JEHANGIR’s Tomb – Visiting the sub-continent’s rebellious prince


LAHORE – Situated on bank of the River Ravi at Shahdara, Mughal Emperor Jahangir’s tomb is one of the finest examples of Mughal architecture. It presents a unique fusion of innovative design and technique with orthodox style making the tomb a worthy candidate for a more detailed investigation. From beginning of the Mughal dynasty with Zaheeruddin Babar in 1526 until the reign of Aurangzeb, South Asia saw a time profuse with creation of unrivaled architectural marvels.
Mughal tombs are no exception to this trend. But, whenever an attempt has been made to study the evolution of Mughal tomb architecture, researchers have primarily focused on the Taj Mahal and little attention has been paid to other tombs including, especially, tomb of the fourth Mughal King Nooruddin Salim aka Jahangir, most popular for his roaring love affair with one of his father Emperor Akbar the Great’s court dancer Anarkali. This two part series on the tomb will attempt to do exactly that by analyzing Jahangir’s tomb with respect to its architectural distinctiveness and by investigating roots of various influences found in architecture of the monument.
But first, let’s look at the life and times of the individual buried underneath the majestic garden of Shahdara as well as the person who built it. Shortly after Emperor Akbar’s death in 1605, Prince Salim succeeded to throne of the Mughal Empire and adopted the title of Jahangir — seizer of the world. Jahangir’s death came in 1627, when on his way back from Kashmir he fell seriously ill and died at Rajaur, some miles away from Lahore. His body was immediately dispatched to Lahore for burial in the Dislkusha garden, one of the gardens tracts owned by Noor Jahan’s family in Shahdara, across the River Ravi.
Shah Jahan was, like his father, son of an Indian princess. He was a great builder during a time when marble and red stone were considered prime building materials with the Peacock Throne, Red Fort of Agra, Shalimar Gardens in Lahore and mosques such as the Wazir Khan Mosque being just a few of his most well-known creations. Shah Jahan’s reign was, in fact, the golden age of Mughal architecture reaching its pinnacle in shape of majestic Mumtaz Mahal. Under Shah Jahan, Mughal architecture took a new aesthetic outlook by achieving uniformity of shape, standardisation of designs and creation of hierarchical and symbolic accents. An entirely new architectural vocabulary was composed including unprecedented forms like multi-faceted column, cusped arch base, volute bracket, coved ceilings, curved uproof and baluster column. At the same time, designs of Shah Jahan’s architectural creations affirmed the emperor’s religious faith in Islam and centrality of Sunni Islam to the Timurid Empire. On the whole, his era marked a reversion of architectural decoration from figurative extravaganzas of previous reigns to the artistic modes sanctioned by Islamic law.
First and foremost in our discussion is the issue of the tomb’s location. Jahangir and his queen Noor Jahan both loved Lahore immensely. Jahangir mentioned Lahore as “one of the greatest place in Hindustan” and even fixed his imperial court in Lahore for the last 5 years of his reign. It is not surprising that his tomb is only one of its kind in Lahore, far from the Mughal imperial capital of Agra. Consequently, Jahangir’s tomb was commissioned for construction at Lahore in Dislkusha Garden near the River Ravi, according to Timurid custom, by his son Shah Jahan in 1628 and was completed nearly a decade later in 1637.
We will now describe and analyse the structure, both interior and exterior, of Jahangir’s tomb and its environs. The tomb is square on plan with the main entrance through agate in eastern wall of a large serai where, originally, there were gateways on each side. The tomb structure is enclosed by a magnificent walled garden with a long bed of fountains resembling a vision of Paradise. The only other tomb nearby is that of Asif Khan, which was attached to the serai in 1641.
Moving on to structure of the magnificent tomb building itself, it was built as a single story structure in middle of the garden. It stands on a low plinthand consisting of a terraced platform. In Jahangir’s tomb, the classical char bagh layout was combined with a chauk-ijilau khana (Ceremonial Square) which also contained Jilauukhana mosque. Moreover, a tombstone (marqad) wasset on a glorified plinth 110 metres to a side (cahbutra); which inturn was placed on a monumental podium (takhtgah) with 4 corner minarets. The minarets are engraved with chevron patterns and topped off by a white marble chatri. The arcaded structure is lined with cells and made up of red sandstone (from Fatehpur) inlaid with white marble.
The corridor next to the interior chamber from the west is adorned with a profusion of marble inscriptions, flowery paintings and texts from the Quran. The rosettes and arabesques over the arches are particularly striking to the observer as he enters the interior room. Moreover, the main door is inscribed with decorations of the most virtuoso workmanship in form of a very detailed pietra dura.
The interior chamber is accessible through one of the 4 large vestibules; three are closed with perforated marbles ‘jalis’ while one, on the west, is used as entrance to the chamber from the direction of the qibla. Their dado is embellished with beautiful kashi work and the ceiling above is gorgeously painted using fresco technique.
The interior chamber is octagonal on plan and has semi-octagonal alcoves in the corners. Within this chamber, an elevated white marble tomb, decorated with magnificent marble work, enshrines the remains of the emperor in white marble sarcophagus. The floral compositions are beautifully inlaid with red and green colours on the marble monument. What’s particularly stunning in this symphony is depiction of pomegranates at the bottom layer. The four pavements, surrounding the monument, have been decorated with identical geometrical designs while the ceiling of the tomb retains unfinished impressions of Stucco work.
The ninety nine names of Allah are inscribed with black marble on the solid structure, with half the names adorning each side of the cenotaph. At head of the monument, the following extract from Quran is inscribed, “God is the only God. There is no God but God. He knows what is concealed and what is manifest, and he is merciful and compassionate” (Translation). Furthermore, on foot of the cenotaph are inscribed the following two lines in Persian, “The illuminated resting place of His Majesty, the asylum of pardon, Nooruddin Muhammad Jahangir Baadshah 1037″ (1627 A.D)” (Translation).