A Period of Renaissance
Catherine B. Asher, The Architecture of Mughal India 1:4, The New Cambridge History of India, Cambridge University Press, 1992, Rs. 695.
Catherine Asher's book has come out at a time when there seems to be an enormous amount of dust blowing around the topic of Muslim rule in India. If one were to regard that part of India's medieval history as a separate layer that can easily be peeled off, then one would find this book rather disturbing. It deals with Mughal India and explores how Mughal architecture emerged out of pluralistic influences that stretched from the Qay of Bengal to Central Asia and Persia. The act of peeling off and discarding this important period of Indian history on the assertion tKat it had always been a suffocating and oppressive blanket over the true destiny of India, is of course questionable. Mughal architecture epitomises a unique style which is place-specific only to India and one needs only to glance through the photographs in the book (of which there are more than 200) to realise that there is no such style in Indian architecture which can be termed Muslim. -The architecture of the Mughal period was historically contained within the reign of six emperors up to Aurangzeb and its distinct style lends itself for packaging fairly easily into a clear historical slot. Each of the six emperors had a distinct character and patronised very distinct buildings, each of which can be regarded as the quintesscence of Mughal architecture. Catherine Asher's book explores the sources of this style which were derived from Persian, Timurid, Indian and European roots. 'Unlike the contemporary and powerful Islamic rulers of Iran and Turkey, the Safavids and Ottomans, the Mughals ruled a land dominated by non-Muslims, largely Hindus. Just as indigenous religions and traditions were tolerated and in many cases even respected by the Mughal rulers, so, too, they incorporated in their patronage of the arts, literature and music many indigenous elements.'
Mughal taste and aesthetics evolved out of many precedents. Its imperial glory was unique because of this varied mix of origins and the grand buildings that were put up in the urban centres by the emperors
Social Scientist, Vol. 20, No. 11, November 1992