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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Nath, R. Agra and its Monuments. Agra: The Historical Research Documentation Programme, 1997.
Sanwal, B.D. Agra and its Monuments. New Delhi: Orient Longmans Limited, 1968.
DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: India. London: Dorling Kindersley Limited, 2002.
Ram Bagh, located on the east bank of the Jamuna river approximately one mile north of the Itmadu Addula mausoleum at Agra, is believed to be the first Mughal garden that was laid out by Babur in 1526.
The origin of the name is disputed: some suggest that "Ram Bagh" is a corruption of the Persian "Aram Bagh" (Garden of Rest), while others attribute the name to the Hindu deity Rama. In addition to its name, its location and provenance is also disputed: some scholars place it in front of the mausoleum of the Taj Mahal, today's Mehtab Bagh. The author Raja Ram, in his "Tamirat Agrah," called the garden "Bagh Nur Afshan," and attributed it not to Babur, but to Raja Jawahir Singh of Bhartpur.
Babur's memoirs include notes on the landscape and land surrounding Agra:
"So ugly and displeasing were they, that the idea of making a Char-Bagh in them passed from my mind, but needs must! As there was no other land near Agra, that same ground was taken in hand a few days later."
This first Mughal garden in India reflected Babur's notion of paradise not only through water and landscaping, but also via symmetry and visual order. It served as a temporary resting place (1530-1539) for Babur's body before it was returned to his beloved Kabul. At the time, the garden was named "Gul Afshan." During Jahangir's reign (1605-1627), his wife Nur Jahan took control of the garden, renaming it "Nur Afshan" (Diffuser of Light) in 1621. In addition to the name, Nur Jahan made many other changes in the garden, but it is unclear if she ordered building construction on the site, or if she focused her efforts on the garden's plantings.
Today's Ram Bagh is a rectangular garden, oriented east-west, measuring approximately 335.28 meters by 259 meters. It is subdivided into six by seven rectangles (seven along its east-west axis, six on its north-south axis), a variation on the classical Persian chahar bagh. The design of the classical chahar bagh takes its inspiration from the four rivers described in the Quran: one of wine, one of honey, one of milk, and one of water. A traditional chahar bagh features a central water source, which streams outward in four directions over a symmetrical ground plane; the garden is ultimately divided into four equal areas by these four streams.
Accessible by land or from the river, the Ram Bagh is laid out on flat ground, with the exception of a terrace on its western end that occupies six of the inner rectangles. The wall of this terrace is ornamented with arched niches. Two structures of similar shape are located atop this terrace; oriented east-west, with the river along their western side, they face on another. Each of the pair contains five sections: an open iwan followed by an enclosed room, then another open iwan, another enclosed room, and a final open iwan. Between the two structures lies a sunken water tank. Water flows from this tank toward the lower level of the garden through canals and the modest use of chadars (ramps engraved with patterns to enhance the appearance of the flowing water) that transfer the water from one level to another.
The Ram Bagh has been recently renovated (2000s) and is now a public park. However, it no longer has an active water source, and its tanks and canals remain dry.
Moore, Charles Willard, William J. Mitchell, and William Turnbull. The Poetics of Gardens. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1988.
Nath, R. Studies on Medieval Indian Architecture. Delhi: M.D. Publications Pvt. Ltd., 1995.
Findly, Ellison Banks. Nur Jahan, Empress of Mughal India. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.
Mukherjee, Soma. Royal Mughal Ladies and Their Contribution. New Delhi: Gyan Books Pvt. Ltd., 2001.
Ram Gardens (Translated)
Bagh-i Nur Afshan (Formerly known as)
Gul-Afshan (Formerly known as)
East bank of Jamuna river, 1 mile north of the I'timad al-Daula mausoleum, Agra, Uttar Pradesh State