Akbar’s long reign was a period of expansion and consolidation. He was not only brave warrior but also a man of exceptionally fine taste in art and architecture. To him also goes the credit of refining Sher Shah’s administrative systems and putting in place a regular source of revenue for the empire, which stretched over all of North India and was beginning to threaten the Deccan.
All the mughal kings from Babur to the last ill-fated Bahedur Shah Zafar were known for their interest in art, and architecture. It is other that some had deep interest in the art, while the other was simply carrying the tradition. For instance, Jahangir, son of Akbar, was a gifted individual. His potential, however, was greatly diminished, especially in his later years, by an addiction to drink and drugs, and he gradually came to lose all interest in the intricacies of governance, preferring to leave all in the hands of his queen, Noor Jahan.
Jahangir’s sporadic bursts of coherence and creativity—very much like his grandfather, Humayun—were nevertheless enough to hold the empire together and for art and architecture to continue to flourish. His liking for Kashmir led him to construct the Shalimar Gardens by the side of Lake Dal in Srinagar. The exquisite dargah of Sheikh Salim Chisti at Fatehpur Sikri is also attributed to him, as are certain additions and alterations in the royal forts of Lahore, Allahabad and Agra.
But, the mughal architecture was at the zenith during the reign of shah Jahan. Building profusely, Shah Jahan not only changed existing forts and places greatly but also built an entire new city and a fort – Shahjahanabad with its great Jama Masjid in Delhi and the Red Fort. But all these were to be overshadowed by the piece de resistance – the Taj Mahal at Agra, arguably the most perfect mortuary building in all Islam.
The Red Fort in plan consists of outer walls in a near-perfect rectangle except where they border the course of the Yamuna to the north.
The walls themselves are clad with finely dressed red and pink sandstone, the joints of which are surprisingly fine. The massive round bastions set off the main Delhi and Lahore gates, massive defensive entry portals which tower over the walls. The entries from these gates meet I a square public place which finally leads off to the hall of public audience, or the Diwan-i-am.
The other buildings in the complex are the tiny Moti Masjid-a mosque entirely in marble. This, though starts by Shah Jahan, was completed by his sin Aurangzeb, and is different in style, with the extra decoration that was the first sign of impending decadence and decay. The Shish Mahal or the Hall of Mirrors, the treasury and magazine or Daulat Khana, the emperor’s private chambers and harems for the queens.
The Red Fort was a defensive structure, a last resort for an attack that seemed impregnable and even impossible during the heyday of the Mughal Empire. Who could tell that in less than a hundred years an irreversible decline would begin? Those days, however, were still far away, and outside the walls of the fort, a city flourished, full in its importance as the capital of one of the richest empires of the world.
This was the old city of Delhi, the grandeur of which is not now apparent in its narrow streets and crumbing building. But in its time it was home to merchants and poets, courtesans and artists, soldiers and workmen, all busily turning the cogs of the Mughal Empire.