The build of Agra

monumental

The build of Agra

It was on a cold December morning that we drove down to Agra from Delhi. The drive itself was quite memorable.

Mist in the air, sesame fields on either side of the road beaming in pride with their yellow blooms... and, even as the sun was slowly peeping out to herald a new dawn, the fog seemed too adamant to even think of leaving. Despite the bone-chilling cold, we stopped our vehicle several times to enjoy the beauty of the place the drive afforded.

As we reached Agra, we found the town just waking up. The slow pace of the place put us at ease. Though eager to keep our date with the world-renowned Taj Mahal, we decided to explore the city a bit and save the best for last. Our driver, an Agra regular, assured us that he would introduce us to even some lesser-known monuments. So we set out to acquaint ourselves with the nooks and crannies of the erstwhile Mughal city situated on the banks of River Jamuna.

As our car made its way through the narrow lanes and bylanes of the place, we reminded ourselves of the history of the place. According to earliest records, one Badal Singh built a fort here in 1475 AD. However, the town gained prominence only when Sikandar Lodi, the Sultan of Delhi, shifted his capital from Delhi to Agra, and it was later under the rule of his son Ibrahim Lodi. Once Agra came under the Mughal Empire, Akbar made Agra its capital, and named it Akbarabad.

The town enjoyed this prominence for nearly a century, with Mughal emperors succeeding Akbar beautifying the place with impressive monuments, palaces, pavilions, mosques, forts and gardens. The place soon developed into a splendid centre of art, culture and literature. The icing on the cake was, however, Taj Mahal, built by Shah Jahan in 1632, to house the tomb of his loving wife, Mumtaz Mahal. This one monument is so popular that no foreign dignitary or tourist will want to miss it.

Cemetery on the side

Lost in the pages of history, we didn’t realise that we had reached a huge complex of tombs popularly known as the Hessing’s Tomb Complex, housing the tombs of Europeans who were directly or indirectly associated with the Mughal court. It derives its name from the tomb of Col  John William Hessing, a European who had served under the Nizam of Hyderabad in the late 1700s. Believed to be the oldest Christian cemetery in North India, this cemetery was once considered a blessed ground, we were told.

Our next stop was at Jami Masjid, popularly known as the Friday Mosque, right opposite the Agra Fort. This red sandstone structure was built by Shah Jahan in 1648, and dedicated to his daughter, Princess Jahanara. Even as we marvelled at the simple beauty of the mosque, the Agra Fort beckoned us from a distance.

The massive fort, built by Akbar in 1565, is ranked among some of the finest citadels our country is home to. As we made our way into the historical fort, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage site, we were told how it was built primarily as a military structure, but was later transformed into a palace by his grandson Shah Jahan, with the liberal use of white marble. Poor Shah Jahan! Little did he know then that the very same fort that he so lovingly designed into a palace would become his prison when his son Aurangzeb would seize power in 1658. Yes, imprisoned in the fort, Shah Jahan is believed to have spent the last eight years of his life staring at Taj Mahal that housed his beloved’s tomb.

Promise of love

As we marvelled at the architecture of the fort, we were struck by the maze of buildings it held within itself. It almost seemed like a small town within itself. The remnants of paintings on the ceilings of the various structures and the marble filigree work that was evident everywhere within the fort left us in no doubt that the Mughals were great patrons of art and architecture.

Well, it was now time to witness the monument of monuments, the Taj Mahal. Braving the huge rush, we entered the gate leading up to Taj Mahal, and our jaw dropped. A marvel in marble, the structure of Taj Mahal left us all speechless, literally. For once, we wished we were poets, to describe its beauty in a manner that justified it. Alas!

The structure also reminded us of Shah Jahan’s love for Mumtaz Mahal. According to history, when Mumtaz Mahal was on her death bed, she extracted a promise from the emperor that he would build her an extremely beautiful mausoleum as his token of love for her. And, Shah Jahan, like a true gentleman, fulfilled his promise to her by designing it in such a way that it has become one of the wonders of the world.

We chose a vantage point from where we could view it without any hindrance, and sat there for hours together. It was a pleasure to see the structure look different at different points of time. Towards evening, as the sun set behind the Taj Mahal, our cameras went crazy trying to capture the colourful spectacle. If only!

As we had a long drive back to Delhi, we forced ourselves to bid goodbye to the monument of love that stood majestically, mesmerising one and all. We left the place, promising ourselves that we would return soon to admire its beauty all over again.

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