This recently rediscovered and 'highly accomplished' (Quilley, 2004) picture by Hodges depicts the Mohammedan tomb of Makhdum Shah Daulat at Maner, some 25 kilometres to the west of Patna. Maner or Maner Sharif was a bridgehead for the sultans of Delhi, as they pushed their frontiers eastwards towards Bihar and Bengal in the early 13th century.
The principal shrine at Maner, popularly known as Bari Dargah, is the open grave of Shaikh Yahya Maneri (d.1291), the founder of the Firdausiya sect in India. Some two hundred metres north from this shrine is the mausoleum of a later Firdausiya shaikh, Shah Daulat, built in 1616 by his disciple Ibrahim Khan, the Mughal governor of Bihar under Jahangir. Shah Daulat'’s mazaar, which is popularly known as Choti Dargah, is built in the high Mughal style using Chunar sandstone, and it is perhaps the finest medieval monument of Bihar with its elegance of conception, size and remarkable stone ornamentation. The two-storied Choti Dargah, with its one central dome and four cupolas on the four corners stands on a raised pediment, within a large walled courtyard and garden after the classical charbagh style. To the south of the courtyard is a vast water tank, or baoli, with ghats, stone embankments, and chatris.
Hodges took two views of the tomb, the present picture and a drawing ('A View of the Mosque at Mounheer from the S.E.') in the Yale Center for British Art (B1978.43.1766), and a drawing taken from the south, showing the tomb from across the tank, also in the Yale Center for British Art, these two views the models for the pair of aquatints in Hodges' Select Views, plates 17 and 18.
Hodges arrived in India in January 1780 and spent three years travelling in the north east of the country under the protection of the Governor-General of Bengal, Warren Hastings. 'Having spent a year in Madras, confined by ill health and the ongoing war with Hyder Ali, Hodges moved to Calcutta, arriving there in spring 1781. He had earlier been recommended to Warren Hastings as an artist desirous of recording 'the most curious appearances of nature and art in Asia' [Macpherson to Hastings, 31 Dec. 1778]. This marked the start of an extraordinarily productive two-and-a-half years in which he toured Bengal and Bihar, and produced paintings for the leading figures in British India: Sir Elijah Impey, Claude Martin and, above all, Warren Hastings himself. Besides Hastings, however, the most important patron of Hodges's painting in India was Augustus Cleveland, the District Collector for Bihar, with whom he stayed for several months early in 1782, making paintings and drawings of the landscape around Bhagalpur and the Rajmahal hills.' (G. Quilley in William Hodges ... , 2004, p.138). He first met Cleveland, the young magistrate and Collector stationed at Bhagalpur (and the probable original owner of the present picture) in the spring of 1781 at Rajmahal on the first of his three tours out of Calcutta. In the spring of 1782, on his second excursion, he stayed at Bhagalpur with Cleveland and travelled with him in the neighbouring hills.
Hodges visited the tomb of Shah Daulat at Maner on his second excursion with Hastings in the summer of 1781: 'The building, though not large, is certainly very beautiful: it is a square, with pavilions rising from the angles; and in the centre is a majestic dome, the top of which is finished by what the Indian architects call a cullus: the line of the curve of the dome is not broken, but is continued by an inverted curve until it finishes in a crescent. I cannot but greatly prefer this to the manner in which all great domes are finished in Europe ... The outer surface of the dome is ornamented by plantane leaves cut in stone, covering the whole: the lines intersect each other in great lozenges, and form altogether a beautiful ornament. The great entrance to the mosque is similar to many of the doors of our large Gothic cathedrals, having columns diminishing as it were in perspective to the inner door. There is a large tank belonging to it, with several buildings rising from the water, containing pavilions. The whole, however, is much decayed.' (W. Hodges, Travels in India during the years 1780, 1781, 1782 and 1783, London, 1793, pp.45-6.)
It is this decay that Hodges chooses to depict, presenting his tomb from an oblique angle, shrouded in foliage, plainly viewing the subject in the rigorously defined idiom of the 18th century picturesque landscape painter, and thereby interpreting his subject from a very particular and western perspective. Such an interpretation, so wildly at odds with the actual symmetry and meaning of the place, is masterfully accomplished in Hodges's picture, and is reinforced by his own description of the site in the letterplate to the mezzotint in his Select Views: '... like most of India, ruined by superstition, [it] is falling into the dust.'
Hodges nevertheless retrieved a piece of 'Mounheer'; his preferred dome here was probably the inspiration for the dome with double curve and cullus at Warren Hastings's Daylesford.