Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Day 80, from the Taj Mahal to Agra Fort, India (4)

We are simply loving India....Nopi has stopped to buy souvenir fridge magnets!!
wow, stunning!!

let's continue with our history lesson Feroz.

Jahangir was Akbar's son. His health was completely shattered by his excessive consumption of alcohol, and he died in 1627 and was succeeded by his third son, Prince Khurram who took the title of Shah Jahan.

Shahab-ud-din Muhammad Shah Jahan I (full title: Al-Sultan al-'Azam wal Khaqan al-Mukarram, Abu'l-Muzaffar Shihab ud-din Muhammad, Sahib-i-Qiran-i-Sani, Shah Jahan I Padshah Ghazi Zillu'llah , was the ruler of the Mughal Empire in the Indian subcontinent from 1628 until 1658.

The name Shah Jahan comes from Persian meaning "King of the World." While young, he was a favourite of Akbar. He is considered to be one of the greatest Mughals and his reign has been called the Golden Age of Mughals.

In 1607 CE (1025 AH) Khurrum was to marry Arjumand Banu Begum, the grand daughter of a Persian noble, who was just 14 years old at the time.

She would become the unquestioned love of his life.

They would, however, have to wait five years before they were married in 1612 CE (1021 AH). After their wedding celebrations, Khurram "finding her in appearance and character elect among all the women of the time," gave her the title Mumtaz Mahal (Jewel of the Palace).

The intervening years had seen Khurrum take two other wives known as Akbarabadi Mahal (d.1677 CE, 1088 AH), and Kandahari Mahal (b. c1594 CE, c1002 AH), (m.1609 CE, 1018 AH).

According to the official court chronicler Qazwini, the relationship with his other wives "had nothing more than the status of marriage.

The intimacy, deep affection, attention and favor which His Majesty had for the Cradle of Excellence [Mumtaz] exceeded by a thousand times what he felt for any other.

Shah Jahan has left behind a grand legacy of structures constructed during his reign. The most famous of these is the Taj Mahal in Agra which is our next stop.

Described as the most extravagant monument ever built for love, this sublime Mughal mausoleum is India's most ogled icon.

Many have tried to sum up its beauty -
'a teardrop on the face of eternity' according to Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore,
'the embodiment of all things pure' according to British writer Rudyard Kipling.

Our first view of this architectural masterpiece is one that we will never forget
.....a true wonder of the world....

The Taj was built by Emperor Shah Jahan as a memorial for his second wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth to their 14th child in 1631.

Nopi says "14 child-births! Its no wonder she didn't survive the last one!"

The court historian Muhammad Amin Qazwini, wrote that before his wife's death the emperor's beard had "not more than ten or twelve grey hairs, which he used to pluck out' [and after] turned grey and eventually white"and that he soon needed spectacles because his eyes deteriorated from constant weeping.

Since Mumtaz had died on a Wednesday, all entertainment was banned on that day.
Jahan gave up listening to music, wearing jewellery or rich and colourful clothes and using perfumes for two years.

So concerned were the imperial family that an honoury uncle wrote to say that "if he continued to abandon himself to his mourning, Mumtaz might think of giving up the joys of Paradise to come back to earth, this place of misery - and he should also consider the children she had left to his care."

Construction of the Taj began in the same year and was not completed until 1653 - although there's some debate as to the exact date of completion.

In total, some 20,000 people from India and Central Asia worked on the building. Specialists were brought in from as far afield as Europe to produce the exquisite marble screens and pietra dura (marble inlay work) made with thousands of semiprecious stones.

Yemen sent agates, the corals came from Arabia, the garnets from Bundelkhand, onyx and amethyst from Persia.
Mumtaz Mahal's final resting-place was ornamented like a queen's jewel-box.....

Legend has it that once the construction was completed, Shah Jehan had Lahori's, (the chief architect) hands cut off and his eyes gouged out, so he would never be able to duplicate the structure!!

The spectacular mausoleum was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983 and looks as immaculate today as when it was first constructed - though it underwent a huge restoration project in the early 20th century after falling into disrepair and even suffering vandalism.

In recent times the threat of damage has come from atmospheric pollution. Acid rain, produced by sulphur dioxide from vehicle and industrial emissions, began to discolour the famous white marble and erode the fine carving and inlays.

In an attempt to reduce pollution, new industrial developments in Agra were banned in 1994, and only nonpolluting vehicles are allowed within 500m of the Taj.

The Taj Mahal itself stands on a raised marble platform at the northern end of the ornamental gardens, with its back to the Yamuna River.
Its raised position means that the backdrop is only sky - a master stroke of design. Purely decorative 40m-high white minarets grace each corner of the platform.

After more than three centuries they are not quite perpendicular, but they may have been designed to lean slightly outwards so that in the event of an earthquake, they would fall away from the precious Taj.

The red sandstone mosque to the west of the main structure is an important gathering place for Agra's Muslims.

The identical building to the east, the jawab, was built for symmetry .

The central Taj structure is made of semitranslucent white marble, carved with flowers and inlaid with thousands of semiprecious stones in beautiful patterns.

A perfect exercise in symmetry, the four identical faces of the Taj feature impressive vaulted arches embellished with pietra dura (marble inlay) scrollwork and quotations from the Quran, produced in a style of calligraphy using inlaid jasper.

The whole structure is topped off by four small domes surrounding the famous bulbous central dome.

Below the main dome is the Cenotaph of Mumtaz Mahal, an elaborate false tomb surrounded by an exquisite perforated marble screen inlaid with some 43 different types of semiprecious stones.

Beside it, offsetting the symmetry of the Taj, is the Cenotaph of Shah Jahan, who was interred here with little ceremony by his usurping son Aurangzeb in 1666. Light is admitted into the central chamber by finely cut marble screens.

The real tombs of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan are in a locked basement room below the main chamber and cannot be viewed.

On the western side of the gardens is a very small museum, housing original architectural drawings of the Taj and some nifty celadon plates, said to split into pieces or change colour if the food served on them contains poison.

Sunrise offers the best of all worlds.
It's a magical time when the air is cool and the morning light spreads across the Taj, turning it from dark purple to pale blue and finally a golden glow.

Sunset also provides a beautiful, softer light ...

Marti now wants a boyfriend who is prepared to build a monument like this for her...............and Nopi is missing her boyfriend very much....

But where is Prasad?? Oh, there he is...
Where were you Prasad? You went to the loo...and they asked you to pay .....oh, ok, its a pay toilet.

You were upset because you had to pay but the foreigner didn't. So why did they discriminate against you??

Hahaha, the toilet fees are included in the entrance fees for foreigners but not locals!!!

Well, foreigners pay US$ 15 per person and you only paid Rs. 20/-so don't complain!

Hmm, I noticed that there is a huge difference in entrance fees at the other monuments too.

Our guide is whispering another version of the history of this exquisite monument to us....

He says that he watched a BBC/Time Life programme on television ......and that the historical summary of the Taj-Mahal story must be regarded with scepticism.
It is highly probable that it is somewhat inaccurate and possible that it is totally misleading!!!

For example, a certain Professor Oak (in his book "The Taj Mahal: The True Story") puts forward persuasive evidence, observations and interpretation that suggest the monument was built long before the Shah Jahan came to power and that it was taken over by Jahan and 'developed' into, approximately, what we see today.

Allegedly, Indira Gandhi's government tried to ban this book and some would say the Indian government has been politically motivated in suppressing this theory.

Certainly the Taj Mahal is a great tourist money spinner with its present dramatic and romantic aura: the asset value might be greatly diminished if Oak's alternative account is correct.

Furthermore, it is argued, publicising this 'true story' might alienate a substantial tranche of the electorate: the Muslims.

There are chambers in the monument which, it seems, have remained unopened since Shah Jahan's time and which the professor believes could provide evidence to prove the account one way or another.

Allegedly the Indian government will not allow an independent investigation within these chambers, and if that is the case it raises suspicions as to their motives.
Then he says " But you must form your own opinion!!" Hahaha! Wild imagination!

Not long after the construction of this beautiful monument was finished, Shah Jahan was overthrown by his son Aurangzeb and imprisoned in Agra Fort.......royal intrigue!!!!

Okay, let's go there next......

As we now know Shah Jehan's son, Aurangzeb, led a rebellion when Shah Jahan became ill in 1657 CE (1067 AH) and publicly executed his brother and the heir apparent Dara Shikoh.

Although Shah Jahan fully recovered from his illness, Aurangzeb declared him incompetent to rule and put him under house arrest in Agra Fort!!!

So last stop in Agra is Agra Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The fort is also known as Lal Qila, Fort Rouge and Red Fort of Agra.

It is about 2.5 km northwest of its much more famous sister monument, the Taj Mahal. The fort can be more accurately described as a walled palatial city.

It is the most important fort in India. The Mughals- Babur, Humayun, Akbar, Jehangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb lived here, and the country was governed from here.

It contained the largest state treasury and mint. It was visited by foreign ambassadors, travellers and the highest dignitaries who participated in the making of history in India.

Built principally as a military establishment by Akbar in 1565, the red sandstone Agra fort was partially converted into a palace during Shah Jahan's time.

Though the principal structure was built by Akbar, many more additions were made by his grandsons.

This massive fort is 2.5 kms long and is considered as the predecessor of the Delhi Red fort.

The sheer size and opulence of these monuments simply blows the mind..........

The colossal walls are 20 feet high and the whole fort is encircled by a fetid moat. Amar Singh gate towards the south is the only entry point in the fort.

The building and structures inside the fort gives an impression of a city within the city.

Many of the buildings inside the fort is now closed to the public.

The marble pearl mosque inside the fort is one of the most stunningly beautiful mosques in India.

Diwan-i-Khas (Hall of Private Audience)
This was the hall of private audience. This hall was also added by Shah Jahan. This hall is divided into two rooms connected by three arches and it was here that the famous Peacock Throne was kept before being shifted to Delhi by Aurangzeb and finally carried away to Iran.

Diwan-i-Am (Hall of Public Audience)
This structure was originally made out of wood but was later constructed in the present form by Shah Jahan.

The throne room bears a clear influence of Shah Jahan style with the inlaid carvings and panels of marble with floral motifs.

This hall of public hearing is the place where the Emperor heard the petitions of the public and met the officials.

The hall of public hearing gives way to the
Nagina Masjid (Gem Mosque) and the Ladies bazar where only ladies merchants were allowed to sell items to the Moghal ladies.

Mina Masjid (Heavenly Mosque)Just above the Sheesh Mahal is situated the Mina Masjid, which is believed to be constructed by Shahjahan for strictly private use.

The Mina Masjid is enclosed on all the four sides by high walls.

The marble mosque has three small arches in its facade, which are plain and unadorned.

Jehangir Palace
This was built by Akbar for his favorite son Jehangir to provide him with the comfort and luxury inside the fort.

Macchi Bhawan (Fish Enclosure)
Opposite to the Diwan-E-Khas is the machhi bhawan, the fish enclosure. The emperor sat on the white marble platform facing the enclosure. It once contained pools and marble fountains, which were carried off by the Jat Raja Suraj Mal to his palace at Deeg.

Moti Masjid (Pearl Mosque)
Moti Masjid is situated to the right of Diwan-E-Aam of the Agra Fort. One can see the domes of the Moti Masjid, which is the prettiest of all the buildings at Agra Fort.

Moti Masjid is a white marble structure built by Shahjahan for his family members and court chiefs. Moti Masjid made out of white marble is one of the ancient mosques situated in Agra. It used to shine like a pearl once upon a time and hence the name.

Sheesh Mahal or Shish Mahal (Mirror Palace)l
Opposite to the Mussaman Burj and just below the Diwan-E- Khas hall is the Sheesh Mahal or the glass palace.

It is believed to to have been the harem dressing room and its walls are inlaid with tiny mirrors, which are the best specimens of glass mosaic decoration in India......similar to the rooms in the fort at lahore!

Anguri Bagh (Grape Garden)
These formal 85 square geometric gardens lie to the left of the fort. During shahjahan's time, the beauty of the gardens was considerably enhanced by decorative flower beds.

Jahangiri Mahal
This is the first notable building inside the Agra Fort. It was built by Akbar as women's quarters and is the only building that survives among his or9iginall palace buildings. It si built of stone and is simply decorated in the exterior.

This elegant, double storeyed building reflects a strong hindu influence with protruding balconies and domed chhatris.

Golden Pavilions
The curved chala roofs of the small pavilions by the Khaas Mahal are based on the roof shape of Bengali village huts constructed out of curved bamboo, designed to keep off heavy rains. The shape was first expressed in stone by the sultans of Bengal.

Theses pavilions are tradtionally associated with shahjahan's daughters: Roshnara and Jahannara Begum.

Khas Mahal - white marble palace, one of the best examples of painting on marble

Musamman Burj
On the left of the Khaas Mahal is the Musamman Burj built by Shahjahan.

The Octagonal Tower is an exquisitely carved tower is close to the Diwan-i- Khas. It was here that Shah Jahan spent last seven years of his life imprisoned by his son Aurangzeb.

The tower was considered to provide one of the best views of the Taj but today the pollution has reduced the visibility.

The tower is in bad shape today but blank spaces and the empty inlay works give an idea how this building must have looked in those days.
t is a beautiful octagonal tower with an open pavilion.

With its openness, elevation and the benefit of cool evening breezees flowing in off the Yamuna River, this could be well have been used also as the emperor's bedroom.

This is where Shah Jahan lay on his death bed, gazing at Taj Mahal......pining for his lost love...Mumtaz....

Of course our tour guide simply loves to gossip....
He says that like all his ancestors, Shah Jahan's court included many wives, concubines, and dancing girls.

Apparently one Niccolao Manucci wrote that "it would seem as if the only thing Shah Jahan cared for was the search for women to serve his pleasure" and "for this end he established a fair at his court.

No one was allowed to enter except women of all ranks that is to say, great and small, rich and poor, but all beautiful.

"When he was detained in the Red Fort at Agra, Aurangzeb permitted him to retain "the whole of his female establishment, including the singing and dancing women."
Manucci notes that Shah Jahan didn't lose his "weakness for the flesh" even when he had grown very old.

But our guide is quick to add that most of the European travellers in India had access to such information primarily through bazaar gossip and not first hand, so we must not repeat this to anyone!!

Of course everyone prefers the more romantic story of the Emperor dying of sorrow....because he missed his beloved Mumtaz so very much.........

In January of 1666 CE (1076 AH), Shah Jahan fell ill with strangury and dysentery.

Confined to bed, he became progressively weaker until, on January 22, he commanded the ladies of the imperial court, particularly his consort of later years Akbarabadi Mahal, to the care of his daughter,Jahanara.

After reciting the Kalima and verses from the Qu'ran, he died.

Jahanara planned a state funeral which was to include a procession with Shah Jahan's body carried by eminent nobles followed by the notable citizens of Agra and officials scattering coins for the poor and needy.

Aurangzeb refused to accommodate such ostentation and the body was washed in accordance with Islamic rites, taken by river in a sandalwood coffin to the Taj Mahal and was interred there next to the body of his beloved wife Mumtaz last.....they lie next to one another for all eternity......

Well, my dear friends.....this brings us to the end of our amazing journey around the world in 80 days......

Do you guys realize that we have caught a glimpse of over 135 countries in 80 days??



So now we are going directly to Sita's home in the vibrant, bustling metropolis of Incredible Indiaaaaaaaaaa.....

Now Amit is singing to us.....

This feature is powered by - Home of Indian Music

We are going to sleep for at least 12 hours, uninterrupted, ........and we will reflect on our journey in the morning......

Thank you! Dankie! Ngiyabonga! Shukriya! Merci!, Muchas gracias!, Obrigado!, ありがとう, Grazie!, 감사, Merci!, Ευχαριστώ!, Danke schön!, ,,תודה Takk!, Go raibh maith agat!, شكرا ,Dankzij!, 感謝, Спасибо!, Dziekuję!, धन्यवाद, Bedankt!, Teşekür ederim!, Köszönöm!, Дякую, Mulţumesc!, Kiitos!, to ALL our friends, tour guides, and well wishers, who helped us along the way and made this amazing journey possible :-))

Hugs and kisses to you all!

Good night and GOD bless!

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