Majestic marvel

Majestic marvel

Heritage at Heart

Majestic marvel

Spectacular: The Agra fort balcony which faces the Taj Mahal.

It is a warm breezy morning on the serene Yamuna waterfront. From the banks where I stand, there is a fascinating view of a majestic fort which embraces in its folds many glorious and turbulent times. The lure and plight of many shahenshahs; the ecstasy of victories in constant battles; many a dreams of capturing the throne and the beautiful ladies of the harem pleasing their kings and queens. The mind wanders to the glorious days only to be brought to the present by the very talkative guide who flashes the tickets to enter the fort.

“The fort of Agra is built amidst the sand like a hill, and the battlements of it are like hillocks — no calamity had ever befallen its fortifications, nor had deceitful time dealt treacherously with it” — is mentioned in the celebrated poems of Khwaja Masud bin sa’d bin Salman’s Diwan, written in praise of Ghaznavi sovereigns. It is said Agra was invaded by Ibrahim Ghaznavi (1054-1099), a descendant of the more famous Mahmud of Ghazni.

Sikandar Lodi (1487–1517) was the first Sultan of Delhi to live in the fort. He governed the country from here and Agra assumed the importance of the second capital. He died in the fort in 1517 and his son, Ibrahim Lodi, held it for nine years until he was defeated and killed at Panipat in 1526. Several palaces, wells and a mosque were built by him in the fort during his period.

Babur stayed in the fort in the palace of Ibrahim. Humayun was crowned here in 1530 and after he was defeated in Bilgram in 1540, Sher Shah held the fort for five years. The Mughals defeated the Afghans finally at Panipat in 1556.

In awe of the beauty of the fort which stands as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, I get to hear the story about how Agra got its name from Sikandar Lodi in 1504 AD. The legend is mentioned in the Makhzan-i-Afghani of Niamatullah where he writes: “His Majesty resolved on finding a town on the bank of River Yamuna which should be utilised as the headquarters of the army and the government and serve as a point from where any rebellion can be checked.” Thus, he appointed experts to explore the best locale who eventually found the place where the city now stands. As the Sultan approached the site, he observed two suitable spots and asked Mehtar Mullah Khan who commanded the Royal Barge, which of them was better. The reply was, ‘Age Rah’, meaning the one which is further on the way. The Sultan smiled and said, let the name of the town be ‘Age Rah’ or ‘Agra’. Thus, Agra of the Lodis lay on the left bank of Yamuna.

Initially known as ‘Badalgarh’, the fort was in ruins when Akbar started rebuilding it with red sandstone from the Barauli area in Rajasthan. Architects laid the foundation and it was built with bricks in the inner core and with sandstone on external surfaces. It is said that about 3,000 to 4,000 skilled masons were employed everyday for eight years. The walls were built specially from fire-red hewn stones joined so closely that even a hair cannot find its way into their joints. The second and outer wall which is much shorter in height was added later on, during the time of Aurangzeb.

Initially, River Yamuna touched the fort. Bathing and landing ghats with cupolas enhanced the aesthetic beauty of the banks. Covered passages were built connecting the ghats with the fort at the Musamman Burj postern, traces of which are visible even today.  Shah Jahan replaced most of the red sandstone mansions of Akbar by his white marble pavilions. But one can still see some of the original works like Delhi Gate, Amar Singh Gate, Akbari Mahal and Jahangiri Mahal along with the original fabric of the enclosing walls.

While Delhi Gate is not open to visitors, Amar Singh Gate has an interesting story behind its name that took place at the time of Shah Jahan in 1644. Rao Amar Singh of Jodhpur, elder brother of Raja Jaswant Singh, was a mansabdar of high rank in the Mughal service. One day, while the imperial court was in session, Salabat Jung, the mir bakshi of the empire, spoke sharply to Amar Singh. Feeling hurt, Amar Singh assassinated the mir bakshi, but was arrested. It is said that while trying to escape, he galloped over the fort wall on horseback and landed outside this gateway and hence this gateway was named after him.

Thinking about those historical times, I walked towards Musamman Burj, a tower with a marble balcony that offers a view of the Taj Mahal. It is said that Shah Jahan looked at Taj Mahal from this balcony when he was held captive by his son Aurangzeb.

The pillars and arches of Diwan-i-Khas are beautifully carved and inlaid, and walls are ornamented with reliefs of vases, flowers and foliage.

In front of Diwan-i-Khas is the throne terrace, and on its western edge is a marble platform on which Shah Jahan sat. To the east is the throne in black marble used by Jahangir. From the Persian inscription which runs on its four sides, it is deciphered that the throne was made for Jahangir in 1603, during Akbar’s reign.

Bengali Mahal, built of red sandstone, reflects a curious mix of Hindu and Islamic architecture. It is divided into two parts: Akbari Mahal and Jahangiri mahal.

Though the main structure of Akbari Mahal does not exist anymore, its assembly hall on the eastern side is intact. Jahangiri Mahal reflects the art and architecture typical of Gujarat-Malwa-Rajasthan tradition with profuse carvings on stone, heavily fashioned brackets, piers and cross beams.

We then entered Khas Mahal, overlooking the Angoori Bagh. Built in white marble as per Shah Jahan’s choice, it was probably used as a sleeping room, aramgah. This palace looks the best with river on one side and Angoori Bagh with its enchanting water devices — tanks, fountains, waterfalls, candle-niches — on the other.

How could we miss the Sheesh Mahal which, at one time, had the best glass mosaic art? It comprises two chambers with water bodies. Then we moved towards Mina Masjid, which was the private mosque of the emperors. Nagina Masjid, built in white marble, is said to have been erected specially for the ladies. However, the Moti Masjid, made of pearl and white marble, is outstanding.

What a feat of workmanship at every corner! Resplendent and brilliant! Yes, it is the same fort that plays a key role in the Sherlock Holmes mystery, The Sign of the Four, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Not to forget is its depiction in the music video for Habibi Da, a hit song of Egyptian pop star Hisham Abbas.

The Agra Fort has also won the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in the year 2004 and the Indian Post issued a stamp to commemorate this prestigious award on November 28, 2004.

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