The Agra Fort and Its Monuments

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Shaped like an irregular semi-circle with its chord running parallel to the Yamuna, the Agra Fort, like most of Akbar's buildings within it, is built of red sandstone. The massive enclosing walls reach to a height of about 70 feet (21.34 metres) with double ramparts at regular intervals. The walls are inlaid with white marble detail that create a sense of richness and power.

Abu'l Fazl records that the fort housed over 500 buildings within it, an estimate that seems to be slightly exaggerated. In any case, most of the mansions have disappeared, a few of them deliberately demolished to make room for Shah Jahan's white-marble pavilions built between 1627 and 1648. Of buildings that have survived, the Delhi Gate, the Amar Singh Gate, the Akbari Mahal and the Jahangiri Mahal are the most important.

The Delhi Gate

The Delhi Gate, which faces the Jami Masjid, is considered the most exquisitely finished and ingeniously planned gateway of the Mughals. Its architectural features have been so designed as to give a definite advantage to its defenders. The entrance, devised with sharp curves at various trap points and a steep rise, posed grave difficulties in movement of not only the enemies but also to the Mughals themselves.

There is also an inner entrance called the Hathya Paur (elephant gate), flanked on both sides by broad, double-storeyed octagonal towers, each crowned by an elegant chhatri. The entrance is hexagonal, with arched alcoves on the remaining four sides. The rear is in four terraces, with colonnades and verandas.

The Delhi Gate is not open to visitors now.

The Amar Singh Gate

Originally known as the Akbari Gate, it was renamed Amar Singh Gate following the episode of Rao Amar Singh of Marwar who assassinated Salabat Khan (the Mir Bakshi of Shah Jahan) in full court in 1644. However, contrary to popular belief, the Rao and his followers were cut to pieces while trying to escape.

The Amar Singh Gate is similar to the Delhi Gate in its crooked entrance. The imposing Naubatkhana (drum tower), surrounded by pillared pavilions, presents an impressive sight.

The Akbari Mahal

The Akbari Mahal was perhaps known as the Bengali Mahal during Akbar's time. According to De Laet, it was used as a zenana (women's apartment) where "foreign women" were kept for the "pleasure of the King." It is one of the oldest extant constructions within the fort, being contemporaneous with the baoli (step-well), which it enjoins.

The original plan of the western façade of the Akbari Mahal seems to have been extended to about 430 feet (131.06 metres) with two gateways and three towers, out of which only one gateway and two towers remain to this day. The whole façade had one fundamental scheme of ornamentation with oblong panels containing geometrical and arabesque patterns in carved relief on red sandstone, a series of ornamental arches with a fringe of lotus buds, inlay on the gateways, a balcony supported on beautiful brackets, oblong openings and oriel windows on the second storey and a gracefully decorated parapet.

The Jahangiri Mahal

The Jahangiri Mahal is considered the most important surviving palace structure of Akbar's period in the Agra Fort. Believed to have been built as a zenana or women's palace, the multi-storeyed palace, faced with finely carved red sandstone, is a synthesis of Hindu and Islamic architectural features.

The palace is a complex arrangement of chambers and halls, corridors and galleries, open courtyards and verandas—all grouped together without, it seems, a fundamental unified plan. The broad entrance opens into a square hall, which then leads into a large central courtyard with pillared chambers on its north and south sides. There is an exquisitely designed assembly hall to the north of the courtyard.

There is another hall on the south side of the courtyard, which is similar in dimensions to the former. The most important feature of this hall is a corridor that rotates on its three sides and is connected through intricately designed jalis (lattice screens). It is believed that the Ankh Michoni hall of the Man Mandir at Gwalior (built between 1510 and 1516) served as the prototype for this hall at Agra.

According to William G. Klingelhofer, "The essential expression and experience of the Jahangiri Mahal lie in its revelation of an architectural quality, captured and presented in each of its various aspects. It is a building that works. In many ways the most effective and successful example of its oeuvre, it was also, in the builders' eyes at least, among the most beautiful and perfected expositions at the palace form." The superlatives applied to the palace amply reflect the importance the Mughals attached to it. In Akbar's eyes and those of everyone in early Mughal India, the Jahangiri Mahal was a superb palatial structure "the like of which heaven has not seen in the world in its time." In Abu'l Fazl's words, Akbar has dressed "the work of his mind and heart in the garment of stone and clay" in the Jahangiri Mahal.

The Shahjahani Mahal

The Shahjahani Mahal is made of brick and plaster with some pleasing floral designs in stucco and enjoins the Jahangiri Mahal on the north side. The octagonal riverside pavilion has painted ornamentation on the red sandstone surface. A room on the west accommodates the Somnath Gate, which, in fact, belonged to the tomb of Mahmud of Ghazni who died in 1030. (The gate was brought here by the British in 1842 to garner the popular support of the Hindus, claiming that an insult of 800 years has been avenged!)

Although Shah Jahan demolished some of the buildings inside the fort to build his white-marble mansions, it is doubtful whether he actually built the Shahjahani Mahal.


Agra Fort

Agra, India

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