Location: 58-km From Mathura, Uttar Pradesh
Founded By: Badal Singh
Established In: 1475
Main Attractions: Taj Mahal, Agra Fort
Badal Singh established the city of Taj in 1475. Agra finds mention in the Mahabharata as Agraban. This city in those days was considered to be the sister city of Mathura that was more prominent than Agraban. Agra came into its own when the Lodhi Kings chose this place beside the Yamuna to be their capital city. Sikander Lodhi made Agra his capital but Babar defeated the Lodhis to capture not only Agra but also laid the foundation of the Mughal Empire.
The coming of Babar heralded a new era that was to see Agra at its zenith during the reign of Akbar, Jehangir and Shah Jahan. It was during Akbar's period that Agra became the center of art, culture and commerce and learning. This trend reached its height when Shah Jahan became the ruler.
In the mid 16th century and earlier 17th century Agra witnessed a frenzied building activity and it was during this time when the symbol of love Taj Mahal was built. The buildings made during this era were purely in the contemporary Mughal style and of very high quality which is still reflected in what ever monuments remain in Agra.The narrow lanes of Agra filled with aroma of Mughlai cuisine, the craftsman who are busy in crating master pieces with their skill all remind of the Mughal royalty which this city had once experienced. Today whatever remains, has become a major tourist attraction, which has taken Agra again to the heights of glory but this time as a major tourist destination of India.
Taj Mahal: Even as the world is caught in the skirmishes of War & peace, Nuclear and Non-Nuclear; Taj has stood as the epitome of love. This extravagant monument of love is one of the most visited and most photographed places in the world. Shah Jahan built Taj Mahal in the memory of his beautiful wife Mumtaz Mahal. Taj Mahal was the culmination point of Indo-Persian architecture. The Mughals Emperor was always fond of constructing monuments. Perhaps they knew that they would be gone but these structures will remind the world of their grandeur. Shah Jahan was particularly fond of building. He built the city of Shah Jahanabad, which today is called the old Delhi. He loved construction more than that he loved his wife. Mumtaz Mahal as the name indicates, her beauty is compared with the light of heaven. She died while giving birth to her fourteenth child. Shah Jahan was so shocked by her death that his hair turned Grey over night.
The Actual Tomb
The Taj Mahal is situated more than 900-ft. (275 m.) away from the entrance at the opposite end of the garden. Towering almost 200 ft. (76m.) in height, the tomb stands on its own marble plinth, which rests on a red sandstone platform that serves to level the land as it slopes to the river. Four tall minarets rise up from the corners of the white marble plinth. They taper to a majestic height of 138 ft and are crowned with eight windowed cupolas.
The Main Gateway
The marble mausoleum is square in plan with chamfered corners. Each facade of the tomb is composed of a grand wan framed by bands of calligraphy. The doorways inside these swans are also adorned with calligraphy. The wan is flanked on both sides by small double arches one over the other. They are rectangular while the arched alcoves of equal size at the angles of the tomb are semi-octagonal. Each section in the facade is well demarked on both sides by attached pilasters which rising from the plinth level of the tomb rise above the frieze and are crowned by beautiful pinnacles with lotus buds and finials. The pinnacles ornament the superstructure and help along with the other features to break the skyline gracefully.
The Main Gateway: Shah Jahan traveled from the fort to the tomb by boat. Court histories describe his arrival on the riverside of the monument and his ascent to its terrace by way of the embankment. This approach, however, was reserved for the emperor and members of his party. Others passed through a large courtyard, a jilokhana to enter the main gateway on the south. This courtyard was a place where travelers halted. Here, also, the poor were provided with food and shelter, and on every death anniversary of Mumtaz, vast sums were distributed in charity.
Mosque & rest house
Gate to Paradise: In this courtyard stand the main gateway to the Taj and its gardens, a massive portal that opens to the south. Detached gateways were long a traditional feature of Muslim architecture and could be found fronting tombs and mosques throughout the East. Symbolically to the Muslim, such an entranceway was the gate to Paradise. Metaphysically, it represented the transition point between the outer world of the senses and the inner world of the spirit.
Structure: Made of red sandstone, this 150 ft. wide and nearly 100 ft. high, gateway consists of a lofty central arch with double storied wings on either side. Octagonal towers are attached to its corners that are surmounted by broad impressive open domed kiosks. The most important feature of the gateway is a series of 11 attached chhatris (umbrellas) with marble cupolas, flanked by pinnacles, above the central portal on the north and south sides. A heavy door at the base is made from 8 different metals and studded with knobs. Inside are countless rooms with hallways that wind and divide in such apparent abandon that they seem intentionally built to confuse; perhaps they were, for they have remained unused for three centuries and their purpose has long confounded the experts. Within the archway of this majestic entrance, there is a large chamber with a vaulted roof.
Decoration: The gateway is richly embellished. Of particular note are the floral arabesques fashioned from gemstones and inlaid in white marble, which decorate the spandrels of the arches. Also impressive are the inlaid black marble inscriptions that frame the central vaulted portal or wan. These passages are excerpts from the Koran, which is considered by Muslims to be the word of God as revealed to Mohammed. It is here that Shah Jehan's calligraphers have performed an amazing optical trick: the size of the lettering that runs up and over the arch appears to be consistent from top to bottom. This illusion was created by gradually heightening the size of the letters as their distance from the eye increased; from the ground the dimensions seem the same at every point. This effect is used with equal success on the main doorway of the Taj itself.
Mosque: On either side of the Taj Mahal are buildings of red sandstone. The one to the west is a Mosque. It faces towards Mecca and is used for prayer. Before we have a look at the mosque, let us take note of a small stone enclosure along the western boundary wall where the well of the Mosque is located. This greenery shaded structure, measuring 19 ft. by 6.5-ft. marks the site where the remains of Mumtaz Mahal were deposited when first brought to Agra. From this temporary grave they were removed to their present place of internment in the mausoleum.
On the outside the Mosque has pieta dura work twining across its spandrels. The platform in front of the Mosque is of red sandstone. A highly polished small marble piece is so fitted that it serves as a mirror and one can see the mausoleum reflected in it. The floor is of a material that is exceedingly fine and sparkling and appears velvet red in shade. On that 539 prayer carpets have been neatly marked out with black marble. All over there is exquisite calligraphy and the name Allah and quotations from scriptures inscribed. The roof supports 4 octagonal towers and 3 elegant domes. On either side of the Mosque, to the north and south, and set along and upon the enclosure wall, there are two towers.
The Rest House: On the east side of the Taj stands the twin of the Mosque, a parallel structure also made of red sandstone, referred to as the jawab, or "answer". Because it faced away from the Mecca, it was never used for prayer. Its presence there has always been something of an enigma. Was it a caravansary for pilgrims, or a meeting hall before the faithful gathered before prayer? More p laudable is the theory that its purpose was purely architectural, to counterbalance the Mosque and preserve the symmetry of the entire design on the platform.
The jawab is similar to the Mosque. However, it does not contain the accessories, which go with a mosque, and, instead of Koranic inscriptions, there are beautiful flower designs and other decoration effectively done in white marble on the red sandstone background. On the floor between the building and the mausoleum there is a full size reproduction of the pinnacle adorning the Taj. This gives some idea of the true proportions (31-ft.) of what from below appears to be a tiny thing.
The Taj Gardens and the Ingenious Water Devices: A green carpet of garden, a Persian garden, runs from the main gateway to the foot of the Taj. Babur, the first Mughal emperor, who also brought with him the Persian infatuation with flowers and fruit, birds and leaves, symmetry and delicacy, introduced such gardens to India. Unlike other Oriental gardens - especially those of the Japanese, who learned to accentuate existing resources rather than formalize them - the Persian garden was artificially contrived, unabashedly man-made, based on geometric arrangements of nature without any attempt at a "natural" look.
Like Persian gardeners, landscape artists at the Taj attempted to translate the perfection of heaven into terrestrial terms by following certain formulas. In Islam, four is the holiest of all numbers - most arrangements of the Taj are based on that number or its multiples - and the gardens were thus laid out in the quadrate plan. Two marble canals studded with fountains and lined with cypress trees (symbolizing death) cross in the center of the garden dividing it into four equal squares.
The mausoleum, instead of occupying the central point (like most Mughal mausoleums), stands majestically at the north end just above the river. Each of the four quarters of the garden has been sub-divided into 16 flowerbeds by stone-paved raised pathways. At the center of the garden, halfway between the tomb and the gateway, stands a raised marble lotus-tank with a cussed border. The tank has been arranged to perfectly reflect the Taj in its waters.
A clear, unobstructed view of the mausoleum is available from any spot in the garden. Fountains and solemn rows of cypress trees only adorn the north-south water canal, lest the attention of the viewer would be diverted to the sides !! This shows how carefully the aesthetic effect of the water devices and the garden were calculated. The deep green cypress trees with their slender rising shapes and curving topmost crests are mirrored in the water while between their dark reflections shines the beauty of the immortal Taj.
The Water Devices: The architect e conduits, designed a clever system to procure water for the Taj through underground pipes. Water was drawn from the river by a series of purs (manual system of drawing water from a water body using a rope and bucket pulled by bullocks) and was brought through a broad water channel into an oblong storage tank of great dimensions. It was again raised by a series of thirteen purs worked by bullocks.
Except for the ramps, the other features of the whole water system have survived. An over-head water-channel supported on massive arches carried water into another storage tank of still greater dimensions. Water was finally raised by means of fourteen purs and passed into a channel which filled three supply tanks, the last of which had pipe mouths in its eastern wall. The pipes descended below and after travelling underground crossed into the Taj enclosure. One pipeline runs directly towards the mosque to supply the fountains in the tanks on the red sandstone plinth below the marble structure. Copper pipes were used for separate series of fountains in the north-south canal, lotus pond and the canal around it.
An ingenious method was devised to ensure uniform and undiminished water pressure in the fountains, irrespective of the distance and the outflow of water. A copper pot was provided under each fountain pipe - which was thus connected to with the water supply only through the pot. Water first fills the pot and then only rises simultaneously in the fountains. The fountains are thus controlled by pressure in the pots and not pressure in the main pipe. As the pressure in the pots is uniformly distributed all the time, it ensures equal supply of water at the same rate in all the fountains.
The main supply of the water was however obtained through earthenware pipes. One such main was discovered under the bed of the western canal. The pipe is 9" in diameter and has been embedded in masonry at a depth of 5 feet below the level of the paved walk. Evidently, the Mughal water expert was a master of his art and successfully worked out the levels in relation to the volume of water to ensure its unobstructed supply for centuries. He anticipated no repair work and therefore made no provision for it; hence the extraordinary depth at which the pipe was sunk.
The garden is irrigated by the overflowing of canals. The north-south canal has inlets of water through fountains. The east west received its water through an interconnection with the north-south canal. Thus the quarters near the canals received an adequate supply of water and could be used for growing flower-plants, which would not obscure the general view, while the distant quarters got a smaller supply of water and were suitable only for tall trees.
Agra Red Fort: Built principally as a military establishment by Akbar in 1565, the red sandstone Agra fort was partially converted into a palace during Shah Jahan's time. Though Akbar built the principle structure his grandsons made many more additions.
Itmad-Ud-Daulah's Tomb: This tomb belongs to the father of Nur Jahan, Ghias-ud-Din Beg. He was the Wajir or the Chief Minister of Emperor Jehangir. Nur Jahan built this white marble tomb between 1622 and 1628. The tomb may not be as mammoth as the Taj but the inlay designs and carvings are no less than Taj if not more. The delicate marble latticework in the passages allows the light to enter the interiors. Nur Jahan for Jehangir in Lahore built a similar tomb. This tomb was the first complete marble Mogul structure.
Chini-Ka-Rauza: A tomb of glazed tiles is a memorial dedicated to poet-scholar and later the Prime Minister of Shah Jahan, Allama Afzel Khal Mullah Shukrullah of Shiraz.
Jama Masjid Or Jami Masjid: Built by Shah Jahan in 1648, the main gate of this mosque has inscription written on it that Jahanara Begum built it. She was the favorite daughter of Shah Jahan and was imprisoned with him. The absence of minarets and the shape of the dome give sit a distinguished character.
Sikandra: Four kilometer from Agra is the mausoleum of Akbar. Akbar himself started construction of this beautiful monument . This structure has a perfect blending of Hindu, Christian , Islamic, Buddhist, and Jain motifs.
HOW TO GET THERE
Mariyam Tomb: This tomb is dedicated to the wife of Akbar. The red sand stone tomb was built in 1611 and is on the Delhi- Agra highway. The carvings on the tomb of Mariyam-us-Zamani are worth giving a closer look.
Fatehpur Sikri: 37 kms from Agra is built a city predominantly in Red Sandstone called Fatehpur Sikri. The Mughal Emperor Akbar built this town. He had planned this city as his capital but shortage of water compelled him to abandon the city and within 20 years the capital of Mughals was shifted to Lahore. Fatehpur Sikri was built during 1571 and 1585.
Ram Bagh: When Babur came to India he laid the first Mughal gardens 500 m North of the Chini Ka Rauza. This well laid gardens are not even a fraction of what they used to be. It will need lots of imagination to picture how these gardens must have looked in 1558.
Mathura: Krishna, one of the incarnations of Lord Vishnu was born here. Mathura, which is one of the major Pilgrimage for the Hindus is 58 Kms from Agra. It comes before Agra if travelling from Delhi. Today the small town of Lord Krishna has grown and the place has a population of almost 3 lakh people.
National Chambal Wildlife Sanctuary: The National Chambal Sanctuary, located in Etawah, near Agra is spread over an area of 635 sq. kms.
Air: Agra is one of the hottest tourist destinations in India and all facilities have been provided for the easy access to this place. It has its own airport that connects Agra with all the major places in India. The Agra airport or the Kheria airport has all the major domestic airlines having their services to this place of the Taj.
PLACES TO STAY
Rail: Agra is a major railway station with almost all the trains to south India, Mumbai and many trains to Calcutta stopping here. The “Palace visits the city on Wheels" .The Rajdhani and Shatabdi trains have also their stoppage in Agra. The city is well connected by trains to almost every corner of the nation.
Road: Agra has the National Highway Numbers 2, 3, and 11 passing through it. So the premier tourist destination of India is also well linked by bus services to other places in the State as well as outside the state. The state transports have deluxe as well as ordinary bus services for the place. There are conducted tours which take tourist not only to Agra, but the near by tourist spots too.
Agra is one of the major tourist destination, where international tourist inflow is also quite good. So the options of luxurious accommodations are plenty. If you are a budget travelers, there are numerous tourist lodges as well mid-range hotels too