As a student of history, I found myself snoring through most of my lessons in school. Especially the chapters on the long and laborious Indian past. There was so much packed into those text books in the middle years of high school, it was a task keeping track of events dating from 75000 years ago. The Harappans, the Vedic culture, the Guptas, the Cholas, the Mauryas, the Rajputs, the Chalukyas, the Pallavas, the Pandavas, the Marathas, the Afghans, the Baluchis, the turks…whew I was a nervous wreck before exam time! One needed to have the memory of an elephant to respond with exact dates of all the wars fought and not to mention the names of all the Kings, emperors and their entourage to get a pass grade. With the Mughals it was a bit different for me. Their lineage was far simpler to comprehend as was their accession and decline. I found myself bewitched by all the tales of betrayal and passion, the art and architecture that flourished during their rule.
A couple of years ago on a trip to Agra to see the Taj Mahal, I was greatly enamored of the Agra Fort that was home to 6 generations of Moghul emperors. There’s so much to see and discover here, you need at least 4 days to explore and experience the stories the locals tell you. Here are my impressions from a short visit of just 6 hours.
The Agra Fort in its earliest form was built from bricks held by some Rajput Kings before the first Moghul emperor Babur captured it. Between three battles and two generations of Mughals over the next 30 years, the fort served both as a palace and arsenal to all those who seized it.
The fort was in a ruined state by the time Akbar captured it back for the Mughals. He rebuilt the fort cladding it in red Sandstone. The fort is 2.5 kms long. There’s no way you can see it all in a couple of hours.
This is the part that Shah Jehan rebuilt when he was crowned emperor after his father Jehangir died. He rebuilt a large part of the fort in marble. It served as his palace whilst overseeing the work on the Taj Mahal.
This is a view of the public hall where the Emperor held court. The fort faces the Yamuna river (currently in a toxic and wasteful condition). The fort is a UNESCO Heritage site.
This is the spot Shah Jehan perhaps breathed his last, staring at the mosque he built for his beloved Mumtaz Mahal. The Taj Mahal cost him his life. Legend has it that his son Aurangzeb was unhappy about his father’s obsessions and blamed him for bankruptcy of the Sultanate. Reason why he killed his older brother and deposed his father, holding him captive here until he died.
I was fascinated by the patterns and designs on the Sandstone. A fusion of Islamic motifs and Rajput flair. The Sandstone was imported from an area in Rajasthan. A million workers or maybe tens of millions were involved in building and decorating this marvelous fort.
A view of the Taj Mahal from one of the balconies. Made me wonder what the landscape must look like in 1556. Deer and tigers instead of cars and buses?
Could this be the space where Shah Jehan sat on the famed peacock throne with the Kohinoor diamond embedded in it? The space that saw Nader Shah steal it in the dark of the night to take it back to Turkey?
The exquisite inlay work that can be seen in the Taj Mahal is also visible here. The precious stones and gold inlay might be missing but the floral motifs seemed to be indestructible.
Legend has it that Shah Jehan cut off the hands of the workers who built the Taj Mahal. The local guide who accompanied us believed it and added that the monuments had left the city of Agra and its people impoverished for the rest of their lives.
It is said that the decline of Aurangzeb paved the way for many looters and local tribes to desecrate the monument before the British took over to help themselves to what was left over.
According to the Guide who accompanied us, this area was laden with Gold leaf on the reliefs. These were melted and stolen by all those who invaded the fort after the decline of the Moghul empire.
When I looked up at one of the domes, I was at once amazed and shocked. Amazed to see the detail of decoration on the dome and shocked to note the burn marks all over. Pity no one cared or offered protection with the fall of a glorious empire.
Besides the plundering of rubies, emeralds and gold, the monument was subject to further defacing in modern times when tourists without any prohibitions scribbled, scratched and illicitly filled the walls with graffiti.
According to the guide who accompanied us, this hole in the marble arch was from a bullet of a rifle. The British had turned the fort into army barracks upon the fall of the Moghul Empire. The parrot is a common leitmotif in Moghul frescoes. I was pleased to see the real one