The Mughals: Agra Fort

My fascination for Mughals and the architectural heritage that they left must have begun way back in 1977 when I was two years old  🙂 and my parents on a visit to Agra clicked me with the “TAJ MAHAL” as backdrop. With a grandfather to tell the tales of Indian History, a wonderful history teacher in primary school and five years spent in architecture college, my liking towards history and architecture grew without me even realizing the process.

The Mughals occupied a large part of India with their empire stretching to the present day Afghanistan with only few rulers like Nizam of Hyderabad, King of Mysore not conceding to Mughals . Their buildings are spread all over India and Pakistan. These structures survive in quite  well condition even after  four centuries. Mughals were the last rulers before the Britishers occupied India completely.

Agra Fort or the Lal Qilla was originally a brick fort of Rajputs known as ‘ BADALGARH’ which was won and lost many times before finally being conquered by Mughal King Akbar in 1556. It was rebuilt using the red sandstone and Akbar occupied it since 1558 making Agra the capital of Mughal empire.The fort ramparts housed about 500 buildings inside it of which few were taken down by Akbar’s grandson ShahJahan to build white marble buildings and remaining were demolished by Britishers to make plain ugly barracks.

Fort WallsSemi circular in plan, it took almost 8yrs to complete. With double ramparts, octagonal bastions, four enormous gates and 70 ft high walls the fort was impregnable. The moats, they say, had crocodiles and even lions(how these did not attack each other….only the Mughals might know)

Though it was not an easy task to penetrate the fort but extra precaution for safety was taken in the form of small hidden gaps in walls from where arrows could be shot without exposing the archer. These holes in wall were also used to pour hot oil if anybody dared to climb.

The largest bastion has a ‘Jharokha’ the Muthamman Burj or a watch platform with white canopy which was used by the emperor to glimpse the morning sun.

Inside the fort there are palaces of Emperor Jehangir and Emperor Shah Jahan, the son and grandson of  Emperor Akbar. Outside the Jehangir’s palace is kept a huge stone bathtub which was brought from some other palace of Jehangir (now in ruins) by then British army officer for sake of preserving it. Most of the buildings are in red sandstone but those in white marble were made during the reign of Shah Jahan.

Meena Bazar:

Muslim Royal Women like us mere mortal women were fond of shopping perfumes, delicate fabrics, bangles, exotic spices, gems ….well almost everything! But they did not roam about in streets hailing a ‘rickshaw’ or a ‘palaki-wallah (palaki was a curtained seat atop two long wooden poles which was lifted by four men on their shoulders or fixed on elephant backs to carry royal women for travel), instead the whole bazaar was brought to them inside their palace for leisurely shopping.

A special courtyard, which now is a lawn, was used for the purpose. It has covered galleries on three sides. The roof above the galleries has two large stone seats, one of marble and another of touchstone where the king held private audience with his ministers some times. The courtyard was used by sellers to display their goods which sometimes included fine horses too. Different days were allocated for various groups of materials.

Diwan-e-aam:

Diwan-e-aam or the Court for commons is where the king addressed the public grievances. A pillared courtyard with a raised decorated platform for the king, must have been quite beautiful if the remaining embellishments on walls and ceiling are any indication. The famed ‘Peacock Throne‘ was placed on the raised platform for the king.

Khwaab-Gah or the Dream place ( Royal Bedroom of Emperor Shah Jahan):

The white marble buildings were added by  Shah Jahan, the grandson of Mughal Emperor Akbar. These buildings were decorated with elaborate inlay work of precious and semi precious stone and mirrors. Small niches along all walls were used to light lamps. A rose-water fountain spread the faint aroma in the room for the king and queen to enjoy their married bliss. A courtyard outside the room was used for the performances by dancer girls.

It was in this bedroom that Emperor Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his own son Aurangzeb, who rebelled and deposed the king to shift the Mughal capital to Delhi. Delhi, since then has been  the seat of power of the country. Emperor Shah Jahan spent his remaining years mourning the death of his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal for whom he built the mausoleum Taj Mahal which was in direct sight of line of his bedroom.

Some Architectural features:

Shah Jahan also added a mosque of white marble called the Moti Masjid which is still in use hence casual visitors are not allowed in the sacred area without prior permission of city authorities. The detailed stone work is a combination of Hindu and Islamic art throughout the fort. The Rajputs of Rajasthan were allies of Emperor Akbar and hence artisans and stone from Rajasthan were extensively used for construction. Lime-mortar was used as fixing agent. The system of interlocking the stones increased the stability of the structure.

The city:

Agra is in the state of Uttar Pradesh in northern India and is well-connected by road and rail. Chartered flights ply only during tourist season from October to March. Agra is famous for the TAJ MAHAL symbol of eternal love. Hotels to fit all types of budgets are aplenty. The untidiness of some areas of city are a black mark on the otherwise this historic city. Agra Fort is a world heritage UNESCO site.

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