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Volume: II, Issue II, July-December 2011



When the Mughal Empire was at its zenith, it was the court that was responsible for undertaking major art and architectural projects and determined the style and taste of the period.  In the Later Mughal period (1707–1857)  decentralization took place not only in the domain of politics but also in the realm of art and architecture, which reflected continuing tussle between Mughal rulers and contending groups: nobility in the eighteenth century and the British in first half of the nineteenth century. During this period, architecture and politics cemented together. The Mughal rulers hardly had any opportunity to patronise magnificent architecture in want of resources and stability. Their architectural activity was limited to few modest tombs, palaces and mosques. The present article attempts to demonstrate how these few modest buildings were imbued with strong political and religious messages and exerted considerable influence owing to the site where these buildings were constructed. 

Keywords Content

Imperial Architecture in the Later Mughal Period: Consideration of Site

Mughal rulers built extensively throughout their Empire and were responsible for patronising some of the finest buildings ever seen by the entire Islamic world. In the later Mughal period (1707–1857), however, emperors made scant contribution in the domain of architecture owing to political instability and financial bankruptcy. The article constitutes a survey of salient architectural features of the buildings patronised by the later Mughal emperors. An Attempt has been made to reconstruct the original fabric of buildings through topographical paintings of Delhi, produced during that time, as a number of buildings patronised by the rulers are now in altered state and lost their original fabric. The present article also addresses certain issues related to the locales where architectural projects are undertaken by the Mughal emperors. Imperial tombs, palaces, and mosques are taken as case studies to see how the location where rulers erected their buildings made a direct reference to the contemporary political and cultural landscape of Delhi.


Later Mughal Emperors

Reign Period

Bahadur Shah I




Jahandar Shah








Rafi ud-Darjat




Rafi ud-Daulat a.k.a. Shah Jahan II








Muhammad Ibrahim




Muhammad Shah


1719–1720, 1720–1748


Ahmad Shah Bahadur




Alamgir II




Shah Jahan III


In 1759


Shah Alam II




Akbar Shah II




Bahadur Shah Zafar




Table 1: Reign period of the Later Mughal Emperors

Imperial buildings of the Later Mughal period studied in this article


Tomb Buildings


Tomb of the emperor Shah 'Alam Bahadur Shah I, Dargah of Shaikh Qutb Sahib Bakhtiyar Kaki, Mehrauli, Delhi


Tomb of the emperor Muhammad Shah, Dargah of Shaikh Nizamuddin Auliya, Delhi




Zafar Mahal (Palace of Akbar II), Mehrauli, Delhi


Gateway, Zafar Mahal, Mehrauli, Delhi


Zafar Mahal, Red Fort, Delhi


Hira Mahal, Red Fort, Delhi




Moti Masjid, Mehrauli, Delhi


Table 2: Imperial buildings of the Later Mughal period

Imperial Tombs

The significance of tomb buildings for the Mughal rulers for proclamation of power and authority can be judged by the fact that the first grand architectural project undertaken by the great Mughal Emperor Akbar(1556–1605) was a tomb. In 1526, Babur led the foundation of Mughal Empire in India. The Mughal Empire, however, remained in an unsettled state, constantly challenged by the native rulers, until Akbar consolidated the empire. To mark the consolidation of Mughal Empire and legitimize the rule of the dynasty, Akbar built the tomb of his father Humayun, which was completed in 1571, adjacent to the Chisti shrine of Nizam ud-Din Auliya in Delhi [Lowry 1987, 136]. Since then, Mughal rulers patronised some of the finest tomb buildings and the tradition reached at its apex with the construction of Taj Mahal at Agra.

From 1707 to 1857, a number of rulers ascended the Mughal throne, however, not a single significant tomb was constructed for any of the emperor. The process began with the death of Aurangzeb. He was buried in an open grave at Daulatabad at the dargah of Shaikh Burhan al-Din. His grave was marked by a simple stone cenotaph. This was in accordance with the final wishes of Aurangzeb. It may be noted that even if Aurangzeb would have not made such a wish, his successors were unable to construct any magnificent edifice over his grave due to the war of succession that broke among them.

The political turmoil that began with Aurangzeb’s death ceased only in 1857 with the final eclipse of the Mughal Empire. The struggle for authority was most explicitly expressed by burials of royalty. In a period of 150 years, only two modest marble enclosures were constructed in the name of tomb for the rulers in vicinity of chisti dargahs. This has already been pointed out by the recent scholarship that even the modest tombs of the Mughal emperors, for instance, tombs of Babur and Aurangzeb, exerted great influence as it was benefited from the religious dogma [Brand 1993, 323].

Here one may note that the monuments commemorating the death of later Mughal rulers may not have architectural significance but the sites selected for burial of these rulers played a prominent role in the contemporary political and cultural landscape.

The graves of royalty were found at the following sites:

  • Dargah of Shaikh Qutb Sahib Bakhtiyar Kaki and
  • Dargah of Nizam ud-Din Auliya and
  • Humayun’s Tomb

Dargah of Shaikh Qutb Sahib Bakhtiyar Kaki: the dynastic graveyard

The dargah of Shaikh Qutb Sahib Bakhtiyar Kaki became the most preferred place for the royal burial in the later Mughal period. It may be noted that even when the emperors died outside Delhi, inevitably, their bodies were brought to the imperial capital for burial. Bahadur Shah I died due to illness on February 27, 1712 at Lahore. It was in Lahore a monumental mausoleum was erected for the Mughal Emperor Jahangir in 1621. Lahore was, however, not considered as the proper last resting place for Bahadur Shah. His body was sent to Delhi under the supervision of Bibi Mihr-Parwar, the emperor’s widow for interment. Thus, Delhi became the unquestionable site for the royal burials. The emperor was buried in a muhajjar (tomb enclosure open to sky) in the vicinity the dargah of Shaikh Qutb Sahib Bakhtiyar Kaki at Mehrauli near Moti Masjid, which was built by him in 1709 [Irvine 1971, 135].

The architectonics of the tomb of Bahadur Shah I: Now & Then

The grave of Bahadur Shah I was interred in an oblong muhajjar resting on a low plinth (pl. 1). The muhajjar is entirely made of marble. The design of the enclosure, at present, appears heterogeneous. The plinth is decorated by an intricate floral scroll comprising of iris flowers alternating with lotus buds. The northern and southern sides, which are longer sides of the enclosure, consist of five panels. The western and eastern sides have four panels. The eastern and northern sides are above the ground level which is part of the mosque enclosure behind the tomb. The other two sides are in consistence with the ground level. 

The eastern and western sides have blind trefoil arcades. The central panel of western side, however, consists of a window with quatrefoil jali (tracery).  The enclosure is entered from the southern side through a cusped arched entrance. The entrance is higher than the enclosure wall. This entrance is flanked by intricate jalis set in a trefoil arch. Each unit of the tracery consists of four symmetrical foils. The spandrels are decorated with a finely carved meander of conventionalised iris flower. These jalis are framed by rectangular pilaster commonly seen in the later Mughal architecture. The base and the capital of the pilaster are decorated with acanthus motif. The fluted shaft emerges from a lotus flower and is decorated with chevron pattern. Such pilasters are earlier seen in the architecture of Aurangzeb, e.g., Badshahi mosque in Lahore. Other two panels on this side form a blind arcade. The northern side, which faces the mosque, is comparatively well proportionate and homogeneous in design. Three intricately carved jalis alternate with two bind cusped arches. The entire enclosure wall was topped by a cinquefoil cresting which is now damaged at several places.

From a representation of the tomb of Bahadur Shah I in a company painting by artist Sita Ram (pl. 2) which is in the British Library, London, it is evident that the original fabric and setting of the tomb has changed considerably. The muhajjar was originally within an enclosure as can be seen in the painting. The southern side of this enclosure was occupied by the muhajjar. It is preceded by an open courtyard. The northern side had a dalan (hall) which is entered from an elegant arcade of baluster columns supporting cusped arches.  The dalan still survives (pl. 3). The eastern and western sides were closed by red sandstone walls, which no more exist. A narrow staircase between the tomb and the eastern enclosure wall which descends to the mosque enclosure, seen in the painting, still exists (pl. 1).  

What is important to notice is that originally the entire plinth, on which the muhajjar stands, was enclosed by marble jali (pl. 2), however, at present only part of this plinth is surrounded by the jali (pl. 1).  This led to exclusion of three graves from the muhajjar which originally might have been within the enclosure. Also, originally, the entire southern side of muhajjar had elegant quatrefoil jali which gave the tomb enclosure a graceful appearance. It seems that at some point of time the original jalis crumbled. In the process of restoration, its, original fabric was lost.

Selection of Dargah as the last resting place

It was believed that the deceased would be benefited by the barqat (blessings) of the saint if buried in the vicinity of a dargah. Yet another reason for selection of a dargah as the last resting place was its importance in life of the community. The dargah was a popularly visited site; hence, memories of those buried in its vicinity would be immortalised. Here, one may note that the grave of Bahadur Shah I was venerated by the people. His urs (death anniversary) was an important festive occasion in Delhi. The travellers who visited Delhi during the later Mughal period were quite fascinated by the festivities at the tomb of Bahadur Shah I during the celebration of his ‘urs.

Urs of Bahadur Shah I as described in Muraqqa ‘-e Dehli

In his Muraqqa ‘-e Dehli, Dargah Quli Khan, an important official in the principality of Hyderabad, gives a graphic account of the celebration during the urs of Khuld Manzil (Bahadur Shah I). He stayed in Delhi from 1737 to 1741. He writes, “The Urs of Khuld Manzil is celebrated on the 23rd day of [month of sacrifice] Muharram-ul-Ihram.  His grave is situated beside the grave of Hazrat Qutb-ul-Aqtab. His [Khuld Manzil’s] Begum, Mehr Parwar, with the help of Hayat Khan Nazir, starts the arrangements for the decoration of lamps [at the grave] a month in advance. Chandeliers of all kinds are hung and the artisans from the royal house come and give the lamps the shape of tree which when lighted put to shame both the Cyprus and the boxwood trees. When the place is fully lighted, it dazzles like sunlight and overshadows the moon. The sun realising its unimportance sets and does not show its face before dawn. The towers of lamps throw lights as high as the sky. The bunglows in every lane shine as bright as the Valley of Tur.

Hand in hand, the lovers roam the streets while the debauched and the drunken unmindful of the mushatsib [kotwal] revel in all kinds of perversities. Groups of winsome lads and novices [in this trade] violate the faith of the believers through their unappreciated acts which are sufficient to shake the very roots of piety. There are beautiful faces as far as the eye can see. All around prevails a world of impiety and immorality in different hues. The whores and lads entice more and more people to this atmosphere of lasciviousness. Nobles can be seen in every nook and corner, while the singers, quwwals, and beggars outnumber even the flies and the mosquitoes. In short, both the nobles and the plebians quench the thirst of their lust here. But however, it is in one’s welfare and prudence to ignore these immodesties” [Khan 1989, 17–18].

Representation of urs of Bahadur Shah I in a nineteenth century painting

From a painting entitled the Catafalque of the Emperor Bahadur Shah I dated early nineteenth century in the Victoria and Albert Museum Collection, it can be suggested that the grave of Bahdur Shah remained popular in early nineteenth century as well. This is a rare painting which depicts probably the celebration of urs of the Emperor Bahadur Shah I.  The observations made by Dargah Quli Khan, in second half of the eighteenth century, are also captured in this early nineteenth century painting.

It seems, however, that the artist has created the image from what he heard about the festivity and not through direct observation as the topography of the place is not accurate. In this painting, the background consists of two distinct zones: the left part is the white façade of the palace with a jharokha. The palace seems to be the Zafar Mahal at Mehrauli. The right part consists of a garden. This division sets up the stage against which the drama unfolds.

Against the architectural background, behind cluster of people, is shown a prince astride a bedecked elephant. From the garden, on the other side, appears a royal horse.  The elephant and horse create a demarcating line between the populace in front and men in procession at the back. Some of them carry candles in procession.  Against the garden is shown the bedecked shrine with a canopy placed diagonally. In front of the right corner of the shrine is a tall staff covered heavily by black cloth.  From its top protrude a hand. Smaller versions of this hand can be seen all along the front of the tomb from which dangles colourful bundle of clothes. The hand was one of the imperial Mughal symbols carried when the emperor appeared anywhere. It is frequently depicted in paintings of Padshahnama of Shah Jahan [Beach & Koch 1997, 28, 24,42].

The artist succeeded in capturing the mood of the festival. Throng of people from various strata of society are shown flooding at the site. The artist has shown them in different views; sometime figures are cut to indicate that their numbers are not restricted only to the picture plane. The empty space on the left side of the foreground and in the centre creates a breathing space in an otherwise crowded composition. The artist has particularly shown multitude of women dressed in beautiful attire, jewellery, and footwear. Their palms and fingers are shown coloured with mehndi. Though the treatment of human figures is static yet a great sense of movement is created through their gestures and postures as well as gaze. The garden with barely visible branches and trunks of the tree indicate the darkness of night when not even a single star is in the sky. Yet the festival site is shown in brilliant light. Everything seems to be illuminated. The bright colour palette, further, heightens the spirit of celebration.

It is, thus, clear that the modest grave of Bahadur Shah I emerged as a significant site not only for the royal family but also for the general public of Delhi.

Other rulers buried near the dargah of Shaikh Qutb Sahib Bakhtiyar Kaki

Two other Mughal rulers, Rafi ud-Darjat (February 28, 1719–June 6, 1719) and Rafi ud-Daulah (June 8, 1719–September 19, 1719) were buried near the dargah of Shaikh Qutb Sahib Bakhtiyar Kaki. Here one may note that Rafi-ud-daulah died in a camp at Bidyapur [Irvine 1971, 431]. Yet, his body was sent to Delhi where it was buried beside his brother Rafi ud-Darjat [Irvine 1971, 432]. These rulers were merely puppets and ruled for a brief period with no time to commemorate a tomb building. Since, their rule was supported by the nobility, they were given proper burial in the vicinity of the dargah of Shaikh Qutb Sahib Bakhtiyar Kaki.

It has already been observed that the tenure of Emperor Bahadur Shah I and other two rulers were too short and unstable for construction of any magnificent tomb. What is intriguing to notice is that the three last Mughal rulers, Shah Alam II (r. 1759–1806), Akbar II (r. 1806–1837), and Bahadur Shah II (r. 1837–1857) also desired to be buried in the muhajjar of Bahadur Shah I, however, his desire was never fulfilled. One may question what prompted these rulers to select the muhajjar of the tomb of Bahadur Shah I as their last resting place when they had the resources to construct tombs for themselves? This is evident from the fact that all these three rulers patronised architecture. In fact, Shah Alam II constructed tombs for his mother and daughter. These tombs, known as Lal Bangla, are the largest tombs constructed by any later Mughal ruler. Yet he did not construct his tomb. Similarly, Akbar II and Bahadur Shah II constructed palaces but not their tombs.

Michael Brand, an eminent scholar, has already pointed out the great respect orthodox burial enjoyed at the Mughal court due to Quranic injunction [Brand 1993, 323–333]. In case of burial and entombment of the last three Later Mughal rulers, it seems, other issues were also involved except for the religion which prescribes an uncovered grave exposed to the purifying rain and dew as a symbol of humility [Brand 1993, 324]. The consideration was of acquiring religious sanction to rule when political power was constantly shrinking and passing into the hands of the British. The emperors were not only rulers but also pirs, a fact, also attested by contemporary painting which depicts these rulers seated on the throne with a rosary in their hands. The close association of the court and the dargah of the Bakhtiyar Kaki is further arrested by the fact that pirzadas (descendants of saints), encouraged Akbar II and Bahadur Shah Zafar to accept disciples or murids who acknowledged the spiritual guidance of the king [Spear 2002, 74].  Thus the divine right of the emperor was well established. Such a practice empowered the modest graves of later Mughal emperors, which symbolically, if not architecturally, exerted more prestige. The modest muhajjar of Bahadur Shah I, in the first half of the nineteenth century, became the dynastic graveyard for the later Mughal rulers.

The dargah of Shaikh Nizamuddin Auliya: Tomb of Muhammad Shah

Muhammad Shah (r. 1719–1748) had a long reign compared to other Later Mughal rulers. He was the only emperor who built his tomb during his lifetime. He preferred the site of the dargah of Shaikh Nizamuddin Auliya as his last resting place. Previously, at this site was buried the Mughal princess Jahan Ara Begum, daughter of Shahjahan, in an open grave surrounded by an elegantly carved marble enclosure. In fact, it was the dargah of Shaikh Nizamuddin Auliya which was extremely significant for the Mughal royal family prior to the Later Mughal period when the focus of royalty shifted to the dargah of Shaikh Qutb Sahib Bakhtiyar Kaki. However, this shift became more pronounced in the early nineteenth century.  

Architectonics of the tomb of Muhammad Shah

The Mughal Emperor Muhammad Shah is also buried in a muhajjar (pl. 5) which is closely modeled on the tomb of Jahan Ara Begum. However, it is more intricately carved. Over an ornate platform rests the grave of Muhammad Shah. This is surrounded by an oblong marble enclosure which consists of five panels on the eastern and western sides and three panels on northern and southern sides. The central panel on the eastern side is constructed as an elegant double arched entrance with marble doors. The outer cusped arched entrance gracefully connects with the inner arch. The intrados are intricately carved. Fine carving of meandering floral scroll can also be seen on the spandrels. The entrance is flanked by columns. The original upper parts of the columns no more exist. The corners of the enclosure are provided with rectangular pilasters, a characteristic feature of the later Mughal architecture. The original finials over these pilasters don’t more exist any more. An elegant floral cresting forms the upper part of the enclosure wall which is also broken at several places and are reconstructed.

In this enclosure were also buried Nawab Sahiba Mahal, wife of Muhammad Shah, his daughter, who was married to the son of Nadir Shah, and her infant daughter. A fine tomb of similar type was also constructed for the Mughal prince Mirza Jahangir by his mother Nawab Mumtaz Mahal Begum, wife of Akbar II.

Humayun’s Tomb: Burial ground for the defeated

It is significant to note that burial of a number of Later Mughal rulers went unmarked as no edifice was constructed to commemorate their death. There bodies were simply interred in Humayun’s Tomb (pl. 6). Though a sixteenth-century building, Humayun’s Tomb acquired a different connotation in Later Mughal period because of which it became important to incorporate Humayun’s Tomb in the present discussion.

It is intriguing to notice that at Humayun’s Tomb those emperors and princess of the Later Mughal period were buried who were either defeated in war of succession or dethroned and brutally killed by powerful nobles.  Thus, Humayun’s Tomb became the burial ground of the defeated. The first such instance took place immediately after death of Aurangzeb.

In the battle of Jajau, which took place in 1707, Shah Alam Bahadur Shah I (r. 1707–1712) emerged victorious. His brother Azam Shah, contender for the throne, and his two nephews Wala-jah and Bidar Bakht were killed in this war of succession. Bahadur Shah ordered that bodies of the princes were to be dispatched in biers for burial in the mausoleum of Humayun [Irvine 1971, 34]. He could have buried the bodies of his defeated relatives at Jajau but he did not do so. Yet another contender for the throne, Kam Baksh, youngest son of Aurangzeb, and his sons were defeated and killed in a war waged by Bahadur Shah I in 1709 in Deccan. After paying due respect to their bodies, the victorious emperor ordered dispatch of their bodies for burial in the mausoleum of the Emperor Humayun [Irvine 1971, 64–65].

The defeated princess could have been buried in Deccan. After all, in Deccan, at Daulatabad, was also buried the former Emperor Aurangzeb. Now, the question arises what made Bahadur Shah to select tomb of Humayun in Delhi as the last resting place for his defeated brothers. There could be two reasons. He sent bodies of his brothers and other princes to the imperial capital to convey that no contender for the throne had survived and his rule was unchallenged.

Secondly, by selecting the Humayun’s Tomb he was referring to the act of his father, Aurangzeb. One may note that Aurangzeb after killing his brother Dara Shikoh, the heir apparent, interred his body at Humayun’s Tomb. By repeating his father’s act, Bahadur Shah I was justifying his deeds. One more reason which could have prompted Bahadur Shah I to bury his defeated relative at Humayun’s Tomb was to portray himself as a just ruler who gave respectable burial to his enemies. At the same time he was aware that memories of the deceased would be overshadowed by the burial of Humayun.

It has been observed that, later on, all those rulers who were dethroned and murdered were buried at Humayun’s Tomb. After a brief rule of less than a year, emperor Jahandar Shah (r. February 27, 1712–February 11, 1713) was dethroned and imprisoned in Tripolia Gate by Farrukhsiyar with the help of Sayyid brothers. He was brutally killed in imprisonment on February 11, 1713 [Irvine 1971, 254]. His dismembered body was disgracefully displayed in the victory procession of the new Emperor Farruksiyar (1713–1719) and was later buried in Humayun’s Tomb [Irvine 1971, 255–256]. History repeated itself once again. Farrukhsiyar was dethroned, blinded, and imprisoned in Tripolia Gate by Sayyid brothers [Irvine 1971, 391]. Later on, they killed him brutally [Irvine 1971, 392]. His body was also buried at Humayun’s Tomb [Irvine 1971, 393-394]. Yet another emperor, Alamgir II (1754–1759) was killed by his prime minister and was buried in the Humayun’s Tomb [Sarkar 2008, 125].

Humayun’s Tomb which symbolised consolidation of the Mughal Empire in India, ironically, also marked the end of the Mughal dynasty. It was here, the last Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah II was arrested and with this ended a dynasty which ruled for more that three centuries.

Imperial Palaces in the Later Mughal Delhi

The Later Mughal rulers of the eighteenth century could not contribute a single palace. The only palace constructed at this time by the royal family was Qudsia Bagh Palace which belonged to Nawab Qudsia Begum, wife of Muhammad Shah and mother of Ahmad Shah (r.1748–1754). It was only during the rule of last two rulers, Akbar Shah II (1806–37) and Bahadur Shah II (1837–57) the practice of building palaces, renewed though on a very small scale. These were the last efforts to a bid for posterity through architecture, though, in a very small scale. Surviving on the pension of the British, they had neither resources nor power to undertake any big project.

Palace of Akbar II or Zafar Mahal

Akbar II selected the vicinity of dargah of Bakhtiyar Kaki for constructing his palace. It has already been observed above that during the Later Mughal period Mughal rulers developed close association with this shrine for various reasons. The selection of this site was in accordance with the existing Mughal palace-building tradition. Through a close proximity of some of their fort palaces with the khanaqah of Chisti saints, Mughal rulers attempted to link the secular and the sacred. “The establishment of Fatehpur Sikri, commenced in 1571 by Akbar (1556–1605) at the khanaqah of another Chishti saint Shaykh Salim is well known. Similarly, the lakeside palace of Jahangir (1605–27) and Shah Jahan (1628–58) on the Ana Sagar in Ajmer serves as a royal link with India’s premier dargah that of Muin al-Din, in the town. In Delhi the Din-Panah of Humayun (1530–40; 1555–56) was adjacent to the Chisti shrine Nizam al-Din Auliya; it was further more site of Indraprastha, associated with the Epic Mahabharata, thus linking the Mughal with both religious authority and an ancient pre-Islamic Indian past [Asher 1993, 281].”

Akbar II went a step further. By taking murids, who acknowledged the spiritual guidance of the king, he blurred the line between the royal and the divine.  He was not only the Emperor but also the pir. What could have been a better place than the vicinity of dargah of Bakhtiyar Kaki for presentation of such an image?

This palace was known as Lal Mahal [Husain 1991, 89]. It came to be popularly known as Zafar Mahal because in 1848 Bahadur Shah erected a lofty gateway on the northern side of the palace. It was made so high probably to admit elephants when they are required for riding purposes [Husain 1991, 89]. At present, the palace is in ruins. Only the gateway has survived in its original form (pl. 7). It is an imposing three-storeyed structure with chamfered corners.  The central façade consists of a monumental gateway. Set within double arches, the gateway rises up to the second storey. Outer cusped arch rests on slender pilasters. The wooden doorway is still surviving. Above the gateway is an arcade of three cusped arches. This central section is flanked by wall divided into three storeys. The lower storey is decorated with a niche crowned with a bangla roof, above this is a relief of the similar niche. The two are separated by a band. Second storey has elegant window framed by slender pilasters crowned with bangla roof. Here, too, the motif is repeated in relief. The upper storey has elegant jharokha. The entire façade is topped by a chajja over which is a battlement. From inside the upper story of the gateway is an elegant structure. It is composed as a pillared hall flanked by rooms.

Bahadur Shah II used to spend month of monsoon at this palace.  “He patronised the solona or Punkah festival which was held each August towards the end of the rains, when he or his sons headed a procession to the shrine of Qutub Sahib, the king on his elephant and his followers waving large fans” [Spear 2002, 74]. Such procession was also a way to display the royal splendour.

By early 20th century this palace was already in ruins as evident from an ASI report of 1922–23. “The repairs to the Zafar Mahal at Mehrauli, commenced last year, were completed. They comprise the removal of debris, replacement of certain roofs by new ones, and some petty repairs to the walls, chajja, floors, etc. The palace is a typical specimen of the late Mughal architecture, exhibiting all the shortcomings of that period. The interest attached to it is purely of historic nature, as it was the residence of the last Mughal emperors” [ASI Report 1990a, 7–8].

What is intriguing to notice is that the tomb of Bahadur Shah I was also included in the palace precinct. This feature was in discord with the established Mughal practice of palace building as tomb was never in such close proximity to the palace.

Bahadur Shah Palaces in the Red Fort: Zafar Mahal and Hira Mahal

In Hayat Bakhsh garden of the Red Fort, Bahadur Shah II added several palace pavilions. The central feature of this garden was Zafar Mahal or Jal-Mahal (Water Palace) constructed in the middle of a large water tank (pls. 8-9). This tank was constructed by Shahjahan [ASI Report 1990, 8]. However, during the reign of Bahadur Shah II, it was deepened through construction of a parapet on the top of the ornamental border [ASI Report 1990, 8]. Bahadur Shah built this palace in 1842 in the 6th year of his accession [Khan 1979, 72]. Originally, it had a central hall with rooms, suits, and verandah all around it. There was a bridge on the eastern side of the palace which connected it with the mainland (pl. 9). Hayat Bakhsh garden as well as various buildings within it was already in a state of bad preservation and neglect by 1901, “many of the buildings were then sadly in need of repair; others were used as barrack rooms or stores, while the area in which they stood was cut up by modern roads, and disfigured by unsightly military buildings. The old levels of the ground had been obliterated and bewildered visitor to the palace of the ‘Great Mogul’ wandered aimlessly about from building to building” [Sanderson 1990, 7].

Sanderson writes: “In 1904–1905 excavations were made on a large scale in the Hayat Bakhsh garden, which led bare the old tank and water channels, and the extent of the former, of which the Zafar Mahal is the central feature, was accurately determined. In 1905-1906 the work was continued and a start made on the reconstruction of the old channels. Fragments of the ornamental kerb and causeways were found between the tank and the Sawan pavilion, and from these, together with the old plans which showed the border, it was possible to carry out the work with perfect accuracy to the original. The large central tank built by Shah Jahan appeared to have been deepened, probably at the same time as the Zafar Mahal erected in its centre, and this had been done by building a parapet on the top of the ornamental border. …….Accordingly, it was felt that the traces of the parapet’s existence should not be destroyed and the missing portions of it were, therefore, restored, so that the tank could be filled up to the higher level” [Sanderson 1990, 7].

At present, the palace rests on a plinth consisting of five openings on each side (pl. 8). The plinth is separated from the palace by a chajja resting on brackets. The façade of the palace is marked by three cusped arches flanked by jalis set within arches that recall the baldachin covering. Some of the jalis no more exist. On each side, from the central cusped arch projects an elegant jharokha. The central hall no more exists, however, the rooms and verandahs around it are still there. A series of staircases lead to the upper storey. The upper storey is separated from the main palace by a chajja resting on brackets. The setting of this red sandstone building in the centre of a garden, with beautiful marble pavilions of Shah Jahan on either side, creates a pleasant visual effect. 

Moti Mahal and Hira Mahal

Bahadur Shah constructed two pavilions on the east terrace of Hayat Bakhsh garden. Moti Mahal existed up to the mutiny, but no trace of it is left now.  The other pavilion, Hira Mahal, built in 1842, still exists (pl. 10). Each side consists of three cusped arches resting on four elegant pillars, except the side facing the river. Here, the central cusped arch is flanked by rectangular openings serving as windows. In a contemporary drawing, one can see that these windows were provided with lattice work (pl. 11). The central cusped arch also had a jali with a window in the centre. From the painting it is evident that the river front was provided with a parapet. One also comes to know that Hira Mahal was flanked by two European style buildings. The company drawing also gives a glimpse of contemporary furnishing. Preceding the Hira Mahal is a canal. This canal can also be seen in the painting with swimming ducks. This is the famous Nahar-i-Bahisht. According to Sir Sayed Ahmad Khan, “the old canal contained, in the neighbourhood of the palace, 24 fountains of silver, only the canal has remained [Khan 1979, 72–73]. In accordance with other buildings on the river front, Bahadur Shah constructed this palace in marble.

Now, the question arises what prompted the emperor to construct new palaces in the fort when some of the significant existing buildings were in want of repair or mismanaged.  Was he asserting his hereditary right over the fort of his ancestors? These buildings in the fort were constructed in 1842. From the archival documents [Political Progs 1846, 41] it is evident that the British, by 1846, had already made their mind to persuade the emperor to leave the fort of Shahjahanabad and move to Qutb Delhi. It is speculated that the process might have started from the British side by 1842 and the emperor by constructing new buildings made his stand clear that he had no intention of leaving his hereditary residence. By doing so Bahadur Shah was using architecture as a symbol of his authority. This is yet again an old Mughal practice [Asher 1993, 281].

Religious buildings patronised by the Later Mughal rulers

There are very few religious buildings which are directly associated with the Later Mughal rulers. One of the earliest buildings is the Moti Masjid (pls. 12-13). It was built by Bahadur Shah I in 1709. The mosque is situated to the west of the grave of Bakhtiyar Kaki. This was the beginning of construction activity at this site. From this point onwards, as seen above, the vicinity of the shrine became the focal of construction activities of the Later Mughal rulers.

The mosque is closely modelled on Moti masjid of Aurangzeb. This is, however, a single-aisled mosque unlike the double-aisled mosque of Aurangzeb. The prayer chamber is entered from three arched entrances and is surmounted by three bulbous domes. The central bay on the eastern side projects from the wall. It is flanked by slender engaged baluster like column.  The corners of the façade are provided by rectangular pilasters. This mosque is flanked by wings on northern and southern side. From inside, the bays are interconnected with cusped arches resting on slender pillars with ornamental base and capital. The side chambers are entered from rectangular openings framed by a blind cusped arch. The entire mosque is built of white marble. The pavements are also built in white marble with black slate lining. Sir Syed Ahmad Khan mentions: “The central dome fell by an earthquake, it has been promptly repaired” [Khan 1979, 65]. The mosque is within a walled enclosure.

Imperial contributions were further made to this shrine during the reign of Farrukhsiyar. He built an elegant marble enclosure around the grave, two entrances and reconstructed the original stucco mosque in white marble. Catherine Asher, a renowned Art Historian, is of the opinion that these constructions were invoking memories of the association of Mughal royalty with the Chisti shrine at Ajmer, which was severed in Later Mughal period due to political disturbances [Asher 1992, 294–295]. Now, can it be suggested that the growing popularity of the shrine of Bakhtiyar Kaki was because he was the disciple of Muin ud-Din Chisti, the most venerated saint by Mughal rulers among all? Further, his dargah was the oldest in Delhi. Its establishment coincided with the very beginning of Islamic rule in India.

Other contribution of the rulers in the field of religious architecture was a wall around Dargah Chiraq-i Delhi. This was added by Muhammad Shah. It has already been observed above that Muhammad Shah preferred the vicinity of Nizam-ud-Din Auliya as his last resting place. One can sum up that despite political turbulence and financial crisis, the patronage to the Chisti dargah continued. However, rulers did not construct many mosques as Jama Masjid of Shahjahanabad remained the principal mosque for them. Here, passing reference can be made of Chobi Masjid (The Wooden Mosque) built by Ahmad Shah in the Red Fort. The pillars and arches of this mosque were of wood. By 1850, it was already in dilapidated condition and was repaired by the British [Khan 1979, 69] . The mosque existed up to the time of the rebellion of 1857 [Sanderson 1990, 7]. It has been observed that a number of imperial monuments were in a want of repair. It testifies that the craftsmanship of these buildings as well as the material used were of inferior quality than the Mughal monuments of the earlier period. This was natural as the state had limited resources.

To sum up it can be suggested that despite small scale and inferior material, the imperial patronage conveyed strong message of power and authority on account of the locale where they existed and the subtle references that were made to the great past. Instead of scale, material, and ornamentation of the buildings, it was the site, where a building was constructed, that conveyed authority and intention of the Later Mughal emperors.



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  2. Archaeological Survey of India Annual Report 1922–23. 1990. New Delhi: Swati Publications.
  3. Asher, Catherine B. 1992. Architecture of Mughal India. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  4. Asher, Catherine B. 1993. ‘Sub-Imperial Palaces: Power and Authority in Mughal India’ in  Ars Orientalis 23. Ann Arbour: University of Michigan Press.
  5. Beach, Milo Cleveland and Koch, Ebba, eds. 1997.  King of the World: The Padshahnama (An Imperial Mughal Manuscript from the Royal Library, Windsor Castle). Translated from Persian by Wheeler Thackston. Great Britain: Thames and Hudson.
  6. Brand, Michael. 1993. ‘Orthodoxy, Innovation, and Revival: Considerations of the Past Imperial Mughal Tomb Architecture’ in Muqarnas: An Annual on Islamic Art and Architecture X: .323.
  7. Husain, Maulvi Muhammad Ashraf. 1991. ‘Record of All the Quranic and Non Historical Epigraphs on the Protected Monuments in the Delhi Province’. Memoirs of the Archeological Survey of India. First Published in1936.
  8. Irvine, William. 1971. Later Mughals, Vols. 1 & 2. New Delhi: Oriental Books Reprint Corporation. First published in 1922.
  9. Khan, Dargah Quli. 1989. Muraqqa-e-Dehli: The Mughal Capital in Muhammad Shah’s Time. Translated from Persian by Chander Shekhar and Shama Mitra Chenoy. Delhi: Deputy Publication. Originally written between 1737 and 1741.
  10. Khan, Syed Ahmed.  1979. Atharal-Sanadid. Translated from Persian by R.Nath as Monuments of Delhi: Historical Study. New Delhi: Ambika Publications. First Published in 1854.
  11. Lowry, Glenn D. 1987. ‘Humayun's Tomb: Form, Function, and Meaning in Early Mughal Architecture’, Muqarnas: An Annual on Islamic Art and Architecture IV: 136.
  12. Political Progs. 17th Oct.1846. No. 31. National Archives of India. Unpublished Manuscript.
  13. Sanderson, Gordon, ‘Shah Jahan’s Fort, Delhi’. In Archaeological Survey of India Annual Report 1911–12. New Delhi: Swati Publications.
  14. Sarkar, Sir Jadunath. 1997. Fall of the Mughal Empire, Vol. 2. New Delhi: Orient Blackswan Private Limited. First published in 1934.
  15. Spear, Percival, 2002, ‘Twilight of the Mughals: Studies in Late Mughal Delhi’, in the Delhi Omnibus, edited by R. E. Frykenburg. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. First Published in 1951.



I am deeply indebted to Prof. (Dr.) Anupa Pande, HOD, Department of History of Art and Dean National Museum Institute of History of Art, Conservation and Museology (NMI), New Delhi, for her invaluable and insightful suggestions. Thanks are due to Ms. Susan Stronge, Senior Curator, Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) and Mr. J.P.Losty, formerly head of prints, drawings, and photographs at the British Library, London for their help with the painting entitled The catafalque of the Emperor Bahadur Shah I  (IM 37-1911) from the V&A collection. Thanks are also due to Dr. Jennifer Howes, Curator of Visual Materials, British Library for help with the painting entitled The tomb of the Emperor Shah 'Alam at the dargah of Qutb-Sahib at Mahrauli (Add.Or.4811) from the British Library Collection. I am also grateful to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), Victoria & Albert Museum and British Library, London for granting permission to publish the photographs. I am thankful to Dr. Chedha Tingsanchali, Associate Professor, Shilpakorn University, Thailand and Shri Tejas Garge, Assistant Archaeologist, ASI for photographs. I am indebted to Ms. Ekta Sharma, Assistant Editor, Penguin, and Shri Tathagata Mandal, Research Assistant, NMI for their invaluable suggestions in editing.



pl. 1. Tomb of the emperor Shah 'Alam Bahadur Shah I, 1712, Dargah of Shaikh Qutb Sahib Bakhtiyar Kaki, Mehrauli, Delhi

pl. 2.  Painting inscribed as the tomb of the Emperor Shah 'Alam at the dargah of Qutb-Sahib at Mahrauli, Add.Or.4811, watercolour on paper, 1815, Artist: Sita Ram (fl. c.1810-1822), Copyright © British Library Board, British Library, London

pl. 3.  Dalan (Hall), Tomb of the emperor Shah 'Alam Bahadur Shah I, 1712, Mehrauli, Delhi

pl. 4. The Catafalque of the Emperor Bahadur Shah I, IM 37-1911, c. early nineteenth century, watercolour, gold on paper, Victoria and Albert Museum, London

pl. 5. Tomb of the emperor Muhammad Shah, Dargah of Shaikh Nizamuddin Auliya, Delhi

pl. 6. Tomb of Humayun, completed in 1571, Delhi

pl. 7.  Gateway, Zafar Mahal, 1848, Mehrauli, Delhi

pl. 8.  Zafar Mahal, 1842, Red Fort, Delhi

pl. 9.  Zafar Mahal, after R. Nath, Monuments of Delhi: Historical Study, Illustration No. 43

pl. 10.  Hira Mahal, 1842, Red Fort, Delhi

pl. 11. Hira Mahal, after R. Nath, Monuments of Delhi: Historical Study, Illustration No. 44

pl. 12.  Moti Masjid, outer façade, 1709, Mehrauli, Delhi

pl. 13.  Moti Masjid, interior, 1709, Mehrauli, Delhi

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