WHEN NATIONS START BELITTLING CULTURAL EFFORTS OF OTHER NATION
THE HIDDEN STORY OF THE SHAH JAHAN PAVILION IN THE RED FORT DELHI
At one time or the other, it was decided by the Government of British India to survey the vast Architectural resources in the country. One of the major persons involved in this survey was Henry Hardy Cole, and he gave reports to the authorities about the state of preservation of architectural monuments in the region. In 1882, Cole reports about the Hall of Public Audience in the Red Fort and says:
“The great pillared DIWAN-I-AM, with its fine marble mosaic canopy and throne, is used as a canteen, and on the right of the throne is a bar for serving out liquor! To the left of the throne is an enclosure of bamboo screen-work in which Nubbi Bux keeps a soldier’s coffee-shop! Above and at the back of the throne is a small open apartment, the walls of which are faced with the celebrated black marble mosaic work; but this work, as well as the inlaid patterns on the throne, have been villainously repaired in coloured plaster, and the arrangement of the panels is not as formerly. Some of these panels were removed by Sir John Jones at the time of the Mutiny, and are at the India Office Museum in London. They might be brought to this country and placed in their original position. “
At the orders of Lord Curzon, the missing panels were brought back and restored in the apartment in 1903. However Henry Hardy Cole issued a complete drawing of same in 1882, and one can only wonder with what conjectures did he complete the same, particularly when panels were missing from site, and even wrongly placed on wall. Perhaps he put two and two together on his own. Nobody questions the obvious!
In 1841 when Antonio Zobi of Florence and a specialist of Pietra-Dura, enquired, about the same from the Resident of Delhi, Charles Metcalfe issued an inquiry into the whole Pietra-Dura work in the Mughal buildings. A 100 years old Mughal Prince, namely Dilawar Mirza Shah (Mirza Jugroo), who was an actual nephew of Emperor Muhammed Shah, informed Charles Metcalfe that this apartment was commissioned by Bhao Biswap Rao, a Maharatta Chief, who had seized the Royal Palace in 1760. A clear cut assertion and present as documentary evidence.
Ebba Koch is a great scholar and indeed a lovely person. But love of country clouds the eye to many things. The burden on many Westerners is there to prove that the Mughals did not know many things and the Europeans taught them the finer things of life. That is a plain statement. We need not refine it but it can be refined with hundreds of examples how westerners tried to lower the evaluation of our monumental works. W. Sleeman a bureaucrat is just one example. Ebba Koch is obsessed in proving that the Mughals knew nothing about Pietra Dura and the Masters of Florence taught them many things. A survey of past is helpful to us.
Some authorities claim that Stone inlay work had origins in the land of Pharaohs in Egypt. But it is a known fact that this kind of work was known as PERCHEEN-KARI in the Muslim world. Although similar inlay work with glass was known in the Arab world as Al-Fusai Fasa. The famous writer, poet and traveler, Nasir Khusrau (died in 1088 AD), refers to use of Percheen-kari in the Muslim world, in the course of his travels across such countries. The origin of Pietra Dura starts from the East, and brought from Phoenicia to Greece, and thence to Rome, which were the ancient provinces of Byzantine Empire. From Rome it came to Florence and was known as Pietra Dura. The most famous stone layer family was the Cosmati family who started same in 16th century. In Florence the Master Stone layers were in the ateliers of Saracchi, Annibale Fontana and Miseroni, all around 1580 AD. Very simple the origin of Percheen-Kari in this region comes from our Turkish sources. Ancient inlay work of stones has been found in buildings pre-dating the Mughals by a long period of time.
The Hall of Public Audience in the Red Fort was commissioned by Emperor Shah Jahan and it took ten years to build. It was completed in 1648, and the architects and planners included Ustad Ahmad Mimar and Ustad Hamid Mimar, according to official histories of the period. Later histories include the name of Lutufullah Ahmad Muhandis, son of Ustad Ahmad Mimar. All known facts. The canopy in the Hall of Public Audience is a seat for the throne of Emperor Shah Jahan. And we can believe that birds could be adorned in the background, and even human figures (no issues) if we choose to believe same. But Orpheus with a DOG near his legs is IMPOSSIBLE for us to believe. No Mughal Emperor would like the back of his throne adorned with a picture of a dog. Honestly, who believes it otherwise? Dogs are absent from the Mughal point of view. And the placement of the panels are in no Euclid mode.
So what actually happened? We know from old histories that MUMTAZABAD was a market for all kind of goods, coming from all over the world. Mosaic from all over the world as well as Central Asia used to be sold there. Indeed western merchants must have brought cabinets from Florence to sell there. They must have caught the imagination of the Maharrata Bhao Biswap Rao and he ordered a couple of Florentine cabinets dismantled and put as panels on a small apartment to reflect his own taste. Certainly dogs were liked by the Maharratas and we have seen dogs in their court drawn miniatures. Is that so hard to believe? The esteemed Ebba Koch herself says that she tried her best to find out the Orpheus reference in Mughal histories but was not able to find any clue to same. Imperial Ideology she understands yes, but she should also find out about the Mughal tastes on a natural level. The Maharrata miniatures include representation of boars (pigs). Orpheus also played to pigs. Would the discovery of a pig mosaic lead us to believe that pigs were patronised by the Mughals? Certainly not.
Florence was a great cultural country and we have written books on the influence of Islamic art on Florence itself. More on that later!