3 Tutorials that teach Mughal Architecture
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Mughal Architecture

Mughal Architecture

Author: Ian McConnell

This lesson will explore the architecture of the Mughal Empire in India.

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An overview of Mughal Architecture, specifically the Taj Mahal in India.

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Hello. I'd like to welcome you to this episode of Exploring Art History with Ian. My name is Ian McConnell. And today's lesson is about Mughal Architecture. As you're watching the video, feel free to pause, move forward or rewind as often as you feel is necessary. And as soon as you're ready we can begin.

Today's objectives are listed below. By the end of the lesson today you'll be able to identify and define today's key terms, describe the characteristics of Mughal architecture and identify examples of Mughal architecture.

Key terms as always are listed in yellow. First key term is Mughal, a Muslim dynasty that ruled parts of India from the 16th to the 18th centuries. Chhatri, a small domed pavilion that is a common feature of Indian architecture. Iwan, an arched gateway common in Islamic and Mughal architecture. Charbagh, Persian style garden divided into four quadrilateral areas by walkways. This type of garden is often thought to be a metaphor for paradise.

The big idea for today is that the Taj Mahal is the most important example of Mughal architecture. Again, we'll be discussing the Mughal empire which lasted from its founding by Babur in 1526 to its official end in 1757. And we'll be traveling to India today, specifically to Delhi and a little bit southeast to the location of the Taj Mahal.

Now, Mughal architecture has, like it's people, ties to a certain-- or to a number of different cultures. But it's assembled in a way that feels distinct and unique. Elements of Persian, Turkish, Islamic and Indian architecture can be found throughout these examples. We'll take a look at three of the most impressive and important examples of Mughal architecture to identify stylistic characteristics and similarities between them.

Begin with Humayun's Tomb in Delhi, India. And this beautiful red sandstone and white marble structure was commissioned as a monument to the second emperor of the Mughal Empire, and son of its founder Babur, the emperor Humayun. Now, it's a perfect example of the Islamic influence of symmetry on the design of Mughal architecture.

Two of these examples today are built within long quadratic gardens called charbagh that surround the main structure. They're believed to be a metaphor for paradise and the central structures function as a throne of God within this paradise. As monumental tombs, this was fitting given that the holiest place to be buried in Islam was beneath the throne of God or Allah. You'll notice the use of the chhatri which is that domed pavilion as well as the use of a pointed arch. These are common design elements you'll see throughout Mughal architecture.

The Jama Masjid mosque in Delhi is next. And right off the bat, you'll notice, again, the use of red sandstone and white marble. Now, this is one the most unique aspects of Mughal architecture. The pointed dome, often refer to as an onion dome because of its distinctive shape, is sometimes found in other examples of architecture from Persia as well as Russia.

Now, the chhatri, one of our key terms, is a small domed pavilion like you saw in the last example that can be found throughout Mughal architecture in various forms. And here it's atop the minaret. Now, this mosque is the largest and one of the oldest examples in India and built under the rule of Shah Jahan, the fifth emperor of the Mughal Empire and the person responsible for its greatest creation and one of the finest examples of architecture in the world, the Taj Mahal, which we'll take a look at next.

So the epitome of Mughal architecture is, without a doubt, the incredible Taj Mahal, or crown of Mahal. Now, unquestionably, one of the most beautiful examples of architecture in existence, it exemplifies the Mughal design ethic and serves a truly moving tribute to the memory of a loved one, the third wife of Shah Jahan, Mumtaz Mahal.

Taken as a whole, the structure is really breathtaking. It's built within a quadrilateral garden like Humayun's tomb, but it isn't centered, rather, it's pushed back. The entire structure is an exercise in symmetry and proportion. Symmetrically balanced, the height and width are identical, with the main entrance, the iwan, and dome-- there's a chhatri right there, and here is the iwan. Now, the iwan and the dome are of equal height.

The entire structure sits upon a marble platform with no visible way to reach the upper level. Coupled with the reflection pools, this creates a mesmerizing effect of the building actually floating. The tracery of the white marble exterior appears almost paper like and this enhances the suppression of levity. There's also a sensation of verticality achieved through the use of the pointed arches and domes.

Red sandstone can be found most notably in examples like the Great Gate that marked the entrance, which you can see here-- marks the entrance to the gardens-- and the interior of this magnificent building. Which you can see here. This is the inside of the Taj Mahal. Now, the Shah was actually imprisoned by his son and kept under house arrest until his death in 1666, upon which time he was entombed next to his wife. Here's one more example of the Taj Mahal and you can see the effect of it lying on that marble platform, and the effect of the tracery like, or the translucent, almost, appearance of the exterior really gives it-- lends to this sense of levity.

So that brings us to the end of this lesson. Let's take a look at our objectives to see how we did. Now that you've seen the lesson, are you able to identify and define today's key terms? Can you describe characteristics of Mughal architecture? Can you identify examples of Mughal architecture?

And once again, the big idea for today is that the Taj Mahal is the most important example of Mughal architecture. And that's it. Thank you very much for joining me. I'll see you next time.

Notes on "Mughal Architecture"

Key Terms


A Muslim dynasty that ruled parts of India from the 16th to the 18th centuries.


A small, domed pavilion that is a common feature of Indian architecture.


An arched gateway common in Islamic and Mughal architecture.


A Persian-style garden divided into four quadrilateral areas by walkways. This type of garden is often thought to be a metaphor for paradise.


Image of India Map Creative Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:India_location_map.svg; Image of Jama Masjid Creative Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Jama_Masjid,_Delhi.jpg; Image of Humayun's Tomb Creative Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Humayun%27s_Tomb,_Mausoleum.jpg; Image of Taj Mahal Creative Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Taj_Mahal_2012.jpg; Image of Taj Mahal Interior Creative Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Taj_Mahal_Mosque_Interior_Hall.jpg; Image of Taj Mahal Tombs http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Tombs-in-crypt.jpg; Image of Taj Mahal East Creative Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Taj_Mahal_East_Side.JPG; Image of Taj Mahal Gatehouse Creative Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Entrance_fort.jpg