Agra is located about 139 miles southeast of Delhi along the west bank of the River Jumna. Located between Mathura and Surajpur, and referred to by Greek historians as Methoras and Cleisobora, Agra was part of the Surasena Empire, with Mathura as the capital. Geographically, Agra is centrally located in northern India, imbuing it with political and commercial strategic advantage. Many battles have been fought for control of the city, and it became the capital city during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
The fortified core composed by the Agra Fort originally served the Rajputs, as an impregnable, protective, screen against invasions. It finally fell in 1081 to Mahmud Shah, the governor of the northwest regions and the Punjab. Jaipal, then the Rajput ruler, defended the fort valiantly but surrendered to the Ghaznavid army when reinforcements failed to arrive. Though Agra was sacked and owed its allegiance to Ghazni, the Rajput rulers still effectively controlled it. It was during the Second Battle of Tarain (1192) that the Ghaznavids led by Muhammad bin Sam established their rule.
Following the Ghaznavids, the establishment of the Delhi Sultanate was marked by an asserted allegiance to Delhi. Intermittent revolts and a revived Rajput presence in Agra that took control of most of the region soon became a threat. Agra came under the direct control of Sikandar Lodi in 1492 after the governor of Agra, Haibat Khan, rebelled against Delhi. Given the central location of the city, Sikandar shifted the capital to Agra in 1504.
Under Sikandar Lodi, Agra was endowed with cultural and artistic aspects, looking to be viewed as the Shiraz of India. With the death of Ibrahim Lodi at Panipat in 1526, and the establishment of the Mughal Empire, Agra retained its stately status. During the reign of Sher Shah Sur, Agra became the node from where the road networks began and connected the extent of the Sur Empire.
During the Mughal Emperor Akbar's reign, Agra came to be known as 'Akbarabad'. It flourished under his patronage, and his successors Jahangir and Shah Jahan. The city is today famous for its many architectural trophies, dated to the Mughal period. The present day Agra Fort was built by Akbar in 1565, along with the new capital at Fatehpur Sikri, along the outskirts of Agra, which was eventually abandoned. The Taj Mahal was the contribution of Shah Jahan to the cityscape.
Agra's significance as a political centre ended when Shah Jahan moved the capital to Delhi in 1638.
In 1761, the Jats under the Raja of Bharatpur sacked Agra. It was then taken by the Maratha dynasty in 1770. The British gained control of the city after the Second Maratha War in 1803. It was besieged during the rebellion against the British in 1857. Post-independence Agra is one of India's major industrial cities and has a thriving tourist economy.
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The Jahangiri Mahal is a residential palace built by Akbar within the Agra Fort complex. Located along the southern end of the residential axis of the fort facing the river Jamuna to the east, it is one of the few original structures that has survived, nearly intact, from Akbar’s time. The construction of its rooms for maximum privacy with relatively few openings in the external elevations and the organization of the interior spaces support the theory that the building was built as a zenana, or residential palace for the imperial women.
The multistoried palace is faced with finely carved red sandstone, with exterior elevations that follow a predominantly Islamic scheme, incorporating a few Hindu elements. The reverse is true of the interior elevations, which are essentially Hindu in their articulation but for some Islamic aspects. In terms of its spatial organization and ornamentation, the palace was inspired by the Man Mandir in Gwalior, built 75 years earlier by the Raja Man Singh Tomar. The name of the building is not connected to Akbar's son Jahangir, but rather to the Hauz-i-Jahangiri, a large bowl or tub, found in front of its entrance portal.
The Jahangiri Mahal is the second building in the series of courtyard palaces that run south to north along the eastern fort wall, defining the residential axis of the Agra Fort. It lies north of the Akbari Mahal, another structure built by Akbar, of which little remains.
The palace is a complex organization of interconnected rooms around two courtyards. The building measures 63 meters north-south and about 78 meters east-west. Its main entrance is on the west (principal) elevation; its eastern elevation faces the Yamuna. The central courtyard is square in plan, approximately 22 meters per side. The second courtyard occurs towards the east along the fort wall and faces the river. The rooms are organized as successive bands around the courtyards; the degree of privacy increases, as the light levels decrease, with distance from the courtyard.
The western elevation of the palace holds a central pishtaq, projecting slightly from the face of the building. The pishtaq is composed of a deep-set iwan punctured by an ogee arch. Blind shallow arches articulate the walls on either side of the pishtaq and are flanked by octagonal turrets. A continuous chajja (stone eave) runs across the elevation, wrapping around the turrets at the level above the blind arches. It is interrupted only by the pishtaq. Above the chajja is a second storey comprising an open gallery formed of alternating rectangular openings and stone columns; above the gallery is another chajja. The turrets are topped by domed pavilions or chattris, rising above the entire composition. On the eastern side, the palace’s wall is flush with the main fort wall. Its fine articulation and ornamentation, with carved panels and remnants of paintwork, contrasts with the relatively austere and plain red sandstone walls of the fort.
The western entrance gateway leads into a square hall measuring 6 meters in length, whose square geometry transitions into a vaulted ceiling through pendentives articulated with trabeate squinches. From this hall, an offset entrance (ensuring visual privacy for the residents) leads through a narrow corridor to the main courtyard of the palace. The courtyard elevations of the encircling rooms are similar in detail and articulation, giving the courtyard a homogenous appearance.
Towards the north and south of the courtyard are two large open-sided halls (dalans). They are accessed via a series of trabeated arched entrances constructed of exquisitely carved square columns supporting corbelled stone sections, reminiscent of Gujarati Jain temple architecture. Two layers of beautifully molded brackets support projecting chajjas that run around the courtyard in continuous bands. Between these two chajjas is the second, shorter storey, which is articulated with miniature ogee arched openings on all courtyard elevations. The building is crowned with a continuous stone parapet made of exquisitely carved jali panels; the roof has four pavilions (chattris) located centrally along each side of the courtyard. The chattris have pyramidal roofs and are supported on square columns. All surfaces are covered in red sandstone veneer carved in a variety of patterns ranging from the geometric to the floral.
The hall to the north of the courtyard measures about 11 by 19 meters, and is entered through three trabeated gateways supported on a series of square stone columns heavily engraved with Hindu motifs. Within, another row of similar columns delineates a narrow gallery that surrounds the hall. The columns also support a mezzanine floor overlooking the main space of the hall. The northern wall is punctured in the centre, giving access to the adjacent room to its north. The hall has a flat ceiling divided into square sections supported on beams; these beams are supported on ornate brackets with serpentine relief carvings of the type found in Gujarati temple architecture. This hall may have been used as an assembly hall, with the mezzanine to observe the gathering below discreetly.
The southern hall on the opposite side is smaller, with a wagon-vaulted roof. The typology of this hall is similar to the northern one; a corridor surrounds the it, but here the space between the square columns is filled with carved jali screens, similar to the Aankh Michoni at the Man Mandir in Gwalior. Judging by its organization and articulation, the hall may have been used for indoor recreation and games.
Adjacent to the entrance to the west of the courtyard is an east-oriented room that may have been used as a temple. The walls are divided by shallow horizontal and vertical stone bands into rectangular sections of different sizes containing niches of various shapes and sizes that could have been used as small altars.
The rooms towards the east are organized the second courtyard, that divided from the Yamuna by a wall with regular, orthogonal, screened openings. These rooms differ substantially from those around the main central courtyard: here, arches replace the trabeated system. The exterior elevations of the rooms on the north and south of the courtyard are dominated by ogee-arched iwans perforated with arched openings that access small, interconnected, vaulted chambers. These rooms are covered in stuccowork (rather than carvings), following a more Transoxanian style. Adding to the mixture, the courtyard elevation of the western hall has a trabeated entrance- but with the slender spindle columns found in Central Asian architecture. A circular pavilion on the northern end of the courtyard protrudes out of the fort wall towards the river, while the southern corner has an octagonal pavilion, also projecting from the fort wall.
The rooms to the north of the courtyard resemble the Anguri Bagh complex to the north rather than the others within the Jahangiri Mahal; it has been conjectured that the eastern portion of the palace preceded the Jahangiri Mahal and perhaps even the fort wall. Many of the elements in the western portion of the palace around the main courtyard area, such as the use of flat ceilings and narrow screened galleries, trace their source to the Gwalior palace, built about 75 years earlier. Trabeated construction was explored to the fullest extent in these rooms, which contain almost twenty different types of flat ceilings. The eastern portion of the palace primarily displays the arcuate construction system, with stucco decoration, translating many features of Timurid timber construction into stone. A variety of arcuate ceiling designs can be found in these interior spaces, including the use of arch netting, ribbed domes, pyramidal vaults and covered ceilings. This difference in architectural style and construction systems has led to the conclusion that these two sections of the palace were constructed at different times.
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Koch, Ebba. Mughal Architecture: An Outline of Its History and Development, 1526-1858. Munich: Prestel, 1991. 55.
Nath, Ram. Agra and its Monuments. Agra: Historical Research Documentation Programme, 1997. 42-46.
Peck, Lucy. Agra: The Architectural Heritage. New Delhi: Lotus Collection, 2008. 53-56.