Saturday, September 10, 2011

Agra Fort 02 - Beauty and Strife from a Colorful Past

There is a tablet at the fort with historical inscriptions, and if you weren't rushing to get inside, it unravels an interesting glimpse of the past. Like most stories, the writing is verbose and contains a lot of details that will put some perspective on your visit in the fort. In this post, I will feature excerpts, as written below.

Agra Fort is the most important fort of India. The great Mughals: Babur, Humayun, Akbar, Jahangir, Shah Jahan, and Aurangzeb lived here. The country was governed from here. It contained the largest treasury and mint. It was visited by foreign ambassadors, travelers and the highest dignitaries who participated in the medieval history of India. No other fort in India bears this honour.

Agra Fort stands on an ancient site just by the river Jamuna (Yamuna). It was a brick fort and Chauhan Rajputs held it. Sikandar Lodi (1487-1517), the first sultan of Delhi, governed the country from here and Agra assumed the prominence of a second capital. He died in the fort in 1517 and his son Ibrahim Lodi held it for 9 years until he was defeated and killed in Panipat in 1526. Several palaces, wells, and mosques were built during the Lodi (Lodhi) period.

After Panipat, Mughals captured Agra Fort, Babur stayed in the fort at Ibrahim's palace. He built a baoli (step-well) in it. Humayun was coronated here in 1530. After his defeat in Chausa in 1539, he returned to Agra. Nizam, a water-carrier, was coronated here for half a day for saving Humayun from drowning. Humayun was defeated again in Bilgram in 1540. Sher Shah, an Afghan conqueror, held the fort for 5 years. But the Mughals reclaimed victory and the fort at the Panipat battle in 1556.

Realizing the importance of its central location, Akbar (1556-1605) decided to make Agra his capital. He arrived in 1558. Abul Fazl, the court historian, recorded that this was a brick fort known as "Badalgarh". The place was in ruins and Akbar commissioned its reconstruction and renovation using red sandstones. Massive work began and bricks provided the inner core of the fortress, with red sandstones as the exterior. Some 4,000 workers labored on the fort for 8 years - from 1575 to 1573.

The fort has a semi-circular plan, its chord lying parallel to the river. Its walls are 70 feet high. Double ramparts have massive circular bastions at regular intervals, battlements (a decorative or defensive parapet), embrasures (an opening, as a loophole or crenel, through which missiles maybe discharged), machicolations (an opening between walls and vaults through which missiles maybe cast upon) and string-courses. Four gates were provided on its four sides, one "Khizri Gate" opening on the river where a series of ghats (quays) were also built.

Akbar died and Jahangir was crowned in 1605. The latter mostly resided at Lahore and Kashmir, though he visited Agra regularly and lived in the fort. Shah Jahan, the greatest of the Mughal emperors, was crowned in 1628. He was a great builder, and the white marble palaces belonged to him. He built 3 white marble mosques - Moti Masjid, Nagna Masjid, and Mina Masjid.

After the Battle of Samogarh in 1658, Aurangzeb (Shah Jahan's son) attacked the fort and stopped its water supply from the river. Shah Jahan could not drink the well water forcing him to surrender. Aurangzeb then imprisoned his own father in the fort that was Jahan's home for 8 years. Shah Jahan died in 1666 and was buried right beside Mumtaz at the Taj Mahal.

After Shah Jahan's death, Agra lost its grandeur. It didn't help that the capital had been officially moved to Delhi in 1638. Aurangzeb became busy with the Deccan conflict.

Shivaji Bhosle was a Maratha aristocrat of the Bhosle clan who successfully fought against the Mughals to defend his kingdom. He came to Agra in 1666, the same year Shah Jahan died. He came to meet Aurangreb who hospitably arranged for Shivaji's arrival under false pretense, at the Diwan-I-Khas, but he was betrayed and imprisoned. But that couldn't be too surprising, considering what Aurangzeb did to his own father. (Aurangzeb was also attributed the nasty rumors of incest between his father and his beautiful sister.) Shivaji eventually escaped.

Aurangzeb's death in 1707 threw the affairs of the Mughal Empire to chaos. The 18th century history of the Agra Fort is a saga of sieges and plunder. It was held by Jats and Marathas. The British captured it from the Marathas in 1803. They garrisoned it and converted it into an arsenal.

Local students regularly visit the fort for a little bit of history.

Beautiful scenic halls.

Hall of Public Audience (Diwan-I-Am)

The view from the road outside the massive fort.

This was where my cycle rickshaw was parked and waited while I visited Agra Fort. Just across the road is the south entrance - the Amar Singh Gate (Akbar Darwasa) - the only entrance for tourists. If you also visited the Taj Mahal within the day, there is a 50 rupee discount from the regular entrance fee of 300 rupees. Keep your Taj Mahal ticket and show it at the fort's ticket booth.

This is the Eye in the Sky!

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