THE AMAZING SHAH JAHANI MAHALS, AGRA FORT
Emperor Shah Jahan was one of the finest admirers of white marble architecture. It is said that he might have had demolished many of the Akbari mahals to modify them into his white marble palaces. While moving out of the Akbari mahals, our guide directed us towards the north-west wing of the Agra fort, where we came across the Golden capped white marble pavilions used by Shah Jahan’s daughters Roshnara Begum and Jaharana Begum huddling the Khas Mahal (also known as Aramgah-i-Mualla meaning the exalted place of rest) in between.
The Golden Pavilions of the emperor’s daughters
These two pavilions are located on either side of the Khas Mahal used by Shah Jahan. Both the pavilions are very identical in their structure and shape with Bangla roofs (Bengal style roofs) containing curved eaves.
Roshnara Ara Pavilion
It is said that during the last few days of the ailing emperor Shah Jahan, his beloved daughter, princess Jahanara Begum played a pivotal role in taking care of her father. She was constantly at the emperor’s service looking after his health, medicine and mental well being. Yet the death of his dear sons and his own house arrest during the rule of Aurangzeb was hard to bear which ultimately took a heavy toll on the frail health of the already unwell emperor.
Jahanara Ara Pavilion
We were told that originally these mansions were made of red sandstone where later on Shah Jahan decorated them by paving their walls with white marble slabs. The gilded Bangla roofs look majestic with the centrally located trefoil arch.
Khas Mahal (Aramgah-i-Mualla)
The Khas Mahal was Shah Jahan’s presidential palace. We were amazed to stand on the open terraces to have a view of the Yamuna in the North-East side of the Agra Fort offering the distant view of the Taj Mahal. The mansion consists of an elegantly designed hall flanked by pillared pavilions which are delight for any photographer. The central hall probably served as the royal living room for the emperor. The entire mansion is placed over an elevated white marble plinth. The palace complex is surrounded by exquisite curtain walls known as “Sar-i-parda”.
The Curtain Walls (Sar-i-Parda)
One of the most interesting things about the royal mansion that attracted our attention was the central rectangular tank on the elevated plinth containing fountains and waterfalls. We could visualize what a splendid aura that would have been created when the pool along with its fountains and waterfalls were in full swing during Shah Jahan’s reign. This is where Shah Jahan was great; his love for art and architecture. His taste for luxury was truly elegant and majestic.
Khas Mahal (Aramgah-i-Mualla)
The Khas Mahal consists of an elegant charbagh garden known as the “Anguri Bagh” located in its front that probably housed the rarest collection of flora including roses which the emperor Shah Jahan was very fond of.
Shah Jahan’s Mahal
The royal apartment of the emperor Shah Jahan is located in the South-east of the Khas Mahal. This mansion was initially a red sandstone palace which was later modified into a white marble palace.
Shah Jahan’s private apartment
The palace consists of a central hall, side room. The space between this palace and the Khas Mahal consists of a large compound lined by a verandah lined by beautifully decorated arches supported on double pillars. In the riverside portion of this mansion our guide led us to a centrally located arched opening. We were informed that it was through this opening the emperor used to show himself to the common people every morning, a ceremony known as “Jharokha Darshan.”
Musamman Burj is one among the most important mansions we had had seen at the Agra Fort. It is an octagonal tower located on the riverside portion of the fort. Our guide indicated that, during Jahangir’s rule there were other palaces at this site which were later replaced by Shah Jahan in the form of a multi-storied tower cum palace meant for his favourite queen Mumtaz Mahal. Unlike other white marble mansions seen in the Agra Fort, the Musamman Burj contains exquisite inlays works of Pietra Dura that we can see at the Itimad-ud-Daulah and the Taj Mahal. In the western side of the Musamman Burj we came across the beautiful rectangular pavilion known as the Shah Burj. This was perhaps the place where emperor Shah Jahan was kept on house arrest by his son Aurangzeb. The melancholic emperor probably spent the last days of his life watching the Taj Mahal through the gallery of Musamman Burj.
Musamman Burj was perhaps meant to be a pleasure mahal. Today this glorious mansion stands all alone sad and melancholic like what Shah Jahan might have had mourned his loss and grief.
View of the Musamman Burj
The Shah Burj Pavilion
The rectangular Shah Burj pavilion has a flat marble ceiling supported by exquisite white marble pillars bearing the hallmarks of Pietra Dura pioneered by the master architects of Shah Jahan. The court of the pavilion is bordered by carved marble screens. The walls of this pavilion consists one of the best exhibits of Pietra Dura inlay works consisting of rich floral and geometric designs. One of the most romantic hallmarks of this pavilion that took out breath was the centrally located, rectangular monolithic basin housing a marble fountain at its centre.
The eastern part of the pavilion consists of three arched doorways leading towards the riverside balcony. We enjoyed and were literally awestruck by the quality of the inlay works on the walls of this mansion. The beauties of the walls were further enhanced by the presence of deep arched niches. The ceiling was equally adorable and artistic housing exquisite paintings presenting gilded and multi-coloured designs. On the overall the Shah Burj pavilion has plenty of resemblance with the Taj Mahal and clearly indicates the strict influence and involvement of the emperor Shah Jahan in the construction of these royal palaces which were special to him and her highness “Mumtaz Mahal”.
The Shah Burj pavilion containing the central monolithic basin
Arched Doorway & Pillar with Peitra Dura Inlay works
Diwan-i-Khas or the “Hall of Private Audience” is an important mansion in the royal palace complex at the Agra Fort. It is here, where all the most important strategic and confidential decisions regarding the empire were taken by Shah Jahan. The palace also acted as a chamber where the emperor had private discussions with his nobles, guests and kings of other states. This mansion was built in the year 1635. If carefully seen, the Diwan-i-Khas consists of two halls, the interior of which is known as the “Tambi Khana”. We were told that once this hall had a flat wooden ceiling containing gold and silver relief works studded with precious stones, which glittered in the sunlight giving the palace an out of the world look. The outer hall has a look like a verandah lined by beautifully decorated arches supported on double pillars.
View of the Diwan-i-Khas & the Machchi Bhawan
The Royal Marble Seats of Jahangir & Shah Jahan
Beside the Diwan-i-Khas we came across the two royal seats or thrones used by emperor Jahangir and Shah Jahan. On the riverside front, we were standing in front of the Jahangiri throne made of dark black slate. On the opposite side of Jahangir’s throne lay the all white marble throne used by Shah Jahan. It is said that Jahangir’s seat was made in the year 1603 when he was still prince Salim. The young prince used to enjoy the sight of the flowing Yamuna or watch elephant fights on the level beneath the fort walls from this royal seat.
View of Jahangir’s throne
During his conflict with his father Akbar the great, Jahangir declared himself as the emperor of Hindustan from the Allahabad Fort. This Allahabad Fort was also Akbar’s another great architectural achievement. Anyway, at the then time Jahangir sat on the black marble throne and announced himself as the Shahenshah of Hindustan. Later on during 1605 after Akbar’s demise he was coronated to the takht of Agra. He then ordered his generals to bring the black throne from Allahabad to the Agra fort. The throne was perhaps the symbol of his pledge ‘Thakt or thaktya’ (either become the ruler or prefer to go to grave).
Shah Jahan’s white marble throne
The white marble rectangular throne used by Shah Jahan is supported on four legs carved out of a single block of white marble. It stands on a marble plinth. According to historians this slab like seat used to house the famous wooden throne decorated by precious jewels and gems. The emperor probably used to relax on this throne during the summer evenings and nights.
Mina Masjid is a small white marble mosque built by Shah Jahan located as the South West part of the throne-corridor. The mosque was used by the emperor and the ladies of the royal Harem. The mosque has a small open court in front of three arched prayer chambers. The overall architectural design of the mosque is very simple and the presence of lofty walls around it clearly depicts that it was also meant for the royal ladies of the Harem. There are stories that Shah Jahan was probably imprisoned in a small chamber near the Mina Masjid. But unfortunately there are hardly any convincing evidence to establish this theory.
After visiting the Mina Masjid and the throne-corridor located in and around the Diwan-i-Khas, our next destination was the famous Machchi Bhawan or the Fish Palace. This palace is a two storied mansion surrounding a rectangular grass courtyard which was once a marble tank containing fountains and fishes. The emperor and the empress used to be entertained by spending their leisure time beside this magnificient pool.
View of the Machchi Bhawan
The mansion surrounding this once existing marble pool is adored by a beautiful marble balcony which looks gorgeous in the presence of exquisitely designed pillars. The arched gallery of the palace is a delight for any architectural admirer. The southward central pavilion probably was meant for the emperor whereas the opposite northern pavilion was meant for the empress.
Shah Jahan’s Royal Seat
The south pavilion probably also used to house the royal seat of Shah Jahan. It attracts the attention of any onlooker by the typical Shah Jahani white marble designs in the domed ceiling and pillars.
We had a rare brief rendezvous at the Sheesh Mahal or the Palace of Mirrors located in the north-east corner in the lower storey near to the Diwan-i-Khas. Shish Mahal was then under the ASI restoration works. Luckily our guide got permission from the ASI officials stationed at the mansion and led us in. It was an amazing experience, a remarkable aura. We were told that this palace was built around the year 1631 to 1640 by Shah Jahan probably as his imperial bath. The palace got its peculiar name due to the use of small, beautifully decorated mirrors on its plastered walls and roof ceilings. The innumerable mirrors inside this palace used to create a magical aura with thousands of lighted candles and lamps.
The Sheesh Mahal, Agra Fort
The Sheesh Mahal consists of two large chambers connected by a wide arched doorway in the centre. The ASI officers indicated that once these chambers contained several fountains in the marble tank, which were under restoration works. The decoration of the walls is particularly noteworthy. The once gorgeous stucco relief works on the ceilings and walls were painted along with the use of the small mirrors and designs made of gold. The flooring of the Sheesh Mahal is equally beautiful made of exquisite white marble. The mosaic designs made by small glass mirrors bear all the evidence of the pinnacle of Mughal art.
Although the function of the “Hall of Public Audience” was started by emperor Akbar, initially he did not have any permanent mahal or mansion at the Agra Fort for such official duties. Generally such office works or hearings were conducted from make-shift tents in the lawns of the Agra Fort. The same tradition continued during the rule of his son Jahangir. Jahangir’s son Shah Jahan after his coronation showed interests for erecting an exclusive hall for managing his administrative and official functions. This was how Diwan-i-Am or the “Hall of Public Audience” came into place by the year 1628. As an able emperor he had showed the right attitude in his fascination for a royal court that would proudly showcased the glory of the great Mughals.
View of the Diwan-i-Am
The pillared hall of Diwan-i-Am
Speaking from the artistic or architectural perspective, Diwan-i-Am could be considered as the symbol of the Mughal grandeur and royal glory. The mansion was built in red sandstone on a large rectangular plinth. The entire hall consists of 48 pillars, out of which the outer pillars are aligned in pairs. These beautiful pillars along with the engrailed arches support a rectangular ceiling covering the top of the hall. Unlike other halls, the Diwan-i-Am is opened on all three sides except that in the eastern side, where at the centre lies an elevated jharokha balcony which used to house the royal throne chamber (known as Takht-i-Murasa) of emperor Shah Jahan. Our guide indicated that the emperor used to preside over the public office mostly during the morning hours before lunch.
The royal throne chamber, Diwan-i-Am
The royal throne chamber is made on white marble which is decorated with exquisite Pietra Dura inlay works. The chamber consists of a two pillared arched gallery. The pillars show fine display of Pietra Dura inlay works. The chamber is connected with the Machchi Bhawan at its rear by a staircase. The royal ladies used to witness the proceedings of the Diwan-i-Am from windows located on the left and right sides of the royal throne chamber. At the base of the royal throne chamber we came across a four pillared marble platform known as “Baithak”, which acted as the seat for the Prime Minister (Wazir) of the Mughal court.
Moti Masjid or the pearl mosque is located on an elevated plinth to the north-western side of the Diwan-i-Am. Interestingly, the mosque has a riverside entrance known as the Water gate or Khizr Gate. This shows that the Mughal emperors preferred to enter the Agra Fort or the Masjid by using the Yamuna river. Externally, the Moti Masjid is made of red sandstone, whereas the interior is made of white marble.
View of the Moti Masjid
The mosque has a quadrangular structure with a central courtyard containing a large central tank. The central courtyard is surrounded by arcaded white marble cloisters with a gateway in the middle. The gateways are unique in their designs consisting of large iwans with three kiosks or chhatris on their top.
Shah Jahani Gate
The memorable moments at the Agra fort was quickly coming to an end. After spending some quality time at the Diwan-i-Am and the Moti Masjid we proceeded towards the Shah Jahani Gate. The Shah Jahani Gate is a typical double gate made of red sand stone that opens into the Royal administrative offices like that of the Diwan-i-Am, Diwan-i-Khas, Machchi Bhawan and connects these important offices with the passage coming from the Akbari or the Amar Singh Gate. The Shah Jahani Gate consists of a small passage in between, lined by two storied pavilions which were probably used by military officers of the Mughal rule.
Shah Jahani Gate, Red Fort, Agra
The walls of the gate consist of deep rectangular blind niches. The apex is covered by rectangular panels superimposed by exquisite geometric designs and bordered by turrets containing stone filials.