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From Romantic Castles and Palaces, As Seen and Described by Famous Writers, edited and translated by Esther Singleton; New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1901; pp. 285-294.


The Palace of Shah Jehan


Black and white engraving of The Palace of Shah Jehan, India, taken in the late 19th century.


OUR next excursion was to the Fort, or Palace of Shah Jehan, which resembles a city on a miniature scale. In circuit, the high red walls encompassing it are a mile and a half. The space enclosed is 600,000 yards. There is no wall on the river-face. Bernier’s account holds true to the present day, so far as the walls are five to six feet thick, forty to fifty feet high, and flanked with turrets and cupolas at intervals, similar to those on the walls of the city. They are built of granite, but possess no more the beauty of polished marble. The wide and deep moat round the walls, that he describes as full of water, and abounding with fish, is now all dry — the freestone pavement being beat upon by the sun. No longer, also, beyond the moat, are there any gardens extending to the skirts of the royal abode.

Facing the Nowbut-Khanna on the inside about a hundred and twenty yards distant, is the first suite of the royal buildings, styled the Dewanni-anum, or the hall of public audience. The ranges of two-storied buildings, once about this place, with their walls and arches adorned with a profusion of the richest tapestries, velvets, and silks, have all disappeared. The Dewanni-anum of Shah Jehan is 286 considerably larger and loftier than the building of the same name at Agra. It is a quadrangular hall, open at three sides, the roof of which is supported upon four rows of tall red-stone pillars, formerly ornamented with gilt arabesque paintings of flowers, but now covered with the eternal whitewash. The building was now occupied by the troops, and it was a great disappointment for us to miss the celebrated Marble Throne which all travellers speak of with admiration, — though it was in a state, we were told, that did not make it a very great curiosity. The throne is in an elevated recess, or niche in the back--wall, from which it projects into the hall, in front of the large central arch. There is a staircase to get up to it, the seat being raised ten feet from the floor. The size of the throne is about ten feet, and over it is a marble canopy supported on four marble pillars, all beautifully inlaid with mosaic work exquisitely finished, but now much dilapidated. In the wall behind is a doorway, by which the emperor entered from his apartments in the harem. This wall is covered with mosaic paintings in precious stones of various birds, beasts, fruits, and flowers. Many of them are executed in a very natural manner, and represent the birds and beasts of the several countries ruled over by Shah Jehan. On the upper part, in the centre of the wall “is represented, in the same precious stones, and in the graceful attitude, the figure of an European in a kind of Spanish costume, who is playing upon his guitar.” This has been interpreted into a group of Orpheus, charming the birds and beasts with his music, and is what decides the work to be from the hands of a 287 French artist, mentioned by Bernier under the name of La Grange, alias Austin de Bordeaux.

Upon this throne did Shah Jehan seat himself every day at noon, to receive the compliments or petitions of his subjects. He appeared on such occasions in great state, preceded by a cortège of mace-bearers, bearing silver figures upon silver sticks. His sons sat on each side of him, decked in costly apparel and jewels. Behind him stood in array eunuchs in rich liveries. Some of them drove off flies by moving chowries made of peacocks’ feathers. Others waved fans of coloured silk or velvet, embroidered with gold and precious stones. The chobdars and other messengers waited next in respectful silence to receive the commands of the sovereign. On a fine large slab of white marble, raised some three feet above the ground, and fenced with silver rails, stood the vizier and other secretaries, in front of the throne, to hand up petitions to their master, and to receive and convey his imperial commands. Next to them stood in humble attendance tributary Rajahs, dependent chiefs, and ambassadors from foreign princes. Beyond them was the place for the Munsubdars, who showed themselves in the same attitude of respect and humility that marked the demeanour of the other attendants in the hall. In the furthermost part of the building, as well as in the other court in front of it, thronged all sorts of people and visitants in one promiscuous crowd.

Thus hedged round by divinity, sat Shah Jehan, as the Viceregent of God upon earth, with his face turned towards Mecca.


The next suite of apartments is the Dewanni-Khas, or hall of private audience. There is certainly much to admire in this building, but the expectations raised by reading are not half fulfilled. In richness of materials it may stand unrivalled, but in point of architectural design it does not possess more than ordinary excellence.

Rising from a terrace, elevated some four to five feet from the ground, the Dewanni-Khas forms an oblong-shaped pavilion, which measures one hundred and fifty feet in length, by forty feet in breadth. The height is well proportioned to these dimensions. The building has a flat roof, supported upon ranges of massive arcaded pillars, all of a rich bluish-white marble. Between each of the front row of pillars is a balustrade of the same material, chastely carved in various designs of perforated work. The cornices and borders are decorated with a great quantity of frieze and sculptured work. The top is ornamented with four elegant marble pavilions, with gilt cupolas. In short, the Dewanni-Khas is an open, airy, and lightsome building, possessing in the highest degree all those features which, suggested by local climate form the peculiarity of Indian architecture. It is advantageously situated near the river, and affords, on a sultry night, the best place for delicious zephyrs to fan you to sleep.

Nothing that is recorded in fiction or fact comes up to the magnificence of this hall. There traces remaining of that magnificence are enough to show that the reality of wealth develops those ideas of grandeur, which surpass all the imaginings of imagination. The gorgeous Pandemonium 289 of Milton, of which the idea may have been taken from Bernier’s account of the Mogul court, is eclipsed by the Dewanni-Khas, the grandeur of which is not apocryphal, but a realized fact. That “jasper pavement,” which the mighty poet deemed to be so rich as to adorn the court of heaven, is seen here by every individual with his eyes broadly open. The pillars and arches are ornamented with tendrils of bright flowers and wreaths of bloodstone, agate, jasper, cornelian, and amethyst, that seem “snatched as it were from the garden, and pressed into the snowy blocks.” There was a rich foliage of silver filigree work covering the entire ceiling. The Mahrattas in 1759, under their celebrated General Bhao, tore this down, and melted it into seventeen lacs of rupees. It has been replaced by one of gilt copper worked in a flower pattern. Never could the gorgeous splendour of this hall have been more emphatically summed up than in the inscription which is sculptured in letters of gold in the cornices of the interior room — “If there is a paradise upon earth, it is this, it is this, it is this.”

In this hall was the Tukt Taous, or the famous Peacock Throne. It was so called from its having the figures of two peacocks, with their tails spread, that were so naturally executed in sapphires, rubies, emeralds, pearls, and other precious stones of appropriate colours, as to represent life, and strike every beholder with the most dazzling splendour. “The throne itself was six feet long by four feet broad; it stood on six massive feet, which, with the body, were of solid gold, inlaid with rubies, emeralds, and diamonds. It 290 was surmounted by a canopy of gold supported by twelve pillars, all richly emblazoned with costly gems, and a fringe of pearls ornamented the borders of the canopy. Between the two peacocks stood the figure of a parrot of the ordinary size, said to have been carved out of a single emerald (?). On either side of the throne stood a chatta or umbrella, one of the Oriental emblems of royalty; they were formed of crimson velvet, richly embroidered and fringed with pearls, the handles were eight feet high, of solid gold, and studded with diamonds.” Tavernier, a jeweller by profession, and who saw this superb throne, estimates the cost of it at six and a half millions sterling, or six crores of rupees. The device was not original; it seems to have been taken from a representation of the Karteek of the Hindoos. The umbrella, also, was one of the insignia of Hindoo royalty. It was on the birthday of Soliman Sheko that the joy of a grandfather had been especially manifested by Shah Jehan’s first mounting the Tukt Taous

It is recorded by Bernier, that the “King appeared seated upon his throne at one extremity of the great hall of the Am-Khas, splendidly attired, his garment being of white flowered satin, richly embroidered, his turban of gold cloth, having an aigrette worked upon it, the feet of which were studded with diamonds of extraordinary lustre and value, and in the centre was a beautiful Oriental topaz of matchless size and splendour, shining like a little sun: round his neck was a string of pearls, of great value, which hung down to his waist. The throne on which he sat was supported by six pillars of massive gold, enriched with a 291 profusion of rubies, emeralds, and diamonds, and his other insignia of state were embellished with equal grandeur. . . . The pillars of the hall were magnificently ornamented with gold tapestry, and the ceiling was covered over with beautiful flowered satin, fastened with red silk cords, having at each corner festoons with gold tassels. Below nothing was to be seen but rich silk tapestries of extraordinary dimensions. In the court, at a little distance, was pitched a tent called the Aspek, which in length and breadth somewhat exceeded the hall, and reached almost to the centre of the court. It was likewise surrounded with a large balustrade of solid silver, and supported by three poles, of the height and thickness of a large mast, and by several smaller ones, — covered with plates of silver. The outside was red, and the lining within of beautiful chintz, manufactured expressly for the purpose at Masulipatam, representing a hundred different flowers, so naturally done, and the colours so vivid, that one would imagine it to be a hanging parterre.” No mention of the Koh-i-noor appears in this account — it must have been somewhere, either in the Peacock throne, or on the arm or turban of the monarch. Possibly, the string of pearls spoken of was the same that Runjeet Sing afterwards wore around his waist. The cynicism of a poet may style all this as “barbaric pearl and gold,” but it is what, after all, quiets the yearnings of all civilized men.

The Peacock Throne no longer exists. It was carried off as a trophy by Nadir Shah, and had to be broken up in all probability, into ten thousand pieces of stone, now scattered 292 all over the world. In its place is a simple marble throne that by itself is not an ordinary piece of workmanship. In strolling through the hall we paused before this throne; and as a monument of fallen greatness it failed not to affect us with the usual sentiment of “all is vanity under the sun.” It may be looked upon almost as the seat of Shah Jehan, and Aurungzebe, and Shah Alum, — and raises a host of associations that come rapping at the door of memory. Here stood the graceful Soliman, his hands bound in gilded fetters, entreating in the most pathetic language to be put to death at once, rather than to be sentenced to die by slow poison, — thereby affecting many of the courtiers to tears, and making the ladies of the harem to weep aloud from behind the screens. Here Sevajee in expectation of an honourable reception, but finding himself to be treated with studied neglect, could not control his feelings of indignation, changed colour, and sank to the ground in a swoon, — while a daughter of Aurungzebe, seeing the young stranger from behind a curtain, became enamoured of him. Here sat Mahomed Shah bandying compliments with Nadir Shah, and sipping coffee, while the corpses of a hundred thousand slaughtered Delhi-ites tainted the air. It is related “that the coffee was delivered to the two sovereigns in this room upon a gold salver, by the most polished gentleman of the court. His motions, as he entered the gorgeous apartment, amidst the splendid trains of the two emperors, were watched with great anxiety; if he presented the coffee first to his own master, the furious conqueror, before whom the sovereign of India 293 and all his courtiers trembled, might order him to instant execution; if he presented it to Nadir first, he would insult his own sovereign out of fear of the stranger. To the astonishment of all, he walked up with a steady step direct to his own master. ‘I cannot,’ said he, ‘aspire to the honour of presenting the cup to the King of Kings, your Majesty’s honoured guest, nor would your Majesty wish that any hand but your own should do so.’ The emperor took the cup from the golden salver, and presented it to Nadir Shah, who said with a smile as he took it, ‘Had all your officers known and done their duty like this man, you had never, my good cousin, seen me and my Kussilbashees at Delhi; take care of him, for your own sake, and get round you as many like him as you can.”

The Dewanni-Khas is now all desolate and forlorn. It is a matter of heartfelt regret to see the barbarous ravages that have been committed in picking out the different precious stones. There is a mark of violence on one of the pillars, which the Mahrattas attempted to break. No rose-beds or fountains about the building now — only the bare skeleton of it is standing. The Great Mogul’s hall of audience was, till lately, used as a museum, the contents of which have been now removed to the new Delhi Institute.

The freest public lounge is not more open to access than is now the seat of Mogul jealousy — the Seraglio. “There was scarcely a chamber that had not a reservoir adjoining it — with parterres, beautiful walks, groves, rivulets, fountains, grottos, jets of water, alcoves, and raised terraces to 294 sleep upon, and enjoy the cool air at night.” Now that everything has disappeared, this description of Bernier seems almost to be almost imaginary — an account of the “baseless fabric of a vision.” The “parterres,” “walks,” “groves,” “grottos,” and “raised terraces” have all ceased to exist.


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