Cultural Studies Paper on Mughal Art and Architecture: Shah Jahan’s Golden Era

The Taj Mahal, an architectural masterclass that is part of the Seven Wonders of the World, has been a subject of cultural studies for centuries; however, not much has been said about its architectural origins. The spread of the Islam led to the development of new philosophies that ushered an era of unprecedented development in poetry, mathematics, medicine, art, architecture as well as cultures across the world. In India, the first Muslims arrived a decade after the faith was established, and over time, the nation has seen different Muslim rulers taking over the authority of the land. These leaders left behind heritage in the form of architectural masterpieces of timeless beauty. The Mughal dynasty is famed as one of the most influential Indo-Islamic houses that inspired some of the best architectural marvels seen in the Indian culture. Moreover, the reign of Akbar the Great (1556–1605), saw the first of many Mughal architectural structures from palaces, mosques, gardens, to mausoleums, however, it was during the reign of Shah Jahan b. 1592 – 1666) that it reached its zenith. Shah Jahan’s era saw the construction of the taj mahal, the Jama Masjid, the red fort, and the Shalimar Gardens in Lahore, structures that are a symbol of India’s Architectural golden age.

Taj Mahal

Shah Jahan’s most notable masterpiece is the Taj Mahal, which is one of the wonders of the world. its perfect proportions, incandescent beauty, milk-white consistency that tends to assume different tones at various times, delicacy, as well as a variety of ornamentation, stands as the most notable structure associated with Shah Jahan. It is described by Asher et al., (2002, p. 178), as “a teardrop on the cheek of time” and Raheem and Tahir (2008) as “a dream in marble, designed by fairies and finished by jewelers,” which is a clear testament to its sheer beauty (p.1144). As a tribute to his late wife, the Taj was a reflection of the eternal love that a king had for his queen, considering the building was the emperor Shah Jahan memorial for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal. The Taj Mahal was constructed for 22 years by approximately 20,000 workers at a price of approximately three crores of rupees (Kavuri-Bauer (2011). The cost of the building was high because about twenty varieties of precious stones were brought in from different parts of the country as well as other localities in Turkey and Afghanistan to decorate it. Besides, Emperor Jahan used ‘pietra dura’ as the principal technique of beautification on a large scale-inlaid work of jewels. The great dome and the four slender towers that connect to the main structure are a noteworthy feature of the Taj Mahal. The building stands also hosts a formal garden with lavish greenery and pools of running water. Additionally, it is understood that Ustad Isha from Persian who was assisted by Hindu architects at the time was the chief architect of the Taj Mahal project. The Taj Mahal is currently considered as the standout example of integrated art and architecture from different cultures that made up the Mughal culture.

Shah Jahan’s City in Delhi

Emperor Jahan built the imperial capital Shahjahanabad between 1639 and 1648 in Dheli. The city covered a large area from the banks of river Yamuna in the southeastern parts covering the entire Delhi triangle. The reconstructions seen in the new city of Delhi under Emperor Shah Jahan far eclipse any architectural designs before his reign. For instance, the Emperor replaced a majority of the structures constructed during the Akbar and Humayun era in standstone and replaced them with his designs in marble. According to Raheem and Tahir (2008), traditionally, the nobles and princes during the reign of the Mughal dynasty exhibited a tendency to plan buildings and gardens in a manner that the main structure stood on one side of the plan as the gardens took position on another. Shah Jahan imposed his own vision on the new capital, where the city space incorporated the main structure at the center complimented by gardens with their own intricate designs. A study by Michell, Pasricha, Kagal, and Ray (2011) showed that this design resembled cities seen the capital of the Safavids; however, the city space in Shahjahanabad was expressively larger as compared to any of the prior capitals of the Sultans of Delhi as well as any other sovereigns on the Asian sub-continent. The planning of Shahjahanabad is a reflection of the traditional Islamic city plan with a Hindu Influence. According to Asher, et al. (2002), shahjahanabad was developed with the Hindu concept of Man and Universe as it drew its planning from the anatomy of men, which ‘contained all the possibilities of the universe within himself’ (p.221). As narrated by Raheem and Tahir (2008), the walled city embodied the power of the universe and the eight gates denoted the four cardinal directions as well as the four gates of heaven. These visions are visible today than any other time in the city’s history as the scale on which emperor Shah built was also more heroic, an aspect best seen from the Red Fort, the Jama Masjid, and the gardens.

Jama Masjid, Delhi

Originally called Masjid-i-Jahan-Numa, meaning “mosque commanding view of the world, the Jama Masjid, a mosque in Delhi was considered as a private mosque for the royal family. Emperor Shah Jahan, with the assistance of 5000 workforces, saw to the development of one of the most renowned mosques in history. The Jama Masjid has three entrances as well as two tall towers constructed in strips of red sandstone and white marble bejeweled by winding steps and cupola at the top for a panoramic view of the city (Tillotson, 2014). Indeed, the architecture of Jama Masjid was iconic in the sense that it was believed to be inspirational that housed a collection of relics of Muhammad (Tillotson, 2014). Today the mosque is seen as a symbol of brotherhood and love, an aspect well established by the fact that the structure serves as holy ground for other religions groups and not only Muslims.

The Red Fort

At Shahjahanabad, the Shah built his palace, Lal Qila, famously known as the Red Fort, a colossal walled citadel with red sandstone walls that took about 10 years to complete. Per Michell, Pasricha,  Kagal,  and Ray (2011) the red fort was an improved version of the Agra Fort, as he had learned from his experience of living there. Nevertheless, similar to other Mughal forts, the Red fort was constructed along the key rooms the a public room and the Diwan-i-Khas Additionally, the buildings are decorated with pure white marbel as well as inlaid with precious stones. The Red Fort stands on an area of about 254 acres featuring defensive wall that encircle the fort measuring about 2.41 kilometers. However, the walls differ in height with one end standing at 18 meters on the riverside while the other 33 meters high on the city side. The fort raises overlooks a wide dry moat in the northeast part of the Shahjahanabad city.

Ustad Ahmad Lahauri, a renowned artisan believed to have built the Taj Mahal, constructed the Red Fort. The fort is described as a creative apex of Mughal inventiveness. Red Fort has several constructions that have an Islamic, Mughal architecture, as well as the Timurids and the Persians architectural style. The Red Fort is known to have beautiful gardens incorporating an intricate water channel called the “Stream of Paradise” (Tillotson, 2014, p.42). For example, the water system at the fort connects several pavilions, an architectural design owned by the Mughals. According to Michell, Pasricha, Kagal, and Ray (2011) this form of artistry went on to inspire the construction of several edifices and gardens in the post-independence era an aspect that identifies Emporos Shah’s architectural period as the golden age.

Agar Fort

Emperor Akbar laid down the foundations of Agra Fort back in 1573; however, during the reign of his grandson Shah Jahan, the structure underwent significant renovation to its current form. Shah Jahan demolished some of the edifices within the fort and later restored them according to his own plan and architectural taste. For instance, the bricks that were used at the base as well as the external surfaces of Agra Fort’s were brought from Rajasthan, giving the structure an earthy texture. This appearance of the fort experienced a significant change during the reign of Shah Jahan who, unlike his grandfather, was smitten by the beauty of white marble. Subsequently, he destroyed most of the structures within the fort to reconstruct them using white marble. Emperor Jahan spent his final days in the Musamman Burj of the Agra fort, which was constructed by him a position that is with insights of the Taj Mahal.

Moti Masjid – Agra Fort

The Moti Masjid also known as The ‘Pearl Mosque’ is another marble-built structure built within the Agra Fort. The mosque was constructed for the purpose of hosting the members of the administration. As indicated by Asher, eta al., (2002), Moti Masjid is yet another example of Emperor Shah’s fascination with the use of marble as a building material. It is also one of the beautiful monuments built by Shah Jahan. Apart from Moti Masjid as architectural master piece, the Agra Fort also hosted some of the most beautiful Indian heritage sites in the form of Jahangir Mausoleum and Shalimar Gardens.


As earlier explained, the Mughal Architectural aspect of gardens before Shah Jahan’s reign was non-complimentary, in that the main structure and gardens stood on different ends of property space, an aspect that changed through the development of Jahan’s Delhi city design. Other than the enclosed areas, the city complex stretched several miles into the landscape where there was ample space for developing beautiful gardens. Mughal gardens were traditionally built in a rectangular shape and were surrounded by high walls and only opened up to the audiences through gateways. Four swiftly flowing canals, which divided them into four sections, cut these gardens in sun-sections known as chahar bagh. Additionally, the conventional format of the Mughal garden was an enclosed space with the main building located at the center, the structure had multiple entrances, as well as subsidiary pavilions that were sent into the remaining walls (Michell, Pasricha,  Kagal,  & Ray, 2011). On the other hand, during Shah Jahan’s reign, more architectural significance was placed on gardens, leading to the construction of the main building at one end of the space from the previously favored center position (Asher, eta al., 2002). The Shalimar Gardens was Emperor Jahan’s first garden construction while he was still a prince at the command of Jahangir. However, once he came into power, he commissioned two additional Shalimar Gardens in Lahore and Delhi. All three gardens were constructed as terraced structures, the design of which was borrowed from the Central Asia architecture. Moreover, Emperor Jahan spent a significant amount of his time at the Shalimar gardens in Lahore during his visits to the city as opposed to the city fort of Shahi Qila. The Shalimar Gardens was constructed on three terraces; the top terrace was reserved for the royal family and the Emperor, while the bottom terrace housed the court retinue (Michell, Pasricha, Kagal, & Ray, 2011). The gardens also had a complex water-engineering and hydraulic system that comprised of pool with fountains, pavilions, and multiple flowerbeds. The river Ravi was responsible for filling all pools through a canal system designed by one of Shah Jahan’s courtiers. By the time of his death, the Emperor had laid the designs for the Wazir Bagh in Kashmir, Shalimar Gardens near Lahore, the Talkatora Bagh and Shalimar Gardens at Delhi in a similar manner.


In summary, India is a multicultural state that has for centuries celebrated its identity in eye-catching art and architecture with the Taj Mahal being the centerpiece. The arrival of Muslims in India, added to the association of regional culture as well as immigrated technologies, led to the development of new architectural styles celebrated today. In specific, the Mughal dynasty is credited for some of the most renowned architectural sites in the country. Mughal architecture is a unique Indo-Islamic architectural style that was developed in northern and central provinces of India under the patronage of the Mughal royal leaders for two centuries. Each leader had a special way of integrating different cultural styles in building designs and construction; however, Shah Jahan is credited for leading the ‘Golden age’ of Mughal architecture. Shah Jahan had various construction achievements to his name; however, the Taj Mahal, Shalimar Gardens gardens, the Jama Masjid, the Takhat-i-Tahus’, Red Fort and Moti Masjid stand as his most iconic symbols of architectural success. Each of the above buildings is not only unique in material use and designs but also symbolic to both the royal families and the people a factor that stands out as the most iconic era of Mughal architecture. The architecture seen at the city of Shahjahanabad has invited guests from tourists to scholars from across the globe because of its unique beauty. The rectangular city planning structure built on the banks of River Yamuna, with many architectural and visual marvels in the forms of forts, palaces, and gardens is the reason for Emperor Shah’s architectural achievement as elements of a golden age.








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