Tuesday, 3 April 2012

The Abbasid Palaces

(NAWAB MUHAMMAD BAHAWAL KHAN ABBASSI-I)
Founder of the State of Bahawalpur



The Abbasid ameers ruled over the state of Bahawalpur for over 200 years (from 1727 to 1955). Under their rule, the state developed an impressive architectural legacy, from the first simple residential palace, Chau Dari, to the foundations of the town of Allahabad. As the state grew, so too did its architecture, with the building efforts, palaces, and mosques. After Allahabad, the ameers made Derawar their capital and developed it accordingly. Later, as the city of Bahawalpur emerged as the Abbasids' new royal capital, it became the heart of Abbasid architecture in India. In fact, the ameers did not confine themselves to building within their own territory-they even commissioned the construction of a number of ribats (inns) in Saudi Arabia for pilgrims en route to Mecca. Most of their buildings were designed to meet defensive, residential, religious, or public needs. The Abbasid ameers also rebuilt and renovated a number of ancient monuments belonging both to the pre-Muslim and mediaeval Muslim periods, the latter including the shrines of the Bokhari saints and their mosques at Uch.

In planning and design, local environment was a primary consideration. The long, hot summers meant that palaces had to be designed to allow the free circulation of air and incoming natural light. Buildings tended to face south, towards the direction of the wind. Windows, balconies, and air-ducts for ventilation were all generously provisioned for. Residential buildings, in particular, were provided with basements that remained cool in the summers. Thick, high walls, trabeated roofs, and encircling verandas were a standard feature of state buildings. Architects were careful to keep the plinth of the palaces they designed, very high, especially in Bahawalpur where the Sutlej flowed a mere 4 km from the city.

Nonetheless, the Abbasid ameers developed a style of architecture that cleverly blended both local arid foreign traditions—Delhi Sultanate, Mughal, Sikh, and even European. The Noor Mahal and Gulzar Mahal in Bahawalpur, and the Sadiqgarh palace at Dera Nawab Sahib, for example, reveal superficial details borrowed from European architecture. The nave, aisles, elliptical domes and barrel-shaped roof of the Noor Mahal, as well as its stately Corinthian columns, circular and trefoil arches, pediments, and iridescent stained-glass windows also echo a growing Anglo-Indian style of architecture that had already become popular in state buildings of the British Raj in Calcutta, Bombay, Delhi, and Lahore.

Structures were generally built of mud bricks set in mud mortar, and veneered with burnt brick for durability and aesthetics—a Central Asian tradition popular in India that dated back to ancient times. Lush green landscaping added further to the buildings’ pleasant surroundings, although, perhaps because of the scarcity of water, very few fountains were built within their premises. The palaces were protected by high and imposing gateways, thick fortification walls, and, in. some cases, catacombs connecting one palace with another.

Abbasid-built cities — Bahawalpur and Derawar among them—were protected by fortification walls and entrance gates. Walled cities were common at the time, particularly so in the Muslim world. The Arab city of Mansurah in Sindh and Abbasid Bahawalpur in the Punjab were both built in oval-shape, with certain gates resembling those of Baghdad. The cities were traversed by narrow lanes sheltered by chhappers (projecting thatched roofs), another common feature of Arab desert towns. The old Shahi, Fateh Khan, Machhi, and Grain Gunj market places of Bahawalpur and others in Uch still function as covered bazaars, similar to the dhak (covered) bazaars of Makkah.

State monuments of the time were generally built using local materials, although imported stone was also used in some cases. Earlier buildings reveal the use of mud mortar. Lime mortar became more popular later, but was replaced by a mixture made popular under the Mughals—mortar made of kankar (crushed brick), lime, pulses, and jute, commonly called Qasuri chuna or pakka kuli. The use of mortar consisting of crushed brick and lime, as well as mud mortar, is also evident in state buildings constructed in subsequent periods. 

The Abbasids were inclined towards wooden doors and windows with decorated panes, using sagwan (teakwood), shisham (dalberja sisoo), and diyar (deodar or cedar) for such fixtures. Wooden doors, windows, ventilation ducts, and staircase banisters were often beautifully carved, some buildings even using decorative grills of cast iron. The use of stucco and lacquer-work was very common. Imported, frosted glass was often fixed in the trefoil arches of doors, windows, and other panels of wooden entrances and ventilation ducts. Floral and geometrical designs, shamsas (roundels), oriel windows, and pediments were used to embellish building exteriors. The southern wall of the Noor Mahal's central chamber has a river-scene painted on its surface-the only example of its kind in Abbasid state buildings.

The floors of most Abbasid state buildings tended to be plain, occasionally set with imported tiles and even stone in geometrical and floral design. Red sandstone has been extensively used in the Durbar Mahal, for instance, probably transported from places as far away as Jodhpur and Agra in India or Jung Shahi in Sindh. Most such buildings were commonly embellished with baroque and composite columns, fluted pillars, plain and fluted piers, vestibules, turrets, domes, finials, parapets, and circular and typical Mughal and Sikh arches. Roofs were generally flat and trabeated, supported by iron bars and girders, but there are in-stances of domed, curved, vaulted, and barrel-shaped roofs. The roofs of the Noor Mahal and Gulzar Mahal were partly built in brick, the roofing in brick (RB) technique introduced to India by the British. Many different brick types appear to have been in use: square; rectangular, hexagonal, .pentagonal, Lahori, Multani, and specially made bricks manufactured from materials that evolved from existing types.


(NAWAB SADIQ MUHAMMAD KHAN ABBASSI-IV)
'Shah Jahan' of the state of Bahawalpur


Almost every ameer of Bahawalpur took a personal interest in the construction of new palaces, but most of the state's well-known palaces were completed in the reign of Ameer Sadiq Muhammad Khan IV, who, for his significant contribution to Bahawalpur architecture, became known as 'Shah Jahan' of the state of Bahawalpur.

Chau Dari
Chau Dari ('[building of] four doors') was reputed to be the first of the Abbasid palaces, the residence of Ameer Sadiq Muhammad Khan I (1723-1746). Long since fallen, there are no remaining traces of this building.

Shish Mahal
Ameer Muhammad Bahawal Khan I (1746-1749) founded the present city of Bahawalpur in an area previously known as Sadho ki Jhok. He fortified the ruins of a haveli (residential building) that had belonged to the wadera (landlord) Muhammad Panah Ghumrani, and gave it his name: 'Bahawalpur'. Among his early royal buildings, the Shish Mahal and Daulat Khana palaces are the more notable. The Shish Mahal was located near the present Jamia Mosque AI-Sadiq, where the ameer would hold court and attend to state guests. In 1787, forty years after the construction of this palace, Sardar Ahmad Khan Nurzai, a warring Afghan general attacked Bahawalpur and plundered the city. Ameer Bahawal Khan II fled to Derawar, leaving many of his predecessor's buildings, including the Shish Mahal and Daulat Khana, to be devastated by Afghan troops.

Rangeel Mahal (Mahal-e-Qadeem)
The Rangeel Mahal or Mahal-e-Qadeem was constructed by Amir Muhammad Bahawal Khan III (1825-1852) at a specially selected site about 4 km south of Ahmadpur Sharqia, on the way to Derawar. The palace, which also has a basement, became known as the Rangeel or Rangla Mahal because its facade was decorated with sprinkled paint. Although now virtually in ruins and its basement filled with debris, the palace appears to have been a double-storey building oriented north-south. It was connected to the zenan khana to its south through an underground tunnel. The palace walls were made of Lahori brick set with mud mortar, and painted with colourful floral patterns. The roof of a room on the first floor, which is still partly in place, appears to be trabeated and its ceiling decorated with lacquer-work and tasnimkari.



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