Taj Mahal - Agra


Taj Mahal, the ultimate symbol of love, was finished in 1648 by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in the memory of his queen Mumtaz Mahal. Although that’s her popular name, her actual name was Arjumand Bano Begum.
After her death in 1631, her mortal remains were temporarily buried in the Zainabad garden. Six months later, her body was transferred to the crypt of the main tomb of the Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal is the mausoleum of both Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan. Both their actual tombs are under the ground. The current ones are replicas built above the actual ones. Islamic tradition prohibits walking over tombs, and so the precaution.

The Taj Mahal stands on the right bank of the Yamuna river at a point where it takes a sharp turn and flows eastwards. Once you enter the main gate, you can view the Taj from a distance – it looks like its floating, almost surreal. As you walk ahead, on the second terrace of the Taj you’ll find a square garden, with side pavilions. It is divided into four quarters by broad shallow canals of water, with wide walkways on the sides.

The gate is a mix of red sandstone and marble carvings. The main tomb of the Taj is basically square with chamfered corners. The minarets lean outward, a precaution taken by the Afghani Mughals. They were used to earthquakes where their ancestors came from, and thought that in such a scenario the minarets should fall away from the Taj and not towards it. To the west of the Taj is a red sandstone mosque and on the east, a Mehman-Khana, or a rest house. But as the Taj is a mausoleum, and it is forbidden to stay near one, nobody has ever occupied this building.

The Taj Mahal is best known for its polychrome inlay art, within and without the building. The marble screens – looking like a network of marble carvings – adorn many a wall and a window. The inlay work using precious stones and jewels were done by artisans from Rajasthan. There are groups in Rajasthan who are descendants of the workers who helped build the Taj, and they still continue their humble work.

The land where the Taj Mahal was built used to belong to the Kachhwahas of Ajmer in Rajasthan. The land was acquired from them in lieu of four havelis. A network of wells was laid along the river to support the work. Skilled personnel such as masons, stonecutters, inlayers, carvers, painters, calligraphers, dome-builders and other artisans were requisitioned from the whole of the empire and also from Central Asia and Iran for the work. White marble was brought from all over the word, including Italy, but the emperor was not interested the white marble now seen on the outside came from Makrana in Rajasthan. Semi-precious stones for inlay ornamentation were brought from remote areas of India, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.

The Taj is open from sunrise to sunset. It is closed on Fridays from noon to 2 p.m. you can choose to view it at night on full moon days and two days before and after it, except for Fridays and the month of Ramzan.

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Agra Fort
The famed Agra Fort now stands as a reminder of the Mughals’ stronghold in north India. A part of the fort is now closed to the public as it is an armament depot. The fort was constructed by the third Mughal emperor Akbar on the remains of an ancient site known as Badalgarh.

Several palaces, wells and a mosque were built in the fort during the Lodi period when they held this fort. And when Babur sent his son Humayun to Agra, he captured the fort and seized many a treasures from the fort. And along with the loot was the ‘Koh-i-noor’ diamond. Babur, Humayun and Sher Shah Suri have all occupied the fort and built reinforcements and buildings within it.

When Akbar arrived in Agra in 1558, he wanted the fort to be rebuilt in red sandstone. About 4,000 builders daily worked on it and it was completed in 8 years. The semi-circular fort, which stands in 94 acres of land, is surrounded by a 21.4m high fortification wall. The climb up the fort itself is deviously built: the path is winding – it was meant to confuse and slow down the enemy should he reach the gates.

There are four gates on its four sides: one of the gates was called “khizri-gate” (the water gate) which opens to the river front, where ghats (quays) were provided. A lot of old buildings were demolished by emperor Shah Jahan as he wanted to build white marble palaces in their place. Moti-Masjid, Nagina-Masjid and Mina-Masjid are the three white marble mosques built by Shah Jahan.

The Delhi-Gate, Akbari-Gate and ‘Bengali-Mahal’, are representative of buildings raised during the reign of Akbar. The British, too, destroyed more than a hundred buildings. The most remembered of the events must be the imprisoning of Shah Jahan, by his own son, Aurangzeb. Shah Jahan survived in a single room, gazing at his beloved Mumtaz’s Taj Mahal for eight years. After his death in 1666, he, too, was buried in the Taj Mahal.
The fort was also under the Jats and the Marathas and finally the British captured it from the latter in 1803.