taj Mahal were built by family members out of love and devotion for the deceased.

Islamic orthodoxy frowns upon building permanent structures over graves, fearing that the practice would lead to worshiping of graves and the ultimate sin of idolatry (Shirk).  Early Muslims heeded the admonitions of the Prophet Muhammad and refrained from building permanent grave sites, therefore, it is hard to find any mausoleums of nobility from the first intercontinental Umavi Khilafat (661-750 A.D.) in Islamic history.

However, Muslims from later generations, from 11th century and onward, started to build these mausoleums despite a qualified prohibition to do that.  The tradition of the Muslim funerary architecture evolved thousands of miles east of Mecca and Madina, the birth place of Islam. The Muslim ruling class didn’t just built tombs for their family members but also built them for their local saint-scholars as an act of charity and generosity.  The Seljuk Rulers helped build the tomb and mosque complex for Sufi poet Jalaludin Rumi (d 1273) in Konya, Turkey. The Ilkhanids built a tomb complex in Natanz Iran, 130 Kilometers from Isfahan, for the Sufi Shaykh Abd al-Samad (1300 A.D.).  In 1562, Mughals financed Nizamuddin Auliya‘s tomb in Delhi, India.  The earlier tombs built in Iran, Turkey and Egypt were modest in scale, but the Mughal (1526-1857) tombs built in India became truly monumental, as evident in the size of Taj Mahal.

I will give some examples of these tombs from Indian subcontinent to highlight the form and scale of these mausoleums.  I believe the Turko-Indian rulers, originating from Central Asia, were more prone to build these structures than their counterparts in Arab lands to the west and south.


The tomb of Humayun (shown above) in Delhi was built (1562-72) by his senior widow Haji Begum, the mother of the future king Akbar. This is the first example of a monumental structure built over the grave of a Mughal King. Humayun’s father Babur, the founder of Mughal dynasty requested out of piety that there should not be a roof over his grave and according to his wishes his body was taken to Kabul where he was buried in a simple garden.  Humayun’s tomb was monumental in scale and established a style that was followed by later Imperial tomb builders, culminating in the construction of Taj Mahal. Humayun’s tomb is one of the most beautiful tombs in India, employing red stone and marble to create a balanced and harmonious facade.  Humayun’s tomb also started the tradition of placing these structures in elaborate rectangular gardens of four quadrants known as Char Baghs (four gardens).

Bairam Khan Tomb

Abd ar-Rahim Khankhanan (d. 1626) Tomb in Delhi shows the propensity of Mughals to build these tombs in a grand style.  Abdr Rahim Khan was part of the Mughal nobility; he was the son of Bairam Khan, the protector and chief confidant of Humayun’s son Emperor Akbar. This huge structure was built of red sand stone, and topped with a marble dome, which has been repurposed. The tomb is at present in poor condition and sits just outside of the Nizam-ud Din Auliya Shrine complex. The plan of this tomb is considered part of the experimentation that led to the development of the Taj Mahal scheme.

Empror Akbar's Tomb in Sikandara, India

Emperor Akbar’s Tomb in Sikandara, India

The third Mughal Emperor Akbar the Great (1555–1605), was an exception to the norm, since he himself chose the site of his tomb, outside of Agra, during his lifetime and planned for it. After his death, his son Jahangir completed the construction in 1613.  This building is a jumble of Cupolas and is the least satisfactory composition in architectural terms.

Janhangir's Tomb in Lahore, Wkipedia

Jahangir’s Tomb in Lahore, Wikipedia

Jahangir (1569-1627) was the eldest son of Mughal Emperor Akbar, who ascended to the throne on the backing of his step mothers, Ruqaiya and Salima Begums, both of whom yielded a great deal of influence with his father Akbar against whom he revolted in 1599.  During the first year of Jhangir’s reign, his eldest son Khusaru Mirza rebelled. He was subdued and Jahangir had him blinded for his rebellion. Jahangir was married to Nur Jahan the daughter of I’timad-ud Daulah, a Persian Amir at the court. Nūr Jahān, was the favorite wife of Jahangir and yielded an immense power behind the throne. When Jahangir met her, she came from Bengal as a recent widow of Sher Afghan a Mughal commander. She was very intelligent, brave and according to historians, ran the affairs of government from the palace.

Jahangir was buried in Nur Jahan’s 55-acre garden outside of Lahore on the bank of River Ravi. It is said that she was responsible for the beginning of the construction on his tomb.  Nur Jahan herself is buried in a much smaller tomb, currently in great disrepair, which is separated by railway tracks from the tomb of Jahangir.

Jahangir’s mausoleum is a single-story structure, consisting of a platform with four, 100-foot tall octagonal towers at each corner. It is suspected that at the center of the platform, there was supposed to be the main Mausoleum building, as the one seen in Humayun’s tomb, and for some reason it was never built.  This tomb is also located in a char bagh, or a four quadrant garden. The exterior of the mausoleum is clad with red sandstone with inlaid white marble motifs. The interior is embellished with floral frescoes with delicate inlay work and marble intarsia of various colors.

The Grave of the Empror Jahangir in His Tomb

The Grave of the Emperor Jahangir in His Tomb

Inside the mausoleum is the white marble cenotaph with its delicate and colorful pietra dura flowers. The elevated sarcophagus of white marble, the sides of which are wrought with flowers of mosaic in the same elegant style as the tombs in the Taj Mahal at Agra, India.

Tob of Itimad-ud-Dauhla, Agra, India.  Wikipedia

Tomb of Itimad-ud-Dauhla, Agra, India. Wikipedia

Itimad-ud-Daulah’s tomb was commissioned by his daughter Nur Jahan the beloved and powerful wife of Emperor Jahangir. Itimad-ud-Daulah a Persian Amir was an important functionary in the Mughal court and his family was closely tied to the royal family. The tomb is small in size, its towers are stubby and the central part is a strange rectangular Chatri rather than the traditional dome. Historians often call it a predecessor of Taj Mahal.  The one thing that is common between this tomb and Taj Mahal is that it is covered by white marble and pietra dura inlay, and has high quality, though it lacks the proportions of Taj Mahal, and sits fairly awkward.

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2 Comments on “Architecture of Love and Death (part II)”

  1. David-Kevin December 13, 2013 at 1:57 pm #

    Syed, As always, an excellent post. Well written and insightful.


    • Syed S. Ahmed December 14, 2013 at 6:26 pm #

      Thanks David. Your encouragement is appreciated.


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