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The Taj Mahal of Agra is one of the Seven Wonders of the World, for reasons more than just looking magnificent. It’s the history of Taj Mahal that adds a soul to its magnificence: a soul that is filled with love, loss, remorse, and love again. Because if it was not for love, the world would have been robbed of a fine example upon which people base their relationships. An example of how deeply a man loved his wife, that even after she remained but a memory, he made sure that this memory would never fade away.
This man was the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, who was head-over-heels in love with Mumtaz Mahal, his dear wife. She was a Muslim Persian princess (her name Arjumand Banu Begum before marriage) and he was the son of the Mughal Emperor Jehangir and grandson of Akbar the Great. It was at the age of 14 that he met Mumtaz and fell in love with her. Five years later in the year 1612, they got married.
Mumtaz Mahal, an inseparable companion of Shah Jahan, died in 1631, while giving birth to their 14th child. It was in the memory of his beloved wife that Shah Jahan built a magnificent monument as a tribute to her, which we today know as the “Taj Mahal”. The construction of Taj Mahal started in the year 1631. Masons, stonecutters, inlayers, carvers, painters, calligraphers, dome-builders and other artisans were requisitioned from the whole of the empire and also from Central Asia and Iran, and it took approximately 22 years to build what we see today.
An epitome of love, it made use of the services of 22,000 laborers and 1,000 elephants. The monument was built entirely out of white marble, which was brought in from all over India and central Asia. After an expenditure of approximately 32 million rupees, Taj Mahal was finally completed in the year 1653.
It was soon after the completion of Taj Mahal that Shah Jahan was deposed by his own son Aurangzeb and was put under house arrest at nearby Agra Fort. Shah Jahan, himself also, lies entombed in this mausoleum along with his wife. Moving further down the history, it was at the end of the 19th century that British Viceroy Lord Curzon ordered a sweeping restoration project,
which was completed in 1908, as a measure to restore what was lost during the Indian rebellion of 1857: Taj being blemished by British soldiers and government officials who also deprived the monument of its immaculate beauty by chiseling out precious stones and lapis lazuli from its walls. Also, the British style lawns that we see today adding on to the beauty of Taj were remodeled around the same time.This epitome of love continuous to shine and attract people from all over the world.
Today, some 3 million people a year (or around 45,000 a day during peak tourist season) visit the Taj Mahal.
Red Fort (Lal Qila)
In 1638, the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan moved the capital of his empire from Agra to a newly constructed city in Delhi that he called Shahjahanabad. Along with the construction of this new city, he laid the foundations of his palace, the Red Fort or Lal Qila. This massive walled citadel with red sandstone walls took nearly a decade to complete. It is considered to be better planned than the Agra Fort, as Shah Jahan learned from his experience pf living there. This fort was the seat of the Mughal empire for around 200 years, until it fell into British hands. The last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar was coronated here in 1837, during which time it is said that his powers did not extend beyond the boundaries of his palace.
Built by the fifth Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in 1648, when he decided to move his capital from Agra to Delhi, the Lal Kila was the palace fort of Shahjahanabad – the king’s new capital also known as Old Delhi. Spread over 49.1815 hectares (256 acres), the Delhi Red Fort Complex also includes the adjacent older fort – the Salimgarh, built by Islam Shah Suri in 1546. This massive walled structure took nearly a decade to complete. Ustad Hamid and Ustad Ahmad of Shah Jahan’s court started the construction in 1638 and completed it in 1648.
Built on the banks of the Yamuna river, whose waters fed the moats surrounding the fort, the octagonal-shaped Lal Qila remained the Mughal Empire’s seat for around 200 years before the British took over.
Agra Fort is known for its rich history. The fort has been owned by many emperors and rulers in the past, undergoing many changes in its appearance. It all began in the year 1526 when the first battle of Panipat was fought between Babur and Ibrahim Lodi of the Lodi dynasty. When Babur defeated Ibrahim Lodi, he made the fort and the palace of Ibrahim Lodi as his home. He then modified the fort by building a huge step well (baoli) inside. The fort soon became an important monument to the Mughals. In fact, Babur’s successor, Humayun’s coronation took place at the fort in the year 1530.
Soon emperors from other dynasties started eyeing the fort and efforts to win over the same began. In 1540, Sher Shah Suri of the Sur Empire waged a war against Humayun and defeated him at Bilgram. Sher Shah Suri took over the ownership of the fort from Humayun and made minor changes to it, so as to suit his own architectural taste. The fort stayed with the emperors of the Sur dynasty for the next 15 years.
In 1555, Humayun managed to recapture Agra and with it the fort as well. But a year later, Hemu Vikramaditya, the general and military commander of Adil Shah Suri (final emperor of the Sur dynasty) captured Agra. He pursued the fleeing army to Delhi and the Battle of Tughlaqabad ensued between him and Tardi Beg Khan, the military commander of the Mughals.
Tardi Beg Khan lost the battle convincingly and Hemu Vikramaditya crowned himself the king. However, on November 5 1556 and barely a month into the kingship of Hemu, Akbar, along with his army, marched into Delhi and defeated the forces of Hemu. The fort once again belonged to the Mughals, but was fast disintegrating. Back then, it was known as Badalgarh and was built with bricks alone. Realizing its historical and situational significance, Akbar decided to rebuild it with red sandstone.
During the reign of Shah Jahan, the fort was modified considerably and took the current form. Shah Jahan destroyed some of the edifices within the fort and rebuilt it as per his own architectural taste. During the early 17th century, the fort was captured by the Maratha Empire.During this period, the fort saw many owners including various Maratha emperors and their enemies which included a host of Mughal emperors. In 1761, the Marathas underwent a massive defeat at the hands of Ahmad Shah Durrani, founder of the Durrani Empire.
The emperors of the Durrani dynasty made the fort their home until 1785. In 1785, the fort was regained by the Marathas under the reign of Mahadji Shinde. The Marathas then lost their battle against the British in the Second Anglo-Maratha War and with it the fort. The British then enjoyed the comfort of the fort until it was handed over to the government of India in 1947.
The fort stretches for almost 2.5 kilometers. It has four gates (one on each side). Out of the four gates, the Delhi gate and Lahore gate are the most prominent ones. The Lahore gate was later renamed as Amar Singh Gate. Akbar used the Delhi gate as his main entrance and the gate also served as a security against the invaders. There is also an inner gateway known as the Elephant Gate. The entrances were built in such a manner that the invaders found it difficult to enter the fort even with the help of war elephants. The Indian army still uses the Delhi gate for security purposes.
This fine mausoleum was built near River Yamuna by Emperor Humayun’s first wife Begum Bega aka Haji Begum to immortalize the memory of her husband. Though the Emperor died in 1556, it wasn’t until 1565 that the construction for the monument began. After seven years of construction, the tomb and the surrounding Charbagh Garden were completed in 1572. Given the grandeur of the memorial, it’s no surprise that the construction cost came to 1.5 million rupees, which was completely borne by Begum Bega.
Over the centuries, Humayun’s Tomb witnessed much neglect and decline. In the 18th-century, the beautiful gardens surrounding the monument gave way to vegetable gardens. After the colonial rulers took over Delhi, the Charbagh Garden was overlaid with an English-style garden in 1860. However, in the early part of the 20th-century, the tomb complex was restored with the original gardens at the order of Lord Curzon, the then Viceroy of India.
The monument also played a major role in the modern history of India. At the time of the country’s partition in 1947, Humayun’s Tomb along with the Purana Qila served as refugee camps for those migrating to Pakistan. For almost five years the camps were held at this site, causing much damage to the main structure and the gardens. Later, when the monument came under the control of the Archaeological Survey of India, it was once again restored to its original glory.
The renowned ‘Palace Of The Winds’, or Hawa Mahal, is one of the prominent tourist attractions in Jaipur city. Located in the heart of Jaipur, this beautiful five-storey palace was constructed in 1799 by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh who belonged to Kachhwaha Rajput dynasty. The main architect of this palace built of red and pink sandstone, is Lal Chand Ustad and the palace is believed to have been constructed in the form of the crown of Krishna, the Hindu god.
Considered as an embodiment of Rajputana architecture, the main highlight of Hawa Mahal is its pyramid shape and its 953 windows or ‘Jharokhas’ which are decorated with intricate designs. The main intention behind the construction of the Mahal was to facilitate the royal women and provide them a view of everyday life through the windows, as they never appeared in public. Read further to know more about Hawa Mahal, its history, architecture and its visiting hours.
It was in 1799 that the Kachhwaha Rajput ruler, Sawai Pratap Singh, grandson of Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh who built Jaipur, constructed Hawa Mahal as a continuation of the Royal City Palace. Sawai Pratap Singh’s devotion to Lord Krishna is evident in the palace’s construction as it resembles the lord’s crown. Though many reasons are cited behind the construction of the fort, Purdah system followed by the Rajputs is said to be one of the main causes.
During those days, Rajput royal women did not appear in public or in front of strangers. However, they were keen to follow the day-to-day events and royal processions occurring on the streets. It is for their benefit that the Hawa Mahal was built, complete with small windows and screened balconies. This gave the women a sense of freedom, without appearing in public.
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