Finally I continue my Taj Mahal 1980 reminiscence. In order to do so, since I haven’t been able to come up with my own–hopefully temporarily misplaced photos–I’ve come up with a few online images available for free downloads with attributions (below) and they are probably better than the ones I originally had in mind for this post, but still I was disappointed not to find some directed related to specific musings of mine at the time.
This is from Ben Jacob’s flicker page–with his permission of course–and I offer it here as an example of the extraordinary opulence of the Mughal Empire that flourished here between roughly 1654 and 1671. This of course is the interior of one of the buildings of the Agra Fort, sometimes referred to as the Red Fort of Agra (not to be confused with the Red Fort of Delhi, all featuring more or less the same characters). It’s located only a hefty stone’s throw from the Taj Mahal. Shahjahan‘s grandfather, Akbar, is responsible for this beautiful palace, and he figures prominently in this visual and verbal tour of the Agra Fort.
The site, which was once occupied by wooden buildings according to Abdul Fazal (Akbar’s historian), began as a brick fort known as Badalgarh, which was built by an earlier Muslim ruler in the early part of the 16th century. After Akbar arrived in Agra in 1558, he decided to make it his capital. As it was in a state of ruin he commenced to have it rebuilt with red sandstone from Rajastan, using thousands of builders working to complete it in 1573.
This palace is Jahangiri Mahal, the first notable building Akbar had built inside the Fort, to be used as women’s quarters. Photo attribute goes to Wikipedia under a creative commons license. Akbar’s wives numbered more than 300, but the total of his harem probably was closer 5,000. I tried hard to imagine what it would be like to be only one of such a vast number of women who “belonged” to one man, and decided I wouldn’t like it–not one bit.
It’s hard now to believe how impressed I was when I learned that one of his wives was Hindu, and the allusion to the fact that Akbar tried expressing a new religion–in his older years, or at least after he married the Hindu, that sought to combine Hinduism and Islam. I thought it took a special man to do that, but now know there’s more to the story than that contained in romantic tales we women love. What other reasons might there have been to marry a Hindu? Was it politics? To align and establish himself among the rich Hindu princes in the region? If the movie version of this period of Akbar’s life, Jodhaa-Akbar, is to be believed, it began as a political alliance between Akbar and the Rajput Princess, Jodha, and no one was more surprised than the two of them when they fell in love. Whatever. I confess the older I get the more cynical I become.
Getting back to Akbar’s grandson, whose own love of his life resulted in the Taj Mahal, you’ll remember that during the latter eight years of Shahjahan’s life, his son imprisoned him and took over the kingdom, but was thoughtful enough to see that the old man could look through the windows, or use a small hand mirror to reflect the image through the slats, depending on which Taj guide’s story you choose to believe, in order see the Taj Mahal and remember his beloved Mumtaz. But he may not have been quite so lonely and forlorn as it might seem on the surface. More on that later, but first I thought you might like to see what Shahjahan’s prison quarters looked like.
Rumor has it that this is the tower with the marble balcony, Muasamman Burj, in which he was imprisoned. And of course as you can see, off there in the distance and slightly to the left, there’s the view of the Taj Mahal.
Now I’ve seen far worse prisons–Alcatraz in northern California springs to mind–and this doesn’t look half bad if you ask me. Plus, according to Wikipedia sources, he (Shahjahan) was allowed all his wives and concubines, so it couldn’t have been as bad as all that. He was allowed to share this retreat with one of his daughters, and when at 74 he finally died, it wasn’t from natural causes but apparently from a massive overdose of aphrodisiac. Unfortunately Viagra, Cialis and Levitra hadn’t been formulated yet, and aphrodisiacs can be so iffy. Then you remember how his daughter spirited his body away across the river Jamuna and laid him to rest in the Taj Mahal alongside Mumtaz. And that’s the rest of the story of our day at the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort in India.
Next time I’ll probably talk about family life in Delhi and general hazards of India–such as traffic–before we head off to Madras and my first meeting with mother-in-law.