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Of Power and Piety

Chandni Sengupta

By N.L. Batra
Niyogi Books, New Delhi, 2008, pp. 180, Rs.1500.00

By N.L. Batra
Niyogi Books, New Delhi, 2005, pp. 161, Rs.1500.00


The Mughal Empire, in many ways, was the last of the great pre-modern Indian empires and occupied an important place in the political, social, cultural, and economic fabric of India for more than four hundred years. Historian John F. Richards opines that 'the Mughal Empire was the product of a prolonged political struggle whose outcome was in large measure due to the abilities and good fortune of its founders and builders.'1 According to Stephen P. Blake the Mughal state was an 'intermediate structure situated in between the personal and household-based polities of the rulers and the great bureaucratic nation-states of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.'2 Delhi occupied an important place in the 'Mughal scheme of things.' For over a thousand years the rulers of North Indian states established their capitals in and around the Delhi area. Delhi-a combination of seven cities-assumed immense significance under the Mughals and became the political nerve-centre of the 'patrimonial-bureaucratic' empire of the Mughals, as Blake defines it. In fact, Delhi was strategically very important for the Mughals. The Mughals, who succeeded the Lodis, had immense interest in architecture. Babur, the founder of the Mughal state, laid out some of the finest Mughal gardens in India, and his successors-Akbar and later Shah Jahan-built some of the most magnificent structures ever made in the history of humankind. The 'Master Builder' of the magnificent Taj Mahal, Emperor Shah Jahan (1628-58), shifted his capital from Agra to Delhi in a bid to bring more glory and prestige to his reign. The intent was clearly to immortalize his name in the north of Agra from where the Mughals had ruled for many years. This shift was marked by the establishment of a city named after the emperor himself-Shahjahanabad. According to Blake, 'the Mughal capital was the culmination of a period of urban development that began to the north in the Indus Valley about 2000 BC and continued until about AD 1750, when both Shahjahanabad and the Mughal Empire collapsed.'3 Shah Jahan built the Red Fort or Lal Qila as the royal residence of the Mughal Empire and he ruled from within the red-brick walls of this resplendent structure. The construction of the fort began in April 1639 and was completed in 1648. The Emperor also built one of the grandest mosques in the world-the transcendent Jama Masjid. Dilli's Red Fort by the Yamuna provides insights into the history of the ...

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