Finally in Agra India. Mughal dynasty and a Queen named Mumtaz.
Waking up in Agra and knowing that I will soon be at the famed Taj Mahal is exciting. This has been on my bucket list for far too long and it’s finally time to strike if off.
The aftermath of freak showers last night has left the day cool and extremely pleasant. My guide, Ajay senses my excitement and is as anxious to get a head start. But first, he says we must visit the Agra Fort built in 1565.
Agra is best known for its intriguing Mughal dynasties. It was Abu’l-Fath Jalal ud-din Muhammad Akbar (1542- 1605), popularly known as Akbar the Great and considered the greatest Mughal ruler because of his power and influence as well as military, political, cultural and economic dominance which extended over the entire country, who returned to Agra and built the beautiful and fortified Agra Fort. For more than 100 years thereafter, during the supremacies of three of India’s greatest rulers, Akbar, Jehangir and Shah Jahan, Agra witnessed a glorious era of immense wealth, unparalleled enterprise and historically relevant art and culture.
The massive red-stoned Fort lies on the banks of the imposing Yamuna River with a once impregnable moat surrounding this 2.5 km bastioned fortress. I step over a drawbridge and enter through the Amar Singh Gate into the courtyard of this walled palatial city.
For the next two hours I wander through this citadel taking in the beauty and grandeur of ancient Mughul splendor. From the Khas Mahal built by Shah Jahan for his two favourite daughters Jahanara and Roshanara, the amazing beauty of the Shish Mahal, a breath-taking royal dressing room adorned by thousands of tiny mirror-like glass-mosaic decorations on the walls, the 85-square geometrical gardens called the Anguri Bagh, the Diwan-i-Khas reception room where the emperor received his courtiers and state guests to the pillared Diwan-i-Am where he received his public audience, and the octagonal tower of Muhammam Burj, the first small marble palace built by Shah Jahan for his beloved Mumtaz Mahal, and from where Shah Jahan, imprisoned by his son Aurangzeb, spent the last eight years of his life gazing out at his monument of love, the Taj Mahal. I am mesmerized by the grandeur and absolute splendour of luxury-loving Shah Jahan’s (1630-55) rule.
Out of bounds are two imposing mosques: the Moti Masjid or the Pearl Mosque made out of white marble, constructed in 1646-53 by Shah Jahan, and the Nagina Masjid built under the reign of Aurangzeb (1658-1707).
According to historical references, the fortress was built with bricks in the inner core with sandstone on external surfaces. They say that it took eight years for 1,444,000 builders t complete it in 1573. Today, this Fort is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
But Agra, though once known for its intriguing Mughal dynasty is now best known for the spectacular archeological wonder, the Taj Mahal, a dedication to love from Shah Jahan to his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal.
Mumtaz Mahal, was a niece of empress Nur Jahan and granddaughter of Mirza Ghias Beg I’timad-ud-Daula, wazir of emperor Jehangir. She was born in 1593 and died in 1631, during the birth of her fourteenth child at Burhanpur. Her mortal remains were temporarily buried in the Zainabad garden and six months later, her body was transferred to Agra to be finally enshrined in the crypt of the main tomb of the Taj Mahal. At the death of Shah Jahan, his body was placed next to hers and today, thousands of visitors file past their tombs in utter reverence.
The pinnacle of Mughal architecture, this marbled mausoleum designed according to Islamic architecture, was built in 22 years (1631-1653) by 20,000 workers. Today, it stands as one of India’s greatest tourist attractions and one of the Seven Wonders of the World as well as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
With beating heart, I stand at the entrance and gaze at the Taj Mahal, its marble façade glistening in the afternoon sun. I try to imagine the workers of yesteryear comprising over 1000 elephants, hundreds of masons, stone cutters, carvers, inlayers, painters, calligraphers, dome-builders and the other thousands of artisans who were brought from across Central Asia and Iran. I am told that while the white marble was brought from Makrana in Rajasthan, the jasper came from Punjab, jade and crystal from China, turquoise from Tibet, lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, sapphires from Sri Lanka and carnelian from the Arabia. Amazingly, 28 types of precious and semi-precious stones were inlaid into the marble.
With the clear blue sky acting as a perfect backdrop to this mesmerizing white masterpiece, and a lush green Persian-style garden known as a charbagh with red sandstone pathways, water fountains and the marble pond in the centre reflecting the monument, this is everything I expected.
Soaring up 171 metres into the sky, the four sides of the Taj Mahal are identical creating a mirror image on every side. Banned from taken photographs inside, I vend my way slowly around the two beautifully inlaid replica cenotaphs placed under a low hanging single light under the domed room. The real tombs lie in solitude directly below and are out of bounds.
Like the changing moods of the Emperor’s queen, the Taj is known to change its colours depending on the time of day. From a pinkish hue at dawn, milky white in the evening and I return on this full-moon night to see it bathed in a golden light of the moon.
I feel humbled at love’s devotion as I take a last glance at the inscription on the Great Gate “O soul, thou art at rest. Return to the Lord at peace with Him, and He at peace with you”.