Agra has two histories: one of the ancient city on the east, or left, bank of the river Jumna, going back so far as to be lost in the legends of Krishna and of the heroes of the Mâhabhârata; the other of the modern city, founded by Akbar in A.D. 1558, on the right bank of the river, and among Muhammadans still retaining its name of Akbarabad, which is intimately associated with the romance of the Great Moguls, and known throughout the world as the city of the Taj.
Of ancient Agra little now remains except a few traces of the foundations. It was a place of importance under various Hindu dynasties previous to the Muhammadan invasions of India, but its chequered fortunes down to the beginning of the sixteenth century are the usual tale of siege and capture by Hindu or Mussulman, and possess little historical interest.
In A.D. 1505 Sultan Sikandar Lodi, the last but one of the Afghan dynasty at Delhi, rebuilt Agra and made it the seat of government. Sikandra, the burial-place of Akbar, is named after him, and there he built a garden-house which subsequently became the tomb of Mariam Zâmâni, one of Akbar’s wives. The son of Sultan Sikandar, Ibrahim Lodi, was defeated and slain by Babar at Panipat, near Delhi, in 1526, and from that time Agra became one of the principal cities of the Mogul Empire which Babar founded.
The Great Moguls.—I. Babar.
Though very few memorials of Babar’s short but brilliant reign still exist at Agra, the life of this remarkable man is so important a part of the Mogul dynasty that it must not be passed over by the intelligent tourist or student of Mogul art. It was Babar’s sunny disposition, and the love of nature characteristic of his race, that brought back into Indian art the note of joyousness which it had not known since the days of Buddhism. Babar is one of the most striking figures in Eastern history. He was descended from Tamerlane, or Timur, on his father’s side, and, on his mother’s, from Chinghiz Khan. In the year 1494, at the age of twelve, he became king of Farghana, a small kingdom of Central Asia, now known as Kokand. His sovereignty, however, was of a very precarious tenure, for he was surrounded on all sides by a horde of rapacious, intriguing relatives, scrambling for the fragments of Timur’s empire. With hardly a trustworthy ally except a remarkably clever and courageous old grandmother, he struggled for three years to retain his birthright. Then, acting on a sudden inspiration, he made a dash for Samarkand, the ancient capital of Timur, and won it. In his delightful memoirs Babar describes how, with boyish glee, he paced the ramparts himself, wandered from palace to palace, and revelled in the fruit-gardens of what was then one of the finest cities of Asia. But in less than a hundred days, most of his shifty Mongol troops, disappointed in not finding as much booty as they expected, deserted and joined a party of his enemies, who straightway attacked Andijan, the capital of Farghana, where Babar had left his mother and grandmother. Before he could come to their rescue Andijan had fallen, and at the same time Samarkand, which he had left, was occupied by another of his numerous rivals. This double misfortune caused still more of his followers to leave him, and he found himself without a kingdom, except the little town of Khojend, and with only two hundred men. For almost the only time in his life he gave way utterly to despair. “I became a prey to melancholy and vexation; I was reduced to a sore distressed state and wept much.”
Before long, however, Babar, rejoined by his mother and grandmother, whom the captors of Andijan had spared, taking advantage of another turn in the wheel of fortune, recovered his kingdom of Farghana, but lost the greater part of it again through another desertion of his “Mongol rascals.” A second time, with only a handful of men, he surprised and captured Samarkand (A.D. 1500). In the following year he rashly sallied out against Shaibani, the most formidable of his adversaries, was defeated, and, after vainly trying to hold the city against the victors, was forced to fly under cover of the night. This time he did not weep, but consoled himself next morning by riding a headlong race with two of his companions. Reaching a village, where they found “nice fat flesh, bread of fine flour well baked, sweet melons, and excellent grapes in great abundance,” Babar declared that in all his life he never enjoyed himself so much or felt so keenly the pleasures of peace and plenty.
He now took refuge among the hills near Uratipa, finding amusement in observing the life of the villagers, and especially in conversing with the mother of the headman, an old lady of a hundred and eleven, whose descendants, to the number of ninety-six, lived in the country round about. One of her relatives had served in the army with which Timur had invaded India, and she entertained the future Emperor of Hindustan by telling him stories of his ancestor’s adventures.
After several fruitless raids with the few troopers who remained faithful to him, he allied himself with his two uncles, Mahmud and Ahmad Khan, in an attack against Tambal, one of the powerful nobles who had revolted against him and set up Jahangir, his brother, on the throne of Farghana. At a critical moment his uncles left Babar to the mercy of his enemy, and he was again forced to fly for his life, hotly pursued by Tambal’s horsemen. He was overtaken by two of them, who, not daring to pit themselves against Babar’s prodigious strength and courage, tried to inveigle him into a trap. Babar gives a moving description of this great crisis in his life. Thoroughly exhausted, and seeing no prospect of escape, he resigned himself to die:—
“There was a stream in the garden, and there I made my ablutions and recited a prayer of two bowings. Then surrendering myself to meditation, I was about to ask God for His compassion, when sleep closed my eyes. I saw (in my dream) Khwája Yakub, the son of Khwája Yahya, and grandson of his Eminence the Khwája ‘Obaid-Allah (a famous saint of Samarkand), with a numerous escort, mounted on dappled grey horses, come before me and say, ‘Do not be anxious, the Khwája has sent me to tell you that he will support you and seat you on the throne of sovereignty; whenever a difficulty occurs to you, remember to beg his help, and he will at once respond to your appeal, and victory and triumph shall straightway lean to your side.’ I awoke with easy heart, at the very moment when Yusuf the constable and his companions (Tambal’s soldiers) were plotting some trick to seize and throttle me. Hearing them discussing it, I said to them, ‘All you say is very well, but I shall be curious to see which of you dares to approach me,’ As I spoke the tramp of a number of horses was heard outside the garden wall. Yusuf the constable exclaimed, ‘If we had taken you and brought you to Tambal, our affairs would have prospered much thereby; as it is, he has sent a large troop to seize you; and the noise you hear is the tramp of horses on your track,’ At this assertion my face fell, and I knew not what to devise.
“At this very moment the horsemen, who had not at first found the gate of the garden, made a breach in its crumbling wall, through which they entered. I saw they were Kutluk Muhammad Barlas and Babai Pargári, two of my most devoted followers, with ten or twenty other persons. When they came near to my person they threw themselves off their horses, and, bending the knee at a respectful distance, fell at my feet, and overwhelmed me with marks of their affection.
“Amazed at this apparition, I felt that God had just restored me to life. I called to them at once, ‘Seize Yusuf the constable, and the wretched traitors who are with him, and bring them to me bound hand and foot,’ Then, turning to my rescuers, I said, ‘Whence come you? Who told you what was happening?’ Kutluk Muhammad Barlás answered, ‘After I found myself separated from you in the sudden flight from Akhsi, I reached Andijan at the very moment when the Khans themselves were making their entry. There I saw, in a dream, Khwája ‘Obaid-Allah, who said, “Pádishah Babar is at this instant in a village called Karmán; fly thither and bring him back with you, for the throne is his of right.” Rejoicing at this dream, I related it to the big Khan and little Khan…. Three days have we been marching, and thanks be to God for bringing about this meeting.’” 1
After this exciting adventure Babar rejoined his time-serving uncles, but was forced into exile again in 1503, when, at the battle of Akshi, the Khans were completely defeated by Shaibani. Then he resolved to depart out of Farghana and to give up the attempt to recover his kingdom. Characteristically, when foiled in one enterprise he entered upon another yet more ambitious. Joined by his two brothers, Jahangir and Nasir, and by a motley array of various wandering tribes, he swooped down upon Kabul and captured it.
The description of the new kingdom thus easily won, which fills many pages of the Memoirs, reveals another side of Babar’s character—his intense love of nature. He gives minute accounts of the climate, physical characteristics, the fruits, flowers, birds, and beasts, as well as of the human inhabitants. In the intervals between his battles, or between his rollicking drinking parties, which for some years of his life degenerated into drunken orgies, we often find Babar lost in admiration of some beautiful landscape, or collecting flowers and planting fruit trees. Wherever he came, Babar’s first care was to dig wells and plant fruit and flower gardens. India owes much to the Great Moguls’ love of horticulture.
When Babar had drilled his unruly Afghan subjects into something like order, he made, in 1506, one more unsuccessful attempt to crush Shaibani. However, in 1510, when that doughty warrior was defeated and slain by Ismail, Shah of Persia, Samarkand fell once more into Babar’s hands, as a vassal of the Shah. Eight months afterwards he was driven out again. From that time Babar gave up all hopes of re-establishing the empire of his ancestor Timur, and turned his face towards India. In 1519 he gathered an army for his first expedition, which was, however, more of a reconnaissance than a conquest. Four more attempts he made, until at last, in 1526, with only 10,000 men, he defeated the hosts of Ibrahim Lodi, the last of the Afghan kings of Delhi, who, with 15,000 of his troops, were left dead on the field of Panipat.
Thus, after many struggles, Babar became “master and conqueror of the mighty empire of Hindustan,” but he had to fight two more great battles before his sovereignty was undisputed—one in 1527 near Fatehpur Sikri, with the great chief of the Rajputs, Raja Sanga of Chitore, and another in 1529 near Buxar, with the Afghans who had settled in Bengal. The next year Babar died in his garden palace at Agra The nobility of his character was conspicuous in his death as it was in his life. He was devotedly attached to his eldest son, Humayun, who was seized with malarial fever while staying at his country estate at Sambhal. Babar had him removed by boat to Agra, but his physicians declared that the case was hopeless. Babar’s own health had suffered much during his life in India, and he was terribly agitated by the news. When some one suggested that in such circumstances the Almighty sometimes deigned to accept the thing most valued by one friend in exchange for the life of another, Babar exclaimed that of all things his life was dearest to Humayun, as Humayun’s was to him. He would sacrifice his own life to save his son. His courtiers entreated him to give up instead the great diamond taken at Agra, said to be the most valuable on earth. Babar declared that no stone could compare in value with his own life, and after solemnly walking round Humayun’s couch, as in a religious sacrifice, he retired to devote himself to prayer. Soon afterwards he was heard to exclaim, “I have borne it away! I have borne it away!” Humayun began to recover, and, as he improved, Babar gradually sank. Commending his son to the protection of his friends, and imploring Humayun to be kind and forgiving to his brothers, the first of the “Great Moguls” of India passed away. He was buried at Kabul, in one of his beloved gardens, which, according to Tartar custom, he had chosen for his tomb, in “the sweetest spot of the neighbourhood.” 2
Babar’s connection with Agra.
Babar’s connection with Agra began immediately after the battle of Panipat. He sent forward Humayun, who occupied the town without opposition. The story of the great diamond referred to above is here recorded in the Memoirs. The Raja of Gwalior, slain at Panipat, had left his family and the heads of his clan at Agra. In gratitude to Humayun, who treated them magnanimously, and protected them from plunder, they presented to him a peskesh, or token of homage, consisting of a quantity of jewels and precious stones. Among these was one famous diamond which had been acquired by Sultan Alaeddin. “It is so valuable that a judge of diamonds valued it at about half the daily expense of the whole world. It is about eight mikkals” (or about 280 carats). This is generally supposed to be the celebrated Koh-i-nur.
Babar determined to establish the seat of his government at Agra, but was almost dissuaded by the desolate appearance of the country. “It always appears to me,” he says, “that one of the chief defects of Hindustan is the want of artificial watercourses. I had intended, wherever I might fix my residence, to construct water-wheels, to produce an artificial stream, and to lay out an elegant and regularly planned pleasure ground. Shortly after coming to Agra I passed the Jumna with this object in view, and examined the country to pitch upon a fit spot for a garden. The whole was so ugly and detestable that I repassed the river quite repulsed and disgusted. In consequence of the want of beauty and of the disagreeable aspect of the country, I gave up my intention of making a charbagh (garden house); but as no better situation presented itself near Agra, I was finally compelled to make the best of this same spot…. In every corner I planted suitable gardens, in every garden I sowed roses and narcissus regularly, and in beds corresponding to each other. We were annoyed by three things in Hindustan; one was its heat, another the strong winds, and the third its dust. Baths were the means of removing all three inconveniences.”
As I have mentioned above, there are very few vestiges remaining of Babar’s city, of his fruit and flower gardens, palaces, baths, tanks, wells and watercourses. The Ram Bagh (p. 92) is one of the gardens laid out either by himself or by one of his nobles, and the Zohra, or Zuhara Bagh, near it, contains the remains of a garden-house, which is said to have belonged to one of Babar’s daughters. Opposite to the Taj there are traces of the foundations of the city he built. Babar planned, and his successors completed, the great road leading from Agra to Kabul through Lahore, parts of which still remain. Some of the old milestones can be seen on the road to Sikandra. Babar’s account of the commencement of it is very characteristic: “On Thursday, the 4th of the latter Rebia, I directed Chikmak Bey, by a writing under the royal hand and seal, 3 to measure the distance from Agra to Kabul; that at every nine kos he should raise a minar, or turret, twelve gez in height, on the top of which he was to construct a pavilion; that every ten kos he should erect a yam, or post-house, which they call a dak-choki, for six horses; that he should fix a certain allowance as a provision for the post-house keepers, couriers, and grooms, and for feeding the horses; and orders were given that whenever a post-house for horses was built near a khalseh, or imperial demesne, they should be furnished from thence with the stated allowances; that if it were situated in a pergunna, the nobleman in charge should attend to the supply. The same day Chikmâk Padshahi left Agra.”
The promptness of Babar’s administrative methods is a striking contrast to the circumlocution of present-day departmentalism. There still exist remains of many splendid sarais, or halting-places, built along this road by different Mogul Emperors for their convenience, from the time of Babar down to Aurangzîb. One of the finest is the Nurmahal Sarai, near Jalandhar, built by Jahangir and named after his favourite wife. Edward Terry, who accompanied Sir Thomas Roe, James the First’s ambassador at Jahangir’s Court, describes “the long walk of four hundred miles, shaded by great trees on both sides,” and adds, “this is looked upon by the travellers who have found the comfort of that cool shade as one of the rarest and most beneficial works in the whole world.”
Humayun, who succeeded Babar, had many of his father’s amiable qualities, but none of his genius as a leader of men. He utterly failed in the attempt to consolidate the great empire which Babar had left him, and in 1539, or nine and a half years after his accession, he was completely defeated at Kanauj by Shere Khan Sur, an Afghan nobleman, who had submitted to Babar, but revolted against his son. Humayun found himself a fugitive with only a handful of men, and was eventually driven not only out of Hindustan, but even from the kingdom of Kabul. He then took refuge with the Shah of Persia. Shere Khan Sur, under the title of Shere Shah, ruled at Agra until he died, five years afterwards. His son, Salîm Shah, or Sultan Islam, succeeded him, and reigned between seven and eight years, but on his death the usual quarrels between his relatives and generals gave Humayun, who in the mean time had got back Kabul with the aid of a Persian army, the opportunity to recover his position in Hindustan. This occurred in 1555, but Humayun’s unfortunate reign terminated the same year through a fatal fall from a staircase in his palace at Delhi.
Humayun left no memorial of himself at Agra, but he is to be remembered for two circumstances; the first, that he was the father of the great Akbar, who succeeded him; and the second, that the plan of his tomb at Delhi, built by Akbar, was the model on which the plan of the Taj was based.
Interregnum: Shere Shah.
Shere Shah was a great builder, and a most capable ruler. In his short reign of five years he initiated many of the great administrative reforms which Akbar afterwards perfected. Fergusson, in his “History of Indian Architecture,” mentions that in his time there was a fragment of a palace built by Shere Shah in the Fort at Agra, “which was as exquisite a piece of decorative art as any of its class in India.” This palace has since been destroyed to make room for a barrack, but probably the two-storied pavilion known as the Salîmgarh is the fragment to which Fergusson refers. The only other building of Shere Shah’s time now remaining in Agra is the half-buried mosque of Alawal Bilawal, or Shah Wilayat, in the Nai-ki Mandi quarter (see p. 102).
Shere Shah’s tomb at Sasseram, in Bihar, is one of the noblest monuments of the Pathan style, or the style of the earliest Muhammadan architects in India.
Akbar, “the Great,” was born at Amarkot, on the edge of the deserts of Marwar, about three years after the battle of Kanauj, when his father Humayun was a fugitive, driven from place to place by the adherents of Shere Shah. At this time the treasury of the royal house was so reduced that, when Humayun indented on it for the customary presents to his faithful followers, the only thing procurable was a single pod of musk. With the cheerfulness which was the saving grace of Humayun, he broke up the pod, and distributed it, adding the pious wish, which seemed like prophetic insight, that his son’s fame might fill the world like the fragrance of that perfume. Trained in the hard school of adversity, and inheriting the best qualities of his grandfather, Akbar was not long in restoring the faded fortunes of the Mogul dynasty. Like Babar, he succeeded to the throne at a very early age, and found himself surrounded by difficulties which would have overwhelmed a weaker character. Humayun had, indeed, fought his way back to Delhi and Agra, but he had by no means settled with all the numerous disputants for the sovereignty of Hindustan, which Sultan Islam’s death had left in the field; and his departure from Kabul had been the signal for revolt in that quarter. Akbar, accompanied by Bairam Khan, the ablest of Humayun’s generals, was in Sind when he received at the same time the news of his father’s death and of the revolt of the Viceroy at Kabul He was then little more than thirteen years old, but, like Babar under similar circumstances, he was prompt in decision and in action. Adopting Bairam’s advice, which was contrary to that of all his other counsellors, he left Kabul out of account, and pushed on to Delhi against the forces of Himu, a Hindu general, and the most powerful of his foes, who had assumed the title of Raja Bikramajit, with the hopes of restoring the old Hindu dynasty. On the historic plains of Panipat Akbar completely defeated Himu’s army, and thus regained the empire which his grandfather had won on the same field thirty years before. This great battle was the most critical point in his career, and though Akbar had to undertake many other hard campaigns before he was absolute master of the empire, his position from that time was never seriously endangered.
Until his eighteenth year Akbar remained under the tutelage of Bairam, an able general, but unscrupulous and cruel. The high-minded, generous disposition of Akbar revolted against some of his guardian’s methods, but he recognized that, for some years at least, Bairam’s experience was necessary for him. In 1560, however, he took the administration entirely into his own hands. Bairam, in disgust, took up arms against his young master, but was soon defeated and taken prisoner. With his usual magnanimity, Akbar pardoned him, and sent him off to Mecca with a munificent present; but the revengeful knife of an Afghan put an end to the turbulent nobleman’s life before he could leave India.
Akbar spent the rest of his long reign in elaborating the administrative reforms which have made him famous as the greatest ruler India has ever had. With the aid of able ministers, both Hindu and Muhammadan, he purified the administration of justice, keeping the supreme control in his own hands; enjoined absolute tolerance in religious matters; abolished oppressive taxes, and reorganized and improved the system of land revenue introduced by Shere Shah. A minute account of Akbar’s reign, of his policy, habits, and character, is given in the “Akbar-nama,” the history written by his devoted friend and Prime Minister, Abul Fazl. No detail of state affairs was too small for Akbar’s personal attention. Ability and integrity were the only passports to his favour, while bigotry and injustice were anathemas to him. Like Babar, he was fond of horticulture, and imported many kinds of fruit trees and flowers into India. Though he could neither read nor write, he had a great library of Hindi, Persian, Arabic, Greek, and other books, and Abul Fazl relates that every book was read through to him from beginning to end.
The most remarkable of all this remarkable man’s intellectual activities were his attempts to bring about a reconciliation of all the discordant religious elements of his empire. Badâyuni, one of his contemporary historians, but, unlike him, a bigoted Musalman, comments thus on Akbar’s religious views: “From his earliest childhood to his manhood, and from his manhood to old age, his Majesty has passed through the most various phases, and through all sorts of religious practices and sectarian beliefs, and has collected everything which people can find in books, with a talent of selection peculiar to him and a spirit of inquiry opposed to every (Islamite) principle. Thus a faith based on some elementary principles traced itself on the mirror of his heart, and, as the result of all the influences which were brought to bear on his Majesty, there grew gradually, as the outline on a stone, the conviction on his heart that there were sensible men in all religions, and abstemious thinkers and men endowed with miraculous powers among all nations. If some true knowledge were thus everywhere to be found, why should truth be confined to one religion, or to a creed like Islam, which was comparatively new, and scarcely a thousand years old; why should one sect assert what another denies, and why should one claim a preference without having superiority conferred upon itself?”
Near to his palace at Fatehpur Sikri he built an Ibâdat Khana, or Hall of Worship, for the discussion of philosophy and religion. There he received representatives of all religious sects, Muhammadans, Brahmans, Jains, Buddhists, Parsis, Jews, and Christians, and listened attentively to their arguments. He studied deeply religious books, and had the New Testament translated into Persian. He also invited Jesuit priests from Goa, and not only allowed them to build a church at Agra, but even attended a marriage service and interpreted the words of the sermon to the bride. Badayuni says that “his Majesty firmly believed in the truth of the Christian religion, and wishing to spread the doctrines of Jesus, ordered Prince Murad (his son) to take a few lessons in Christianity by way of auspiciousness.” The Jesuits, however, did not succeed in making Akbar a convert, for when his religious convictions were at last settled, he proclaimed as the state religion a kind of eclectic pantheism called Din-i-ilâhi, or “Divine Faith,” with himself as the chief interpreter. Dispensing with all forms of priesthood, he simply recognized One God, the Maker of the Universe, and himself as God’s vicegerent on earth. He rejected the doctrine of the Resurrection, and accepted that of the transmigration of souls. The Islamite prayers were abolished, and others of a more general character were substituted for them. The ceremonial was largely borrowed from the Hindus.
The “Divine Faith” had no hold on the people, and its influence ceased with the death of its founder. It is even said that Akbar, on his death-bed, acknowledged the orthodox Muhammadan creed, but the evidence on this point is unreliable. Akbar’s religious system had an important political bearing, for the keynote of his whole policy was the endeavour to unite with a bond of common interest all the diverse social, religious, and racial elements of his empire. He overlooked nothing which might further the object he had in view. He chose his ministers and generals indiscriminately from all his subjects, without distinction of race or religion. He allied himself in marriage with the royal Hindu families of Rajputana. He sat daily on the judgment seat to dispense justice to all who chose to appeal to him, and, like the famous Harun-al-Rashid, he would at times put on disguises and wander unattended among the people, to keep himself informed of their real condition and to check the malpractices of his officials.
Though Akbar unavoidably had bitter enemies among the more bigoted of his Muhammadan subjects, his wise tolerance of all beliefs and the generosity of his policy for the most part disarmed hostility from all sides. Certainly no ruler of India before or since succeeded so far in carrying out his object. He is still one of the great popular heroes of Hindustan; his mighty deeds in war and in the chase, his wise and witty sayings, the splendour of his court, his magnanimity and his justice, still live in song and in story.
Akbar died in the Fort at Agra on October 13, 1605, in the fifty-first year of his reign, aged 63. He was buried at Sikandra, in the mausoleum commenced by himself, and finished by his son and successor, Jahangir.
Akbar’s connection with Agra.
The modern city of Agra, as stated previously, was founded by Akbar in 1558, opposite to the old city on the left bank of the river. He built the Fort, on the site of an old Pathan castle, and part of the palace within it. Agra was the seat of government during the greater part of his reign. He also built the great mosque and the magnificent palaces and public buildings of Fatehpur Sikri, which are among the most famous of the antiquities of India.
The eldest surviving son of Akbar, Prince Salîm, on his accession to the throne in 1605, assumed the title of Núr-ud-din Jahangir (Light of the Faith, Conqueror of the World).
He was passionate, cruel, and a drunkard, but not without ability and force of character. As Prince Salîm he had instigated the assassination of the Prime Minister, Abul Fazl, and probably hastened his own father’s death by his violent conduct. There was, however, a reconciliation at the end, and Jahangir endeavoured to atone for his behaviour by lavish expenditure on Akbar’s tomb at Sikandra. He has also left many pious tributes to his father’s memory in his autobiography. Jahangir’s favourite wife was the celebrated Nur Mahal, who for twenty years was almost the supreme power in the imperial court. Her beauty attracted his attention while he was still Prince Salîm, but Akbar, disapproving of her as a daughter-in-law, gave her in marriage to Sher Afsan, “the lion killer,” a nobleman of Burdwan. After his accession, having treacherously procured the death of her husband, Jahangir had Nur Mahal removed to Agra and placed under the care of his mother. For many years she repulsed all Jahangir’s overtures, but when at last she consented to be his queen she became his most devoted wife. She accompanied him on all his travels, and Jahangir consulted her in all important affairs of state. Sir Thomas Roe, James the First’s ambassador, describes Jahangir at Agra taking his wife for an evening drive in a bullock cart, “the King himself being her carter.” He affectionately changed her name from Nur Mahal, “Light of the Palace,” to Nur Jahan, “Light of the World.” The imperial coinage bore her name and an inscription, “Gold has acquired a new value since it bore the name of Nur Jahan.” She even succeeded to some extent in controlling Jahangir’s drunken habits. She was a great patroness of the arts, and it is said that the Samman Burj, her apartments in the Agra palace, was decorated after her own designs. Her charity was boundless; she was the especial protectress of orphan girls, and provided marriage portions for no less than 500 from her private purse.
Nur Mahal’s father, Itmâd-ud-daulah, became Lord High Treasurer, and afterwards Wazir, or Prime Minister. On his death his daughter built for him the magnificent tomb at Agra known by his name.
During Jahangir’s reign many Europeans, travellers, adventurers and others, flocked to the Mogul court. They were allowed free access to the palace, and Jahangir frequently admitted them to join in his midnight carouses. He showed great favour to the Jesuit priests, and even allowed two of his nephews to be instructed in the Christian religion.
The violent temper of Jahangir was inherited by his son, Prince Khurram, afterwards Shah Jahan, and the peace of his reign was frequently disturbed by open rebellion on the part of the Prince. In 1623 Shah Jahan actually sacked Agra, and his soldiers committed fearful atrocities on the inhabitants. He failed, however, to capture the fort, which contained the imperial treasury, and Jahangir, no doubt remembering his own father’s leniency towards himself, forgave his unruly son.
Jahangir died in 1627, and was buried at Shahdara, near Lahore, in a magnificent tomb prepared by Nur Mahal. She herself retired to Lahore, and, though she lived till 1648, ceased to take any part in state affairs after his death. She was buried by her husband’s side at Shahdara.
Jahangir’s connection with Agra.
Jahangir for a great part of his reign held his court at Lahore, or at Kabul. The chief monuments of his reign at, or near, Agra are Akbar’s tomb at Sikandra (p. 97), and Itmâd-ud-daulah’s tomb (p. 85), already mentioned. Part of the Agra Palace, the Jahangiri Mahal (p. 63), is named after him, though it is most probable that it was really built in Akbar’s reign.
There are a few minor buildings of Jahangir’s time in Agra, such as the baths of Ali Verdi Khan in Chipitollah Street, the mosque of Motamid Khan in the Kashmiri Bazar, and the tower known after the name of Boland Khan, the chief eunuch of Jahangir’s palace. These are of purely archæological interest.
V. Shah Jahan.
Shah Jahan, on his father’s death, though only fourth in right of succession to the throne, speedily disposed of his brothers by means very commonly adopted in Oriental royal families, and was enthroned at Agra in 1648. Immediately afterwards he wreaked his vengeance on the Portuguese, who had taken part against him in his rebellion against Jahangir, by destroying their settlement at Hughli. The next year, while on an expedition to suppress disorder in the Deccan, he lost his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, the lady of the Taj. For a long time the Emperor abandoned himself entirely to grief, and he remained faithful to her memory until his death.
The actual building of the Taj commenced in 1632. From this date until 1658, when Aurangzîb usurped the throne, was the most magnificent period of the Mogul dynasty. The whole empire enjoyed comparative peace and prosperity. Shah Jahan’s just and liberal government continued his father’s and grandfather’s policy of tolerance towards the Hindus, and his administration, though conducted with great pomp and splendour, did not press hardly upon the people. It was one of the greatest epochs of Indian architecture; besides the Taj Mahal, the buildings erected during these years include four of the masterpieces of the Mogul period—the Jâmi Masjid, or Cathedral Mosque, of Delhi; the Mûti Masjid, or Pearl Mosque, of Agra; part of the Agra Palace, and the great palace at Delhi, of which only a small portion now exists.
It is said that as Shah Jahan advanced towards old age he abandoned himself more and more to a life of pleasure and self-indulgence, but his last years were darkened by the same kind of family intrigues through which he himself had gained the throne. In 1657 the serious illness of the Emperor brought these intrigues to a head. His eldest son by Mumtaz Mahal, called Dara Shikoh, a gracious and generous Prince, but headstrong and intolerant of advice, was appointed Regent. On receiving this intelligence, his younger brothers, Shuja, Viceroy of Bengal, and Murad, Viceroy of Gujarat, declared their independence, and marched upon Agra. Aurangzîb, the third son, a religious bigot, but the ablest and most virile of the brothers, hastened to join them, and being placed in chief command, attacked Dara’s army close to Agra and completely defeated him. Three days afterwards he entered the city. Shah Jahan sent his chamberlain to order him to leave the city at once and return to his post in the Deccan, but Aurangzîb, affecting to believe that his father was dead, disregarded the order. He succeeded by bribes and promises in bringing over some of the principal nobles to his side, and being well informed by Rushanara, his younger sister, who was his equal in cunning and artifice, of all that went on in the palace, he baffled Shah Jahan’s attempts to lay hands on him. At last, under pretence of arranging an amicable meeting with his son Mahmud, Aurangzîb beguiled Shah Jahan into withdrawing his troops from the Fort. Mahmud immediately forced his way in with a picked body of men and seized the person of the Emperor. The plan succeeded so well that no attempt at a rescue was made.
The French traveller Tavernier, who has left a complete record of the time, writes of this event: “It is most surprising that not one of the servants of the grand King offered to assist him; that all his subjects abandoned him, and that they turned their eyes to the rising sun, recognizing no one as king but Aurangzîb. Shah Jahan, though still living, passed from their memories. If, perchance, there were any who felt touched by his misfortunes, fear made them silent, and made them basely abandon a king who had governed them like a father, and with a mildness which is not common with sovereigns. For although he was severe enough to the nobles when they failed to perform their duties, he arranged all things for the comfort of the people, by whom he was much beloved, but who gave no signs of it at this crisis.”
Shah Jahan remained confined in a set of apartments of the Agra Palace for seven years. He died in 1666, and was buried by the side of Mumtaz Mahal in the Taj. His captivity was shared by his favourite daughter, Jahanara, who since the death of her mother had ruled the imperial household and taken a prominent part in state affairs. She had actively supported the cause of Dara, and thus incurred the resentment of Aurangzîb. On her father’s death she retired to Delhi, and she lived there until 1681. Her simple grave, covered with grass, is in a quiet corner of the courtyard of Nizamudin’s tomb, near Delhi, where the memory of her filial piety adds to the poetic charm of all the surroundings.
The Monuments of Shah Jahan’s Reign at Agra.
The Taj Mahal (p. 72); the Jâmi Masjid (p. 69); and the following buildings in the Fort: The Mûti Masjid (p. 43); the Dîwan-i-âm (p. 46); the Dîwan-i-khas (p. 55); the Khas Mahal (p. 59).
Agra is only concerned with the first seven years of Aurangzîb’s reign, for, after the death of Shah Jahan, the court was removed to Delhi, and Agra was left with only a provincial governor to maintain its former magnificence. The unhappy Dara, after his defeat by Aurangzîb, made fruitless attempts to retrieve his fortunes, but was at last betrayed into the hands of his brother, who immediately put him to death. Aurangzîb lost no time in disposing of his other two brothers, and thus placed his succession to the throne beyond dispute.
The Princess Rushanara, as a reward for her treachery, was raised to the position formerly enjoyed by her sister Jahanara. The French physician Bernier, who resided twelve years at the Mogul court in the time of Aurangzîb, has left many minute and graphic records of the times. Here is a picture of Rushanara when she accompanied Aurangzîb on the march from Delhi to Kashmir:—
“Stretch imagination to its utmost limits, and you can conceive no exhibition more grand and imposing than when Rauchenara-Begum, mounted on a stupendous Pegu elephant and seated in a mikdember, blazing with gold and azure, is followed by five or six other elephants with mikdembers nearly as resplendent as her own, and filled with ladies attached to her household. Close to the Princess are the chief eunuchs, richly adorned and finely mounted, each with a wand of office in his hand; and surrounding her elephant a troop of female servants, Tartars and Kachmerys, fantastically attired and riding handsome pad-horses. Besides these attendants are several eunuchs on horseback, accompanied by a multitude of pagys, or lackeys, on foot, with large canes, who advance a great way before the Princess, both to the right and left, for the purpose of clearing the road and driving before them every intruder. Immediately behind Rauchenara-Begum’s retinue appears a principal lady of the court, mounted and attended in much the same manner as the Princess. This lady is followed by a third, she by a fourth, and so on, until fifteen or sixteen females of quality pass with a grandeur of appearance, equipage, and retinue more or less proportionate to their rank, pay, and office. There is something very impressive of state and royalty in the march of these sixty or more elephants; in their solemn and, as it were, measured steps, in the splendour of the mikdembers, and the brilliant and innumerable followers in attendance; and, if I had not regarded this display of magnificence with a sort of philosophical indifference, I should have been apt to be carried away by such flights of imagination as inspire most of the Indian poets when they represent the elephants as conveying so many goddesses concealed from the vulgar gaze.” 4
Dramatic justice overtook the scheming Princess at last. In 1664 Aurangzîb fell dangerously ill, and, while he was unconscious, Rushanara, believing him to be dying, abstracted the signet ring from his finger and issued letters, as under the royal seal, to the various Viceroys and Governors, setting aside the succession of the Emperor’s eldest son by a Rajput Princess in favour of another son, a boy of six, by a Muhammadan sultana. She hoped by this means to keep the supreme power in her own hands during the long minority of the new Emperor. Aurangzîb unexpectedly recovered, and became suspicious of his dangerous sister. The host of enemies she had created at court were not slow in taking advantage of the situation, and Rushanara soon afterwards disappeared—removed, it is said, by poison.
Aurangzîb ruled with a firm hand, and in strict justice according to the law of Islam, but though a man of great intellectual powers, of marvellous energy and indomitable courage, he was wanting in imagination, sympathy, and foresight, the highest qualities of a really great ruler. He checked the dissolute conduct of the nobles, and set an example of industry and devotion to duty; but his narrow, bigoted disposition inclined him to distrust even his own ministers, so that, unlike his three predecessors, he was badly served by the lieutenants in whose hands the administration of the provinces rested. He surrounded himself with religious bigots of the Sunni sect of Muhammadans, who aided him in bitter persecution of the Hindus. Hardly anything of artistic or architectural interest was created under his patronage. Most of the great artists who attended Shah Jahan’s court were dismissed as unorthodox or heretics, and many noble monuments were mutilated by the Emperor’s fanatical followers on the ground that they contravened the precept of the Koran which forbids the representation of animate nature in art.
He died in 1707, eighty-nine years of age. The Mogul empire, surrounded by hordes of the enemies his bigotry and intolerance had created, was already tottering to its fall, and the star of the British raj was rising. Seventeen years before his death he had granted to Job Charnock a piece of land at Sutanati, the site of the future capital of our Indian empire.
Agra and the Later Mogul Emperors
Agra played a very small part in the history of the weak-minded and dissolute successors of Aurangzîb. Firokhshiyar, who reigned from 1713 to 1719, resided occasionally there. After his death disputes between various claimants to the throne led to Agra Fort being besieged and captured by Husein Ali Khan, a partisan of one of them, who looted the treasury of all the valuables deposited there during three centuries. “There were the effects of Nur Jahan Begum and Mumtaz Mahal, amounting in value, according to various reports, to two or three crores of rupees. There was in particular the sheet of pearls which Shah Jahan had caused to be made for the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal, of the value of several lakhs of rupees, which was spread over it on the anniversary and on Friday nights. There was the ewer of Nur Jahan and her cushion of woven gold and rich pearls, with a border of valuable garnets and emeralds.” (Elliott.)
In 1739 Nadir, Shah of Persia, sacked Delhi, carried off Shah Jahan’s famous peacock throne, and laid Agra also under contribution. The Mahrattas next appeared on the scene. In 1764 the Jâts of Bharatpur, under Suraj Mal, captured Agra, looted the Taj, and played havoc with the palaces in the Fort. They were joined by Walter Reinhardt, an adventurer, half French and half German, who sold his services for any work of infamy, and had only recently assisted in the murder of the British Resident and other Europeans at Patna. He afterwards entered the Mogul service, and was rewarded by a grant of a tract of country near Meerut, which remained in the possession of his family until recent times. He died at Agra in 1778, and was buried in the Catholic cemetery.
For the next thirty-nine years Agra was occupied by Mahrattas and by Mogul imperialists in turn. John Hessing, a Dutch officer in the employ of the Mahrattas, was Governor of Agra in 1794, and died there in 1802. The next year it was captured by the British under General, afterwards Lord, Lake, and from that time until 1857 its history was uneventful.
Agra in the Mutiny.
Agra did not take any prominent part in the events of the Mutiny. A mob plundered the city, burnt the public offices, and killed a number of Europeans; but the rioters left soon to join their comrades at Delhi. There was a small engagement outside the city. The British troops and the whole of the European population were afterwards shut up in the Fort until the capture of Delhi. The Lieutenant-Governor, Mr. John Russell Colvin, died there, and was buried in front of the Dîwan-i-âm.
- 1. Babar’s “Memoirs,” translated by Erskine.
- 2. For further particulars of Babar’s history the reader is referred to the “Memoirs,” or to Stanley Lane-Poolers admirable “Life of Babar,” in the “Rulers of India Series” (Macmillan & Co.).
- 3. The State documents of the Mogul Emperors, “given under the royal hand and seal,” were sometimes actually impressed by the royal hand. Plate I. reproduces part of a letter, addressed by Shah Jahan to an ancestor of the present Maharajah of Gidhour. In this letter the Raja Dalan Singh is informed that “the auspicious impress of the royal hand” is sent as a mark of royal favour, and he is commanded to proceed to Court to participate in the festivities and to pay homage to the Emperor.
- 4. Bernier’s “Travels”—Constable’s translation.