We are all aware of the monumental standards that the Mughal Architecture set when it came to building palaces and pleasure domes for themselves – yeah, we’ve all seen the Taj Mahal, Humayun’s Tomb and the other wonderful craftworks.
Now little known to many, before the Taj Mahal was designed, the architects drew inspiration from another, albeit less grander Muslim piece of architecture. That, and various other exquisite Muslim palaces and pavilions form the bulk of this mini-travelogue.
We begin in the city of Indore, 200 km away from the Bhopal, the capital city of Madhya Pradesh.
Our place of interest is not Indore however. It is 100 kilometers south west of Indore, and this place is the ruined city of Mandu. Established in the 10th century by Raja Bhoj, it gained prominence during the Mughal rule in the Medieval Age, as the capital city of Hoshang Shah, the king of Malwa. After the Mughals however, when the Marathas shifted their capital to Dhar, the importance of the town waned.
Mandu is home to a number of beautiful Islamic architectural wonders. The most noteworthy of them, being the Jahaj Mahal, a huge ship-like palace, positioned between two huge lakes (which still exist, but are much smaller). The Jahah Mahal was built by Hoshang Shah, as his harem, and it was meant to give a sea-like ambiance to the lady members who stayed there – with the cool wind arising from the cross-ventilation between the two lakes.
Beside the Jahaj Mahal, there is yet another exquisite palace, albeit smaller, known as Hindola Mahal, which features sloping walls on its three sides – to give the impression that the entire structure is swaying with the wind.
All these do make one wonder on the creativity of the architects in those times!
The next place that we visit is Roopmati’s pavilion – a “pavilion” that was built by Baz Bahadur, the last sultan of Malwa, for his Hindu queen – Roopmati, a singer and Rajput by birth. The pavilion was built for a specific purpose – to be a seat for the queen while she would gaze down the Narmada valley at the flowing waters of the Narmada. The pavilion is perched atop a cliff overlooking the valley – the Narmada is not visible to the naked eye, but there is a telescope that allows one to see it from the terrace.
Beside the Pavilion is the palace of the sultan Baz Bahadur himself.
The last couple of places that we visit in Mandu are the Jami Masjid, and thereafter the tomb of Hoshang Shah. This tomb of Hoshang Shah, was in act, the structure that inspired the design of the Taj Mahal, as you can see in this online album.
The Masjid shows the confluence of two unique architectural patterns, the Hindu straight-cut-rectangular dharmshala style, and the second, the curve-oriented and arches of the traditional Mughal style.