Artistic and Architectural patronage of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan

This lecture is part of the Michaelmas Term Research Seminar Series.

The lecture will be held in the Lecture Room at The Khalili Research Centre, 3 St John Street, Oxford, OX1 2LG.


Architectural Patronage of the Emperor Shah Jahan: Reflections from Pādshāhnāma (Book of the Emperor) of Shaikh Muḥammad Wāris

Though compared to the important position that architecture held in Mughal culture and society, and the large scale building activities undertaken by the Mughal rulers and their noble-administrators, it is inadequately reflected in contemporary historical writings. Information has to be distilled from epigraphy, from historiography (architectural descriptions) and from poetry (versified descriptions, eulogies on buildings and chronograms). It seems to be partially true even in case of Emperor Shah Jahan, the builder of Taj, who is known for his extensive patronage of art and specially that of the architecture.  Architecture is also not a major theme of his massive three volume court chronicle called Pādshāhnāma (Book of the Emperor), produced after being corrected and edited (tahzīb or tanqīḥ) under the imperial supervision. Nonetheless being the official chronicles the “glorious book” ṣaḥīfa-i-mafākhira composed by the official historians they provide some graphic literary descriptions of royal architectural projects in reasonably satisfactory details. The volume three of  Pādshāhnāma of Shaikh Muḥammad Wāris  (d.1680) like the first two edited volumes describes most of the monuments of the new city called Shahjahanbad especially of the large heavenly palace-fortress (ḥisār gardūn) popularly called Red Fort, now a World Heritage Site. It contains vivid descriptions of the structural features of its principle buildings such as the soul-nourishing (rūḥ dar badan) garden-palaces Hayat Bakhsh and Imtiaz Bakhsh and the total expenditures involved in the colossal projects. It refers to the new innovative decoration techniques sanat-i-ayina kari, mosaic work, munabbatkari stone relief work, parchinkari, stone intarsia, girahbandi the geometrical ornamentation. The account shows that as with the production of historical works and other projects, Shah Jahan was actively involved in planning and designing of his monuments.. However, many of the structures described by the chronicler such as the summer-palace in Mukhlispur and Akbarabadi mosque could not survive. But it has sufficient information on the contribution of women to the new metropolis. It provides information about the major supervisors of various buildings but nothing about the architects. But still with the exception of few isolates remarks there is no theorizing about function of art and architecture. The paper would be largely descriptive based upon the Bodleian Library Persian MSS Elliot 368, Fraser 138, Caps Or D. 3, with illustrations where ever possible of relevant images and paintings.