When the capital of Malwa was transferred from Dhar to Mandu during the fifteenth century, many of the workmen employed for the construction of fortifications, tombs and palaces were brought in from Delhi. They brought a vocabulary of Tughlaqid architecture with them, namely simplicity and vigor of design, which greatly influenced Malwa architectural style. Built in the second half of the fifteenth century, Jahaz Mahal came to characterize an elegance achieved through the symbiosis of indigenous and outside influences in late Malwa design.
The exact date of construction is not known. Some scholars date it to Mahmud Shah I Khalji (r.1436-1469), but it appears more likely that Ghiyas al-Din (r.1469-1500) commissioned it after succeeding his father. This assertion is based on the architectural language that belongs to the later building phase of Mandu and the intent of the building. Ghiyas al-Din was known for his pursuit of amusement and his harem is thought to have consisted of 15,000 women. He also had female bodyguards that consisted of about 500 beautiful young Turkish women and Abyssinian women dressed in men's clothing. He built many pleasure domes, baths and barracks for the female soldiers and Jahaz Mahal is thought to be one of them.
Stretched out on a narrow strip of land between the two lakes, Munj Talao to the west and Kapur Talao to the east, the Jahaz (Ship) Mahal (Palace) is an appropriate name for this building. Standing on the terraces of the adjoining Taweli Mahal, one can almost imagine the dreamy picture the palace must have presented of a lit up, royal pleasure boat floating on the lake on a moonlit night.
The palace is a double storeyed, rectangular structure that is 361 by 56 feet (110 by 17 meters) long and 33 feet (10 meters) in height. The walls are 3 feet (0.86 meters) thick. Stretched along the north-south axis, most of the building is exposed in the summer to the cool southwest breeze.
The main entrance in the east façade is a recessed gothic arched opening. On each side of the entrance are six arched openings that are protected by a continuous chhajja (awning) supported on stone brackets. Above it is a wide band of plaster carved in relief with false arches and floral motifs of a five-leaf pattern.
The ground floor consists of three large halls measuring 56 by 36 feet (17 by 10.96 meters) each, separated by corridors measuring 12 by 36 feet (3.65 by 10.96 meters) and small rooms measuring 10 by 36 feet (3.04 by 10.96 meters) at the ends. The main entrance leads into the middle hall that has a pavilion attached, which projects out into the Munj Talao. The pavilion is 18 feet square (5.48 meters square) from the exterior, but is unique in the interior because of the unusual, deeply recessed equilateral arched windows, which create a star shaped interior. The pavilion has a second level that is accessed by the terrace. Here the square pavilion has an arched opening on each side and a domed ceiling that is decorated with bands of azure and yellow tiles.
Beyond the small room at the north end at ground level, is a cistern surrounded by a colonnade on three sides. The cistern is rectangular with triapsed ends and concave sides with shallow steps leading down into it. It measures 63 by 40 feet (19.19 by 12.19 meters) and in the center reaches a dept of 10 feet (3 meters). Behind the western colonnade is a staircase that leads up to the terrace. Emperor Jahangir later had a second staircase added at the southern end of the eastern façade, destroying a beautiful cascade in the process. Numerous fountains and cascades were built in the palace, traces of which can still be seen.
At terrace level there are two rectangular pavilions at each end. They each measure 40 by 13 feet (12.19 by 3.96meters) and have three arched openings to the north and south and one to the east and west. Instead of a single roof structure, the roof has been broken down into three sections. The outer section has a hexagonal vault internally and a pyramidal roof externally. The middle section is a domical vault internally and a cylindrical cupola externally. The three pavilions with their varied roof forms, along with the domed kiosk positioned at the terrace level over the main entrance, prevent the palace from being a massive, rectangular block stretching across the landscape. They break up the horizontality of the building and add interest to the profile. The picturesque image of the palace is further emphasized by the reflection of the pavilions in the water, giving it a romantic touch.
At the northern end of the terrace is a bath similar to the cistern on the ground floor, but smaller in size, 39 by 37 feet and 7 feet deep (11.8 by 11.3 meters and 2.1 meters deep). It has broad steps leading into it and a landing for those not adept at swimming. Water is brought via a channel that runs along the front of the terrace. It begins from a water lift built at the southern end that brings water up from a storage tank built at the southeast end of the palace.
This palace was immensely appreciated by Emperor Jahangir, who in his memoirs wrote about the times spent here with his beloved wife, Nur Jahan, during a visit to Mandu. The empress would organize banquets and took advantage of the waterfront location by having lanterns lit to reflect light off the water, making it appear as if the lake surface was on fire.
Alfieri, Bianca Maria. Islamic Architecture of the Indian Subcontinent. London: Laurence King Publishing, 2000. 136, 137, 138.
Yazdani, G. Mandu: The City of Joy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1929. 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68.
Sahai, Surendra. Indian Architecture: Islamic Period, 1192-1857. New Delhi: Prakash Books, 2004. 70-1.
Singh, A.P. and Shiv Pal Singh. Monuments of Mandu. Delhi: Agam Kala Prakashan, 1994. 121, 122, 123, 124.
Jahaz Mahall (Variant)
second half of 15th cen./ second half of 10th cen. AH