Land of the Maharajas...by Monique Luchterhand
I’m yet to travel to India but the more I hear about it, the higher it gets on my list of ‘Places I MUST visit’. At the moment there is no competition; it is well and truly at the top of the list! Being a visual person and lover of colorful things, what I find so intriguing about the culture is how much the Indian people value aesthetics. It is incorporated into every element of their everyday lives and no corner appears to be left ‘un-adorned’. This point stands true when you look at ancient Indian architecture. They have some of the most iconic architecture in the world, known for its grandeur and decorative elements.
The most famous monuments in India are of the Mughal style of architecture. It is a distinctive style that was developed by the Mughals in the 16th, 17th & 18th centuries. It Incorporates elements derived from native Indian Islamic, Persian central Asian and Hindu architecture. Characteristics of the style are the symmetrical design elements with highly decorative & intricate tile work (including Persian Motifs), dome structures and fine-cut stone masonry in marble and sandstone.
What astounds me is how technically complicated these structures are how they managed to construct them with none of the modern technologies that are available today. They relied considerably on pure manpower and a creative team of highly skilled artisans; goldsmiths, mosaicist, calligraphers & master masons.
(Above) Examples of symmetrical design elements and fine-cut stone masonry. The Jalis (pierced screens pictured above) were used extensively in Indian architecture as windows, room dividers and railings around thrones, platforms, terraces, and balconies. Installed on outer walls, they were ideal for cutting down glare while allowing air to circulate. During the day, the reflection of the patterns would move across the floor creating a patterned, visual delight (functional and decorative. Genius!)
Taj Mahal: One of the Seven Wonders of the World. Images of it have become so iconic & familiar however I don’t think you can truly fathom the grandeur of it until you see it in the flesh (So I’ve heard).
One of the most iconic examples of all Mughal architecture is the Taj Mahal (‘Taj’ meaning: crown), which was made entirely from white marble and stands 171mts tall. Whilst doing a little investigating into why this majestic structure was built the Indian folk law behind it seduced me. I discovered that this structure is more than just an elaborate landmark; it is a symbol of eternal love to the Indian people. It was built by one of the greatest rulers of the Mughal Empire, Shah Jahan for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal.
Mumtaz Mahal & Shah Jahan
The love story goes like this; the 14 year old prince went for a stroll down to the Meena bazar with his string of courtiers in toe when he came across a strikingly beautiful girl hawking silk and glass beads. It was love at first sight. The girl was Mumtaz Mahal (15 years old, known as Arjumand Banu Begum at that time). She was a Muslim Persian princess, and Shah Jahan decided at that moment he would make her his wife. After their romantic encounter, Shah Jahan went back to his father and declared that he wanted to marry her. They courted for five years (quite a respectable dating period), until they were officially married in 1612. In 1628 Shah Jahan became the Emperor and Arjumand Banu was assigned the royal seal. At this point he bestowed her with the title of Mumtaz Mahal, meaning the "Jewel of the Palace" (so sweet!). The emperor had other wives (as was common in their culture), but Mumtaz Mahal was his favourite and accompanied him everywhere - even on military campaigns. In 1631, when Mumtaz Mahal was giving birth to their 14th child, she died due to complications. While Mumtaz was on her deathbed, Shah Jahan promised her that he would never re-marry and declared that he would build the richest mausoleum (tomb) over her grave as a sign of his eternal love for her. The Emperor was so heartbroken after her death that he ordered the court into mourning for two years! It took 22 years and the labor of 22,000 workers to construct the incredible monument that you now see – the Taj Mahal.
Legend has it that Shah Jahan decided to construct another Taj Mahal in black marble positioned opposite the white Taj, and to connect the two by a bridge. This structure was intended to be his own tomb. However, the construction was interrupted due to the war with his sons and was never officially completed. It is still speculated whether this is fact or fiction but it makes for an interesting twist I say!
Now you can’t have a good love story without a heart-wrenching twist in the plot. Soon after completion of the Taj, Shah Jahan was arrested and imprisoned by his own son, Aurangzeb, who took the reins of the Mughal Dynasty in his own hands. Historical accounts of this time suggest that Shah Jahan spent the rest of his life in prison gazing at the Taj Mahal through the small window of his cell. Eventually, when he died his body was laid beside the tomb of his beloved wife, Mumtaz Begum.
‘Pink City’ JAIPUR
The ‘Pink city’, Jaipur in Rajasthan state is another area that has incredible Mughal architecture. The Walled city was named ‘Pink City’ after the Prince of Wales visited in 1853. The walls were coloured in terracotta for the occasion and still maintain the blushed-pink colour to this day. The main architectural attractions here are the Amber Fort Palace, the City Palace and Hawa Mahal.
Below is a picture of the Hawa Mahal, built in 1799. It is a multi-layered Palace that has delicate honeycomb latticework (similar to the Jalis screens) made out of sandstone, on the outer façade. This was a deliberate design feature, which allowed the ladies of the royal house to watch everyday life from above without being seen from the outside.
THE SAMODE PALACE
I thought I would save my favourite till last, The Samode palace. This was a highlight for the Tigerlily girls on their recent trip through India... It is a fusion of Mughal & Rajasthani architecture with the most insanely decadent & decorated interiors I have ever seen! Originally it was a royal holding fort (castle) however in the 19th century it was developed and renovated to the level of grandeur it still has today.
The palace interiors are decorated from top to toe. They feature groomed courtyards surrounding the grounds, ornate archways, mirrored walls and elaborately painted walls and ceilings. I can see a Tigerlilly shoot working quite well in some of these rooms!
Jaipur References: HERE
Samode References: HERE
Blogger, designer, beach babe and colour obsessed textiles geek Monique Luchterhand is a frequent contributor, correspondent and close friend of the brand. Follow her blog creatureofcolour.com to find out more about her colourful world…