Design Patterns in Mughal India

The Mughal Empire in India was formed by invaders from Persia who brought with them their Muslim religion, as well as its strictures placed on images, in that they were usually not of people or animals, only design elements and calligraphy.

A design element is a line or shape, and if it repeats itself it turns into a pattern.

Our first exposure to Mughal architecture was in Delhi at the Red Fort. The red stone had curvilinear floral patterns.
A niche with a frontispiece of elaborately carved red sandstone in Agra Fort, IndiaA repetition of arched marble cubbyholes forms a pattern at the Red Fort, added to which it’s three-dimensionality created a repeating pattern of the shadows as well.Arched cubbyholes at the Red Fort in Delhi, IndiaNext up was the city of Agra, which was chock full of expensive architecture. When Shah Jahan (one of five prominent Mughal emperors) came into power, he began to build so many monuments (including the masterpiece of architecture, the Taj Mahal) that he bankrupted the empire. The surface decoration of the Taj Mahal is primarily floral, the marble walls carved and inlaid with semi-precious stones.
Taj Mahal at Agra, IndiaOn either side of the white marble Taj was a mosque in carved red stone. This one had zigzag patterns on the exterior.A monkey races by the red sandstone mosque beside the Taj Mahal in Agra, IndiaIn our stocking feet we had to tread carefully around the pigeon droppings, taking several photos of the dim hallways, again with a repetition of the niche shape in a subtle form on the walls, and in red and white on the floors.the red sandstone mosque next to the Taj MahalGeometric pattern of semi-precious stones at the Agra Fort, a 16th-century Mughal fortress, is another UNESCO World Heritage site in Agra, and in its own way just as beautiful as the Taj Mahal.Geometric pattern of semi-precious stones at the Agra Fort, a 16th-century Mughal fortress, is another UNESCO World Heritage site in Agra, and in its own way just as beautiful as the Taj MahalThe Agra Fort contained ‘classic’ sandstone cashier cage pierced with stars.'Classic' sandstone cashier cage at the Agra Fort, a 16th-century Mughal fortress, is another UNESCO World Heritage site in Agra, and in its own way just as beautiful as the Taj MahalThe buildings in Agra were often covered with surface decoration on every single surface. There was the Baby Taj; here a pigeon strutted on the patterned marble floors.A pigeon on the patterned marble floors of the Baby Taj in Agra, IndiaThe exterior and interior walls of Akbar’s tomb were intricately covered with designs that, according to Islamic tradition, only used geometric patterns, plant-life motifs and Arabic script. Akbar is probably the best known of the Mughal emperors, but he didn’t spend like Shah Jahan…Geometric Islamic pattern on a wall at Akbar's Mausoleum in Agra, IndiaI think the Chini Tomb was older but its uniquely vaulted ceilings painted in way to accent the structure were a wonder to behold.  Decorative ceiling of the Chini tomb in Agra, IndiaWe took a local bus to Fatehpur Sikri, a mosque just outside of Agra. Although slightly less extravagant in its decoration it certainly had its moments.
A man praying in a doorway at Fatehpur Sikri, a mosque just outside of Agra, India

Further west, in Rajasthan, the patterns became less geometric and more extravagant, and often featured animals, birds and at times voluptuous dancers as the religious influence on decoration changed.

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7 responses to “Design Patterns in Mughal India

  1. Fantastic post Elizabeth – I would love to see these wonders someday. Your images are beautiful as always. Especially loved the doorway with the shadow figure.

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