Defying physical mortality

THE Latin word ‘tumba’ meaning tomb is a home or house for the dead. From the beginning, different religions and cultures have different practices concerning burials. “Some civilisations included the building of memorials to the dead in or next to such holy places as mosques or churches. Indeed, in the Christian faith, many kings were buried in churches and cathedrals.”

A. S. Bhalla, who is currently visiting professor at the University of Nottingham, has chosen royal tombs of India for his research as he found them associated with religion, political power, love and passion.

The writer says that in primitive cultures, the dead were buried in private houses built around in actual round hut in which a body was placed along with such other objects as tools and personal belongings for use in the next life. Kings and queens were even provided with servants who were actually killed and buried along with them, to serve their master in the next life.

“Ancient Egyptians believed so strongly in afterlife that the earthly dwelling was regarded as the temporary house, and the tomb as the permanent abode. This explains why they built such lasting, enduring tombs for their royalty.”

Similar royal tombs, in the shape of the grand mausoleum, were built by the Greeks, Romans, Chinese and Muslims. The writer shows that like the Egyptian pyramids, the other mausoleums and tombs also have contained offerings and treasures along with on dead bodies.

Although Islam did not allow any formal memorials of the dead through monuments, it is paradoxical that Central Asia, India and Pakistan are full of tombs and royal mausoleums.

The writer has devoted detailed description to each of the Islamic dynasties from the slaves to the Mughals who invaded India. Mughal architecture brought to India the beauty, sophistication, proportion, and magnificence. The earlier Sultanate and Lodi architecture lacked that elegance and refinement. Structures of the slaves and Lodis were crude and heavy lacking symmetry and the splendour that Mughal tombs marked. The author further describes the Muslim architecture that introduced many individual features such arch, dome, and minarets. “Indigenous Hindu architecture did not have any domes, which are considered a peculiar feature of Muslim architecture. Most Hindu temples have either flat roofs or shikharas (curvilinear roofs) on top of the garb griha (sanctum sanctorum), as in the temples of Khajuraho.” In Islamic counties, minars are mostly a symbol of Islam. They are generally very high, lofty and cylindrical structures. Qutb Minar in Delhi and Chand Minar in Daulatabad are used as a symbol of victory in India.

The Mughals also introduced Persian architectural techniques to India, as Babar’s Timurid heritage, and Humayun’s long stay at the Safavid court. Muslim conquerors of India, who came from Western Asia such as Persia, Mongolia and Turkey during the Middle Ages imported skilled workers, engineers and craftsmen for the construction of such monuments as the Taj. Besides architecture, the Persian influence pervaded the arts, miniature painting and poetry.

The author points out that Babur and Humayun did not contribute much towards art and architecture since they were far more preoccupied with establishing the Mughal dynasty in India. Their contribution to art is negligible as compared to that of the later Mughal emperors.

Akbar was perhaps the greatest Mughal emperor, and historians lay in his religious tolerance and this was evident even in the architecture of his period. Akbar was tolerant of the Hindus, accepted Hindu wives, and abolished various taxes. He placed Hindus in senior positions in his court. Hindu artisans and craftsmen were also employed, which may partly explain the use of Hindu techniques, elements and decorations in the monuments built during his reign.

Informative tables containing the list of selected royal tombs, evolution of Indian architecture, and chronological lists of various dynasties add value to this book. The book is well illustrated with a number of photographs and illustrations, and it would be of interest to scholars and researchers.

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