Wonders of Muslim Historical sites in Agra Khadiza Binte Mostafiz
In the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, there’s a beautiful city on the bank of the river Yamuna called Agra. At present, Agra is a major tourist destination of India because of its rich culture, history and beautiful monuments built by the ancient Muslim rulers. Today, I would like to take the readers on a tour to explore those majestic monuments, and along the way I’ll also share some of its rich history and glory.
Rise and fall of Agra
In 1504, the 2nd Sultan of the Lodi dynasty, Sikandar Lodi moved his capital from Delhi to Agra. That is why, even today, he is regarded as the founder of Agra. After some years, In 1526, the Mughal era began when Ibrahim Lodi, the son of Sikandar Lodi, was defeated by the first Mughal Emperor Babor in the bloody battle of Panipath. Between the year 1540 and 1556, Sher Shah Suri established the short-lived Sur Empire and thus made a brief interruption in the Mughal rule. The power was back to the Mughals after 1556. Agra was the capital of the Mughal Empire from 1556 to 1648 under the Mughal Emperors Akbar, Jahangir and Shah Jahan, after which Shah Jahan shifted the capital to Delhi. As time went by, the city was later taken by the Jats and then Marathas, and after that, it finally fell to the British Raj.
Agra’s pride : The Taj Mahal
In 1631, the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan’s wife Mumtaz Mahal died while giving birth to their 14th child. She was an inseparable companion of the emperor. To house the tomb of his favourite wife, the emperor commissioned an ivory-white marble mausoleum on the southern bank of the river Yamuna. The construction project employed 20,000 artisans under the guidance of a board of architects led by the court architect to the emperor, Ustad Ahmad Lahauri. The construction is said to have cost 32 million rupees, which in 2020 would be approximately 70 billion rupees (about $956 million). This marvellous mausoleum was later named the Taj Mahal. The tomb of Mumtaz Mahal is the centrepiece of a 17-hectare (42-acre) complex, which includes a mosque and a guest house, and is set in formal gardens bounded on three sides by a crenellated wall. After Shah Jahan’s death, his tomb was also housed in the Taj Mahal. It tells the story of the emperor’s grief after the death of Mumtaz Mahal and also illustrates their love story.
In 1983, it was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for being “the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world’s heritage”. The world was amazed to witness its beauty and charm. At present, It is regarded by many as the best example of Mughal architecture and a symbol of India’s rich history.
Agra’s jewel box: The Tomb of I’timad-ud-Daulah
During the reign of Mughal Emperor Akbar, a man named Mirza Ghiyas Beg immigrated from Tehran to India, along with his wife and three children. This man belonged to a renowned family of poets and high officials. Akbar appointed him as the treasurer of the province of Kabul. Later on, he had risen to greater power when Akbar’s son Jahangir married Ghiyas Beg’s daughter Nurjahan. His daughter Nurjahan became the empress, and he was appointed as the prime minister of the empire. Moreover, he was given the status of 6,000 men and was called I’timad-ud-Daulah (Pillar of the state). When Mirza Ghiyas Beg died, his daughter Nurjahan, commissioned a mausoleum for her father. This marvellous mausoleum is situated near the Yamuna river. It is set in a large cruciform garden criss-crossed by water courses and walkways. The walls of the mausoleum are made up of white marble from Rajasthan encrusted with semi-precious stone decoration. The only asymmetrical element of the entire complex is that the cenotaphs of her father and mother have been set side-by-side, a formation replicated in the Taj Mahal. This magnificent mausoleum is often described as a “jewel box”. People also call it the “Bachcha Taj”. The tomb of I’tim?d-ud-Daulah is often regarded as a draft of the Taj Mahal as Mirza Ghiyas Beg was also the grandfather of Mumtaz Mahal.
The Fort of Agra
2.5 km north-west of the great Taj Mahal lies another grand monument, the Agra Fort, which was the seat of Mughal power and a symbol of their might for around 200 years. That is why it is said that the history of the fort of Agra is the history of the Mughal Empire itself. This fort is also known as the “Red Fort of Agra”. The second Sultan of the Lodi dynasty, Sikandar Lodi, was the one who commissioned the building of the fort along with the city of Agra. Its strategic location was very important and fueled its growth. During the Lodi era, this fort was known as “Badalgarh fort” . In 1526, the founder of the Mughal Empire, Babor, defeated the last Lodi Sultan, Ibrahim Lodi, in the bloody battle of Panipat. Then he occupied Badalgarh fort and made the Lodi palace his home. Four years later, in 1530, his successor, Humayun, was crowned in that very fort. Many years after that, when Humayun’s son Akbar became the ruler, Agra entered its golden period. He razed the old and ruined fort of Badalgarh to make way for a new fortress. It took 4,000 workers, who devoted their blood, sweat and tears every day for about eight years to complete the majestic monument. Just like the Red Fort of Delhi, the exterior of the Agra Fort is also covered in red sandstone brought from Dholpur district in Rajasthan. It had four gates, all of them richly decorated. The Agra Fort was also called ‘Akbarabad’ or Qila-i-Akbari during his reign. In 1605, Akbar’s son Jahangir was also crowned in this fort and later on when his grandson Shah Jahan came to power, he changed the fort’s decorations according to his own taste. But Shah Jahan didn’t stay in the Agra Fort for the entire duration of his reign. In 1638, he left the old Mughal capital and moved to Shahjahanabad, his new capital, in Delhi (‘Old Delhi’ today), where he built the Red Fort as the heart of his new capital and imperial residence.
Jahangir Mahal is the most noteworthy building inside the Agra Fort. It is also one of the first buildings to greet the eyes when one enters the Agra fort through Amar Sigh Gate. The enormous Jahangir Mahal was built by the Mughal Emperor Akbar for his son. However, the Rajput wives of Akbar used it as their principal zenana (a palace for women belonging to the royal household). It also served as the main residence of Nur Jahan, wife of Jahangir. This marvellous structure was built using a combination of Rajput and Islamic architectural styles. White marble and red stones adorn its walls. As one passes by, curious geometric patterns please the eyes.
Sheesh Mahal is one of the most fabulous structures inside the Agra Fort. This structure was one of the many additions made by Shah Jahan during his reign in Agra between 1631 to 1640 AD. The reason why this enchanting structure is called the “Sheesh Mahal” or the “Palace of Mirrors” is because of the wide use of mirrors both in its walls and ceilings, which lend a sparkling effect to the palace when it is illuminated. It is indeed a work of perfection. Its walls, arches and ceilings are adorned with exquisite irregular geometric and floral patterns. The ceiling of the entrance of Sheesh Mahal is adorned with aesthetic Persian motifs and designs. This glamorous palace also served the purpose of an imperial bath. It is also famous for having extra-thick walls which were built to keep the interiors cool and pleasant.
Tomb of Mariam uz Zamani
Mariam uz Zamani was the Queen consort of the Mughal Emperor Akbar. Her original name was Jodha Bai. She was a Rajput princess. She received her title “Mariam uz Zamani” ( Mary of the Age) after giving birth to Jahangir. After she died in 1623, her son Jahangir built a marvellous tomb, remembering his late mother. The tomb is just next to the Tomb of Akbar the Great, the only nearest of all the tombs of his other wives. One of the stunning points of this structure is that the front and back of the tomb looks exactly the same. The setting around this popular tourist site in Agra is also very calm and serene.
The Mehtab Bagh garden was the last of eleven Mughal-built gardens along the Yamuna opposite the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort. The first Mughal Emperor Babor built this enchanting garden. It was then created as “a moonlit pleasure garden”. White plaster walkways, airy pavilions, pools and fountains were also created as part of the garden, with fruit trees and narcissus. At present, it is regarded as the ideal location for viewing the Taj Mahal.
Agra Jame Masjid
In 1648, Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan built a mosque dedicating it to his beloved daughter Jahanara Begum. This mosque is known as Agra Jame Masjid. It is one of the largest mosques in India. Everything about this mosque is so surreal and enchanting that it has become one of the most visited tourist destinations of Agra. Its art and design is a pure example of perfection. Many even go as far as comparing it to Baitul Mamor, a mosque situated in heaven. It was constructed using red sandstone accompanied with marble decorations. A noticeable feature of this marvellous mosque is its central portal, which consists of Persian inscriptions in white marble inlaid with black stone.
Chini Ka Rauza
Afzal Khan Shirazi was a Persian scholar and a famous poet. He served as the Prime Minister of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. After he died in 1639, Shah Jahan commissioned this funerary monument known as Chini Ka Rauza. It is situated just 1 kilometre north of Itmad-Ud-Daulah Tomb. The tomb is built facing the city of Mecca. Chini Ka Rauza Mausoleum is said to be the first of its kind, which was built using glazed tiles. It is one of the must-see places in Agra for people of all ages, especially history lovers.