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Mughal wall-paintings at Doraha.

Mughal builders embellished their structures using a variety of media - glazed tiles, mirror-mosaics, inlay-work, carved stone, stucco, and painting. Painted decoration was usually limited to the depiction of vegetal or geometrical motifs, the application of animate motifs being less frequent. 'The surviving examples of the latter are few; however, that they formerly existed in a greater number is attested to in the accounts of numerous European travellers and by their depiction in a number of Mughal manuscript and album paintings.

The accounts of the Portuguese Jesuit, Father Jerome Xavier (1608); the British traveller, William Finch (1611); the British ambassador to the court of Jahangir, Sir Thomas Roe (1615-19); the Portuguese missionary, Fray Sebastian Manrique (1641); and the French traveller, Jean de Thevenot (1666-67) describe or mention Mughal wall-paintings depicting Christian subjects. (1) Father Xavier specifically states that Jahangir ordered his artists to prepare large-size sketches for wall-paintings and to consult the Fathers on the colours to be given to the costumes of various Christian figures. (2) Obviously, the main interest of all these travellers in Mughal wall-paintings was due to their Christian themes. Other animate subjects may also have been depicted, but are not documented.

Numerous examples of painted representations on paper of figurative wall-paintings also exist. The earliest of these is a painting from a Baburnama manuscript (c. 1589) depicting Babur receiving a courtier. (3) In this painting, two rabbits and a fabulous bird appear painted on the wall behind the sitting figure of Babur. Similar in spirit is the wall-painting shown in an illustration from a manuscript of Anwar-i Suhaili (1604-10). (4) A painting (dated 1595) by the Mughal artist Miskin for the Khamsa of Nizami shows a building in the background on which there are three murals, all of European inspiration. (5) The Freer Gallery of Art, Washington DC, has a painting (c. 1617) depicting the reception of Jahangir and Shahjahan by Nur Jahan. (6) This shows a pavilion, the outer wall of which has representations of Jesus, the Virgin, and two animals. Another illustration (dated 1617-18) in the Institute of Peoples of Asia (St Petersburg), recording the coronation of Jahangir, also depicts two Christian themes painted on the back wall. (7) An illustration from the Minto Album (c 1635), showing Jahangir celebrating the festival of Holi, has the outer wall of the right-hand pavilion adorned with a mural of an animal figure. (8) At least six illustrations in the Windsor Castle Padshahnama manuscript show murals. In the painting of Jahangir receiving Prince Khurrarn on his return from the Mewar campaign, a portrait of the emperor Akbar is painted just above the figure of Jahangir. (9) Of the five others, three show wall-paintings depicting Christian subjects Christ, Virgin Mary, fairies, etc. (10)

Of the actually surviving specimens of Mughal wall-paintings, mention may be made of those in the so-called Mariam's House at Fatehpur Sikri (dating from the reign of Akbar); Nur Japan's Pavilion in Ram Bagh, Agra; the western gateway of Arab Sarai, Nizamuddin, Delhi; a room of the Jahangiri quadrangle, and the Kala Burj in Lahore Fort; and the tomb of Sultan Khusrau at Allahabad (all six painted during Jahangir's reign). (11) The wall-paintings in all these buildings, but for the last, are of fine quality; most probably executed by court painters. But in comparison to these fine works, wall-paintings of lesser quality are seen on some other Mughal monuments. In these, the draftsmanship is crude and the figures archaic. Sometimes both types - fine as well as crude - appear on the same monument, e.g. in the Rang Mahal at Buria (Yamunanagar district, Haryana), most probably from the reign of Jahangir (1605-27). (12) Here the elephant figures decorating the interior walls are finely rendered but the figure of a woman with a peacock on the outer side of the northwestern wall is of a raw quality. However, as the surviving number of Mughal wall-paintings is not large, each and every specimen is significant and worthy of study.

The Doraha Wall-Paintings

I have come across some such wall-paintings of lesser quality at Doraha (Ludhiana district, Punjab), some 295 kilometres northwest of Delhi, on National Highwayl. During the Mughal period the Agra-Delhi-Lahore Highway passed through the town of Doraha. The building bearing the wall-paintings is a caravansarai, one of numerous halting stations built along the route, most of them during the 17th century.

In its original condition, the sarai comprised a square walled-in enclosure.'3 The entry to the enclosure was through two splendid gateways at the centre of its northern and southern walls. All along the inner side of the enclosing wall were small rooms for travellers. A set of interconnected chambers in the northeast corner of the sarai comprised a hammam or bath-suite. The lodgers in the sarai could offer their prayers in the mosque situated in the western half of its courtyard. But for this mosque, the structures in this half crumbled long ago.

The two surviving gateways of the sarai form the most prominent visual feature of the extant remains (figure 1). Both are double-storeyed structures adorned on their exterior with panels and borders filled with various geometrical patterns formed of unglazed brick, and inlaid with brilliant glazed tiles in turquoise, indigo, yellow, and white. This style of glazed tile decoration was prevalent during the first quarter of the 17th century, roughly coinciding with Jahangir's reign.

Some other modes of decoration are also seen on various other parts of the sarai. Stalactites moulded in plaster fill up the soffits of some recesses of the gateways. The spandrels of the rooms for travellers have simple designs formed using off-colour bricks. The ceilings of the hammam rooms are adorned with stylized medallions painted in Indian red and viridian. But the most significant decoration in the sarai is in the form of wall-paintings, appearing on the interior and the facade of the southern gateway. These wall-paintings, depicting human beings, animals, and birds, have escaped the notice of scholars so far.

When I first studied the monument in the early 1980s, only a few crudely painted human figures were visible in these wall-paintings. I dismissed these as having been executed, probably, by the refugee families from Pakistan who inhabited the sarai for a long period after the partition of 1947, as the figures did not display the fineness usually associated with Mughal art. Then I visited the monument again about two decades later. By this time the wall-paintings had been cleansed chemically by the Department of Archaeology, Punjab, and the subjects were now more clearly visible. The appearance of some typical Mughal motifs like flower-pot, flowering tree, and men in Muslim dress, confirmed their execution during the Mughal period.

These wall-paintings appear on the facade of the gateway, in the squinches of the domical ceiling, and the soffit of the main passageway ceiling. The paintings on the facade occupy the spandrels of the entrance archway. Being on the exterior, only a few inches of the upper parts of the paintings survive today, the rest having been destroyed by the sun and rains (see figure 1). But it is possible to make out their subject matter as faint traces of incised drawings are still visible. In the right spandrel is a galloping horse with rider (figure 2), followed by an elephant driven by its mahout wearing a typical Mughal turban and holding a goad. The same scene is mirrored in the left spandrel. The space around the figures in both spandrels is filled with painted floral vines. The colour palette is limited to Indian red, yellow-ochre, and green. The paintings on the interior have lost their original colours and appear more or less monochromatic. (14) In many cases it is difficult even to identify whether a figure is that of a male or female.

As each squinch has a semi-octagonal base, its inner side resolves itself into five vertical panels. Of the 20 panels so formed, 16 have one human figure each. Of the remaining four, two have a flower-vase each and the other two have flowering trees. A detailed description of these wall-paintings, in clockwise direction, follows.

Southeast Squinch

In the middle panel of this squinch stands a lady with her head in profile, and with both her hands raised as if to convey something to the seated male figure in the panel before her (figures 3 and 4). In the panels behind the central lady are two standing figures, the first one most probably a female wearing a skirt. The male figure behind her sports a turban. His thin legs are in a position of movement. The male figure who stands in the panel behind the seated male, his hands meeting in front of his chest, also has lean legs. The curved space above the figures is filled with vines bearing two types of flowers (one type being eight-petalled) and a few leaves. Each of the four cartouches formed above these figures by the vines has a sitting bird, arranged as facing pairs (see figure 3). The space around the right four figures has also a sprinkling of flower motifs.

Southwest Squinch

The central figure is that of a garlanded male, his hair tied in a knot above his forehead (figure 5). His lower garment resembles the grass skirts worn by Easter Island women. The garlanded male is followed by another male wearing a similar dress. The main figure appears to be making some offering whereas the rear figure holds something stick-like in his hands. The garlanded figure is preceded by a male wearing a conical cap and carrying a bow in his right hand. Between the two front figures are three trees (the middle one a cypress), collectively perhaps representing a forest. Behind these three figures stands a male wearing tight trousers and a conical cap with a turban wound around it (figure 6). He appears to be carrying something like a book in his left hand.

Northwest Squinch

The first panel in this squinch is occupied by a clumsily drawn female figure, her hair plaited in a tail. She is wearing a frock-like garment and carrying something like a fish in her hands. The second panel is filled with the flower-pot motif A male figure holding a stick or something like it in his right hand, stands in the third panel (figure 7). Trees fill the fourth panel whereas a galloping horse with a rider is shown in the fifth one (figure 8).

Northeast Squinch

Apart from the first panel in this squinch in which is depicted a long-necked vase out of which springs a bunch of nine symmetrically arranged stylized flowers, all the panels have one human figure each (figure 9). The narrow-waisted figure in the second panel, probably a lady, is presenting a tray of fruit to the person in the third panel who appears to be saluting her. These two figures are separated from the other two in the fourth and fifth panels by a tree. Of the figures in the last two panels, the left one is presenting something like a pair of sandals to the figure in the last panel who carries a sword in his left hand and a bunch of flowers(?) in his right hand (figure 10). The garments of the figures in this squinch show clearer details.

The pictures in the northeast, southeast, and northwest spandrels at least seem to depict some episodes, maybe from different narratives, not identifiable at present. It is probable that the central male and female figures in the northeast squinch represent Jahangir and Nur Jahan.

Besides the wall-paintings in the four squinches, the soffit of the central dome clearly shows a human figure standing amongst animals and birds (figures 11 and 12). Unlike all the other wall-paintings, the human figure here is clearly identifiable. It is no other than Venugopal, Lord Krishna playing the flute. Slender-waisted Krishna, balanced on his left leg, presents himself in a frontal pose, only his face turned in profile. The lord wears a plumed crown. The presence of this figure leads me to wonder if the themes of the squinch panels also relate to episodes in the life of Krishna, or maybe Rama, the hero of the Ramayana. In the space on the right-hand side of the Krishna figure are some more human figures. The activities of these figures cannot be identified, but they seem to be venerating something.

The faces of most of the figures are depicted in profile. The draftsmanship is clumsy, extremely archaic. But so is the execution of most of the painted architectural decoration of the region during the Mughal period, be it the tomb of Muhammad Momin, popularly called the tomb of the Ustad (1612-13) at Nakodar, or the tomb of Jamal Khan (c. 1620) at Rupar (now Rup Nagar) where the squinches have paintings as seen at Doraha. (15) The figures stand on a single plane, against a blank background. The clothing of figures shows Islamic influence. The trees are just decorative props.

Comparison with Other Wall-Paintings of the Period

Recently, reading Rosa Maria Cimino's book on wall-paintings at Amber and Jaipur (Rajasthan), I felt that the works at Doraha bear some stylistic resemblance to those on the pavilion at Bairat, dated c. 1620, the chbatri at Mairh (near Bairat), the chbatri at Bhaopura, the Zenana Mahal in Amber Palace, and the so-called Makhdum Shah cenotaph, also at Amber. (16) The paintings share the same crude and static style and the figures depicted in them are archaic.

In particular one may note the similarity of the Krishna Venugopal figure on the southwest upper chbatri of the Bairat pavilion with the one at Doraha; and the similarity of the galloping horse on Makhdum Shah's cenotaph and on the Amber Palace Zenana Mahal with a similar figure in the northwest squinch at Doraha. It is probable that the Doraha wall-paintings may have been the work of the same group of itinerant painters who executed the wall-paintings in these monuments around Amber and Jaipur. The artists appear to have been Hindus who were trying to imitate the new Mughal style and iconographies and at the same time continuing to draw subjects from their stock of Hindu mythology.

According to Cimino, the paintings on the monuments around Jaipur belong to the initial artistic phase of Rajasthani wall-painting established during the reign of Raja Man Singh (1590-1614). The German art historian Hermann Goetz labels the wall-paintings at Bairat as "early Rajput wall paintings". (17) I wonder how apt this labelling is because he bases his views on the assumption that the Bairat pavilion was built by Raja Man Singh, for which we have no proof.

The art historian R. Nath considers the Bairat pavilion a sbikargab (hunting pavilion) of Jahangir, and arbitrarily dates its construction to about 1620. (18) A similar building erected by Shah Quli Mahram (completed in AH 1001/1592-93), an influential noble of the court of Akbar, still survives at Narnaul, some 65 kilometres north of Bairat. (19) Edifices on this plan continued to be built during the reign of Jahangir.

As far as the date of the wall-paintings at Doraha is concerned, these were most probably contemporaneous with the building. The real name of the sarai was Sarai Itimad al-Daula, as mentioned in Abd al-Hamid Lahori's Padshahnama, (20) which states that Shahjahan, while going to Lahore, halted here on Ramzan 23, 1043/March 23, 1634. Itimad al-Daula was the title of Mirza Ghiyas Beg, the father of Nur Jahan, conferred upon him in 1014/1605-06. He died on January 27, 1622. So this sarai could have been built between 1605 and 1622. However, the English traveller William Finch who passed through Doraha in 1611 while proceeding from Agra to Lahore, does not note the existence of the sarai, whereas he distinctly mentions all other sarais en route. (21) We may therefore conclude that the date of construction of the sarai lies somewhere between 1611 and January 1622, and so does the date of the wall-paintings on its gateway.

Itimad al-Daula was made wazir (prime minister) of the realm on July 26, 1611, and perhaps ordered the construction of the sarai on this occasion. (22) If so, this Persian noble who must have seen the finest painted decoration on royal buildings could not have felt much pleasure on seeing the work executed under his own patronage.

On the basis of the similarity of the wall-paintings at Doraha with those at Bairat we may also date the latter building to the reign of Jahangir, although the emperor does not mention its construction anywhere in his memoirs.


All photographs by the author.


(1.) Edward Maclagan, The Jesuits and the Great Mogul, London, 1932, pp. 237-40; Early Travels in India, ed. William Foster, reprint Delhi, 1968, p. 163; The Embassy of Sir Thomas Roe to India (1615-1619), ed. William Foster, reprint Jalandhar, 1993, p. 211; Travels of Fray Sebastian Manrique 1629-43, trans. C.E. Luard, Oxford, 1927, pp. 168, 207; Indian Travels of Thevenot and Careri, ed. Surendranath Sen, Delhi, 1949, p. 85.

(2.) Maclagan 1932, p. 239.

(3.) The Baburnama: Memoirs of Babur, Prince and Emperor, trans. Wheeler M. Thackston, Washington, 1996, pl. on p. 417. The painting is attributed to Farrukh Beg.

(4.) Milo Cleveland Beach, Mughal and Rajput Painting, Cambridge, 1992, pl. 48. It was painted by Aqa Riza.

(5.) Philippa Vaughan, "Miskin", Marg, Vol. 42, No. 4, June 1991, p. 33, pl. 14. The work is in the British Library, London, Or. 12208, F. 23v.

(6.) Asok Kumar Das, Splendour of Mughal Painting, Bombay, 1986, pl. X. According to the author, three replicas of this painting also exist in the Wantage Album (Victoria and Albert Museum, London), the Kevorkian Album (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), and the Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II Museum, Jaipur. A fifth version of this painting has also been found. Ibid., p. 38.

(7.) Asok Kumar Das, Mughal Painting during Jahangir's Reign, Calcutta, 1978, p. 139, pl. 39.

(8.) Thomas W. Arnold, Indian Miniatures: The Library of A. Chester Beatty, 1936; reprint Delhi, 2008, pl. 4; Elaine Wright, Muraqqa: Imperial Mughal Albums from the Chester Beatty Library Dublin, Alexandria, Va., 2008, p. 311.

(9.) Milo Cleveland Beach and Ebba Koch, King of the World: The Padshahnama, An Imperial Mughal Manuscript from the Royal Library, Windsor Castle, London, 1997, pl. 5.

(10.) Ibid., pls. 38, 39, 44; Beach 1992, pls. D, 96.

(11.) For wall-paintings at Fatehpur Sikri, see, E.W. Smith, The Moghul Architecture of Fathpur Sikri, reprint Delhi, 1973, frontispiece, CIX CXX. Mariam's House is also called Sonahra Makan (the Golden House), probably on the basis of splendid decoration on its walls which formerly "glistened with gold". Ibid., p. 3.

For wall-paintings in Nur Jahan's Pavilion at Agra, see Ebba Koch: "Notes on the Painted and Sculptured Decoration of Nur Jahan's Pavilions in the Ram Bagh (Bagh-i Nur Afshan) at Agra", in Facets of Indian Art: A Symposium held at the Victoria and Albert Museum on 26,27,28 April and 1 May 1982, eds. R. Skelton et al., London, 1986, pp. 51-65; Catherine Asher, Architecture of Mughal India, Cambridge, 1992, p. 130.

For wall-paintings in Arab Sarai, Delhi, see K.A. Thomas, "Christian Paintings on a Mughal Monument", The Illustrated Weekly of India, May 10-16, 1981, p. 30. However, the conclusion Thomas arrives at that this gateway was a part of a Christian chapel which "might have been built by the Portuguese in the sixteenth century under royal patronage" is untenable because paintings of Christian themes appear on many other Mughal monuments also.

For wall-paintings in Lahore Fort, see Ebba Koch; "Jahangir and the Angels: Recently Discovered Wall Paintings under European Influence in the Fort of Lahore", in India and the West: Proceedings of a Seminar Dedicated to the Memory of Hermann Goetz, ed. J. Deppert, Delhi, 1983, pp. 173-95; Beach, 1992, pl. 63.

(12.) For some details of the Rang Mahal at Buria, see Subhash Parihar, Mughal Monuments in the Punjab and Haryana, Delhi, 1985, pp. 44-45, pls. 49-51; Jagdish Parshad, Medieval Monuments in India: A Historical and Architectural Study in Haryana (1206 A.D. -1707 A.D.), Delhi, 2011, pl. 178.

(13.) I have provided detailed descriptions of the sarai in "The Mughal Sarai at Doraha-Architectural Study", East & West, 37, December 1987, pp. 309-25; Some Aspects of Indo-Islamic Architecture, Delhi, 1999, pp. 115-19, pls. 49-67, figs. 17-20; Land Transport in Mughal India: Agra-Lahore Mughal Highway and its Architectural Remains, Delhi, 2008, pp. 219-27, figs. 40-45, pls. VI, 78-84.

(14.) According to the scholar Ilay Cooper (e-mail dated April 17, 2009), Indian painters used red lead which got oxidized to black.

(15.) Of the panels on the exterior of the tomb of Muhammad Momin, the lower panels have the vase and flower motif and the upper panels that of a flowering plant or a tree. Two of the upper panels are of particular interest. In one of these, there is a monkey sitting in a date palm and in the second a serpent girdling the trunk of a tree. The main motif used on the tomb of Jamal Khan is a flying bird. Parihar 1999, pl. 111.

(16.) Rosa Maria Cimino, Wall Paintings of Rajasthan: Amber and Jaipur, Delhi, 2001, figs. 1-9, 15-16, 21, 26, 35a and 35b, 38, 41.

(17.) H. Goetz, "The Early Rajput Murals of Bairat (ca. A.D. 1587)", Ars Orientalis, 1, 1954, p. 114. The author gives the building the generic name "garden house". Commenting on the Bairat wall-paintings, Dr Kanwarjit Singh Kang writes that these are free figures adopted from early Mughal paintings resembling "old Egyptian reliefs in profile on the basis of primitive drawings and simple colour contrasts". Homage to Jaipur, Bombay, 1977, pp. 71-73, pl. 3. The author borrowed this comparison from Goetz 1954, p. 116.

(18.) R. Nath, History of Mughal Architecture, The Transitional Phase of Colour and Design, Jehangir, 1605-27 A.D., Delhi, 1994, III, p. 278. Mira Seth dates the building to Akbar's reign (1556-1605) and comments that from the "stylistic point of view [the paintings] seem to be typical of the pre-Akbar Period", Indian Painting: The Great Mural Tradition, Ahmedabad, 2006, p. 349, pl. 308.

(19.) Parihar 1985, p. 44, pls. XV, 48.

(20.) Abdul Hamid Lahori, Padshahnama, 2 vols., in 3 parts, ed. Kabiruddin Ahmad and. Abdur Rahim, Calcutta, 1867-68, Vol. Ib, p. 9.

(21.) Early Travels in India 1583-1619, ed. William Foster, reprint Delhi, 1968, p. 158.

(22.) It is strange that Shaikh Farid Bhakkari, the author of Dhakhiratul Khawanin, does not mention the erection of the sarai by Itimad al-Daula himself, whereas he mentions sarais built by Khwaja Ruz-bihan and Rai Govardhan Suraj Daj (Dhwaj) who were the servants of Itimad al-Daula. Nobility under the Great Mughals, trans. Z.A. Desai, Delhi, 2003, p. 3.
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Title Annotation:FOCUS
Author:Parihar, Subhash
Publication:Marg, A Magazine of the Arts
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Mar 1, 2012
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