Part II: Time And Timelessness - Agra Fort

Apologies everybody. I've been very tardy about updating my blog. The past few weeks have been so busy - work, home, work, home - that all I could do at the end of each day was fall exhausted into bed and sleep like the dead. Well here I am, on a lazy Sunday (oh! Its been so long since I had one), nothing much to do except update my blog.
Our next stop was at the Agra Fort. Built of the red sandstone so typical of  the Mughals ,this timeless piece of architecture truly deserves its status as a World Heritage Monument. It has been home to the greatest Mughul emperors at some point or other. Babur lived here for a while after defeating Ibrahim Lodi. Humayun was crowned here. Akbar rebuilt the fort and declared Agra his capital. The fort as we know it today was built by Shahjahan.

Amar Singh Gate
We entered the fort via the Amar Singh Gate and engaged a guide. A word of advice to those who are not so aware about the Fort's history. It is a good idea to engage a guide. They charge about Rs. 400 for a full guided tour. Bear in mind however, that their accounts may not be historically accurate. So, if you're serious about learning the Fort's history, do some reading before or after your visit. If you're interested only in soaking up the history and ambiance of the place, then the guide's account would be more than enough. Peppered as it is with folk lore and legend, it makes for a romantic hearing.

As we entered the fort area, we crossed a deep moat. The guide informed us that during the reign of the Mughals, there was a 'double moat'. One filled with water and crocodiles and another that was forested and had wild animals to provide a double safety cordon. I have heard about the water moat of course. Most forts have it. But it was the first time I heard about the wild animals moat. And I think it is what historians would call 'an interpolation' although it sounded very grand!

Jahangiri Mahal
The Jahangiri Mahal inside the fort, is a beautiful palace made of red sandstone and used to be the main residence of Akbar's  Rajput wives. Architecturally speaking, the palace incorporates Central Asian design features with Rajasthani styles. The guide however, spiced it up with a story of how Akbar, being of a secular bent of mind, used Hindu, Muslim and Christian features in the construction of this palace. He added that Akbar had a Hindu, Muslim and Christian wife and probably wanted to please all three of them. He demonstrated it by showing us the Chatris sitting atop slender, elegant columns, symbolising Rajput / Hindu influence. Then he showed us the arches typical of Islamic construction and finally, a Magen David inlaid in white marble on the elaborate red sandstone gateway into the palace. He did not realise that the Magen David is a  Jewish symbol.

See the 3 Magen-like stars at the top?
While I knew all about Akbar's interest in world religions and the Din-i-Ilahi and also about his Hindu wives, this was the first time I was hearing about a Christian wife. Perhaps there was some Portuguese connection here? After all they had started arriving in India around this time. The guide told us that the Christian wife's name was Mariam. When I looked it up, it said that Akbar married a Rajput princess called Harka Bai who became Mariam-uz-Zamani. She was the mother of Jahangir and was also known as Jodha Bai. So it appears that Akbar did not have a Christian wife after all.

What about the Magen David then? Not much information online. Except a blog reference that said it is not a star of David, but a Hindu symbol. The circle in the middle of the star is an important distinguishing feature. I really must check out these facts with my history prof.

Jahangir's Hauz
Pic courtesy: Flickr
Right outside the Jahangiri Mahal is a very interesting thing - Jahangir's bath tub or Hauz. I kid you not! Take a look at the picture. It looks like a large cup without a saucer! It was made in 1611 and is hewed out of a single piece of stone. It is 5 feet high and 8 feet in diameter at the rim and has Persian inscriptions on its outer rim. There are even small steps leading up into the bath tub. Only a few of the steps survive today. The guide, adding his bit of garnish, said that it was covered in gold foil during its hey day. These royals sure had life easy. I wish I had a bath tub like this! Although perhaps it may not be entirely practical. I have an 8' X 5' bathroom and water is rationed. And given that I have a 'balti bath' daily and which I like very much, I may perhaps drown in such a large tub!

Moving ahead, we visited the Mussamman Burj where Shahjahan was imprisoned. But I will include that in my next post. From this we headed for the Diwan-i-khas or Hall of Private Audience. This had a splendid view of the Yamuna. From a black granite bench on the edge of the terrace, the Taj was visible in the hazy heat of the day. Drawing our attention towards it, the guide asked us to describe how it looked. It was a small, blurry speck in the distance. 'Hold that thought' he said. 

Angoori Bagh
From here we looked over to the enclosed quadrangle of the 'Angoori Bagh'. As the name suggests, it was a vine yard and soil had been brought in specially from Kashmir to grown the grapes. Skirting this, we moved over to the side directly opposite the Diwan-i-khas, passing the Sheesh Mahal where the public were not allowed, and the Ladies Bazaar to the administrative block. From here, the guide asked us if the Taj was still visible and how did it look. Indeed it was still visible and lo! it looked bigger in size than when viewed from the terrace near the Diwan-i-khas. This was an optical illusion he explained. When the Taj is viewed from the balcony of Diwan-i-khas, the river Yamuna is seen winding its way around it. This creates some sort of perspective effect that causes the Taj to look smaller than it actually is. When viewed from farther away, with the Yamuna out of sight, the perspective effect is negated, and the Taj is seen in its actual size. This piece of information did check out when I looked it up. 

Where the Peacock Throne was once housed

Nearing the end of our tour, we approached the Diwan-i-Am or Hall of Public Audience where the Peacock Throne was once housed. It is a large hall with colonnades of arches. The throne room is located a few feet above ground and according to our guide, from here, each of the arched pillars is visible individually. The throne room is connected to the royal chambers and from here the royal ladies could witness the proceedings of the court. The courtyard outside the Diwan-i-Aam has the grave of an Englishman named John Mildenhall, apparently the oldest known European grave in Northern India.

This completed our tour of the fort complex. I emerged feeling all soaked up in  history and legend. If the walls, columns and latticed windows of this fort palace could speak, what would they have said I wonder? Would they have spoken of glory and power? Or the tears, sweat and blood that went into it? Do we know everything there is to know or have we only scratched the surface? I guess we can never be sure. 

PS: All photographs in this post are my own except the one of Jahangir's Hauz.

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19 Responses to Part II: Time And Timelessness - Agra Fort

  1. R. Ramesh says:

    thanks ya...and good post this...

  2. nice account of the memories refreshed; I visited there sometime in 1982.

  3. The questions in the last para set me thinking as it did in you.After I read your post another thought came up.What is it that we are building like these wonderful monuments for the succeeding generations to see and talk about?There are no magnificent temples or forts barring two Akhardhams.We have only the concrete jungles to speak for our artistic,aesthetic and cultural inclinations.

  4. Deepa says:

    Ramesh: Welcome to my blog. Hope you like it.

    Kushalji: You should make one more visit. And take Krishanu with you. I'm sure you'll have many stories to tell after that!

    Partha: What you say is true. Aesthetics in architecture seems to be a thing of the past. The Akshardhams are really awful if you ask me. Mayawati is building massive Buddhist monuments in Noida and Lucknow. Let us see if it measures up. Also, Luyten's Delhi maybe considered as 'modern' architecture I suppose. Being built in late 19th and 20th centuries. But it was built by the British so not sure if it technically qualifies.

  5. Rachna says:

    You are absolutely right about guides. Wherever we go, we engage one. It does make it much more lively to explore the monument. As you rightly pointed out, they not always historically accurate. :)

  6. Sandhya says:

    The three stars in a muslim building is interesting! I remember a guide showing me a sculpture of lotus in the ceiling of Jumma masjid in Delhi...he said the some Hindu labourer must have done that without the knowledge of the King (garnish?!).

    I remembered reading about Diwan i aam and Diwan i khas in my school history book!

    You are a good travelogue writer, Deepa! Keep writing!

  7. Arti says:

    When I was in Agra, I visited the Taj Mahal but missed out on this one! I am glad to have seen it through your eyes today :)

  8. R. Ramesh says:

    hey blog is gr8 ya:) will keep coming

  9. Deepa says:

    Rachna: If you are visiting the Jodhpur fort, you should definately engage a guide. They are pretty well informed. Plus the fort is run by a private trust of the royal family. So the sort of chaos you might see at Agra Fort is minimised.

    Sandhya: Thanks. I try to make my post interesting so that the reader sees beyond the facts into the history. Don't know if that makes sense.

    Arti & Ramesh: Thanks!

  10. Good post! I remember the Agra Fort very vaguely- visiting it during my 7th standard with a pesky younger sister. Sometimes the legends overtake the historical facts..! BTW grapes require a certain kind of climate and soil - didn't know Kashmir or Agra could support their growth.

  11. Deepa says:

    Meera: God knows. The guide was pretty firm in saying that it was a vineyard. And even went so far as to say that Jahangir's wine was made of grapes harvested from Angoori Bagh. Maybe 600 years back the climate was more favourable for growing grapes.

  12. Deepa: Krishanu and Suniti have visited Taj without me :( when I was posted in Chennai.

  13. Deepa: Krishanu and Suniti have visited Taj without me :( when I was posted in Chennai.

  14. Sandhya says:

    The three stars in a muslim building is interesting! I remember a guide showing me a sculpture of lotus in the ceiling of Jumma masjid in Delhi...he said the some Hindu labourer must have done that without the knowledge of the King (garnish?!).

    I remembered reading about Diwan i aam and Diwan i khas in my school history book!

    You are a good travelogue writer, Deepa! Keep writing!

  15. nice account of the memories refreshed; I visited there sometime in 1982.

  16. Joseph says:

    Valuable information. I successfully used your site as a resource for a university project. Thanks for sharing

    Kitchen Benchtops

  17. Deepa says:

    Hi Joseph. I'm thrilled that this post was useful to a student!! But I hope that you double checked the facts - as I have already mentioned, some of the stuff the guide told us was just legend.

  18. Truly comprehensive post about Agra fort... filled up with valuable information... Bigger photographs would have been a delight...


  19. Deepa says:

    @Destination Unknown: Thanks. And sorry about the photographs. This post was written when I was using a different blog template and 'small' size worked well enough in the final viewing. Didnt realise that changing the template had altered how the pictures look. Even their placement has changed!! I've rectified the problem with this post. Hope you will be able to view the photos more comfortably now.