Four towering white marble minarets surmount the gate pavilion of emperor Akbar’s tomb complex.
Of all the monumental royal mausoleums of the Mughals, domed and vaulted canopies (chhatris), pavilions and, to an extent, turrets were, arguably, most extensively and most ingeniously used in Akbar’s mausoleum. One gets a feeling that such was the case due to the overall design of the building which rendered it a five-tiered structure much like a truncated pyramid enveloped by low galleries. The extensive and creative use of those canopies, pavilions, galleries and somewhat turrets was resorted to in order to accentuate the dissection, orderliness and harmony of the tomb’s spaces. Their abundant and fetching presence gives a beholder liberty to familiarize and move freely his vision from one segment of the building to another without following any particular rigid order or sequence, while at the same time maximizing the experience and absorption of the aesthetic and rhythmical qualities of the tomb. Moreover, a beholder’s vision and thus emotional attachment to the building are at once spontaneous and total, from the beginning of the process of beholding and interacting with it till the end. They are also instantaneous and non-developmental. Apart from the relatively impressive pishtaqs which mark the central bays of the four sides of the tomb, the building has no real focal point towards which a beholder’s attention could develop, or could be drawn. The building’s entire contour of a truncated pyramid is its chief lure. The building in its intricate totality is that focal point to which a visitor’s attention and mind are instantly drawn and from which they last depart when he physically departs from the symmetrical charbagh and its watercourses that house the tomb. It goes without saying that thus built, Akbar’s tomb resembled especially a Dravida style of Hindu temple architecture where the rising tower, or shikhar (mountain peak), consists of progressively smaller storeys of pavilions. Dravidian temples are also called pyramid shaped temples. Lastly, due to their unusual and indeed out-of-place position, the four white marble minarets that surmount the gate of Akbar’s funerary complex rather appear as though they are four massive outgrown turrets crowned by octagonal chhatris. The minarets thus could be viewed as an amalgam, as it were, of the two fundamental functional and ornamental elements generally in Mughal architecture: turrets and chhatris. Furthermore, the minarets thus could be viewed as a sign and symbol of virtually everything that Mughal funerary architecture stood for, as well as a sign and symbol of its strong integration, amalgamation and hybrid disposition.Read more: Main Thrusts of the Royal Funerary Architecture of the Mughals (Part Two)
The tomb of Mariam uz-Zamani, one of emperor Akbar’s powerful wives and the mother of his son and successor, Jahangir. The tomb is located in Agra, India.
Following the advent of the Mughals, their positions and reactions to the existing royal funerary architecture culture in the Muslim world in general and in India in particular, varied. For sure, there was no standardized approach to the matter. There were no established behavioral patterns that were strictly followed. On the whole, it all depended on the personal disposition of each and every emperor and his personality, as well as on the dispositions of some of his immediate family members. Hence, one cannot speak of an evolutionary process or a growth in Mughal royal funerary architecture where, for example, Humayun’s tomb is described as “an outstanding landmark in the development of the Mughal style”, or as a “successful foretaste” of the “perfection” of the Taj Mahal. A careful examination of Mughal royal monuments highlights a number of important facts which defy the laws of purported Mughal type evolution or development in relation to its stylistic homogeny, rationality and chronology, as elaborated by Michael Brand. The first fact is that the Mughals did not construct a single dynastic mausoleum. “If, as is quite possible, Humayun’s tomb was intended by Akbar to serve such a function, then Jahangir’s construction of a tomb for Akbar at Sikandra was an implicit rejection of the notion.” Secondly, none of the Mughal emperors were buried in the same city. Thirdly, there was no one form or style adopted for all the tombs, “although Humayun’s tomb and the Taj Mahal do share similar forms, and certain themes, such as the use of white marble and garden settings, do occur. Furthermore, this diversity of form does not even develop a single direction. There are clearly too many missing links and throwbacks to support a theory of evolution marching resolutely towards the Taj Mahal.”Read more: Main Thrusts of the Royal Funerary Architecture of the Mughals (Part One)
The Taj Mahal in Agra, India.
The Mughals were a Muslim dynasty of Turkic-Mongol origin that ruled most of the northern Indian subcontinent from the early 10th AH/ 16th CE to the mid-12th AH/ 18th CE century, after which it continued to exist as a considerably reduced and increasingly powerless entity until the mid-13th AH/ 19th CE century. At the height of their power in the 11th AH/ 17th CE century, the Mughals were in command of most of the subcontinent. “The Mughal dynasty was notable for its more than two centuries of effective rule over much of India, for the ability of its rulers, who through seven generations maintained a record of unusual talent, and for its administrative organization. A further distinction was the attempt of the Mughals, who were Muslims, to integrate Hindus and Muslims into a united Indian state.”Read more: The Mughals and Monumental Royal Mausoleums
Jahangir’s tomb in Lahore, Pakistan.
When the Mughals arrived and began to assert themselves at the Muslim socio-political scene, the phenomenon of Muslim funerary architecture was more than a thousand years old. They thus inherited a legacy which was instigated and fomented by a variety of historical factors and through the contributions of a great many protagonists from a number of corners of the Muslim vast domain and from virtually all strata of its composite social configuration. It was extremely difficult for anybody to concoct and apply any completely novel ideas and genera, both at conceptual and physical planes. The most conceivable scenario for the Mughals, therefore, was to be ingenious followers and under some unprecedented religious and social circumstances and conditions to bring the ubiquitous funerary architectural trends to some higher level of particularly artistic and architectural refinement and exquisiteness, something like what happened -- to a much lesser extent though -- to the funerary architectural legacies of the Mughals’ contemporaries, the Osmanlis and Safavids.Read more: Contextualizing the Royal Funerary Architecture of the Mughals
(4) The Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jama’ah Factor
The ahl al-sunnah wa al-jama’ah factor also played a prominent role in instituting and advancing the Sufism and Sufi institutions phenomena. However, if the contributions of the previous three factors targeted both Sufism and Sufi institutions in equal measure, the contributions of the ahl al-sunnah wa al-jama’ah factor, it seems, aimed more at the Sufi establishments, as a palpable institutional evidence of the supremacy of Sunnism over the rest, than at Sufism as sets of doctrines and as a lifestyle. That could be the case because the scope of the ahl al-sunnah wa al-jama’ah factor in relation to the growth of Sufism and its institutions became crystallized only after the roles of the Turkish, Persian and Shi’ah factors were clearly defined, following which generating their expected impacts went into full swing. Moreover, such was the nature of the ahl al-sunnah wa al-jama’ah factor, and such were the circumstances in which it was formulated and in which it became fully operational insofar as Sufism and its institutions were concerned, that there was little time or space left for prolonged dealings with fluid and open-ended abstract and conceptual subject matters. What was needed most urgently was to strategize and regulate the orb of Sunnism in the face of both politically and ideologically assertive opponents by means of an out-and-out institutionalization of all of the religious, socio-political and educational facets and features of Sunnism. The preeminence of Sunnism was thus to be fully brought down from a world of ideas, principles and sentiments to a more concrete world of regulatory policies, systems and institutional organizations, with Sufism having been no exception. Unmistakable demarcating lines at both conceptual and practical levels were thus to be drawn between mainstream Sunnism and the rest of nonconformist ideologies and movements. Hitherto unheard of, the scheme was set to encompass all the governmental macro institutions and bodies, whence it was projected to cascade down to the micro level and have an effect on the rest of establishments and bodies. Prior to this far-reaching initiative, which was spearheaded by the Saljuqs and whose exemplar was later followed by the Ayyubids, the Mamluks, the Ottomans and many others, Sufi institutions belonged to the micro level establishments and bodies, but after that, commencing with the Saljuqs, when numerous Sufi institutions became state-owned, Sufi institutions became well represented at macro and micro levels alike. They belonged to and were utilized by both the government and the common herd of Muslims. Just as Sufism became almost an official state canon, many Sufi institutions likewise became virtually of a nationalized character.