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A Handbook to Agra and the Taj Sikandra, Fatehpur-Sikri and the Neighbourhood online

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intended for his zenana. They were occupied in the Mutiny days by
the British officers and their families who were shut up in the Fort.

The Anguri Bagh is a very typical specimen of the old Mogul gardens,
laid out in geometrical flower-beds, with four terraced walks
radiating from the central platform and fountain. A stone trellis
formerly enclosed the flower-beds, and probably supported the vines
which gave the garden its name.

Among the many improvements lately made by Lord Curzon in the Fort is
the clearance of the wire-netting fernhouses and bedraggled shrubs
which formerly disfigured the quadrangle. If it cannot be kept up
in the old Mogul style, it is certainly better to leave the garden
uncultivated.

SHISH MAHAL. - On the north side of the Anguri Bagh, close to
the zanana, a passage leads to the _Shish Mahal_, or "palace of
glass." This was the bath of the zanana. The marble slabs of the
floor have been torn up, and the decoration with a kind of glass
mosaic seems to have suffered from clumsy attempts at renovation. A
passage from the Shish Mahal leads to the old water gate.

THE "SOMNATH" GATES. - Before entering the Jahangiri Mahal, on the
opposite side of the Anguri Bagh, we will pause at a corner of the
zanana courtyard, where a small apartment contains an interesting
relic of the Afghan expedition of 1842 - the so-called "Somnath"
gates, taken from the tomb of Mahmud of Ghazni in the capture of that
city by the British. They were the subject of a most extraordinary
archæological blunder by the Governor-General, Lord Ellenborough,
who, in a grandiloquent proclamation, identifying them with the
gates of carved sandalwood which Mahmud according to tradition,
had taken from the celebrated Hindu temple of Somnath in 1025,
announced to the people of India that "the insult of eight hundred
years had been avenged." The gates were conveyed on a triumphal car
through the towns of northern India to the Agra Fort, and deposited
there with great ceremony. As a matter of fact, the wood is deodar,
and not sandalwood, and from the style of the ornament there can be
hardly a doubt that the gates were made at or near Ghazni. One glance
would convince any expert in Oriental archæology that they could not
by any possibility have been the gates of a Hindu temple.

It has been supposed that the original gates were destroyed by fire,
and that these were made to replace them, but there seems to be
considerable doubt whether Mahmud really took away any gates from the
Somnath temple. It certainly would have been unusual for the great
Muhammadan plunderer to have burdened himself with an archæological
relic which, in those days, was not easily convertible into cash.

A horse-shoe which is nailed to the gate is not, as is generally
supposed, a propitiation of the Goddess of Fortune, but a token from
the owner of some sick animal that he would bring an offering to
the shrine in the event of a cure resulting from his visit. This was
an old custom among the Tartars and other nomad tribes, who valued
horses and cattle as their most precious possessions.


The Jahangiri Mahal.

The palace called after Jahangir, the Jahangiri Mahal, is in many
respects the most remarkable building of its class in India. Nothing
could be more striking than the contrast between the extreme elegance,
bordering on effeminacy, of the marble pavilions of Shah Jahan's
palaces, and the robust, virile, yet highly imaginative architecture
of this palace of Akbar; for though it bears Jahangir's name there
cannot be much doubt that it was planned, and partially, if not
completely, carried out by Akbar with the same architects who built
Fatehpur Sikri. It is the perfected type of the style which we see
in process of evolution at Fatehpur, and were it not for the Taj,
we might regret the new element which came into Mogul architecture
with Itmâd-ud-daulah's tomb. Both of these styles, which appear side
by side in the Agra Fort, are intensely typical of the men and the
times which produced them. The one is stamped throughout with the
personality of Akbar, the empire-builder, and distinguished by the
stately solidity of Jain and Hindu architecture. In the other the
native vigour of the earlier Indian styles has been softened by the
cultured eclecticism of Persia and Arabia, for the manly dignity of
Akbar's court had given place to the sensual luxury of Shah Jahan's.

On the river side of the palace there is an octagonal pavilion placed
similarly to the Samman Burj, which is very charming in its fresco
decoration, though the colour has faded very much. It is possibly this
pavilion to which Badâyunî, one of Akbar's biographers, refers when
he describes a Brahmin, named Dêbi, being pulled up the walls of the
castle, sitting on a _charpâî_ (a native bed), till he arrived near
the balcony where the Emperor used to sleep. "Whilst thus suspended
he instructed his Majesty in the secrets and legends of Hinduism,
in the manner of worshipping idols, the fire, the sun, and stars,
and of revering the chief gods of these unbelievers." The priests of
other religions were similarly carried up to converse with Akbar.

Adjoining this is a set of small rooms, known as Akbar's apartments,
which, even in their present dilapidated state, show that they
must have possessed a richness and beauty of decoration inferior to
nothing else in the whole Fort. The dados were decorated with _gesso_
work on a gold ground. The borders are still almost intact, but the
rest of the relief ornament seems to have been wantonly hacked off
out of pure mischief. I believe this is the only example of _gesso_
work in any of Akbar's buildings. The treatment of the upper part
of the walls with the characteristic cuspings of Arabian and Moorish
architects is admirable.

Passing through these, we enter a long room known as the library, in
which a not very successful attempt was made some years ago to restore
the painted decoration. It is to be devoutly hoped that this and other
dangerous experiments of the kind will not be continued, except under
skilled artistic supervision. The restoration of the structural parts
of the palace and of the stone carving is a more easy matter, for
the descendants of the very men who built and carved the palace still
practise their art in Agra and round about. This has been admirably
carried out by the Public Works Department under Lord Curzon's orders.

The outer courtyard, on the riverside, is very interesting, especially
for a very elegant and original porch, in which Saracenic feeling
predominates; but on entering the inner courtyard (Plate VI.) it is
more easy to realize that this Palace is one of the great masterpieces
of Mogul architecture. The beauty of this inner quadrangle is derived
not so much from its fine proportions and rich ornamentation as from
the wonderful rhythmic play of light and shadow, produced by the
bracket form of construction and the admirable disposition of the
openings for doors, windows, and colonnades. The north side of the
quadrangle is formed by a pillared hall, of distinctly Hindu design,
full of the feeling of mystery characteristic of indigenous Indian
styles. The subdued light of the interior adds to the impressiveness
of its great piers stretching their giant brackets up to the roof
like the gnarled and twisted branches of primeval forest trees. A very
interesting point of view can be obtained from the gallery which runs
round the upper part of the hall.

One of Jahangir's wives, a Hindu princess of Jodhpur, hence known
as Jodh Bai, lived in this part of the palace, and the room on the
west side of the quadrangle, surrounded by a number of oblong niches,
is said to have been her temple, in which the images of Hanuman and
other Hindu deities were kept.

On the roof of the Jahangiri Mahal there are two fine pavilions;
also a number of cisterns, which supplied the palace with water. In
the side of one of them there are a number of pipe-holes, lined with
copper, over each of which is a circular stone label inscribed with
the part of the palace to which it gave a supply.


The Salîmgarh.

On the rising ground behind the courtyard of the Dîwan-i-âm there
formerly existed a palace called the Salîmgarh. Before Jahangir's
accession he was known as Prince Salîm, and tradition associates
this palace with him. Fergusson, however, states that in his time an
exquisite fragment of a palace built by Shere Shah, or his son Salîm,
existed here. The Salîmgarh at Delhi is named after the son of Shere
Shah, Salîm Shah Sur, who built it, and there is some doubt as to which
of the two Salîms gave his name to the Salîmgarh at Agra. Akbar's
Fort is known to have been built to replace an older one (known as
the Badalgarh) by Salîm Shah Sur, but it is quite possible that a part
of the palace may have been left, and retained the name of its founder.

The only part of the Salîmgarh which now remains is a large two-storied
pavilion in front of the barracks. The upper half of the exterior
is carved with extraordinary richness. The style of design certainly
indicates the period of the Jahangiri Mahal and Akbar's buildings at
Fatehpur Sikri, rather than Shere Shah's work.


The Jâmi Masjid.

Nearly opposite to the Delhi Gate of the Fort is the Jâmi Masjid, or
Cathedral Mosque, built by Jahanara, Shah Jahan's eldest daughter. It
is in the same style as the splendid mosque built by Shah Jahan
at Delhi, but far inferior in merit. There is a tameness about the
whole design very unusual in the buildings of this epoch. The zig-zag
striping of the domes is decidedly unpleasant.

An inscription over the main archway states that it was completed in
the year 1644 A.D. a cost of five lakhs of rupees.



The Taj

Arjumand Banu Begam the favourite wife of Shah Jahan, is better known
by her other name, Mumtaz Mahal ("the Crown of the Palace"). Her
father was Asaf Khan, who was brother of the Empress Nur Mahal,
Jahangir's wife. She was thus the granddaughter of Itmâd-ud-daulah,
Jahangir's Prime Minister, whose tomb, on the opposite bank of the
river, will be described hereafter.

In 1612, at the age of nineteen years she was married to Shah
Jahan - then Prince Khurram - who, though hardly twenty-one, had already
another wife. This second marriage, however, was a real love-match,
and Mumtaz was her husband's inseparable companion on all his journeys
and military expeditions. Shah Jahan, like his father, allowed his
wife a large share in the responsibilities of government. Like Nur
Mahal, she was famed as much for her charity as for her beauty. Her
influence was especially exercised in obtaining clemency for criminals
condemned to death. She bore him fourteen children, and died in
childbed in 1630, or the second year after Shah Jahan's accession to
the throne, at Burhanpur, whither she had accompanied her husband
on a campaign against Khan Jahan Lodi. The Emperor was overpowered
with grief. For a week he refused to see any of his ministers, or
to transact any business of state. He even contemplated resigning
the throne and dividing the empire among his sons. For two years the
court observed strict mourning. No music or festivities were allowed;
the wearing of jewels, the use of perfumes and luxuries of all kinds
were forbidden. The month of Zikad, in which she died, was observed
as a month of mourning for many years afterwards. The body of Mumtaz
was removed to Agra, and remained temporarily in the garden of the
Taj while the foundations of the building were being laid. It was
then placed in the vault where it now lies. A temporary dome covered
the tomb while the great monument grew up over it.


The building of the Taj.

It was one of those intervals in history when the whole genius of a
people is concentrated on great architectural works, and art becomes
an epitome of the age. For the Taj was not a creation of a single
master-mind, but the consummation of a great art epoch. Since the
time of Akbar the best architects, artists, and art workmen of India,
Persia, Arabia, and Central Asia had been attracted to the Mogul
court. All the resources of a great empire were at their disposal,
for Shah Jahan desired that this monument of his grief should be one
of the wonders of the world. The sad circumstances which attended
the early death of the devoted wife who had endeared herself to the
people might well inspire all his subjects to join in the Emperor's
pious intentions.

According to the old Tartar custom, a garden was chosen as a site
for the tomb - a garden planted with flowers and flowering shrubs,
the emblems of life, and solemn cypress, the emblem of death
and eternity. Such a garden, in the Mogul days, was kept up as a
pleasure-ground during the owner's lifetime, and used as his last
resting-place after his death. The old tradition laid down that it
must be acquired by fair means, and not by force or fraud. So Rajah
Jey Singh, to whom the garden belonged, was compensated by the gift
of another property from the Emperor's private estate. Shah Jahan
next appointed a council of the best architects of his empire for
preparing the design for the building. Drawings of many of the most
celebrated buildings of the world were shown and discussed. It is even
believed that one Geronimo Verroneo, an Italian who was then in the
Mogul service, submitted designs for Shah Jahan's inspection, a fact
which has led many writers into the error of supposing that the Taj,
as completed, was actually designed by him. [8] The design eventually
accepted was by Ustad Isa, who is stated in one account to have been
a Byzantine Turk, and in another a native of Shiraz, in Persia.

The master-builders came from many different parts; the chief
masons from Baghdad, Delhi, and Multan; the dome builders from
Asiatic Turkey and from Samarkand; the mosaic workers from Kanauj
and from Baghdad; the principal calligraphist for the inscriptions
from Shiraz. Every part of India and Central Asia contributed the
materials; Jaipur, the marble; Fatehpur Sikri, the red sandstone;
the Panjab, jasper; China, the jade and crystal; Tibet, turquoises;
Ceylon, lapis lazuli and sapphires; Arabia, coral and cornelian;
Panna in Bundelkund, diamonds; Persia, onyx and amethyst. Twenty
thousand men were employed in the construction, which took seventeen
years to complete. [9] The sarcophagus was originally enclosed by
a fence or screen of gold studded with gems. This was removed in
1642, and replaced by the present exquisite screen of pierced marble
(Plate VII.). The Taj also possessed formerly two wonderful silver
doors. Austin de Bordeaux, a French goldsmith, who was employed by
Shah Jahan in making the celebrated Peacock throne, may possibly
have executed some of this metal-work in the Taj; but there is no
evidence worthy of consideration to support the common Anglo-Indian
belief that he designed or superintended the _pietra dura_, or inlaid
marble decoration of the building, which is entirely of the Persian
school. These silver doors were looted and melted down by the Jâts
in 1764.

Besides the lavish expenditure on the building, lakhs of rupees were
spent in providing the richest of Persian silk carpets, golden lamps,
and magnificent candlesticks. A sheet of pearls, valued at several
lakhs, was made to cover the sarcophagus. This was carried off by the
Amir Husein Ali Khan, in 1720, as part of his share of the spoil of
Agra. The total expenditure, according to native accounts, amounted
to nearly 185 lakhs of rupees.

It is said that Shah Jahan had intended to construct a mausoleum for
himself opposite to the Taj, on the other side of the Jumna and to
connect the two by a great bridge. The project was interrupted and
never completed, owing to the usurpation of Aurangzîb, shortly after
the foundations were laid.


The Intention of the Taj.

The Taj has been the subject of numberless critical essays, but
many of them have missed the mark entirely, because the writers
have not been sufficiently conversant with the spirit of Eastern
artistic thought. All comparisons with the Parthenon or other
classic buildings are useless. One cannot compare Homer with the
Mâhabhâratâ, or Kalîdâs with Euripides. The Parthenon was a temple
for Pallas Athene, an exquisite casket to contain the jewel. The
Taj is the jewel - the ideal itself. Indian architecture is in much
closer affinity to the great conceptions of the Gothic builders
than it is to anything of classic or Renaissance construction. The
Gothic cathedral, with its sculptured arches and its spires pointing
heavenwards, is a symbol, as most Eastern buildings are symbols. The
Mogul artists, being prevented by the precepts of the Muhammadan
religion from attempting sculpture, as understood in Europe, succeeded
in investing their great architectural monuments with an extraordinary
personal character. There is a wonderful personality in the dignity and
greatness of Akbar's tomb; we see the scholar and the polished courtier
in Itmâd-ud-daulah's. But the Taj carries this idea of personality
further than had been attempted in any of the Mogul monuments; it
represents in art the highest development towards individualism,
the struggle against the restraints of ritualism and dogma, which
Akbar initiated in religion.

Every one who has seen the Taj must have felt that there is something
in it, difficult to define or analyze, which differentiates it from
all other buildings in the world. Sir Edwin Arnold has struck the
true note of criticism in the following lines: -


"Not Architecture! as all others are,
But the proud passion of an Emperor's love
Wrought into living stone, which gleams and soars
With body of beauty shrining soul and thought;
... As when some face
Divinely fair unveils before our eyes -
Some woman beautiful unspeakably -
And the blood quickens, and the spirit leaps,
And will to worship bends the half-yielded knees,
While breath forgets to breathe. So is the Taj!"


This is not a mere flight of poetic fancy, but a deep and true
interpretation of the meaning of the Taj. What were the thoughts
of the designers, and of Shah Jahan himself, when they resolved to
raise a monument of eternal love to the Crown of the Palace - Taj
Mahal? Surely not only of a mausoleum - a sepulchre fashioned after
ordinary architectural canons, but of an architectonic ideal,
symbolical of her womanly grace and beauty. Those critics who have
objected to the effeminacy of the architecture unconsciously pay the
highest tribute to the genius of the builders. The Taj was meant to
be feminine. The whole conception, and every line and detail of it,
express the intention of the designers. It is Mumtaz Mahal herself,
radiant in her youthful beauty, who still lingers on the banks of
the shining Jumna, at early morn, in the glowing midday sun, or in
the silver moonlight. Or rather, we should say, it conveys a more
abstract thought; it is India's noble tribute to the grace of Indian
womanhood - the Venus de Milo of the East.

Bearing this in mind, we can understand how foolish it is to formulate
criticisms of the Taj based on ordinary architectural principles
as practised in Europe. Many of these criticisms, which might be
appropriate enough if applied to a modern provincial town hall, are
only silly and impertinent in reference to the Taj. Some are born
tone-deaf, others colour-blind, and there are many who can find beauty
in one particular form or expression of art and in no others. So the
Taj will always find detractors. But whoever tries to understand
the imaginative side of Eastern thought will leave the critics to
themselves, and take unrestrained delight in the exquisitely subtle
rhythm of this marvellous creation of Mogul art.

* * * * *

The gateway of the Taj faces a spacious quadrangle surrounded
by arcades. This is a _caravan serai_, or place where travellers
halted. Here, also, the poor were provided with food and shelter,
and on the anniversary day vast sums were distributed in charity
from the funds with which the Taj was endowed. It is well to pause
before entering, and admire the proportions and perfect taste of
the decoration of this gateway; for afterwards one has no eyes for
anything but the Taj itself. It is much finer in design than the
similar gateway of Akbar's tomb at Sikandra. An Arabic inscription in
black marble, of passages taken from the Koran, frames the principal
arch, and invites the pure of heart to enter the Gardens of Paradise.

The first view of the Taj is from within this noble portal, framed by
the sombre shadow of the great arch which opens on to the garden. At
the end of a long terrace, its gracious outline partly mirrored in the
still water of a wide canal, a fairy vision of silver-white - like the
spirit of purity - seems to rest so lightly, so tenderly, on the earth,
as if in a moment it would soar into the sky. The beauty of the Taj,
as in all great art, lies in its simplicity. One wonders that so much
beauty can come from so little effort. Yet nothing is wanting, nothing
in excess; one cannot alter this and that and say that it is better.

The garden, as originally planned, was an integral part of one great
design. The solemn rows of cypresses were planted so as to help out
the lines of the architecture; the flowering trees and flower-beds
completed the harmony with a splendid glow of colour. [10] Beautiful
as the first view of the Taj is even now, one can hardly realize how
glorious it must have been when the whole intention of the design
was fulfilled. At present there is not a single spot in the garden
itself which gives a view of the composition as a whole.

Advancing down the main terrace, paved with stone and laid out with
geometric flower-beds, we reach a marble platform with its fountain
(see frontispiece), [11] where a nearer view of the Taj may be
enjoyed. Such a platform was the central feature in all Mogul
gardens. The terraces to the right and left of it end in two fine
pavilions of red sandstone, intended for the accommodation of the
custodians of the mausoleum and for storehouses.

From this point we can admire the effect of the exquisite inlaid
decoration, fine and precious as the embroidery on the raiment of
Mumtaz herself. At the end of the main terrace we reach the steps
leading up to the great platform on which the Taj and its minarets,
"four tall court ladies tending their Princess," are raised.

Let us reverently enter the central chamber, where Mumtaz Mahal and
Shah Jahan, her lord and lover, lie. Fergusson has truly said, no
words can express its chastened beauty seen in the soft gloom of the
subdued light coming from the distant and half-closed openings. The
screen of marble tracery which surrounds the tombs is in itself a
masterpiece. Even with all the artistic resources which Shah Jahan had
at his command, it was a work of ten years. Mumtaz Mahal lies in the
centre. The white marble of her tomb blossoms with a never-fading
garden of Persian flowers, which the magic of the Mogul artists
has created.

The inscription on it is as follows: "The illustrious sepulchre of
Arjumand Banu Begam, called Mumtaz Mahal. Died in 1040 A.H." (1630
A.D.).

At the head of the tomb is the line: "He is the everlasting: He is
sufficient;" and the following passage from the Koran: "God is He,
besides whom there is no God. He knoweth what is concealed and what
is manifest. He is merciful and compassionate."

On one side of it: "Nearer unto God are those who say 'Our Lord
is God.'"

The inscription in the tomb of Shah Jahan is as follows: "The
illustrious sepulchre and sacred resting-place of His Most Exalted
Majesty dignified as Razwan (the guardian of Paradise), having his
abode in Paradise, and his dwelling in the starry heaven, inhabitant
of the regions of bliss, the second lord of the Qirán, [12] Shah
Jahan, the king valiant. May his tomb ever flourish; and may his
abode be in the heavens. He travelled from this transitory world to
the world of eternity on the night of the 28th of the month of Rajab,
1076 A.H." (1666 A.D.).

The real cenotaphs containing the remains of Shah Jahan and his
wife are immediately under these tombs, in the vault below. Not the
least of the wonders of this wonderful building is in its acoustic
qualities. It does not respond to vulgar noises, but if a few notes be
slowly and softly sung in this vault, and especially if the chord of
the seventh be sounded; they are caught up by the echoes of the roof
and repeated in endless harmonies, which seem to those listening above


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Online LibraryE.B. HavellA Handbook to Agra and the Taj Sikandra, Fatehpur-Sikri and the Neighbourhood → online text (page 4 of 7)