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The Beginning of a National Identity
|by Ashish Nangia|
Time : The 14th and 15th Centuries
A political vacuum exists in India. The infighting among the various nobles of the Delhi Sultanate has caused many kingdoms and provincial governors to assert their freedom. From this vacuum come the kingdoms of Vijayanagara, Golconda and Bijapur in the south. In the north, in Rajasthan and Gujarat, the proud fighting clans of the Rajputs too seize this opportunity. This will be the time of chivalry, of great forts under the hot sun, of pomp and splendor, the making of a warrior tradition which will provide eventual stiff resistance to the Mughal onslaught.
The Legend of Chittor
The Sisodias of Chittor and Rana Kumbha (1433-68) were among the most active patrons of building. The Jayastambha (Tower of Victory) is an odd structure, combining as it does the urge to commemorate a victory (that over Malwa in 1458), with the principles of temple building. The structure thus becomes quasi-religious, a sort of vertical temple.
The strategically located Gwalior fort was fair game, in its position as the gateway to central India, for all would-be potentates. The climb up to Gwalior plateau is tortuous and not easily accomplished even by a motor vehicle. This no doubt contributed to its fine system of defences designed to slow down and eventually stop any attacker.
Among its many remarkable buildings, its greatest is perhaps the palace of Man Singh Tomar built in the 15th century.
At Orchha there are three palaces of note – the Ramji Mandir of Raja Rudra Pratap (1501-31), the Raj Mahal of Madhukar (1554-91), and the Jahangir Mahal of Bir Singh Deo. These last two were built on an island in the river Betwa.
This trend of fusion was to be evident in Muslim architecture of the period as well.
The history of the Indian subcontinent is best studied in this way – as a product of diverse influences, each of which leaves its own mark, rather than a narrow division into Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Muslim etc. For none of these developed in isolation, but were rather a product of the volatile political process around them.
So if architecture can define a nation, it is at this period in history that we witness a remarkable change – a sort of rapprochement between Hindu and Muslim – at least in the domain of architecture. For craftsmen do not know any religion except for what feels good to build, and what pleases the eye.
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