It was a shock to learn on our 2005 trip to northern India that almost all of the attractions on our itinerary were Muslim palaces and fortresses. There were a few exceptions. We visited the fabulous Hindu temple complex of Khajuraho, which had been dug up from oblivion by a British colonist in 1864. And at the end of our trip, we came to Varanasi, on the Ganges,a primary pilgrimage site for both Hindus and Buddhists.
In New Delhi we visited an archaeological park associated with the first Muslim kingdom founded in 1193. Just behind our hotel was a much larger park called Lodi Gardens filled with beautiful tunes and small mosques associated with dynasties before the rise of the Mughal Empire. The Mughals arrived in 1526 and began construction of palaces, tombs and impregnable fortresses through the midsection of India. Some of these monumental projects adopted elements of local style in what was called Indo-Saracenic architecture.
Visiting some of the most dramatic of these sites from Jaipur to Agra, it began to seem strange that little if any of the history and folklore of these times had made it into the movies. As I thought about it more, I realized that the 20th century – the Movie Century – was not a time to celebrate the Muslim occupation. The period between the world wars saw the rise of Gandhi’s Hindu independence movement and the postwar independent nation of India not inclined to celebrate it’s oppressors.
The only other movie in my archive about the Mughal Empire was a Bollywood crossover called Mughal-E-Azam (1960). It tells the saga of the Emperor Akbar the Great (reigned from 1556 to 1605), interlarded with the usual song and dance numbers. It was Akbar who built the Agra Fort where Shah Jahan would later be imprisoned.
The best known story of the Mughal Empire is the tale of Shah Jahan (reigned from 1628 to 1658) who so loved his wife, Mumtaz, that when she died he built her the famed mausoleum called the Taj Mahal. In his old age, he fell out of favor with his son and successor and was imprisoned in a nearby palace-fortress where he had a rooftop enclosure with a view of the Taj Mahal. Hollywood has not touched this classic love story but there is a Bollywood “super hit” called Taj Mahal (1963). I found the full movie on YouTube on its 50th anniversary, available only in the Hindi language.