Sunday, March 16, 2008

A magnificant Mausoleum

My car screeched to a halt close to a red sandstone monument, I am intrigued because I had thought I was going directly to the Taj. And then remembered the instruction I had given to the taxi driver that any important monuments on the way, to please stop without asking.
And he had, he pointed towards the monument and said that this is Akbar’s tomb. The Akbar. Jalaluddin Mohammad Akbar, the Emperor of India - the third emperor of the Mughal dynasty who inherited the throne in 1556, at the age of 13. He was crowned the ruler after the sudden death of his father Humayun. He was a good administrator, a connoisseur of art and architecture. He was also responsible in having built magnificent buildings within the precincts of Agra Fort and all a unique blend of architectural styles. He also went on to build Fatehpur Sikri which is pre-dominatingly Islamic blended with Rajasthani and Gujarati architecture styles.

I walked across to the gate and through it after having bought a ticket from the security guard there. And through it led in towards another door – the Bulund Darwaza. The door was in red sand stone with inlay work in black, white and red marble done on it. Shops lined on either side. Through the gate and into what was a garden with four paths leading to the mausoleum in the center. Akbar started building this edifice before his death in 1605 at Sikandra. The tomb as I said is behind high walls and through the huge gate Buland Darwaza – a copy of the gate at Fatehpur Sikri. It is an elegant gateway covered in floral and geometrical designs in white and colored marble. It is crowned with four minarets in white marble and the calligraphy is beautiful. It has a high central arch that rises above two recesses on either side. There are two oblong chattris crowning the doorway.

Distinctly masculine is shape and looks, Akbar chose to keep the look very Spartan, it was Jahangir who added the white marble embellishments three years after his death. Completed between 1612 and 1614 as the inscriptions read on the south gate, the construction of the mausoleum was commenced during emperor Akbar's (1556-1605) lifetime in 1604 but concluded during Jehangir's reign (1605-1627). This is correct for Akbarnama makes no mention of the monument except for Behistan or Behistabad (Abode of Paradise) in Sikandra as the burial place of the emperor. Recorded references to the tomb are found from Jehangir's reign and mention his discontent with the progress made on the mausoleum and him making changes to the design, modification and embellishment.

The mausoleum complex is square and aligned on the cardinal axis, with the tomb at its center and four gates, one at each wall. The inscriptions were written and designed by Abd al- Haqq Shirazi (later known as Amanat Khan) the famed calligrapher of Mughal monuments including Taj Mahal. The inscription on the north elevation facing the tomb eulogizes the deceased emperor, but the one above the entrance praises Jehangir, the patron of the tomb.

The tomb lies in the center of the charbagh. The garden is covered in plants growing wildly at the corners and instead of flowers and beautiful trees just grass grows in the four squares with monkeys and wild animals roaming freely. The four paths lead straight to the pyramidal structure. The tomb stands on a high platform and is made in red sandstone and is five stories high.

The domed and vaulted galleries that form the first part of the pyramidal structure is 105 meters long and serve as a large square plinth for the four stories. The gallery space has massive pillars supporting the arches that are roughly 7 meters apart. The central bay of each side is marked by a high pishtaq surmounted by a rectangular chattri. Only the southern pishtaq gives access to the burial chamber, a small square room at the end of long corridor in the heart of the building domed at eighteen meters. The vaulted bays behind the four pishtaqs, the southern one is the most elaborate in ornamentation.

The path leading into his chamber is dark, cool and very quiet. It is decorated with floresque, arabesque and calligraphic designs. The chamber is simple and paved with stone. The only single lamp lighting overhead throws a kind glow all around and just giving light enough for one to see around the tomb chamber. The warm glow lends the marble a golden look, flowers are strewn on the velvet coverlet placed on the tomb and the smell of roses and incense wafts the air all around. There is just one small jharokha through which daylight filters in. Close by in red sandstone is said to be the tomb of Mariam Zamani, Jahangir's mother.

The tomb is a blend of styles. The massive iwans in the centre of all sides are as high as the tomb and have beautiful panels with inlaid mosaic work. Inlaid arabesque work is seen on the spandrels, semi-soffits have paintings and the turrets have chevron designs. The first has a podium of arches; the center of each face has an inlaid framed doorway. The next three levels have no arches, but the flat roof is held by rows of pillars. On the topmost terrace, one can see a white wall with arches and replica of the sarcophagus that lies open to the sky, at the request of Emperor Akbar’s last wish. Large panels of beautiful jali work form an outer wall of the verandah on all sides. These are crowned by a white marble chhaparkhat with eight pillars. These pillars have rings to maybe to hold up tents during the annual Urs.

The other chambers hold the graves of Aram Banu and Shukrunnisa (daughters of Akbar), Zebunnisa (daughter of Aurangzeb) and Sulaiman Shikoh (son of Shah Alam). The first storey has a large platform and corridors roofed by stone arches in each façade. The second storey is built of red sandstone and has arched verandah with twenty-three bays. These are crowned by cupolas and white marble pyramidal roofs decorated with glazed tiles arranged in geometrical pattern. The third and fourth stories follow similar plan, though they are smaller in size and in ascending order. The fifth and the top most story is entirely in white marble and has no roof but has delicate marble screens as walls. There is also no dome above the structure.

You come away feeling being awestruck at the thought of being in the presence of an emperor who ruled over India and was much loved and respected for his ideas and changes he made in the administration. Yes, the day had started well for me, for this man had been the center of my research through my college days and medieval history has been my favorite.
The best way to reach Sikandra is by road for Delhi to Agra is 203 on the National Highway 2 – a good road and a further ten km to Sikandra. It takes around four and half hours of total time. By rail is also good for you will travel faster and save sometime, the Shatabdi Express leaves from Delhi to Agra and takes two hours and costs Rs. 390/- only. It starts at 6am.

Worth the journey to see the tomb of the man that changed India for good.

[You will find it on]


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