Mandu - a centre of Islamic architecture

Historical Background

Mandu, though a centre of Islamic architecture, particularly the Sultanate style, was a flourishing town by AD 555 when Islam was a decade or two old and yet to reach India. Mandu’s existence as a flourishing town in AD 555 or perhaps much before is attested by an inscription on the pedestal of an image of Jain Tirthankara Adinatha recovered from Talanpur near Kukshi in Dhar district. This dated Tirthankara image was installed in the Parshvanatha temple at Tarapur inside the Mandap-durg, by a merchant Chandra Simha Sha.

Mandap is obviously Mandu, and ‘durg’, fortress. The inscription lauds ‘durg’ – fortress, as guarding Mandap, obviously the town and its inhabitants, for about a thousand years taking back the date of the construction of Mandu fort to about 6th century BC. It is, however, undisputable, that in at least 6th century AD Mandu was a strong fortress with a fully developed township, large population and centres of religious worship, this Parshvanatha Jain temple being one of them. Incidentally, Dilawar Khan, who acclaimed sovereignty in 1401 and ruled Malwa till 1405 built at Mandu an emergency gate fort named Tarapur gate. Obviously till 1405 the locality known as Tarapur was the same to which the inscription of the Tirthankara image alludes and was so significant as to give a city gate its name. Apart, the earliest Islamic structures at Mandu are the mosques of Dilawar Khan and Mughitha, both constructed with material of demolished temples, mainly Jain, the Parshvanatha temple, alluded to in the inscription, was, perhaps, one of them.

Except an inscription of Gurjar-Pratihara rulers of Kanauj mentioning Mandu as Mandapika, their western frontier outpost under their Baladhikrita – Commander of Forces, Shri Sarman, nothing is heard of Mandu till around the early 11th century when the legendary Parmar ruler Bhoj made Mandu the dynasty’s fortress resort. In Parmars’ dynastic records Mandu is alluded to as Mandavagarh. The 11th century records Mandu as a sub-division of Taranga. The Parmar rulers were in control of Central India till about 13th century. Though their capital was Dhar, now a district headquarters in Indore division of Madhya Pradesh, Mandu continued to be linked with them. Besides Bhoj who strengthened Mandu fort Munja, another Parmar ruler, built at Mandu a tank : Munja Talao.

In 1192, after the last Hindu ruler of Delhi, Prithviraj Chauhan was defeated by Muhammad Gauri and the subcontinent’s strategically most important territory passed into the hands of Islamic rulers, entire subcontinent and its Hindu states became vulnerable to their attacks. Parmars resisted for about a hundred years but finally in 1305 Alauddin Khilji defeated Mahlak Deo and captured Mandu along with Dhar and other territories. In 1401, Khiljis’ Afghan Governor Dilawar Khan acclaimed independence and established his capital at Dhar, though he gave equal importance to Mandu and also built a mosque and an emergency gate there. Mandu had its ultimate glory under Hoshang Shah, his son, who shifted his capital to Mandu. After a period of turbulence, Mandu falling into one hand from the other, in 1561, Akbar’s forces under Adham Khan and Pir Muhammad Khan attacked Mandu and defeating Malik Bayazid, who ruled under the name Baz Bahadur, captured Mandu to remain a part of Mughal territories till Mughal power sustained.

Mughals’ love for Mandu

Mandu was Mughals’ favourite resort. To emperor Jahangir it was Shadiabad – the city of joy, a name Dilawar Khan had given it. He loved nature, its colours, shades, forms and moods, which he felt Mandu afforded him more any other place in Central India. Shahjahan venerated Mandu for its noble and unique architecture. Highly impressed with its building art he had sent a team of his court builders to Mandu to see its grandeur. Firishta, the Mughal India’s chronicler, felt that Mandu’s buildings ‘were most extraordinary in the then world’. The pump and glory that Mandu once had deeply moved Akbar. In philosophical vein he lamented that Mandu was the epic that began with grandeur and terminated in decay. Now the sensitive mind is trying to make the two ends meet.

Mandu’s monumentality and location

Mandu contains in its ruins glimpses of a great past and a monumentality with which its building-structures like Jahaj-mahal still number among the world’s rare and great monuments. Mandu was Malwa’s capital for some three hundred years, though far more, it was in entire Central India a great seat of arts, literature, culture and polity abounding in legends of justice-discharged and reverential to human values. Mandu is 35 kilometer south of Dhar, 98 kilometer south-west of Indore and 124 kilometer South of Ratlam in Madhya Pradesh. Indore has both, air and train links from Delhi and Bombay, besides Bhopal and Gwalior; Ratlam is a railway junction on Delhi-Central Bombay train-route and Dhar is on National Highway No. 6 and Dhar and Mandu are connected by a fairly good road with bus service available from Indore, Bhopal, Ujjain, Dhar, Ratlam and Mhow.

Mandu is situated on an outstretching spur of Vindhyan range, some 2000 feet above the sea-level, overlooking the Malwa plateau to its north and the Narmada river valley to its south. Mandu mainland is separated from the Malwa plateau by a ravine, about 200 feet deep and some 300-400 feet wide, encircling the Mandu mainland on east, west and north, allowing access only through a narrow strip of land creating a natural barbican further strengthened by a 40 kilometer long strong defense-wall transforming Mandu into one of the largest and strongest forts of medieval India. In monsoons the slopes of hills carpeted with green, brooks waving down, swelling river Narmada, lakes and reservoirs brimming with water, all impart to Mandu a celestial look compelling the Mughal emperor Jahangir to laud it as ‘I know of no place so pleasant in climate and so pretty in scenery as Mandu during the rain’. Obviously, Mandu abounds in greater beauty from July to March, though what is beautiful is always beautiful.

Mandu’s monuments : three phases

The forty kilometer long rampart or the ruins of some early structures, Munja Talao in particular, apart, Mandu’s monuments belong to three different phases extending from 1401 to 1526, that is, the period of Ghuri and Khilji dynasties. Those belonging to the first phase were the mosques of Dilawar Khan and Malik Mughi, and a gate named Tarapur, another structure by Dilawar Khan. Mughi’s mosque, constructed some five decades after the Dilawar Khan’s, belonged to this early phase only stylistically. Both mosques, as also two at Dhar – Maula’s and Lat’s, were built by re-using the material of demolished Jain and Hindu temples, a common tendency of Islamic invaders during the period, Kuwwat-ul-Islam mosque at Kutb-complex, Delhi, and Arhai-din-ka jhopara at Ajmer in Rajasthan, being its other prominent examples.

Unlike Kuwwat-ul-Islam mosque and Arhai-din-ka jhopara that record with a sense of pride that their construction was accomplished by re-using material of demolished Jain and Hindu temples betraying no effort at reconciling the two cults, Mandu and Dhar mosques betray a determined effort to conceal such material’s prior temple identity and character, and also add to it some new material for breathing a sense of homogeneity, though besides, they are stereo-typed copies of these Delhi and Ajmer predecessors. Dhar’s Lat mosque and Mandu’s Mughi’s, the latter in special, are more characteristic examples of Malwan adjustment of two architectural cultures : the old temple material and Hindu craftsmanship and the Islamic innovations and scheme.

Mandu evolves its own building style in the buildings of its second phase, which are somewhat formal but more substantial, sober in character, and have greater elegance and their own distinction ¬– its era of classical architecture. These buildings include two gateways, Delhi gate and the much improved version Tarapur gate, great Jami Masjid, Asharafi Mahal and the unfinished Haft minar – the seven-storeyed tower, mausoleum of Hoshang Shah, Jahaz Mahal, Hindola Mahal and many other buildings now in ruins. The third phase, often defined as unrealistic, pompous and sensuous – an expression of emotional life rather than the architectural merit of a building structure, comprises Nilkantha Palace, Rupamati Pavilion, Chisti Khan’s Palace, and the Baz Bahadur Palace. In these buildings reflect their builders’ lust for life, aesthetic enjoyment and pleasurable diversions.

Though the foundation of the Islamic architecture at Mandu was laid by Dilawar Khan, it was his son Alp Khan ruling as Hoshang Shah who led Mandu architecture to its real classical era that continued to define Mandu’s architecture for about a hundred years after him. Though engaged most of the time in warfare expanding his kingdom’s boundaries, he devoted himself to creating lofty buildings with a stylistic distinction, mainly the splendid portal Delhi Gate, the great Jami Masjid and his own tomb, besides fortifying the hill by strengthening earlier rampart. The building culture of which Hoshang Shah laid the foundation was now in Mandu’s air with the result that Mandu saw rising out of its soil many monumental building, one after the other, and by 1526, Mandu had a large galaxy of them.

From 1526 to 1561 when Mandu was finally annexed to Mughal Empire, Mandu saw a period of disquiet, invasions and turbulence. In 1554 the history of Mandu took a legendary turn with Malik Bayazid ascending Malwa’s throne as Sultan Baz Bahadur. He ruled for love and music. The valley of Mandu echoed with Baz Bahadur’s legendary love for his consort Rupamati, a great beauty and far greater singer, and by the music that the legendary couple created. Their love was soon the theme of many folklore. When Akbar’s forces captured Mandu forcing Baz Bahadur to flee, Rupamati fell into enemy’s hands and committed suicide. Baz Bahadur heard of it and he too ended his life. People say that with the melodies of the legendary couple the valley yet vibrates and the people visiting the place still feel their presence.

Early phase

The four mosques, Dilawar Khan’s and Mughi’s at Mandu and Kamal Maula’s and Lat’s at Dhar, chronologically Mughi’s being a subsequent structure, define the early phase of Sultanate architecture in Central India. All four mosques have been constructed re-using the material of early Jain and Hindu temples, though not without assimilating with it also some new, and not without removing incongruities of the patched-up composition. They thus reflect better structural harmony not seen in Delhi and Ajmer edifices. With pointed arches interposed between the pillars in some centrally located parts the colonnades have more finished look. Such arch-forms impart to the whole scheme, particularly with spandrels relieved by perforated patterns and socketed into the shafts of columns, as springing from pillar to pillar, breathing a sense of rare elegance, make them strangely fascinating.

The Lat’s and Mughi’s mosques are more characteristic examples of Malwan adjustment of the two traditions, as also of the inward world of Hinduism and the expansionist character of the outward Islamic world. Mughi’s mosque, the latest as also the finest, constructed on a high plinth with 159 feet length and 132 feet width, has on its eastern exterior a series of arched chambers with an arcaded portico reachable by a flight of stairs. At each corner on its front there is domical turret. Inside it is an open courtyard, about 100 feet on each side, comprises the mosque’s interior. Strangely designed domes and other parts define the pillared frontage. The columned sanctuary hall with a four-aisles depth and the western wall, the ‘qibla’ with its usual series of mihrabs impart to the interior great architectural effect. Dilawar Khan’s mosque, datable to around 1405 AD, was built for the royal family. It consists of a central courtyard enclosed on the western side by a four-aisles deep colonnade, and one aisle deep colonnade on three other sides. Not merely on material Hindu influence is seen also in its construction.

Middle phase

Hindola Mahal

‘More curious than beautiful’, as Percy Brown, the known art historian, calls it, Hindola Mahal with its strangely sloping side-walls has a swinging appearance giving it the name Hindola Mahal – the swinging palace. Absolutely different from all other palaces the Hindola Mahal exemplifies how through simplicity, austerity and massiveness of construction dignity and grandeur might be attained, something it shares with Jami Masjid, another great edifice at Mandu. Strangely, Hindola Mahal has its aesthetic appeal in the massiveness of its construction – usually considered antithetical. Built during 15th century, some scholars dating it around the later half as the work of Sultan Ghiyath-ud-din’s reign, and others to include Percy Brown, of around 1425 by Hoshang Shah, Hindola Mahal, a highly dignified and majestic edifice, is striking in appearance, solid in construction and amazing in effect, though with its extra-ordinary thick walls sloping like those of a castle and its buttresses inclined for battering giving it the look of a mini fort it is perhaps too solid and illogical in design for a residential building.

In its plan Hindola Mahal is a T-shape building with upright stem representing the main hall, and the transverse portion, the guarded approach and the retiring space for the rulers and the members of the royal family. As reveals the different levels in masonry, the main hall : an oblong 110 feet structure with 60 feet breadth and 35 feet height up to cornice, was constructed earlier, and the other, subsequently. The hall’s longer side has six, and the width, three, tall deeply sunk arched openings containing below a doorway and a window above each filled with elegant tracery, the central one on the width being the main entrance. The interior is an uninterrupted space – a large hall, except a series of five massive pointed arches across its entire width supporting above the hall’s flat roof.

The traverse portion of the building has the same dimensions as the main hall but in its height it contains two stories, not one. The ground-floor with a cruciform gallery is somewhat intricate in plan. Its one short arm opens upon an archway of the main hall, while the subsidiary passages, unconnected with the cross gallery, are entered by a separate doorway. The upper storey : a two-hall unit, one longitudinal and other transverse, overlooking the main hall through an identical arched opening, is rather simpler in plan. The longitudinal is a rectangular hall with 70 feet length and 40 feet width divided into three aisles by two rows of pillars; the other is a small hall, something like a retiring room. Less formal and with some of the openings having artistically designed oriel windows and with a marked difference in elevation this transverse portion is quite different from the rest of the building. Except some tracery work of the oriel windows, trellises in other windows, and a band or two of the carved mouldings, Hindola Mahal has minimum ornamentation.

Jahaj Mahal

Jahaj Mahal is datable to the same mid-15th century as Hindola Mahal, though unlike the latter it reveals the Malwa mode in a vivacious and fanciful mood, not stern and resolute as does the other. This unique building, a world level monument, abounds in great romantic beauty and represents the spirit of joyous hilarity. What gives it its name Jahaj Mahal – ship palace, is its unique position as also its architecture, couched on a narrow strip of land with water on both sides, on one side being Kaphur or Camphor lake, and on the other, Munja Talao. While running across the land-strip its edges submerged into blue transparent waters (now the phenomenon taking place only during monsoons for the down-stream Camphor lake has water only till January-February) reflecting nature’s ever changing face : the foggy dawns, drooping evenings, parching noons and cool gentle nights, besides its own form – a 360 feet length, around 50 feet width and more importantly, a two storeyed rhythmic height, all combined imparting a look as imparts a ship anchored in its harbour. When the moonlight, like a layer of molten silver, spreads upon the watery surface of the lakes and from shore to shore echoes nothing but a vigorous silence, the silhouette of Jahaj Mahal with its tiny domes and turrets, gracefully perched on the terrace, presents to human view a delightfully strange spectacle.

A relatively simple plan, Jahaj Mahal comprises on the ground-floor three large halls with corridors in between and narrow rooms at extreme ends, a beautiful cistern surrounded by colonnade on three sides beyond the northern room and a pavilion projecting over Munja Talao at the back of each of the three halls, one in the centre being larger and with a domed ceiling and bands of yellow and blue tiles. Others, smaller, have arched opening comprising stone frame-work. Water to the cistern at the northern end is supplied from the room on the southern end through a channel. Interior, compartments, cool corridors, bathing halls and smaller rooms, all consist of pillared structures with evidence of once luxurious fittings for royal ladies.

The terrace, connected by a long flight of stairs, houses on it a number of open pavilions, airy kiosks, overhanging balconies and a range of variously designed domes, turrets and the beautifully moulded cupolas using a variety of superstructures from the pyramidal to the domed. In the middle of the terrace on its back towards the Munja Talao, there stands a similar projecting domed pavilion with bands of blue and yellow tiles, as also the traces of paintings of floral motifs. Exactly opposite to it on the front side there is a small kiosk with pyramidal roof affording to the main door-opening below elegant cresting. This skilfully worked out range of designs in conceiving the superstructures produces great artistic effect. Neither too massive nor too solid, Jahaj Mahal is however more lively, delightful and highly fanciful. An edifice of transitional phase, between the second and the third, Jahaj Mahal breathes a kind of romanticism or rather sensuousness yet is not devoid of dignity and austerity.

Ashrafi Mahal complex

Now the grand ruins facing Jami Masjid to its east represent a huge building structure named Ashrafi Mahal or Ashrafi Mahal complex for the ruins represent three distinct buildings constructed at three different stages and for three different purposes. Now there remains only the terrace-part which once comprised the base of the grand mausoleum of Mahmud I, a flight of stairs, the base of the seven-storeyed tower, the Haft Minar, and the cells under the terrace. Built by the first Khalji ruler Mahmud I during his reign (1436-1469) the ruins of Ashrafi Mahal complex, especially its variegating and colourful surface treatment, indicate that in the construction of these buildings their visual effect, rather than their architectural merit and structural strength, were in greater focus of their builder, and the entire project was hurriedly, perhaps carelessly, completed.

The entire building structure occupied a square with 320 feet side. A ‘madarasa’ – school building : a single storey structure with a series of halls and compartments around a huge rectangular court with circular towers at each corner, was the first to emerge. Along the series of rooms ran a double arched corridor. Some of the ceilings consisted of pyramidal vaults. Not found useful for a ‘madarasa’, it was converted into the mausoleum for Mahmud I. The courtyard was filled with earth to such level that the series of rooms built for ‘madarasa’ transformed into mausoleum’s basement cells. In the centre of the filled-up courtyard was erected the mortuary chamber with a huge square base. The dimensions of the plinth suggest that the mortuary-chamber’s dome might have been larger than the Jami Masjid’s or that of the tomb of Hoshang Shah. Now largely ruined but from whatever remains : some wall portions faced with white marble, elegantly carved doorways, windows and cornices, various decorative patterns inlaid in chosen stones and friezes of yellow and blue tiles it is not difficult to visualise the magnitude of the ruined mausoleum.

Finally to the Ashrafi Mahal complex was added the incomplete seven storeyed Haft Minar – the victory tower, built for commemorating the conquest of Mahmud I over the Rana of Chitor in the year 1443. It was raised over the north-east angle of Ashrafi Mahal replacing the prior turret built there. Haft Minar was obviously in reaction to Rana’s Jai Stambha – Victory tower, which he had built to commemorate his victory over Mahmud a little earlier. Only the basement of Mahmud’s Haft Minar and an assumption of its hugeness now remain. As suggest the dimensions of its remains, as also indicate some records, Mahmud’s Minar was once a magnificent structure with over 150 feet height, seven lofty storeys and an excellently embellished exterior.

Tombs of Hoshang Shah and others

Square in plan, impressive in look, and fully marble-clad – the first of its kind in India, the tomb of Hoshang Shah was conceived and partially constructed by him. It was completed by his successor Mahmud in around 1440. Its main entrance is through a beautiful porch opening on three sides. Over it rests an impressive flat marble dome. Except a band of carved miniature arches with blue ornamented tiles the structure is largely plain. Topped by a crescent finial the dome is also plain unadorned. The mausoleum proper stands on a square simple unadorned marble platform enclosed in a huge court.

The tomb stands contiguous to the great Jami Masjid as if to let its inhabitant – the Ghuri king, repose in peace under the shadow of the God’s house. The tomb, a square with 86 feet side, 100 feet square plinth and 30 feet high walls, is quite massive in size. The ornamentation consisting of bands of half-blown lotuses along the sides and the top, of rosettes carved in relief on the spandrels, and of blue enamel stars set in masonry, is simple yet quite pleasing. A series of elephant tusk-brackets supporting chhajja is another outstanding decorative feature of the tomb. The tomb has arched openings with recessed screen fittings that break the monotony of huge wall space, heighten the effect of the main doorway and serve as passage for light and air.

Other tombs : Dai-ka-mahal, Dai-ki-chhoti Bahin-ka-mahal, tomb of Darya Khan and Chhappan Mahal are some other tombs at Mandu. Though smaller in dimensions and less significant in status, they are more decorative and have more evolved and imposing forms of domes. Except in its elongated octagonal neck of the dome enclosed by an ornamented parapet with tiny kiosks on corners, Dai-ka-mahal is hardly different from the tomb of Hoshang Shah. Some of these mosques have used also the Hindu decorative elements.

Jami Masjid

Jami Masjid – congregational mosque, the largest and the most majestic building at Mandu, was constructed partly by Hoshang Shah and completed by Mahmud I around mid-fifteenth century. Constructed on a square plan with about 300 feet side and covering in addition a 100 feet square space in design and elevation and with a massive entrance porch with a majestic huge dome and a large square hall with 45 feet arm within, the mosque reveals great grandeur. This main entrance is on the east. It has besides two entrances on the north, perhaps for ladies and priestly persons. Jami Masjid has been built on a 16 feet high plinth connected with a flight of 30 stairs serving as its terrace. It houses under it on both sides of the entrance porch a course of five feet deep veranda and inside it numerous cells with arched openings. With this veranda, series of cells, domed porch and gorgeous flight of stairs the entire façade, despite a flat plinth, produces artistic effect and a feeling of balance. Three huge imposing domes, with same dimensions as that on the entrance porch, and space between them filled with seemingly 158 miniature domes, one on each of the aisles below comprising the sanctuary hall, manipulate the background to reveal as much beauty as the foreground.

The mosque’s courtyard is 162 feet square enclosed on all four sides by huge colonnades, three aisles deep on north and south, and two, on east, the west being the sanctuary hall with five aisles depth. Imposing arched arcades with a rich and pleasant variety in arrangement of these arches, besides pillars and bays, finely chiselled mihrabs symmetrically set with the western wall and elegantly designed mimber – pulpit, impart to the entire interior an exceptional look. The building has been conceived on the principles of stern simplicity and massiveness of scale, little inclining to ornamentation. A mosque – an Islamic architecture, with the doorway of its entrance porch with marble jambs, lintel and the decoration on them, besides the mimber’s brackets and balustrades, much like a Hindu temple, presents a glaring example of Malwan synthesis of Islamic and Hindu elements. The mosque’s front with domed entrance and back balancing it with similar domes rising amid the groups of miniature domes produce great effect and rhythm. In proportions, symmetrical placing of parts, rhythmic vibrancy, forms and façade management Jami Masjid is simply outstanding.

Baz Bahadur Palace

The palace of Baz Bahadur is one of the representative buildings of the third phase of Malwa architecture built during the later half of the fifteenth century. Built on the slope of a high hill reachable by a cascade of forty wide steps the building has a romantic and pleasant setting. The main entrance is a huge porch flanked by rooms for guards on either side, and the vaulted ceiling above. The main palace has a spacious inner court and on its all sides are living rooms, large and small, as also other pavilions and a beautiful cistern in the centre. In the centre on the north, beyond the colonnade, there is an octagonal pavilion with arched openings protruding over the depth below, once a beautiful garden.

Under an identical plan, east and west sides too have on their corners square rooms. Further inside is another court with rooms on the west. There is another small court, perhaps for servants and attendants. It has rooms and halls on three sides. Appended to a wall here is a flight of stairs leading to the terrace. It serves as divider separating servants’ quadrangle and apartments from the main palace. Quite spacious, the terrace provides to the visitors a delightful view of distant nature. It houses on it two beautiful baradaris – small pillared pavilions comprising twelve openings, built, as acclaims an inscription on its main entrance, by Sultan Nasir Shah in 1508-09; however, the local tradition assigns it, and perhaps more correctly, to the twelve-door Malwa’s legendary romance Baz Bahadur, and the similar other, built close-by, to his consort Rupamati.

Rupamati Pavilion

Attributed to Rupamati, though neither built by her nor for her, Rupamati Pavilion, situated on south to the palace of Baz Bahadur, betrays signs of phased construction accomplished in many stages. The earliest part could be low height large hall with rooms on either end. The pavilion above is obvious a later structure, though again the parapet could be earlier. The building’s massive structure and strategic location affording a clear view of Nimar plains, is indicative of its defense character. A basement projecting on two sides – the corridors type structures, constructed along the western side of the plinth of the earlier structure on the slope of the hill, one extending to west, and other, to east, indicate yet another stage of construction. The western extension has a large cistern fed exclusively with rain water. However, these are the pavilions raised later on the terrace of the original structure that impart to the building its monumentality. Square base and hemispherical domes fluted both inside and outside endow to these pavilions a kind of romanticism and sensuous beauty, befitting the legend of Baz Bahadur-Rupamati.

In brief, of the numerous buildings that Mandu once had some forty of consequence now remain over the plateau, though all ruined to some degree or other. The nature of terrain precluding possibility of strict formal schemes Mandu did not have a planned growth. Mosques, colleges, towers, mausoleums, all have been grouped on spacious levels. Slopes and other landscape-points have been used for private buildings. Distinction of Mandu architecture lies in its synthesis of elements of various types and traditions – indigenous and extraneous, and in its own innovations.

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