New Delhi, India
March 20, 2009
At the end of the lane is the Chini ka Rauza, looming in the fading light of the setting sun. Only a few people are around; one of them tries half-heartedly to offer his services as a guide, but we shake him off.
Chini ka Rauza is the tomb of a nobleman named Afzal Khan, a powerful courtier during the reigns of Jahangir and his son, Shahjahan. Afzal Khan’s brother, Amanat Khan, was the chief calligrapher employed to script the massive panels of calligraphy at the Taj Mahal. Interestingly enough, he was the only person allowed to leave his signature on the Taj.
But back to Afzal Khan, who began building this tomb during his lifetime, and was (after his death in 1639, at Lahore) brought here and interred.
Chini ka Rauza isn’t remarkable seen from afar; it’s a dull grey building with a shallow dome and four minaret-like structures (known in Indian architecture as guldastas). It’s only as we draw near that we see why it’s called the Porcelain Tomb: the façade was apparently once all tilework. Traces still remain, and we can imagine what the building, covered in floral motifs and geometric designs of bright blue, grey-blue, white, turquoise and green must once have looked like.Inside, the walls and vaulted ceiling are painted over, beginning with a circular, multicoloured and complex pattern on the domed ceiling. The walls and eight arched doorways are likewise decorated, in colourful arabesques, with medallions painted with the names of Allah and Mohammad (the latter rarely seen on monuments) on either side of the arches. Our dependable guidebook, Lucy Peck’s Agra: The Architectural Heritage, informs us that most of the painting is probably recent, since 19th century records mention the interior decoration of the tomb as being damaged by decay.
Outside is a small garden, and at one end, a chhatri—a domed pavilion—of red sandstone, overlooking the river. There’s no indication what this is, but Swapna goes off to investigate. She comes back to say it looks like a Mughal water tower, a structure that housed a hydraulic system to lift water from the river below. Since a water channel (now dry) leads from it into the garden, this sounds plausible.
But that’s all there is to see at Chini ka Rauza, and with one last photograph (zoom at the maximum, since the best-preserved tilework is right at the top), we head off back to our hotel.
From journal Agra: Been There, Done That