Page images
PDF
EPUB

lapis-lazuli, and topped with golden domes. Balustrades of marble, wrought in open patterns of such rich design that they resemble fringes of lace when seen from below, extend along the edge of the battlements. The Jumna washes the walls, seventy feet below, and from the balconies attached to the zenana, or women's apartments, there are beautiful views of the gardens and palm-groves on the opposite bank, and that wonder of India, the Taj, shining like a palace of ivory and crystal, about a mile down the stream."

No visiter to the north-west of India can fail to be struck by the immense number and variety of the mosques. They are all constructed on the same plan, and differ in beauty according to the size, and the proportion of the different parts. In general, the mosque consists of a hall on the west side of a square court. It is roofed with three domes; and at each of the western corners is a lofty minaret. The court is open in the centre, and has an open verandah on the other three sides, the entrance being on the East. These mosques are ornamented in many ways. In some cases, as at Muttra, they are covered with enamel, patterns being drawn all over them in different shades of green and blue. One or two of the royal mosques have gilded domes. One of the noblest in appearance is the Jumma Musjid at Delhi. It stands near the centre of the city, upon a lofty platform, and is approached on three sides by immense flights of steps. The view from the top of the minarets is one of the most striking sights to be obtained in Upper India. But amongst all the mosques, whether small or large, the palm of beauty must be conceded to the Motee Musjid, in the fort at Agra. Most travellers will agree with our author in the opinion which he

“ Before leaving the fort, I visited the Motee Musjid, or Pearl Mosque, as it is poetically and justly termed. It is, in truth, the pearl of all mosques, of small dimensions, but absolutely perfect in style and proportions. It is lifted on a lofty sandstone platform, and from without, nothing can be seen but its three domes of white marble with their gilded spires. In all distant views of the fort these domes are seen, like silvery bubbles which have rested a moment on its walls, and which the next breeze will sweep away. Ascending a long flight of steps, a heavy door was opened for me, and I stood in the court-yard of the mosque. Here nothing was to be seen but the quadrangle of white marble, with the mosque on its western side, and the pure blue of the sky overhead. The three domes crown a deep corridor, open toward the court, and divided into three aisles by a triple row of the most exquisitely proportioned Saracenic arches. The Motee Musjid can be compared to no other edifice that I have ever seen. To my eye it is a perfect type of its class. While its architecture is the purest Saracenic, which

passes on it:

some suppose cannot exist without ornament, it shows the severe simplicity of Doric art. It has, in fact, nothing which can properly be termed ornament. It is a sanctuary so pure and stainless, revealing so exalted a spirit of worship, that I felt humbled, as a Christian, to think that our nobler religion has so rarely inspired its architects to surpass this temple to God and Mohammed.”

There is one place a few miles from Agra, which is almost unknown, whether in or out of India : but which contains some of the finest monuments to be found in the whole country. This is Futtehpore-Sikri, a small town, near which Akbar built himself a palace. To this beautiful spot he used to retire from Agra, as the English Court retire to Windsor or Osborne. The buildings are in admirable preservation. We cannot refrain from giving Mr. Taylor's description :

“A low range of red sandstone hills appeared in the west, with here and there a crumbling ruin on the crest. The extremity of this range, about four miles distant, was covered with a mass of walls, terraces and spires, crowned with a majestic portal, which rose high above them, gleaming against the sky with a soft red lustre, as the sun shone full upon it. As I approached nearer, I found that this part of the hill was surrounded by a lofty wall of red sandstone, with a machicolated or notched parapet, and a spacious gate, through which my road ran. It is almost entire, and upwards of six miles in circuit, enclosing a portion of the plain on both sides of the hill. Driving through the deserted gateway, I was amazed at the piles of ruins which met my eye. Here was a narrow hill, nearly a mile and a half in length, and averaging a hundred feet in height, almost entirely covered with the remains of palaces, mosques and public buildings, in some places nearly as perfect as when first erected, in others little else than shapeless masses of hewn stones. Innumerable pavilions, resting on open arches, cupolas and turrets, shot up from this picturesque confusion ; but the great portal, of which I have already spoken, dominated over all, colossal as one of the pylons of Karnak. The series of arched terraces, rising one above another up the sides of the hill, gave the place an air of barbaric grandeur, such as we imagine Babylon to have possessed, and of which there are traces in Martin's pictures. But here there was nothing sombre or stern; the bright red sandstone of the buildings, illumined here and there by a gilded spire, was bathed in a flood of sunshine, and stood, so shadowless as almost to lack perspective, against a cloudless sky. *

“The buildings of the palace cover the crest of the hill, having superb views on both sides, over many a league of the fruitful plain. There is quite a labyrinth of courts, pavilions, small palaces, gateways, tanks, fountains and terraces, and I found it difficult to obtain a clear idea of their arrangement. Most of the build are so well preserved that a trifling expense would make them habitable. scholar or poet I can conceive of no more delightful residence. Adjoin

[ocr errors]

For a

ing the palace of the Christian woman, stands the Panch-Mahal (Five Palaces), consisting of five square platforms, resting on richly carved pillars, and rising one above another in a pyramidal form, to a considerable height. Mr. Sherer supposes it to have been a sleeping place for the servants connected with the palace. Beyond it is a court-yard, paved with large slabs of sandstone, and containing a colossal pachisi-board, such as I have described in speaking of the Palace at Agra. In one corner of the court-yard is a labyrinthine building, of singular design, wherein the ladies of the Emperor's zenana were accustomed to play hide-and-seek. A little further is a sort of chapel, two stories high, and crowned with several cupolas. On entering, however, I found that there was but one story, extending to the dome, with a single pillar in the centre, rising to the height of the upper windows. This pillar has an immense capital of the richest sculpture, three times its diameter, with four stone causeways leading to the four corners of the chapel, where there are small platforms of the shape of a quadrant. Tradition says that this building was used by Akbar as a place for discussing matters of science or religion, himself occupying the capital of the central pillar, while his chief men were seated in the four corners.

“In this same court is a pavilion, consisting of a pyramidal canopy of elaborately carved stone, resting on four pillars, which have a cornice of peculiar design, representing a serpent. This pavilion approaches as near the Hindu style of building, as is possible, without violating the architecture of the palace, which is a massive kind of Saracenic. It was the station of a Guru, or Hindu Saint, whom Akbar, probably from motives of policy, kept near him. The palace of the Sultana of Constantinople is one mass of the most laborious sculpture. There is scarcely a square inch of blank stone in the building. But the same remark would apply to almost the whole of the palace, as well as to that of Beer-Bul. It is a wilderness of sculpture, where invention seems to have been taxed to the utmost to produce new combinations of ornament. Every thing is carved in a sandstone so fine and compact, that, except where injured by man, it appears nearly as sharp as when first chiselled. The amount of labor bestowed on Futtehpore throws the stucco filigrees of the Alhambra quite into the shade. It is unlike any thing that I have ever seen. And yet the very name of this splendid collection of ruins, which cannot be surpassed anywhere, outside of Egypt, was unknown to me, before reaching India !"

The following is the account of the tomb of Sheikh Chishti, Akbar's great friend and adviser, through whose prayers it is said, a son was born to him, the future Jehangir :

“ By this time it was two hours past noon, and I still had the famous Durgah to see. We refore retraced our steps, and ascended to the highest part of the bill, where the tomb rises like a huge square fortress, overtopping the palace of Akbar himself. We

mounted a long flight of steps, and entered a quadrangle so spacious, 80 symmetrical, so wonderful in its decorations, that I was filled with amazement. Fancy a paved court-yard, 428 feet in length by 406 in breadth, surrounded with a pillared corridor fifty feet high; one of the noblest gateways in the world, 120 feet high; a triple-domed mosque on one side; a large tank and fountain in the centre, and opposite the great portal, the mother-of-pearl and marble tomb of the Shekh, a miniature palace, gleaming like crystal, with its gilded domes, its ivory pillars, and its wreaths of wonderous, flower-like ornaments, inwrought in marble filigree. The court, with its immense gate, seemed an enchanted fortress, solely erected to guard the precious structure within.

6 We are allowed to enter the inner corridor which surrounds the Shekh's tomb, and to look in, but not to cross the threshold. The tomb, as well as a canopy six feet high, which covers it, is made of mother-of-pearl. The floor is of jasper, and the walls of white mar. ble, inlaid with cornelian. A cloth of silk and gold was spread over it like a pall, and upon this were wreaths of fresh and withered flowers. The screens of marble surrounding the building are the most beautiful in India. They are single thin slabs, about eight feet square, and wrought into such intricate open patterns that you would say they had been woven in a loom. The mosque, which is of older date than the tomb, is very elegant, resembling somewhat the Hall of the Abencerrages in the Alhambra, except that it is much larger, and of white marble, instead of stucco. BushàratAli informed me that the Durgah was erected in one year, from the wealth left by the Shekh Selim-Chishti at his death, and that it cost thirty-seven lacs of rupees-81,750,000."

A writer so accomplished as Mr. Taylor, who had seen the finest specimens of Saracenic art in Turkey, Egypt and Spain, could not fail highly to appreciate the wonderful excellence of that noblest of monuments, the Taj of Shah Jehan. Writing however apparently in haste,- writing from memory, and at a distance, he has not given us so shining a description as the Taj deserves, or as he himself was capable of writing. He has fallen too into the not uncommon mistake of confounding the Queen of Shah Jehan, with the Nourmahál of Lalla Rookh. Nourmahál, “ the light of the Harem," was the daughter of an Affghan noble, and became the wife of Jehangir, the son of Akbar. Before he became emperor, and took the title of Jehangir, “ Lord of the world,” the son of Akbar had been called Selim, which was his personal name ; and in Lalla Rookh, Moore has retained this name as the one by which he was best known in his family circle. Jehangir and Nourmahal have nothing whatever to do with the Taj; they both lie buried at Lahore. Neither of them is worthy to be connected with a structure so renowned. Jehangir was morose, superstitious and cruel. Nourmahál, in spite of SEPT., 1857,

A

*

[ocr errors]

the halo of poetic beauty thrown around her in Lalla Rookh, was spoiled by prosperity, was a proud, ambitious, intriguing woman, and gave her husband and his kingdom endless trouble. Taj Begum was the niece of Nourmahal, and was married, by the latter's address, to one of the younger sons of Jehangir, the favourite of his grandfather, Akbar. This son ascended the throne on Jehangir's death, and took the title of Shah Jehan. His attachment to his gentle and loving consort was intense ; when she died, he was inconsolable, and it was in honour of her memory that he built the finest monument the world ever saw, and called it by her name :

“I am aware of the difficulty of giving an intelligible picture of a building, which has no counterpart in Europe, or even in the East. The mosques and palaces of Constantinople, the domed tent of Omar at Jerusalem, and the structures of the Saracens and Memlooks at Cairo, have nothing in common with it. The remains of Moorish art in Spain approach nearest to its spirit, but are only the scattered limbs, the torso, of which the Taj is the perfect type. It occupies that place in Saracenic art which, during my visit to Constantinople, I mistakenly gave to the Solymanye Mosque, and which, in respect to Grecian art, is represented by the Parthenon. If there were nothing else in India, this alone would repay the journey. *

“ The gate to the garden of the Taj is not so large as that of Akbar's tomb, but quite as beautiful in design. Passing under the open demi-vault, whose arch hangs high above you, an avenue of dark Italian cypresses appears before you. Down its centre sparkles a long row of fountains, each casting up a single slender jet. On both sides, the palm, the banyan, and the feathery bamboo mingle their foliage; the song of birds meets your ear, and the odor of roses and lemon-flowers sweetens the air. Down such a vista, and over such a foreground, rises the Taj. *

“ The material is of the purest white marble, little inferior to that of Carrara. It shines so dazzlingly in the sun, that you can scarcely look at it near at hand, except in the morning and evening. Every part-even the basement, the dome, and the upper galleries of the minarets—is inlaid with ornamental designs in marble of different colors, principally a pale brown, and a bluish violet variety. Great as are the dimensions of the Taj, it is as laboriously finished as one of those Chinese caskets of ivory and ebony, which are now so common in Europe. Bishop Heber truly said: “ The Pathans designed like Titans, and finished like jewellers."

“ The Taj truly is, as I have already said, a poem. It is not only a pure architectural type, but also a creation which satisfies the imagination, because its characteristic is beauty. Did you ever build a Castle in the Air ? Here is one, brought down to earth, and fixed for the wonder of ages; yet so light it seems, so airy, and, when seen from a distance, so like a fabric of mist and sunbeams, with its great dome soaring up, a silvery bubble, about

*

[ocr errors]

*

« PreviousContinue »