You’ve probably never heard of the Mughals. Yet every time a business magnate is referred to as a Mogul, he is compared to the Mughals who were famed for their wealth and power. Etymology aside, I bet the mention of butter chicken and naan is sure to bring back some fond memories.
The Mughals were Persian invaders who conquered India in the 16th century and proceeded to rule India for over 300 years. Their influence on the Country is visible even today. Mughal food is only one facet. Islam is another. And the Islamic influence that they brought to the architecture left an in-erasable stamp on India and the World. At its zenith, the Mughal empire ruled over 25% of the World’s population. Impressed?
A city with 20 million people hardly seems like the best place to go hunting for Mughal architecture. New Delhi although flat, hot and crowded, has a wealth of beauty hidden behind the chaos. Surprisingly enough, the city houses 3 world heritage monuments and a host of other beautiful structures. Most city dwellers see nothing out of the ordinary as they drive past a huge 600-year old structure on their way to the market. For a person new to the city, this is a priceless find.
Just to give you some background, the Mughal Emperors ruled over India in the following order: Babur – Humayun – Akbar (the Great) – Jehangir – Shah Jehan – Aurangzeb. Enough about Mughal history, more on the big 5 below..
Widely acclaimed to be the precursor to one of the World’s wonders – the Taj Mahal, the resemblance is uncanny. As with many Mughal monuments, this gigantic tomb for King Humayun is built from red sandstone. Babur, Humanyun’s father, requested to be buried under the stars and so his relatively modest tomb lies in a corner of the gardens of Humayuns tomb.
No one know why this monument was built. Some say as a symbol of victory and some say it was a tower for prayers. That aside, the Qutub Minar was built in the 13th Century and to this very day, towers over Delhi. At a staggering 240 feet, the monument is adorned with beautiful red sandstone carvings and an occasional parrot on the outside. The tower has been closed to the public after a few suicide cases. Most of the buildings in the Qutub Compex lie in ruins. The iron pillar next to the Qutub Minar is one of the World’s oldest metallurgical works. Legend has it that if you can wrap your arms around it with your back against the pillar, your wish will be granted. The iron pillar now has an iron railing around it, protecting tourists from themselves.
[Update 1/11/11] Some of my astute readers have pointed out the the Qutub Minar wasn’t built by the Moguls but was built by the Khiljis which was one of the Dynasties that preceded the Moghuls.
Nizamuddin was one of the most popular Sufi Saints from the 13th Century. To this very day, many Indians flock to his tomb to pray to Saint Nizamuddin. Although this tomb is located right next to the posh, well maintained Humayun’s Tomb, the neighbourhood deteriorates a bit and gives you a glimpse into the chaos that is truly India. Shop keepers fight for a chance to sell you flowers for the tomb and people yell at you to leave your footwear outside. Once you get into the courtyard, you’ll see both devout Muslims and Hindus worshipping this Saint, hoping that their prayers are answered. All in all quite an extraordinary experience.
Shah Jehan (of Taj Mahal fame) made Delhi his Capital and renamed it as ShahJehanabad. He also commissioned the Red Fort to mark this event. The Red Fort lies smack in the middle of Delhi. Although not as intricate as the other Mughal monuments, the Red Fort is remarkable for its vastness and its red sandstone architecture. Most of the residential palaces within the fort were destroyed when the British captured the fort in 1857.
The Jama Masjid translates to “Friday Mosque” and also dates back from the Moghul era (Shah Jehan at it again). Stepping out of the chaos of the adjoining market and into the mosque’s courtyard, you are enveloped by a sense of calm and awe. If there is a God, he must surely be here.
The mosque and its surroundings are not well maintained and lie in stark contrast to the rest of the monuments from the Mughal era. The reason being that it’s treated as a place of worship rather than a monument from a previous era. The Jama Masjid has the potential to be so much more if only people were able to set aside religion and recognize the cultural significance of this monument. Sadly enough, this is not an isolated case and mindless religion (everywhere) continues to be one of India’s greatest challenges.