Monday, September 12, 2011

Agra’s Baby Taj: Introspection and Affection at the “Itimad-ud-Daulah”

Simah, my cycle rickshaw driver, dogged me around until I finally relented to avail of his services after my Taj Mahal visit. Haggling down from 350 rupees, we eventually shook hands on 250 rupees that would take me away from Taj Mahal to the following: Agra Fort, across Yamuna on a steel bridge, the East Bank’s Itimad-ud-Daulah and the Mehtab Bagh (a seemingly remote garden along Yamuna).

Though it seemed like a good idea that time, I eventually had doubts during the course of the tour. Simah occasionally grunted, and he worked doubly hard in elevated ramp ways and uneven roads. I somehow felt guilty for his hardship which he attributed to a bike that needed repair work. Was he going to see through this deal?

From Agra Fort, we headed some 3 kilometers back to Yamuna River until we were cruising on a bridge to the holy river’s East Bank. We plied through a traffic of similar cycle rickshaws and autorickshaws, people jutting out of the vehicles gazing at us. I could see Yamuna placidly flowing, with strips of dry lands teeming with water buffalos.

Our destination: the Baby Taj!

Steel and concrete bridge crossing Yamuna River to the East Bank.

All eyes on me.

Baby Taj is a tomb, officially named “Itimad-ud-Daulah”, which literally means “pillar of the state”. This was attributed to Mirza Ghiyas Beg, the Persian (Iranian) chief minister of the Mughal empire during the time of Jehangir, predecessor of Shah Jahan. The mausoleum was commissioned by Nur Jahan, Jehangir’s wife, in 1622 (it was built 10 years before the construction of the Taj Mahal) to honor her father.

Baby Taj would eventually be known for a lot of things, not the least of which was as “precursor of the Taj Mahal”. It was the first Mughal structure totally built from marble. It's the first structure to make extensive use of Pietra Dura, a term for the decorative art technique of using cut and fitted, highly-polished colored stones to create images. But more significantly, for tourists, it is the most exquisitely decorated structure in Agra, thus possibly the whole of India. For a more instructive detail, check this out:

The design was patterned after Emperor Akbar’s unmistakable Mughal creations combining the eclectic forms of Hindu and Islamic architecture, but this time, employing white marbles instead of the signature red sandstones.

The compound also follows the typical model of a charbagh (Mughal garden): It is a square structure placed at the center of a garden in a charbagh layout, i.e. a square garden divided into four landscaped quadrants separated by paved paths with water channels running through their centre. At the end of each path is a red sandstone monumental gate structure with a high central pointed arch flanked by stacked arches. The gates vary only slightly in design, but all four are of the same size and contain similar geometric and floral designs created using white marble inlaid into the red sandstone of the façade.

I arrived in front of its only entrance, the East Gate (photo below), a red sandstone structure not dissimilar to the gates of the Taj Mahal. I paid 110 rupees (10 rupee discount if you visited the Taj within the same day) and walked inside the compound. Unlike the Taj Mahal, this one had very few visitors which was a welcome respite from the touristy Taj and Agra Fort. From across the entrance, the structure looked like a smaller scale Taj Mahal. The water channel that leads toward the mausoleum was dry, and the central structure provided perfect symmetry to the design of the charbagh. There was a woman working on the marble floor, scraping something, and tourists would occasionally stop and offer her money. Was she even a beggar? Was it a tip? She looked like the perfect decorative element from my visual axis, with the Baby Taj as her backdrop.

The East Gate.


Detail of the red sandstone East Gate (the entrance of the compound, above and below).

Like the Taj, you have to leave your shoes in front of the mausoleum (5 rupees) or wear those shoe mittens. It’s a more convenient journey inside; you could spend your time in blissful peace observing the walls, the floral designs on the floor, the intricate decorations at the ceiling. The cenotaph (tomb) is unadorned (as Muslim tradition would have it). From there, I exited at the other side of the building, and out towards the Western Gate, facing the picturesque Yamuna River. It was such pleasure just sitting there in sheer serenity. I could see the Taj from where I sat.

Quiet spots are a luxury in Agra. I bought mine for a mere 100 rupees, sitting on a structure that took 6 years to build. The Philippines felt so far away, but there was a chord that took me back, sending my affection to my motherland. Hey, I am one of the few souls to walk this mystical charbagh. I felt lucky.

This is the Eye in the Sky.

Entrance of the mausoleum.

Arched balconies at the front, beside the main entrance of the mausoleum. Notice the jali lattice screen.

Cenotaph of Mirza Ghiyas Beg. The windows are covered in intricate jali lattice screens also found at the Taj Mahal.

The entire walls, floors and ceilings are colorfully decorated in floral and geometric motifs created using a mix of tiles, stucco and inlaid marble. This faces one side and has Mirza Ghiyas Beg's cenotaph. The other (below) has his wife's.

Intricate floral designs at the ceiling. Unfortunately, it's in a state of disrepair.

She wasn't even a beggar. She was working for the Baby Taj, scraping smudges, dirt, etc. at the mostly dry "water channels" (see above).

Up next: More of Baby Taj and the picturesque Yamuna River. -

Sitting by the Yamuna and doing absolutely nothing.


Twin said...

Over the weekend went to an art exhibit opening by Indian women---their paintings are similar to the gates/entrances of your photos. Longing for an authentic Indian cuisine with your post

eye in the sky said...

Interesting. They have a rich culture and their temples bear designs with no similar style.